He fought to blink his eyelids open against the night’s crust of “sleep.” Through the cinched-down opening in the hood of his sleeping bag, he gazed up at a slate gray sky. A new day was about to begin.
He had chosen this spot for this moment. It was not an ideal campsite. Water was too far away, and it was exposed to blustery weather should it come. But what a commanding promontory! Except for the peak rising behind him, a raw and rugged landscape slid away in every direction.
He sat up and grabbed his water bottle, but the autumn nighttime air had frozen it solid. Inches away, on the other side of his down cocoon, it was bitter cold, but he had pulled the collar and the hood of his sleeping bag snug against it. Even his toes were warm.
It had taken two days to reach this site; two long days filled with quiet hours of just walking alone. It had quieted his mind and drained most of the “hurry” and “what’s-next?” from his thoughts. In camp or on the trail, he was simply doing what needed to be done next: set up camp, get water, prepare dinner. No planning, no schedule to keep, just doing. As he watched the sweetening glow on the eastern horizon, he was free of the concerns that usually turn and tumble in his mind. The stillness and silence were complete; he felt the sunrise every bit as much as he saw it.
Near home, a sunrise is different. Though just as lovely, the view is over the top of roads and roofs and accompanied by the din of our hubbub. We watch from a safe and secure place near the things we have built to ensure our comfort. It’s beautiful, but where’s the adventure? After a two-day walk into the wilderness, a sunrise from a rugged promontory in the middle of nowhere is much more than just beautiful. It is an experience. There is awe, wonder, and a-little-bit-scared.
Thinking back on the just passed season of gift-giving, it occurs to me that nothing gives better gifts that Mother Nature. 24/7/365, she offers endless moments like this. The only charge is a bit of effort—a cost that enhances the reward.
I remember many years ago the first time I saw the original “Endless Summer” movie. They sought the perfect wave, and they found it in Africa. They surfed there all day, and no wave ever broke in front of itself. As they left, the narrator said, “Those perfect waves are out there breaking, right now.”
Those words are like rocket fuel for the imagination. Picture it: Miter Basin and Evolution Basin in the High Sierra, two jaw-dropping places, are up there buried in snow with nary a person to be seen or a peep to be heard. What would it be like to be there?
Alpine country may not be your cup of tea. Your “perfect waves” may be breaking in California’s rolling hills, in the desert, or on a remote tropical island. But wherever they are, they are there right now, waiting for you. This year, make it a point to go.
There is only one catch. When you go, respect the place and truly be there. Don’t go through it, go into it. Reach out and connect with it. Leave the “iThis” and the “iThat” gadgets behind. Leave the book and the radio. Give true aloneness and true silence a try. It may scare you, but you will get used to it. Then it will thrill you.
Ron Erskine writes the Getting Out column for the Free Lance every two weeks in the Lifestyles section.

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Ron Erskine is a local outdoors columnist and avid hiker. Visit him online at www.RonErskine.com, his blog at www.WeeklyTramp.com or email him at [email protected].


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