The more the world invades, the more many of us want escape. What might that look like for you?
My buddy Chris, a longtime friend and wilderness lover, was just old enough to fall madly in love with the lyrics of Steppenwolf's Born to be Wild when it first came out. His great dream, he told me in an unguarded moment, was to head out on a motorcycle and, wait for it,
Get away from it all.
That song was featured in the film Easy Rider, which inspired a great many in my generation to want to hit the road. The film defined and inspired an entire generation, and spawned a host of films touching on that same desire to hit the road, Jack. Not surprisingly, Chris loves that movie.
Problem is, since 1968, the roads have gotten a great deal more jam-packed, and so have many of the once-pristine wilderness areas which called to us decades ago. California was still the Promised Land, highways were wide open, and the world seemed, well. Endless.
Now, you head out all excited to hit the highway, and are promptly stuck for three hours on trying to get the hell out of Dodge.
On top of that, it's hard to escape anywhere you can't get a signal on your cell phone.
Can you even escape any more?
The answer is yes, but also, it depends.
There are some AWAY places where you can indeed dump what we euphemistically refer to as civilization (where few are civil these days, which is the whole point) and return to some raw, cleaner version of ourselves. Its costly, however, and that's where I am going with this.
On October 24th I started an eight-day journey with two guides, their kids and a fellow rider, Katharina, in Chile's vast, wild, Atacama Desert. I also started that trip with a serious injury, which played into the experience for the next week or so.
Many of you can afford the trip, which you can book, as I did, on Unicorn Trails.
Not all of us are ready for the additional costs, which is what we pay to let go of who and what we think we are. That is the true gift of AWAY.
The real value of of AWAY is to remove most, if not all, of the distractions which keep us from focusing on the deep self. Getting away from it all for most of us implies that there is, somewhere, some paradise where it's all easy and perfect.
Not where I go, it isn't. When I go AWAY, it's to come back transformed.
Once our small group had mounted and made our obeisance to Pachamamma in a small but very important ceremony in the middle of ancient indigenous ruins in Chiu Chiu, just outside Calama, we were off. Most of us were off, anyway. I rode, but as I discovered, the pain level in my knee meant I couldn't head out at speed.
That was the Steppenwolf on my brain. I wanted to meld with Jocko, my black criollo mix, and haul ass across those sunbaked stones, with all the abandon I could brandish. Turns out that was an additional distraction, and once removed, I had real work to do.
I was AWAY all right.
I never know, on trips like this, what I'm going to get. The Atacama, long a dream of mine, would be my first horse adventure in two years after Covid, and the last of this year before more surgery to fix what had happened on previous horse rides. It had particular importance, but not in the way I'd planned.
That's what I mean about the additional costs. On such a trip, it helps to be willing to release whatever idea you may have of who you are, whatever attachments to some identity you think defines you, and be willing to have your sacred self redefined in sometimes richly surprising and life-affirming ways.
The great Atacama stretches out for endless, aching miles in all directions. Over the course of those next days we would eat or sleep where we could find streams, or where some ancient landowner had gathered rocks to protect against the brutal sun. Most nights we tented.
People lived and thrived out here for centuries. Still do.
Conversations came and went. The more tired we were, the less we spoke, and the more we sank into our saddles, or deep inside the sea of thoughts we carried.
Sometimes if the wind blew hard, fine sand would land on the tent's mesh just over my head and dribble down all night long, layering my face and all my belongings with a thick layer of delicate dust.
My phone stopped getting signal seconds after we began our trip. I packed it tightly away in my luggage, where it stayed until we returned. I didn't miss it one damned bit.
It took about two days, in full, for me to find the rhythm. While Jocko and I had multiple challenging "conversations" every time the larger group took off at speed, I always had someone with me so that he wasn't left to whinny in isolation. The pace, for me a steady walk and occasional (very painful) trot, slowed the world down to the Speed of Real Life.
For the next five days, until we began to inch closer to highways, houses and ATVs which dotted the closer-in landscape to San Pedro de Atacama, I was left to dance with what I found in the dusty hallways of my head, much less the dust that found its way onto every inch of skin.
As each of us found the rhythm, the ride got harder. I had to deal with the pain, feeling sorry for myself because of the accident, my resentment towards my aging body and my clumsiness and worse, the ridiculous insistence on lugging my luggage which is how I got hurt in the first place. Gripping my horse hurt, but you have to, to safely get up and down such mountainsides:
Once we crossed the moonscape of the Atacama where we rode/slid down a steep face of greybrown sand, the guide's youngest daughter quietly burst into tears after lunch.
She didn't want it to end.
I didn't either. By that time I'd worked through all the conversations in my head, the self-blaming, the silly arguments, the noise.By that time, I had peace. I still hurt, a lot, but I had forfeited any grand notion of flying across the desert at speed. Instead, I became part of it.
I was genuinely worried about the damage to my knee. Had that not been a factor, I'd have happily braved the dust and desert for another week.
The stark silences of such a place, the long rides towards a trail that disappears miles into the distance and over more mountains (that would be YOUR trail) cause you to go places you rarely go internally.
With all the beeps and dings and dongs and mindless demands on you to LOOK LOOK LOOK BUY BUY BUY READ THIS IDIOTIC COMMENT TRUMP MADE, it is exceedingly difficult to own the space between your ears. That geography is jealously desired by everyone with an agenda, something to sell.
When you take yourself off the grid long enough, you wonder why you ever sold your soul in the first place. That's deep work. You may just return willing to put up the necessary fences to that part of you which, as Viktor Frankl famously described, belongs only to us, no matter what our circumstances may be.
While I am an enthusiastic fan of investing in this kind of trip (please kindly be at least an intermediate and confident rider, this ain't for sissies or complainers), you can "get away" at any point. For example:
You can turn everything off.
You can make a space in your head, your consciousness where only you reside.
You can learn to meditate vs medicate (highly recommended).
You can spend less time on line and in Nature. Without the damned phone.
I won't tell you it's easy. I will tell you that investing in a trip like this is one superb way to jumpstart the process, particularly if you have never experienced this kind of AWAY.
It begs description. Which is why, if you really want to know how to reconnect with our Mother, it behooves you to find a place which isn't teeming with humanity. I know it's hard. It's also worthwhile.
As a daughter of this gorgeous earth, I had finally become reconnected to it in one of her most remote, beautiful and lonely places.
The other night, Esteban Lara, our guide, shared that every trip he has taken changes him in some profound way. Of course, Esteban doesn't march out into the desert to show it who's boss. He prays for safe passage, and to be able to make sure the rest of us come back safely, and with any luck, equally transformed.
Just like climbing Kilimanjaro, you look back at that achievement with what Macareana, Esteban's wife and our guide, says is great humility.
"I did that?"
Yes. You did.
Is this trip for you? It depends. It is of course much easier if you create your quiet space at home. It's cheaper. For what it's worth, if you can spare the time and dime, I strongly suggest considering this kind of mildly difficult, personally rewarding, wonderfully life-changing AWAY, for it might inspire you to rethink your life entirely.
Not a bad thing at all.
You were indeed, born to be wild. Most of never, ever, ever find out just what that really means. I hope you do.
Please note: the author has no financial agreement with anyone in this article. Warmest thanks to Katharina May who kindly chronicled much of this trip and included me in her photos.
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