I can’t remember what initially inspired me to go into the forest alone with a few apples, a sleeping bag, a bottle of water and instructions to my friends to come look for me if I didn’t return in 50 hours. I think it was something I heard on the SoundsTrue podcast. I do a lot of these “personal growth” “spiritual development”-y kind of things. They are my favorite, I love trying to find mental discipline, praying, doing established sequences of yogic stretches, giving myself positive affirmation, lists, journals, books, all that stuff. Not that it’s necessarily helping me be a better, happier person, but I enjoy it, and if I stopped doing it at this point, who knows what would come out, so lets just keep at it ya? Ya. But given how into that stuff I am, I decided to make this project more challenging by doing nothing for the full two days. No yoga, no siting cross legged, no prescription to pray or think about a particular aspect of my life that I want to change. Just, whatever comes. Also, minimal to no eating, sleeping, or moving.
So at 5am a few Mondays ago, I got out of my tent, stuck two liters of water and some produce into my sleeping bag, and walked down a trail, over a hill, into another meadow, and sat in a little circle of trees. I dropped a gps pin, emailed it to Heather, shut the phone off, and sat down. The next two days was so, so horrible.
For the first 32 hours or so, I thought about everyone I knew who might not like me, and what I had done wrong to make that so. I thought about, say, the half a dozen people who have come into my life who I related to the least, and do not care to invest in with time or talk, and fantasized about the terrible things they might think about me. Stupid things I had said or done in the past were a strong sub-topic of thought. I spent almost the entire first 20 hours reaming myself over my marriage, my divorce, romantic experiences gone awry since and before. Reliving humiliations and mistakes. I couldn’t stop! I thought, wow, Ann, you are supremely preoccupied by what negative things people you don’t like that much think of you.
Which is normal, right? Of course it’s natural to mull over failures, because they’re fascinating. What did I do? What could have changed things? Was it something small? Is it something I can fix next time? I think this is standard, and we all do this. Ok? We all do this.
But wow, I did not expect it to be so hard out there. I thought, I’ve gone on 15 hour drives, camped out alone, spent days on end alone or basically alone, this is going to be relaxing! Jeebus, how far the radio, a text, the making of cereal, a chat in the trailer, go to occupy the mind and distract from this horror show. I thought I would love it, honestly. Meditate all day, think about my goals, forgive myself for stuff, forgive other people, feel newly stoked on all kinds of projects. Nope.
So I knew immediately I could not stop this terrorist thought train, and I was best to just watch. And be mad and sad and annoyed and embarrassed. And if I spent all 50 hours berating myself over things I did and thought as long as 6 years ago, well, that is just the pathetic truth of Ann Raber, dumb bitch.
At some point I became very hungry, and I ate like, a bell pepper. I looked around my tree circle and realized that I had lost track of which direction I came from. Doesn’t matter. Can’t even begin to wonder how to get back now. The tree circle was shadey all day, and I stared at the sun, willing it to move faster and put me out of my misery. I just kept letting the thinking happen. I cuddled up in my sleeping bag and waited to feel scared, alone in the meadow in the dark. I tried not to comfort myself by thinking about Andy and Ema relaxing in the trailer not 100 yards away, in some direction. I prayed kind of desperately, but all I came up with was “praying is so stupid. amen. whatever.” I fell in and out of sleep, maybe. No dreaming, it really didn’t feel any different to be awake or asleep.
Finally the morning came, Tuesday morning, and I was very thirsty. I drank a liter of water, just to see if I could do it all at once, and cried for a while about something nasty I’d said to someone once. At some point I rolled over and saw these little white desert flowers, and the way they were leaning and bobbing in the wind, they kinda looked like people having a conversation at a party, like how flowers do sometimes. So I stared at them and imagined their voices. Then their voices started talking smack about me, saying that I was a loser and a slut. So I reached out and snapped their heads off. I think at that point I started laughing.
By that afternoon, I had started to hallucinate a little bit, probably out of boredom and hunger more than anything. Everything had a weird dark band around it that expanded if I concentrated. So weird. I saw this very distinct whirlwind skip through the meadow for what seemed like 20 minutes, full of grass and dust. I got super hungry again and devoured an apple. I hid from a large black bird. Fasting is completely stupid, I decided. Then I gave up. I pulled out my chapstick, and I read the label. Bronner’s “All One”. All One what? Chapstick? What other functions does it serve? I was desperate to research something. I read every millimeter of the lable, but I think “All One” is just part of the Bronner’s brand name. I read it several more times just to be sure, just to be interacting with something. The chapstick.
So mid-day on Tuesday, after a good lunch of water, a good 33 or so hours in, I started thinking about climbing a little bit. Fantasizing about Hueco this year, remembering fun instances, funny people, stuff like that. Started to feel different. Laid there thinking about climbing until it was dark. I snuggled back into my sleeping bag, thinking about climbing. I was thinking about some problem, I don’t know what or where, maybe something at McKinney, and I was kind of, like, watching what a camera on my forehead would capture while I was climbing. I started staring at my hands matched on something, and — and this was the weird part — and I felt this huge wave of excitement just roll over my entire body, in my toes and my ribs, like I was up off the ground for a second, and my fingers were so tense. I thought, holy moses, I bet I have more of this. So I did that thing in that dream-movie Inception, and I dropped a pin for myself, this particular little image and sentence, thinking if I can call that up when I’m not 44 hours without much sleep or food or human interaction, I bet I can use it.
I was recovered physically by Friday. Andy was showing me a new boulder problem, and I couldn’t do this weird dynamic match move, and I was ok with it. Because I was way tired, and it’s a hard line, tricky move, fine with it being kinda unrealistic for now. But just for fun I remembered the pin and tried it. Crushed. And those horrible feelings and memories and awefulnesses of the recent and father past, I am not lying, I can’t find them. I even tried to make myself think about the worst of it, the most current, the most upsetting, and it was like, nothing. Like a scab that’s all bloddy and gross and bloddy and gross and bloddy and gross everytime you mess with it then one day, it’s a fleck of dry skin. Flick!