Oh, the great outdoors. A few weekends ago, eight of my closest friends and I set out on our annual backpacking trip, and as per usual, I returned bruised, battered, blistered, and more in love with escaping into nature than I was before. We started these trips as a way for all of us who now live stretched across California to have at least one weekend a year where we can all get together and sink into the blissful ignorance that comes with no cell service and total detachment from the outside world.

I can’t speak for the entire group, but it transports me back to the days when the amount of sunlight left in the sky was my only governor of the time. Back when the only thing I was scared of was being late for dinner because I knew it would jeopardize the next day’s list of activities that I had planned.

This year our trip was to the Eastern Sierras, First Dinkey Lake, to be specific. As mentioned earlier, we live sprawled out across the state now with some friends coming from as far south as San Diego and as far north as the Bay Area. This results in extremely varied arrival times, which explains how we all met at midnight on Friday.

For most groups, that would mean a couple hello’s maybe a few hugs and then off to bed ready for a bright and early start. We are not most groups. Our night was far from over. Once at the first rally point, we exchanged three short-range walkie-talkies and code names and set off on an hour of off-roading toward the trailhead. I rode shotgun of the front car wielding a map while calling upon my Boy Scout training from elementary school, but it never returned.

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The Great Outdoors

After a couple of wrong turns, a few potty breaks, and complete abandonment of one of our trucks in a turnout, we finally reached the trailhead an hour later. Time for bed, right? Wrong. Our anarchist, slightly crazy, perhaps a bit thickheaded group voted to hike throughout the night.

Forward we trudged for what felt like hours with only the dim light from old headlamps and the scuffing of tired feet to guide us. We could have hiked for four hours, four days, or four minutes. Without service or sunlight, it was impossible to tell. When we were ready to call it quits, we finally broke the tree line and could see the moon shimmering off the lake. Suddenly, the hike was well worth it.

Saturday was filled with fishing, swimming, and more hiking as we set off to discover more lakes while leaving our basecamp at Dinkey. First Swede Lake then South Lake, each body of water clearer and more inviting than the last.

Sunday morning, we packed out. As we started passing people on the trail, we were slowly reminded of the grim reality that our country is still going through a pandemic and a revolution despite our best efforts to escape it.

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The Great Outdoors

Was it essential to travel? By the state’s definition, probably not, but it was essential to my well being. As we creep closer toward spending an entire year in quarantine, I think it’s important for all of us to remember that while we can’t see a movie or go to a bar for drinks after work, we can still find safe ways to unplug and boost our own mental and physical health.

You aren’t the only one battling anxiety or having trouble sleeping right now. You aren’t the only person putting on weight they don’t want or are tired of arguing with people on the internet.

Sometimes you have to take care of yourself and your mental health and what better way to do that than getting lost in nature. One of the great blessings of living in this county is the number of hikes available to us. You might not be able to get away for an entire weekend, but I highly recommend an unplugged hike, a walk around the neighborhood, or a stroll down the beach.

For those looking for new hikes, download the app “All Trails,” You will be pleasantly surprised by the number of walks and trails in this area. We must eventually return to our burrows as this virus rages on, but we can feel normal once again for a few minutes.