Two months into quarantine we slowly began to accept the new abnormal the pandemic introduced into everyday life. Before, our world felt like it spanned into infinity; we drove long roads and watched California sunsets, booked flights to islands off the coast of Spain, and enjoyed glasses of Aperol Spritz while relaxing in cobblestone-lined squares in Italy. But now, life had taken on a new form.
We were constrained by the walls of our house and “social distancing” became the most used word in our vocabulary. We walked on different sides of the street when others approached, or even directly in the middle because the roads held few cars. We were asked to wear masks when we left our house to protect not only ourselves, but the community around us. Life felt different than ever before.
My energy began to stagnate; there was a void in my soul ready to be filled and a candle in my heart waiting to be kindled. I needed to take action; I needed to listen to my inner being and feed it the nutrients it craved—the great outdoors.
Understanding it was time to reconnect, Nicolle and I did what we do best—threw some clothes in a bag, packed a cooler tight with weekend essentials, and tossed ourselves into the bucket seats of the campervan. It had been too long since we last geared up for a trip like this and drove long roads until we found ourselves in the middle of nowhere tucked at the base of a mountain or alongside a rushing river. But there we were, doing just that as we set out for the Eastern Sierras.
The Eastern Sierras are a region in California that makes up the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which is nearly a continuous chain of mountain ranges that might as well be the “backbone” of the Americas. To get to the Eastern Sierras, you need to journey down 395, a sparsely populated and wildly beautiful highway.
Highway 395 delivers travelers to far more distant places than the Eastern Sierras. It runs through California, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington, giving you a straight shot and express route headed right toward British Columbia, Canada. But we weren’t going that far on this trip. The jaw-dropping splendor views along the mountain-lined highway in California kept us from driving any further.
Sure, I would have loved to take this highway up the entire western coast of the United States, but I was stopped in my tracks. There was something arresting about the snow-capped Eastern Sierras and the way its delicate gray volcanic rock nestled against the perfectly blue sky that wouldn’t let me drive any further north. And so we didn’t.
The closer we got to our destination, the louder the road noise became as our tires bounced vigorously over the unpaved road. Dodging a pothole here and a pothole there, we navigated our way through billowing dust clouds made by other adventure mobiles ripping by. What used to be a white campervan was now lined with a layer of fine dirt and sand.
Wilderness surrounded us on every side.
A unique warmth welcomed us; it felt as if nature was giving us a hug, reminding us that there’s always a place for us there. And it didn’t take long to get reacquainted with the natural world we’d been without for so long.
We wrestled with rough firewood to ready a stack for the weekend, played Tetris with our gear inside the campervan to make room to eat a meal, and grimaced as we buried our hands beneath the frigid ice in the cooler for a much-needed drink. Birds drifted overhead finding pockets of wind to lift them higher, crisp air met our cheeks as the breeze pushed through the valley, and the Eastern Sierras began to glow California gold as the sun slowly sank to meet the horizon.
These were the motions and sights I’d been missing. The ones that screamed camping, adventure, and being in the great outdoors. It all felt so familiar, like we had never left. It was that same feeling you get when you see a long-time friend for the first time in years. For some reason, you don’t have to play catch up; you’re able to just pick up right where you left off.
We had finally returned home.
As the sun drifted off in the distance to meet the other side of the world, the sky painted itself in pastel hues of pink and purple, leaving us without words. There’s something special about experiencing a sunset in the middle of nowhere; they always seem more beautiful and powerful. Maybe it’s the fact that there are very few people around, or maybe it’s the fact that the peace and quiet of the wilderness wipes your mind clean of worries, stress, and negative thoughts.
Stars, like dancing lights dangling from invisible strings in the sky, began to reveal themselves one by one. There was no interruption in the show. We’d lucked out. That night was a new moon, the best time to lose yourself in the night sky of the Eastern Sierras.
We stargazed our way into the night, bundled in heaps of blankets to ward off the cold. A creek formed from mountain runoff trickled by just a few feet from the campervan, soothing us, reminding us that moments of peace do exist in times of chaos.
At that moment my energy began to feel at ease. I had given it the nutrients it craved and became aware of what my soul was asking for. It felt as if I had done years’ worth of therapy in a matter of hours. I began to realize that nature is simply a free tool of healing, not just for me, but for you, too. I knew my mind, body, and soul needed the healing, so I’m grateful I answered nature’s call.
I’m familiar with the call to return to nature. I’m invariably drawn back to the mountains, oceans, rivers, and soil where my soul is deeply rooted. I’m certain being in nature is where I thrive, and during times like these, it proves itself one of life’s greatest gifts.
It’s not just me either. Many other over-civilized people are called and tend to retreat to mountains, ocean-lined coasts, and, well, the middle of nowhere. It’s easy to find solace in the serenity of nature because of what it provides: freedom from the crippling stress, worry, and anxiety many of us navigate to overcome in our everyday lives.
The more we answer that call, the more we will understand that going to nature is going home. Those mountains, rivers, oceans, and valleys are not only reservoirs of life for the wild, but are also reservoirs of life for every one of us.