A Digital Detox While Connecting With Nature: Four Weeks Unplugged in Remote Canada — Page 2
Story and photos by Julia Hubbel

I notice I miss nothing of the so-called "real world." This is as real as it gets.

canada natureReleased from the compulsion to check, to produce, to write, to read a feed, I can focus my attention on the issues at hand. Like wrestling a very heavy saddle onto my horse. Finding his bridle. Helping others with the pack saddles. One horse after another, huge, heavy, animals. Mostly very sweet. Just huge. More than a ton, in fact; a rather startling discovery when one places his huge hoof on top of your hiking boot.

Finally, at mid-morning, our riding day is just about to begin. Sawchuk gives us the head's up.

"Big Rig is our last horse. Ten minutes. Get to your horses, get ready to ride."

People scurry, packing last-minute snacks into pockets. We secure leather straps one last time. I'd already lost a few things along the trail because of loose straps. Thank heaven others picked them up for me. One was a $330 North Face jacket. Not something you want to casually leave behind.

That taught me to learn to tie everything down very tightly. I also learned what to put on the front and back of my saddle, and in what order, in case of rain. You learn efficiency of movement. Because we have so few things out here, losing something like a warm jacket is a serious problem.

Riding Horses Across Wild Terrain

As soon as Big Rig's final ropes are secured, Wayne grabs the lead rope on his pack horse and takes off, his "Let's gooooooooo…." drifting away on the wind. We surge en masse, a wide river forced through a narrow point. We all jockey for favored positions.

Often because of the difficulty of the terrain, we hike, leading our horses. The hikes wind over and down steep, rock-strewn mountain trails that often disappear under the overgrowth.

You can't use trekking poles. I fall a lot. I get used to it.

Canada tent

Each night I'm so tired, I barely zip up my bag before I am sound asleep. The sleep of the balanced body: well-exercised, well-fed, well-hydrated body and brain. How we are designed. By the next day what was sore the night before has faded.

I notice the smallest things, minor comforts: a shaded spot to sit, a cup of icy water, a breeze on a hot mountainside all become significant. At the same time, the longer I'm out in the wild, the more my senses shift to their natural priorities.

The conveniences of Western life have muffled our senses to danger, to the constant conversation of nature. What constitutes a bird's warning call overhead. Rustling bushes. The intuitive knowledge that deep in the heavy brush on a high hillside, grizzlies are likely to be watching. They stand suddenly, barely fifty yards away, huge shoulders and forward-facing ears, mesmerized by the sight of 23 horses and people.

They lumber away uphill at 35 miles an hour. You and I can't outrun a grizzly. Not even close.

You cannot be distracted. With grizzlies, dense brush, dangerous cliffs, astride another living, breathing animal that needs your full attention, you've got to be fully present. You can't multi-task out here. (Some folks tried, with nearly disastrous results.)

Canada watching for grizzlies

We're a long winding line of 23 horses, four guides, and six clients. The trail is often blocked by deadfall. As Wayne saws through the trees, felled by the winter snows, the rest of us sit our horses and wait.

Robbed of the compulsion to check a phone, we are forced to be with our thoughts.

For some, that's more terrifying country than being in the deep wilderness with ravenous grizzlies. Over his shoulder, Wayne points out wolf, grizzly, and caribou tracks. During breaks, he brings out his binoculars. "Grizzlies," a family of four foraging on the rocky slope.

There are so many impressions, from the conversational groan of the stately pines in the winds to the steady rush of the milky turquoise glacier waters. The taste of those icy waters, made opaque with glacier dust. The rich, dense smell of freshly turned earth.

Like the original settlers, when things go wrong or you get hurt, you're often forced to figure out a cure on your own. One morning I woke up with such a severe neck strain that I couldn't turn in either direction. From mid-back to the base of my neck I was as flexible as a steel bar. I filled a plastic Dasani water bottle, slipped it into the pocket of my down pillow, and slept with that supporting my neck. Not only did that stop the pain, but I regained most of my mobility for the rest of the trip. You learn to improvise, because there is no other choice.

Canada clear water

A Natural Body Balance in Nature

There were other benefits, too, of this month off the grid.

Given the daily work, the constant hiking, the kind of food available, I dropped ten pounds. I got my waistline back. My legs turned to steel from constantly gripping the saddle with my thighs. I composed a hundred stories, writing the ideas in my small notepad. That notepad got bent, wet, and beaten. No electronic device would have survived that abuse.

I only ate when hungry. That was limited to the small packages of nuts and dried fruit in my pockets, some turkey jerky. Apples, even bruised ones, were a minor miracle. I only drank water, right from the streams and lakes. Even standing water was safe to drink out here in the Canadian wilderness.

What a gift.

I never missed my devices for a single moment. Not even once.

Divorcing my devices in their entirety, for four weeks straight, put me back in touch with what has always been wild in me, my comfort with discomfort, with silence. The sounds I hear are not manufactured ones. They are rain pattering on my rain fly. Hooves right outside my vestibule. The crackling of a morning fire, when nobody else is awake.

Canada Open Feilds

It's late August as I write this. It's been more than five weeks since I stood at the front of a jetboat that tore down the Prophet River to return me to civilization. What did I keep?

I leave my window open in my car. My house, too unless it gets so hot it's stifling. I spend more time outside. I sit quietly, listening. I want to hear, smell, sense.

I'm back on my computer, but not as much. Or for as long. And in a few days, I am heading into the wilderness again.

That feels more like home.

Julia Hubbel is the author of two books, a prize-winning journalist, and adventure athlete. Her primary interest is in adventure sports in the farthest reaches of the world, learning about indigenous cultures and discovering the last of the world's pristine places.

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Related Features:
Disconnected in a Landscape of Sand and Salt - Tim Leffel
Lessons in Leadership While Horseback Riding in Iceland - Julia Hubbel
Friend Requests in the Canadian Outback - Chris Epting
How Ted Turner Helped Me Fall in Love With Nature - Judith Fein

See other stories on traveling in Canada in the archives

Read this article online at: A Digital Detox While Connecting With Nature: Four Weeks Unplugged in Remote Canada

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