“Why the hell did I sign myself up for this?”, I muttered under my breath as the rain pelted down on my little tent, and I offered up a quick prayer that I had adjusted the tension on the rain fly properly.
I was only 6 hours into my 96 hour vision quest, and the hunger pangs were ravaging my stomach. More ominously, I wondered if I would go insane. After all, how many years (or even decades) had it been since I had gone an extended period without human contact, or continually fiddling with my phone like a monkey on meth. David, my 67 year old guide, had picked me up from the Albuquerque airport the day before. I was a little nervous about the whole thing. After all, I knew nothing about him except what I had gleaned from a short YouTube video I saw in which he was being interviewed about living a nomadic lifestyle. Something about him resonated with me, though, so I checked out his website. This prompted me to contact him, after which we had a very in-depth 2 hour phone call. I had thrown caution to the wind and did no other due diligence on him.
We drove to the little house he had rented by the Sandia wilderness, and cooked breakfast. That night we cooked out very keto-friendly ribeye steaks and asparagus slathered in butter, and then sat around the fire pit in his front yard under a flimsy tent, under a deluge of rain. We went through an exercise where we told our life story. He went first and then me. Powerful. The next morning, we ate breakfast and then back to the fire pit where I set my intention for my vision quest. Then I loaded up both my packs and 4 gallons of water and we began the arduous hike up to the ridge. David came up with me. When we reached the site he had scouted, I shook his hand and said good bye. I was nervous about the rain clouds on the horizon moving in before I could get my tent set up. Avoiding 4 nights of wet sleeping bag was high on my priority list. “Settle down. Breathe. Be with it”, I commanded myself. I slept fitfully.
The next morning I emerged out from my tent to a dazzling morning. I was so happy to be out of that tent! I brushed my teeth, and then set about finding the perfect place to set up my hammock. I then checked off my only duty of the day: proof of life to David. He had devised a system where he would know I was okay by placing a stone in the appropriate quadrant of a circle of stones he made with a plus sign in the middle. Every morning before 10 am I was to place a stone in the appropriate quadrant. This way he would know I was ok without having to ascend to my camp to disturb my solitude. The hike partially down the mountain and back up invigorated me. I set up the hammock, and then it started to sink in that I had nothing to do. Nothing at all to do. No meals to prepare, no kids to mind, no clients to serve, no weights to lift, no game of thrones to watch, no blogs to surf. Nada.
So what did I do? I hiked around, mindfully walking through the forest. I meditated for hours on a little red tarp I set up a bit aways from my camp. I thought about my life. Am I on the right track? I wrote and wrote and wrote in my journal. I spied on the creatures of the forest. They performed for me while I hid in my hammock. Deer. Chipmunks. Hawks. Lots of hummingbirds. Even a reclusive fox.
On the third day, I felt an incredible surge of energy and euphoria. I had never fasted more than 24 hours, and I felt no ill effects. Some minor hunger pangs in the afternoon and in the later evening hours which quickly dissipated. I viewed this as a major breakthrough in my efforts to burn the last 20 lbs of fat around my gut, and as a testament to the power of my will.
I thought about my favorite Stoic philosopher Seneca and his exhortations to never let your wealth become your master. I am not wealthy, but I do think that like most American men who are gainfully employed and have an inkling about the precarious nature of our current economic atmosphere, the thought of losing what I have worked so hard to attain has crossed my mind many times. It was a very powerful experience for me to see first hand that I can live a very joyful existence with nothing but a cheap tent and a bit of fresh water. Paraphrasing Seneca, “THIS is what I feared”? THIS is nothing to fear, in fact, it may even be more enjoyable than my present life.
On the last night, I slept for a few hours, and then rose. As I was sliding on my boots and unzipping the rain fly, I noticed an intense bright light on the outside of the tent. Was a park ranger shining a high powered flashlight on me? I emerged from the tent to realize that it was the moon, brighter and more luminous than I ever imagined possible. I slept a few more hours and then rose to witness the most beautiful sunrise of my life. I was supposed to meet David at our “proof of life” spot at 10 am. I had no idea what time it was, but I knew I was ready to emerge from the vision quest. I broke camp, and hiked down the mountain to David’s house with a purposeful stride. I can’t remember a “vacation” where I had the feeling of total rejuvenation that I had after this trip. I got very powerful confirmation that I am indeed on the right track in my life, and I was awestruck by the beauty of the natural world. The most impactful realization was realizing that I am far more powerful and tougher than I give myself credit for, and that I need almost nothing to be truly happy.
Written by Patrick Freeman about his Vision Quest experience in August 2017