FRESH YARN presents:

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.

The beach wasn't pretty, but it had sand, which I promptly stuck my feet in. Then the loneliness set in. It was a different kind of loneliness than I'd ever experienced before, and frankly, I thought I'd experienced all the kinds. I have words for loneliness like Eskimos do for snow. But this was more of the "you brought this upon yourself, you big dumbass" kind of loneliness -- which is cool because it incorporates not just sadness, but also second-guessing, and self-flagellation. It's the neurotic trifecta.

Unable to stand the stench of my own thoughts, I scanned the beach for a companion. All I found was a long bamboo rod. Not exactly what I was looking for, but you play the cards you're dealt. I christened the bamboo rod as my walking stick, and decided to use it and keep it by my side until the trip was over. I liked walking with a stick. It even cheered me up a little. I walked back to my campsite, stick in hand, past all the not alone people with their footballs, and beers, and grilled meat, and I was like (CONFIDENT) "yeah, that's right. I'm camping alone. And I'm walking with a stick." Then I saw a guy and his hot girlfriend put up their tent and start making out, and I was like, (SAD) "Yeah, I'm camping alone. And I'm walking with a stick." I threw my stick in the woods.

2 O'Clock. So many more hours to kill… Is it too early to open the Chianti? Probably. Instead, I took another walk, this time along a little nature trail. The walk was action packed.. I spent a half hour staring at a lizard that had camouflaged itself on some bark. I climbed a tree, and sat up there for a while. I threw some rocks…

Then I went back to my campsite and opened the Chianti. It was 3:30.

I sat and I drank, and I can honestly say that for the first time in a while, I was 100 percent in the moment.

Here's the problem: the moment sorta sucked.

I know what you're thinking -- "Wah! Poor Eric. He had to spend an entire day outside with just a book, 10 gigs of music, and a giant bag of food. I feel soooo bad for him." And while I appreciate your mock sympathy, I also don't feel like I wholly deserve it. Yeah, I was being lame, but at least I was out there. At least I was trying to fix a hole in my life. Lots of people are too scared to admit their life even has holes. And sure, some other day, when my head wasn't cloudy, and I wasn't so wrapped up in self-reflexive hole-fixing, I could have sat at that campsite with my tunes, and my stick, and my scone, and been the happiest motherfucker on the planet. But not that day. I had tasted the moment, and I didn't much care for it. Now all I wanted was another moment to cleanse my palate.

And then I got one. A guy and a girl -- Mike and Kat -- college kids -- walked past my campsite, and said hello. They started off, and then Mike turned and called in my direction, "Hey, what are you doing later tonight?" "Uhhh….You're looking at it." "Well, if you want to hang out, stop by campsite 74."

Campsite 74, eh? Alright. Now we're talking… I imagined that Mike and Kat were camping with a big group of college kids, and they'd take me in, and we'd drink some beers, a dude would play a little Allman Brothers on his guitar, maybe there'd be a hot girl who would find me adorable -- "you came camping by yourself? That is sooo cute! Let's go back to your tent and get naked." Yes, this trip was finally shaping up after all. "So," I asked them, "Who you guys up here with?" "Just the two of us." (BUMMED) "Oh…cool. You know "Whipping Post?"

But the three of us did end up having dinner together -- at my place, not theirs -- Campsite 95, yo! We cooked, and ate, and chilled and chatted. Mike told me about the semester he spent in Chile. Kat and I discussed The Great Gatsby. Bowls were lit and passed. After dinner, Mike pulled out this really cool, twangy musical instrument I'd never seen before called a "Jew's Harp." I don't think the name is meant to be anti-semitic, although I did hear that Jew's Harps were portrayed very unfavorably in The Passion of the Christ. And that Mel Gibson's dad denies they even exist. Either way, the music was awesome.

I don't remember exactly what time Mike and Kat said good night. The hours had flown by, and the sky which had been bright and blue when we first met was now filled with a bajillion stars and a giant full moon. I climbed into my tent and fell asleep smiling.

The next morning I woke up early, packed my gear, enjoyed my scone, and headed back towards L.A. and the many errands awaiting me. But on the way back, I decided to pull off the PCH into Point Magu State Park, where I took an incredible five-mile hike through lush foliage and tinkling waterfalls. At the top of a hill, I came across a huge open field, where surrounded by mountains on three sides and the ocean on the other, I laid down, closed my eyes, and had the peaceful, beautiful moment that had been eluding me for so long.

And then I thought, "Wow, my mom put a dress on my brother." That is fucked up!

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