Sometime last year I read about Alastair Humphreys and his year of Microadventure. I instantly fell in love with the idea of, in the words of Alastair, “an adventure that is close to home, cheap, simple, short, and yet very effective.” Rather than some great big, globe-trotting trip, the Microadventure is a way of challenging yourself to be creative and do something you’ve never done in your own backyard. I’ve been following Alastair’s blog and Facebook page for a while now, and when he issued the Summer Solstice Microadventure Challenge on his Facebook page earlier this month, I knew that I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to create an adventure near me. The only “rule” for the adventure? It had to include sleeping out in the wild for at least one night, without a tent! Challenge accepted!
Thinking about potential adventures, my first thought was to take off on my bike and find a nice hill to sleep on. Thinking about this further, though, I realized that I tend to see a lot of the world around me from atop two wheels, and I wanted a little change of pace. Instead, I wanted to craft an adventure that required me to walk to my destination. As luck would have I live just below the foothills of Sonoma County. Perfect!
On the evening of Summer Solstice, the husband and I packed up our gear and headed out the front door. We left the house at around 7:45 p.m. With pack strapped on, we walked through our residential neighborhood toward our destination.
Even though I have walked through my neighborhood countless times, having a big pack on my back definitely made for a different type of walking experience! I received a number of quizzical looks from people who were out watering their plants, walking their dogs, or playing with their kids. I even got one “looks like you missed the trail” greeting from an older dude. I smiled and laughed a bit, too excited to be on this adventure to feel self conscious.
Turning out of our neighborhood, we were suddenly on one of those quintessential Sonoma County backroads; twisting, narrow, and lined on either side by vineyards. “We really do live in one of the most beautiful places on earth,” exclaimed my husband. As I watched the vineyards bathed in golden sunlight, I couldn’t help but agree with his assessment.
A short while later we reached the edge of the foothills and began our climb up to the ridge where we planned to spend the night. The sun was just beginning to set and the light playing off of the golden hills and oaks made for a rather spectacular hike.
After some steep climbing we reached an overlook area that I thought would make for a nice spot to spend the night. Upon closer inspection, though, we noticed several large ant nests and, not wanting to wake up to searing ant bites, we decided it would be best to climb further up to find a better, less ant-infested spot. After another 15 minutes of climbing, we reached a scenic overlook area with a bench. Perfect! After checking for ants, I dropped my pack and stood at the edge of the ridge to take in the view. Wow! Below us, the cities and towns that dot the valley were busy with traffic and activity. Up here on the ridge, though, there was nothing but the sounds of the oaks and grasses swaying in the breeze, the deer and other animals making their way through the forest, and the birds calling to one another.
It always amazes me how quickly the sounds and sights of the city disappear when you move into a more wild space. Down there, life passes quickly by. In wild spaces, time does funny things. It slows down, expands, becomes meaningless. Moments seem to linger on, become deeper and longer. It really is true, what people say…that nature is sacred; an almost spiritual or religious experience. Whatever it is, it definitely helps to reset my mind and soften my heart.
I watch the sun set a little bit longer, but realize that it would probably be a good idea to set up camp for the night. Luckily having no tent makes for a really quick camp set-up!
In no time, the husband and I are sitting, watching the fog roll out from the coast, cans of Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA in hand. We talk and laugh and gaze out onto the fog covered valley. Soon, night falls but the lights of the towns below light up the valley just enough to see the fog stretching out over the vineyards and towns.
We munch on the random snacks we threw into our packs and suddenly hear something large move through the brush just below us. “What are we supposed to do if we see a mountain lion,” I ask, slight panic rising in my voice. Although this is mountain lion country and sightings are pretty frequent, I’ve never heard of someone being attacked by one in Sonoma County. Although my rational brain knows this, I get a little nervous about the fact that we are cowboy camping. Even though a tent wouldn’t protect you from a large predator like a mountain lion, there’s still something comforting about not being face to face with whatever is outside. My husband says reassuring things and and I pretend to believe him.
I finally get sleepy and cold enough and we turn in for the night. I’ve slept outside many times, but this was my first time sleeping without a tent. It was a little bit scary and exhilarating. Sleep didn’t come very easily, but after what seemed like hours of listening to critters rustling through the brush, I finally passed out and slept soundly until the sun was already up.
In the morning we lazily packed up camp while I made coffee with our trusty pocket rocket stove.
After packing up the remaining gear, we set off down the trail. As we descended the ridge we passed two early morning hikers who offered shy smiles when they saw our packs. It was still early when we reached the main road, and there was hardly any traffic on the road.
As we wound through our neighborhood, there were few signs of life. It looked like most people were still in bed on this Sunday morning. Soon, we rounded the corner of our street and just like that, we were back at our house. I looked at the clock; just a little bit before 7:30.
I set out to have a new adventure and along the way I was able to experience my neighborhood in a completely new way, enjoy great views of the Wine Country valley that I call home, and have amazingly funny, deep, meaningful conversations with the husband. All in a span of about 12 hours. I call that a successful microadventure for sure!