By: Travis Mewhirter
I went to bed a little before 9 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. I wore two pairs of socks, leggings, shorts, sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, short sleeve shirt, sweatshirt, and one of those puffy winter jackets. A beanie covered my head, and a hood covered the beanie. It was 14 degrees when my wife, Delaney, and I fell asleep, to the sounds of the slowly rushing Kern River.
The next morning, we began 2021 the only way either of us would have wanted or imagined: Fully immersed in nature.
I had never been camping prior to 2020. Not really, anyway. I camped once, in Boy Scouts, in fifth grade. But when I woke that first morning covered in a dozen spiders, I was spooked for a good while.
That changed this year, as did many things in 2020. Delaney and I make our living playing beach volleyball professionally. Virtually every event we were scheduled to play after March was canceled, travel restricted. On the first weekend of April, one of our good friends – also an avid beach volleyball player – asked if, since the beaches were closed and guarded by a small standing army of police at all the public entrances, we might want to hit the mountains, go soak in some hot springs.
We shrugged. Why not?
It changed our year and, likely, our lives.
We hiked three hours in from the Pacific Crest Trail, set up a four-person tent on the side of a river that flows through Lake Arrowhead, and left society as we knew it for a weekend. It’s funny, though: In the moment, I didn’t really realize just how enamored I was becoming with nature. We were wet, cold, and our tent was set up on a slope, so we could only sleep an hour or two at a time before we had slid down to the bottom and had to wiggle our way back up. Yet when we hiked back to our cars, two days later, and our phones began lighting up with updates and messages, dinging and pinging and ringing, I felt almost a visceral reaction to grab my pack and get back out of service.
Out in nature, there was nobody slinging messages back and forth about the latest debates on the pandemic, or the election. There were just people getting down to the basics, where a pot of boiling water, a good fire, some clean air and a night under the stars is all you need.
The more we camped – to Zion, Fillmore, Ojai, Yosemite, Yosemite again, Kern – it became difficult to determine what was the “real world” and what was the escape. The more I camped, the more I dove into the works of John Muir, Thoreau, Emerson. While the world raged about what businesses and activities were deemed “essential,” I found the only truly essential aspect of life was to get outside.
It was Muir who said that the “clearest way to the universe is through a forest wilderness.” Those words rang true in Zion, as we hiked up to Angel’s Landing, around the Outer Rim Trail, and sloshed our way through The Narrows. When we returned to Hermosa Beach, Calif., we came back to businesses boarded up and many of the United States’ cities in the throes of the George Floyd protests and riots.
That night, we planned our next trip. We wanted to get back to the universe as we were coming to know it, through the only avenue we knew how: A forest wilderness.
2020 was an unprecedented year in so many ways. Our lives were flipped upside down and sideways.
Yet one element remained as true now as it has since Muir was exploring Yosemite: “Everybody,” he wrote, “needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, here nature may heal and give strength to the body and soul.”
It heals, sooths, nourishes.
Going out in nature, I found, and as Muir once wrote, “is really going in.”
About the Author:
Travis Mewhirter is an award-winning journalist, author of four books, podcast host, and professional beach volleyball player. Raised in Hampstead, Maryland, he moved to California when he was 25, and has since made a career of being outside — either on the beach or in the mountains, writing wherever he goes. When he’s not playing beach volleyball, you can find him in the mountains, camping with his wife, Delaney.