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3 Life Lessons From 11 Days Alone In Yosemite’s Wilderness

In August, I got to spend eleven days hiking alone through the wilderness of Yosemite National Park.

Published on: December 11, 2015

In August, I got to spend eleven days hiking alone through the wilderness of Yosemite National Park. It was all you would expect: incredible nature, amazing views and a few blisters along the way. But I also came back changed. The time outside had made me realize, or rather remember, some bigger lessons about my life outside the park that I had forgotten about.
The power of loneliness and solitude “Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self” – May Sarton I spent eleven days hiking all by myself. On a regular day I would bump into someone else twice, maybe three times. And some days I had even less human contact: I spent three of the eleven days off-trail, going cross-country with the help of maps and a compass, and during those days I didn’t see one person (but quite a few marmots and deers). How did that feel? Whenever I spend the first few nights in the woods, I’m scared and I feel lonely. I’m scared of animals, scared of getting lost, really scared of other humans who might do me harm, and a bit scared of myself. But then, after two or three days, I relax. I embrace the loneliness and it transforms into solitude. While the constant quietness feels uncomfortable at first, it becomes one of my favorite things. And as I feel more relaxed, I open up to myself. Being totally by myself allows me to truly realize what I feel, to ponder on thoughts much longer than our busy world would allow otherwise. When else do you get to spend eleven days, or even just one whole day, just with yourself? Being out there made me realize what a precious resource solitude and quiet time for yourself really is and how far we have to go these days to find it. 

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Don’t worry, good plans will fall apart “Everyone has a plan ’till they get punched in the mouth” – Mike Tyson I’m a planner and a pretty organized person. But quite consistently through the eleven days, things didn’t quite work out as planned. My left hiking boot fell apart on the seventh day. What was supposed to be a beautiful summit to climb turned out to be a massive, steep field of loose rocks, looming to come down at any moment. My water purifying UV pen ran out of batteries on day four and it turned out I brought the wrong replacement batteries. My sleeping mat kept deflating each night. And on day 8 I realized I didn’t have enough food left for the remaining four days. Oops. 

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What was the most surprising about this? That it didn’t bother me at all. While out in nature, I expect things to go badly, which is why I can deal with it patiently when it eventually happens. This stands of course in sharp contrast to my everyday life, where I expect most of my plans to work out. However, my time in the woods made me realize that plans outside of Yosemite don’t magically work out more often, but that my expectations are set differently. As a consequence, I get frustrated way too easily as I’m trying to hold on to my precious plans. So the best thing to do is to embrace the Yosemite mindset and the fact that plans will often change once they meet reality; it’s all a matter of how I react to those changes. 

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The beauty of fundamentals “The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity”- Walt Whitman Have you ever watched a small child play with the same simple toy happily for hours and hours? Where did we adults lose that joy for simple things? While hiking, I spend roughly 95% of my time among the following activities: walking, eating, resting, sleeping. My life’s fundamentals. And I remembered again, how very simple and basic things can be incredibly satisfying: having enough food (at least for some of the trip…), having a warm meal, walking in comfortable shoes, feeling sun on my skin, and getting a good night’s sleep. These joys aren’t absent in my everyday life, yet I tend to forget about them, as our lives are filled with so many different encounters, impressions, emotions and layers of complexity. Yet, Yosemite made me realize that even outside the park, there are some very simple, yet incredibly satisfying things right in front of us.

— Fabian Pfortmüller is a contributing editor to Field Guide and a serial entrepreneur, strategist and brand builder in New York City, most recently the co-founder of the lifestyle brand Holstee.

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