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Inward Bound
By Eric Friedman

I went camping last weekend. By myself. Just me, in a tent, overnight, at the McGrath State Beach campground, ten miles outside of Oxnard. I know that in the grand scheme of adventures, this is no big deal. People go camping alone all the time. But not this people. I'm not exactly what you'd call "rugged" or "resourceful" or "good at camping." I'm kinda new to the whole outdoorsy thing. My family never went camping when I was a kid, I never joined the Scouts -- neither Cub nor Boy -- and the only time I ever heard the expression "take a hike" was when I asked my dad to help me with my homework while he was busy watching Hill Street Blues. The man loved his Renko.

But the very first time I went camping, and breathed in the clean air, slept under a bajillion stars, and embraced the all-enveloping, ear-massaging silence of an un-urban night, I knew I had found something awesome. I set a personal goal -- that one day I would hit the outdoors completely by myself. And then I spent the next four years totally blowing that goal off. Going camping alone became yet another one of those things in my life that I've been fully meaning to do, but just can't seem to make happen, like paint my apartment. Or have sex.

But a couple weeks ago, I was presented with a gift from the universe that made pulling the trigger on my solo outing a total no-brainer: I had a nervous breakdown. (It's okay, you can laugh.) And it wasn't really a breakdown -- that's a bit dramatic. I just….felt the crushing weight of the world bearing down on me to the point where I couldn't sleep, concentrate, or enjoy life. Good times…

Allow me to break down the… break down. I was…going too fast. In everything I did. I would come home from my awesome job, and I'd worry about what my next nine career steps should be. I'd go on a date with a great girl, and instead of falling asleep giddy and smiling, I'd lie there all night wondering whether I should make reservations at that cute Bed n' Breakfast in Solvang that I've always wanted to check out, but have been holding off on until I had a serious girlfriend -- which of course I obviously now did, after two Belvedere and Tonics with a woman who until three days ago I'd known only by her screen name. Ali in Cali!

I wasn't living in the moment. I wasn't even living in "moment-adjacent." And it was time for me to reclaim my life. To step up, take charge, be a man. (WEAK) So I called my therapist… I went in, we talked, I went off on some tangent about my mom, and that time I caught her putting makeup and a dress on my then one-year-old brother -- which is fucked up, but not really relevant to my whole "not being in the moment" issue -- or is it? Whatever. Bottom line, I needed to make some major changes in my life. But that sounded really, really hard, so I went for a quick fix -- I packed up my camping gear, loaded it into my Camping Vehicle -- or Jetta -- and set off on a 24 hour quest to slow down my life, get in touch with nature, and hopefully not get raped in my tent by a drunken, RV driving redneck. I've heard some stories.

On my way out of town, I stopped to pick up some food to get me through my trip. Nothing much, just some bottled water, and a couple of Balance Bars. And some pasta. And a salami, a box of crackers, a couple bananas, a hunk of Ghirardhelli chocolate -- dark -- two cans of tomato soup, and a bottle of Chianti. Oh, and a scone from Whole Foods. For Breakfast.

With my provisions fully provisioned for and my German engineered gas tank full (only 28 dollars for 12 gallons -- what a steal!) I headed up the PCH, and ushered in the "era of being in the moment." Then I spent the entire drive thinking about all the errands I had to do when I got back into town. Baby steps, people. Baby steps.

After a gorgeous drive, past dozens of fruit orchards and hundreds of migrant workers who I'm sure get paid very handsomely to harvest them, I reached the campground.

Alright moment -- show your face. I'm ready to live in you!

Bursting with excitement, I pulled in to my assigned campsite, jumped out of my car, unloaded my gear, and guess what happened?

Very, very little.

Turns out, camping alone -- kinda boring. Picture all the fun of camping…but without all the fun of camping.

Here are some highlights of my boring day.

First I pitched my tent. A simple task that should take about ten minutes, considering the idiot-proofness of my tent, yet one that took me much longer, thanks to the non-idiot-proofness of my hands. I may as well have been assembling an entertainment center from Ikea -- the Flarke, or the Leksvik perhaps.

Finally, I got it up -- the tent -- and I took a walk to the beach, passing other campsites where large groups of people who had made the curious choice of not camping alone were having all sorts of not-camping alone fun -- throwing footballs, drinking beers, grilling meat, and no doubt making fun of me for having nobody to do these fun things with.

I checked my watch. 12:30. P.M. (SIGH) Hoh boy.

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