Of Camping and Comfort Zones

My apologies for not keeping up with the blog better! To say that there have been many changes afoot in this geeky, punky life would be a vast understatement. Normalcy is a fond memory and right now, I am stealing what little leisure time I have to keep up with my reading list and train our new dog. My husband, wise man that he is, decided we needed to get away for a little while and took me camping.

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Three years ago, you couldn’t have found me near one of these things…

This may not seem like a big deal for most folks. Indeed, living in Colorado, going camping a few times a year seems almost like a requirement. Except… I don’t do camping. I went camping in a trailer with my grandparents when I was younger, and I had fun, but it had a lot of modern amenities like showers and a stove. Dad took me tent camping a couple of times but it was such an irregular occurrence that I never formed an opinion. I went backwoods camping a few times in high school and absolutely despised it — I always seemed to be on my period, my tummy was upset by the camp food, and the other kids used the opportunity to bully me. I went on one or two camping trips with my family in college, decided I disliked being away from modern conveniences like showers, and then declared myself over the whole outdoorsy thing.

We’re touring New Zealand by camper van come February, however, because that’s the only way we can really afford to spend 3 weeks in another country. My husband, in his infinite wisdom, decided I needed to get used to “roughing it” a little. We finagled two nights away from our jobs, sent the dogs to the mother-in-law’s house, and Hubby took me to Salida for a quick trip. It helped that the local hot springs his folks rave about was a mere ten minutes from our camp site and our campground had some modern amenities like coin-op showers and an arcade. It did not detract from the fact that I hadn’t been camping in six years and my boundaries were being decidedly pushed.

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Nothing better than soaking in thermal heated pools for hours and hours…

According to Yerkes and Dodson, to be the most productive we can be, we need to push ourselves out of our comfort zone. There’s what they call optimal anxiety where we push ourselves just enough — but not too much. Too much, and we put too much stress on our systems. For me, this resulted in me yelling at my husband in the parking lot of the hot springs because we forgot towels, and boy he better pray that they would let us rent some because I did not spend all night being cold and wrapped up in a mummy bag to not get a hot soak, goddammit. (Don’t worry, they rent towels! I got to soak for six hours, he survived the day and even cooked tasty tacos when we got back to camp!)

I like to brag that while I’m not huge into surprises, if given enough forewarning, I’m open to trying new things constantly. Generally I mean go seeing a new play or trying a new restaurant. But I feel refreshed and recharged after trying new things a lot and I’m pleased to find camping wasn’t different. I needed to get away from normal life. By pushing myself to experience something new, I got to experience some things I had forgotten in my soft city life: how many stars there with little light pollution to get in the way, that the midnight snack is less important when it means getting out of a cozy sleeping bag and stepping into 45 degree chilly mountain air, that going to bed before 10 p.m. is a good thing, and that pushing your comfort zone with your spouse can be incredibly sexy to him… even if you hadn’t showered in two days.

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Now glamping is certainly more Wendy-friendly!

I also found that I dealt better with surprises that would have freaked me out back home better. The owl that decided to hoot about 4 feet from our tent the second night? Not as annoying as it would have been in suburbia, because wildlife happens when you camp. The fact that bugs were freaking everywhere? Well, I already stink, why not add Eu de Bug Spray to the mix? We forgot change for the coin op showers? The hot springs had showers, and we had day passes to the hot springs. There’s been some research to support that taking small, controlled changes can help you get more comfortable with the idea of pushing your comfort zone in bigger ways down the road. Like crossing a foreign country in a camper van. Or even just planning new ways to make another trip more Wendy-friendly.

So comfort zone was pushed! Camping was accomplished and aside from one little meltdown over towels and the possibility of maybe not showering during the trip, there weren’t any major mental health hiccups. And I came to realize that there is actual scientific evidence to suggest that being in nature is actually very restorative for those under anxiety and stress. So I do believe are going to be more *short* camping trips in my future, because hey, who can argue with science?

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