Wild Child: The Need for Wilderness

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread.” - Ed Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Over my four day canoe trip on the Green River in Canyonlands, I often found myself pondering the writings of Edward Abbey, especially excerpts from his book Desert Solitaire. Abbey was a complex person, but I think he had really insightful philosophies about wilderness. Whenever I read his works, I feel that his philosophies just click with me. I wholeheartedly believe in the importance of wilderness. It is essential to our happiness.

This canoe trip was my first time out in remote wilderness for a prolonged amount of time. Whenever I go hiking or camping, I usually see at least one other person, and I know I have the ability to quickly get help if there was an emergency. On this trip, though, we were going to be alone in the middle of the desert, with nothing but our gear and the inability to call for help if needed. I was excited, but nervous. A few days before we left, I kept on thinking about worst-case scenarios. What if we run out of water and our purifier broke? What if we got heat exhaustion? What if my worst fears were realized and I got bit by a snake? What if, what if, what if? Needless to say, I was a bit anxious. Within minutes of getting on the water, however, I didn’t have any anxieties. Instead, as I looked up at the cliff walls towering hundreds of feet above me and felt the hot sun on my back, I was immediately filled with a deep sense of happiness.

I was alone in the wilderness. And I loved it.

Accurate depiction of my feelings. Stoke levels high

52 Miles on the Green River

Our trip officially started at Tex’s Riverways in Moab, Utah. My dad, brother, sister, and I loaded the trailer with all our gear and listened to the basic safety briefing: drink lots of water, avoid bugs, have fun. We learned the solution to pollution is dilution, and we were introduced to the lovely pressurized poop bucket for our solid human waste. After that, it was an hour long drive to Mineral Bottom on the Green River. As we passed Arches National Park and turned up the road to Dead Horse Point State Park and Canyonlands National Park, I was giddy. The high desert of Utah with the red rock, juniper, and clear blue skies make me stoked.

Just look at those reflections!

After winding down an old Uranium mining road, we reached Mineral Bottom on the Green River. It took a little time and Tetris-esque skills to balance our canoe and kayaks, but we quickly were out on the water. We started at Mineral Bottom (the tail end of Labyrinth Canyon), and canoed down the 52 mile stretch of Stillwater Canyon to the Confluence of the Green and Colorado Rivers. We ended two miles down river of the Confluence at Spanish Bottoms, just a few miles above the rapids at Cataract Canyon. On that entire stretch of river and over four days, we didn’t see a single human being.

The four days with my brother, sister, and Dad were incredible. Because we were so isolated, inhibitions quickly came down, and we amused ourselves by shouting dumb phrases to hear our echoes shout them back. My brother and I perfected British accents and entertained each other by practicing different kayak paddle strokes. We stopped wherever and whenever we pleased to eat, swim, and take mud baths. We alternated between paddling and floating, comfortably talking about all different things. We spent an equal amount of time enjoying the stillness of the canyon and each of us spent time just sitting and thinking to ourselves.

Pro Tip: Make sure your canoe is tied up to something really, really durable so that your boat doesn't float away.

We are so in-sync

At night, we sometimes camped at high-water campsites, lugging our gear up steep embankments and other times stopped on huge sandbars with soft, white sand. We discovered good sleep is highly correlated to temperature and that the moon often seems as bright as the sun. We enjoyed yummy, real food (no dehydrated packs for us!), and my dad even surprised us with pancakes and bacon one morning! The mornings were quiet and we raced the sun as we took down camp but felt the temps increase dramatically the minute sunlight hit our camp. We found being on the water was infinitely cooler than land and determined that anyone that hikes in Canyonlands in mid-July might be insane.

My family is clearly full of cuties

The majority of the time was spent laughing and having a good time. And I am convinced this trip was so fun and successful, in part, because we were in true, remote wilderness. I believe that being in wilderness is essential to the well-being of every person.

The Need for Wilderness

I have had many wonderful experiences in nature while being surrounded by other people. I love Zion National Park. I love hiking in the Wasatch. I usually don’t mind seeing other people on the trail. I actually sometimes like it; it can engender a feeling of camaraderie and community. However, I strongly believe certain experiences are only possible during private, solitary moments in wilderness. I am so grateful that we’ve protected so many lands that make true wilderness a possibility.


My time on the Green River impacted me in small but significant ways. While I was out there with three people whom I love, I was reminded of who I am. Stripped from the distractions and conveniences of modern society, I was left with only myself and the natural world. As a recent college graduate looking at law school, I have been a little overwhelmed with “the real world.” I often find myself trying to balance my need for adventure and spontaneity with the expected American ideal of suburbia and stability. Yet being in this wilderness, away from anybody and anything, I was able to reflect on principles that are core to who I am. I felt rejuvenated and got off the river with a little more peace and clarity in my life. I cannot accurately describe the feeling of awe, amazement, and simple gratitude I felt in those short four days.

I am grateful to be a part of this earth, to be part of such a beautiful, wild place. Despite centuries of human civilizations trying to distance themselves from the natural world, we cannot ignore the fact that we are all part of this earth. Being in remote wilderness allows a person to internalize that idea. Too often we get distracted by the superficiality of modern society, and I believe wilderness is a paradoxical solution to the feelings of isolation and emptiness rampant in our society. I agree with Ed Abbey in that, 

“We need wilderness whether or not we ever set foot in it. We need a refuge even though we may never need to go there. I may never in my life get to Alaska…but I am grateful that it’s there. We need the possibility of escape as surely as we need hope.”


We need wilderness to embrace our wild side.


Note: All pictures taken by Justin Boyer (Instagram handle: @jgboyer).

Published: July 20, 2017

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Laura Boyer

Provo

A girl who loves the outdoors. Climber. Skier. Peak Bagger. [Aspiring] Environmental Lawyer.