Solace in the SolitudeField Report filed by Allen Crater
As a final farewell to winter, Princeton Tec Field Ambassador Allen Crater recalls a fine week in January:
When I was a kid my friends and I would make a contest out of who could hold their breath the longest underwater. With all the determination an 8-year-old could muster I would resist and then physically come to blows with the urge – the panic really –that would set in during these contests. Head shaking, tiny bubbles slowly escaping my mouth. Can’t go one second longer; but I would. Maybe even a couple more. And then, just as everything was about to go dark, I would frantically break the surface (hoping for pride’s sake I wasn’t the first) and take the air in large desperate gulps – squinting my eyes from the brightness of the day.
January was my gulp of air; the blinding light; the reset button. For 5 days I, along with a couple friends, had the opportunity to chase through Colorado’s wide empty spaces searching for silence, solitude and winter trout.
Geoff, Adam and I are on I-285 making our escape from the claustrophobia of the city and the suffocation of the self-induced busy-ness of the passing season. Like taking off your boots at the end of a long day on the trail or removing a hat that fits too tightly – the release is welcome and sweet. The traffic, the people, the noise, the ugliness are all fading. No need to jostle. No need to hurry. Just a few friends on the open road, traveling through a flat, empty and arid landscape. Pink mountains silhouetted on the distant horizon. Our only companions the occasional groups of pronghorn feeding in the predawn light. Our only music the rhythmic hum of the tires on the road. I can breathe again.
We’re catching up with another friend in Buena Vista, where we will stay in the off-grid cabin he calls his winter home. From there we explore. We wander. We fish. We eat. We drink. We sleep. The cycle repeats. Our agenda is as fluid as the water we will be exploring but finds its own simple rhythm.
Each morning we’re up early, the heat from the woodstove chased out hours ago. Despite the lack of snow, it’s cold. The thermometer outside reads 11 below. I crawl out of my sleeping bag and climb down the wooden ladder to stoke the fire. The dogs begin to stir from the warmth of their beds. I put on the coffee and get the bacon going, my breath reflected in the glow of my headlamp. A ritual is established. Coffee. Bacon. Hit the road. Fish until dark. Walk the trails back to the truck by headlamp. Dots, single file in a glowing parade. Hit the local watering hole for dinner, drinks and sometimes music. Back to the cabin where we gather around the lanterns and the wood stove sharing stories and drinks before finding our way back to our bunks.
We hit the Arkansas, The South Platte and the Big Thompson and find our winter fish. But, as every fisherman knows, that’s not really what we are looking for. In the wilderness we find something far more important. We find solitude and community. We find spaces so big and so empty our thoughts have room to breathe. We find a connection that was unwittingly growing faint. We find that part of ourselves that we feared lost. As Abbey famously said, “We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope.” We have found our escape.
Back at the truck we strip off the waders and load up. The space is empty and silent. The stars are bright. The air is fresh and cold with a hint of evergreen. I take a long deep breath and savor it, for soon the contest begins anew.