I took off Friday and headed to a small town called Shade Gap in Pennsylvania. My family owns property just outside of Shade Gap and, every spring and fall, a group heads up for a camping trip.
If the town is remote (population 97), the property on which we camp is even more so. It is surrounded on three sides by state game land and is primarily wooded. There is a dirt road through the woods that leads to a clearing, on which we pitch our tents, build our fire and spend most of our time.
There are certain traditions that have evolved — pizza grilled cheeses, a circle of chairs around the campfire, games during the day and a creepy, late-night hike through the woods to an abandoned house that sits on the property.
But my favorite part of these trips is disconnecting from the “real world.” Phone reception is limited, there is no running water and there is no electricity. Unless you drive into town, you will not see anyone other than the camping group for the entire weekend. The nearest store is about a 25-minute drive away.
I give myself permission to put the “out-of-office assistant” on my email and to leave my cell in the car for this trip. I give myself permission to leave my real life and all of the obligations, responsibilities and stress in Baltimore. For this weekend, my purpose is to enjoy the scenery and the company.
Aside from cooking and games (Frisbee, wiffle ball, boccie ball, etc.), there is no agenda on this trip. There is nowhere else to be and nothing else to be doing.
Time in Shade Gap seems to stand still; the hours stretch to the point that any concept of time is eventually lost. At noon on Saturday, for example, I was certain that it was nearly dinnertime.
On Saturday afternoon, a group of us ventured into the woods for a hike that I had not done before. We followed a trail for about 30 minutes that led to a clearing with breathtaking views. Blue skies painted a beautiful backdrop for rolling hills and and a picturesque tree line. I took a deep breath; this is exactly what the doctor had ordered.
Later that night, I looked up at a sky blanketed by stars. It is not a scene that I can adequately describe. It is not a view you could ever see in the city, not even on the clearest of nights. On that mountain, away from the lights of civilization, the night sky was incredible.
I kept the top off of my tent and fell asleep looking out into that starry abyss. I could hear the sounds of the woods around me and the laughter of campers who were still awake coming from the campfire. I could not help but smile as I fell into a deep sleep.
On Sunday morning, we had our coffee, sat around the fire for one last, relaxing moment and then began the unfortunate task of packing up and heading back to reality.
We stopped at a little mom-and-pop shop on our way out of Shade Gap for the kind of delicious home-cooking that you can only get in a sleepy little town. Everything was farm-to-table, nothing came out of a bag or a freezer, and not one bit of it was good for me.
The store was an all-in-one gas station/grocery/convenience/apparel/hardware/auto store and restaurant. The employees made fun of each other and of their customers, who they of course knew by name, and, by the time we had finished our meal, they were poking fun at us as well.
When I arrived home in Baltimore and finally showered, did laundry and cleaned my gear, I felt like a new person. I was ready to start the week with a recharged attitude.
Particularly for busy professionals, it is vital that from time-to-time we slow down, limit distractions and decompress. It is important to disconnect from the outside world, to take a deep breath and truly to just be in the moment. Smartphones, the Internet, email — it all makes slowing down and truly being in the moment nearly impossible.
Even if you only can retreat into your backyard for a few hours or go for a short walk, make the time to break away when you can. Put the phone away, walk away from your computer and enjoy this beautiful world around you.