On being way off the grid

Tuesday night, the end of day three of the annual camping and fishing trip I take with my father. This is the second year he ponied up for a small cabin, in contrast to our regular camp tents. Last year, he decreed that he was too old to be sleeping on the ground, but I suspect the real reason was that he had gotten a little tired of the daily battle with Mother Nature when it comes to meal preparation. On these trips the plan is to fish all day, or at least until we caught our limit or enough for dinner, then get back to camp and hang out and prepare dinner, only to have a monsoon storm whip up and drive us racing for cover while dousing our dinner table with cold rain.

Dad and I have taken this annual pilgrimage for about the past seven years, missing only once due to a conflicting event, which we did together. This time is important to us, so we try very hard to make it a priority, not only because we both like to fish, but mostly because it’s one thing we can do to spend time together. Prior to the “too old for this” declaration, like the swallows return to Capistrano, we always made our way back to our own favorite campground in the mountains outside of Durango, Colorado.

One of the benefits of the Colorado trip was the fact that we were so far off the grid…12 miles to be exact. That was the distance between me and one bar’s worth of service on my mobile phone. I tested it. Every year. I always said it would be good to know exactly how far I would have to travel if there was some kind of emergency, but the fact is, for a couple of days every year, I went through internet withdrawals.

I always had a good excuse, though: my clients.

More than a couple of times, back when I was doing more freelancing, I thought clients would be trying to get a hold of me, even though they knew I would be gone, or I would realize that an important email didn’t get sent out before I left. I would stress out about being out of touch, even if it was only for a couple of days. Every three days we would travel back into Durango to get ice for our cooler, and my phone was ready. Emails were in the outbox, ready to fly, text messages were queued up and waiting for that first precious cellular signal.

Of course it wasn’t all business.

Specifically-shot photos were ready to be sent to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, etc. Photos designed to let the world know just how much fun I was having while my friends and the rest of my family was back slaving away at their jobs or sweating in the Phoenix heat. Photos my uncle describes as “making it look like I live in a jeans commercial.”

Thanks to a recent change in my perspective, however, I can now see what I was doing in a different light.

Rather than just be in the moment, hanging out with my dad, I’m anxiously awaiting the opportunity to be back online, looking at the world through a three-inch digital screen, and broadcasting how much fun I was having in an effort to win approval through stars or thumbs-up or likes or whatever. To people who, for the most part, don’t care.

This year, though, in this drafty little cabin in Utah, I’m really trying to be different.

After my recent infatuation with minimalism/zen thinking, I’m striving to be more in the moment. Sure, I’m writing this on my iPad and will eventually make my way over to the nearby cafe to post this via their wifi, but the attitude behind it is different. I’m writing this now to capture it while it’s fresh. I pause when dad decides that he wants to chat, and hang it up while we sip hot chocolate and listen to the monsoon thunder rumble through the mountains.

More importantly, I’m not pulling my phone out every five minutes to see if I can get a signal, or rushing over to the previously-mentioned cafe every chance I get to touch base with clients or my office, to return email messages or catch up online content I may be “missing” while I’m out here.

Not that I haven’t wanted to…we all know that feeling of connectedness is addicting. I made an intentional decision to visit the cafe once a day, and only if there is another reason to go. Getting online can’t be the point…if we’re there for another reason it’s fine, but there won’t be any wandering over just to send out a tweet.

As such, since we’ve arrived, I’ve sent one email out with a photo of the lake to a friend who enjoys fishing, and a few text messages to my wife and to my mom. I’ve turned the email application off on my phone, and for the most part, it’s in airplane mode since there’s no service up here anyway. If it wasn’t my camera I wouldn’t even have it on me.

I’ve taken pictures of the lake, our fish, the storm clouds. I’ve tried to get a video of a peculiar bird that keeps swimming by like an underwater torpedo while we fish, but I can’t get him to show up. And in the spirit of trying to be in the moment I haven’t thought about how I’m going to post any of these pictures to Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Flickr. If I do decide to post any of them it will be later, after I get home. When that’s what I want to be doing with my time.

I brought a book — an actual, physical book — to read while here, and spend the post-fishing late mornings and early afternoon reading No Impact Man in the shade while dad feeds peanuts to the chipmunks. The past two days the afternoon storms have driven us inside, where we talk about his growing up and his cars, his first job and the jokes he used to play on his older-than-himself nephew. We watch the storms roll in across the lake, then prepare dinner together while it rains outside. We go to bed when it gets dark and get up when it gets light.

It’s a simple life, and about as minimal as it gets. I just wish it lasted more than a week.