I wasn’t more than 10 minutes into my first solo canoe trip to the Boundary Waters when an old, familiar emotion took hold. I hadn’t felt it in years, but I recognized it immediately—a mix of fear, regret and longing for home. Fear of the unknown. Regret for willingly putting myself in this position. And, perhaps the strongest of them all, a deep desire to return to the safe confines of home.
This feeling strikes me each time I venture far enough outside my comfort zone. I felt it on day one of my first backcountry backpacking trip. I felt it on day one of two mission trips to Mexico and Jamaica. I felt it as I walked into my dorm room for the first time freshman year.
In each case, the emotion subsided as soon as I got my bearings and adjusted to “the new normal” of the situation. So as I paddled away from basecamp into the wilderness of the Boundary Waters, I held tight to the comfort provided by past experience… that I would overcome this anti-wanderlust sentiment and soon enough find myself fully immersed in the adventure.
It always takes me about a day to acclimate. Always had, anyway. This comfort zone-breaking trip was my first since becoming a parent, so I was unprepared for the additional layer of longing that comes with missing your child. As a stay-at-home dad for well over a year now, my comfort zone has become firmly rooted in our daily shenanigans. Thus, I am rarely alone. In my solo canoe with three day’s worth of provisions behind me, the realization of just how alone I was hit me like a rogue wave.
At that moment, all confidence in my past experience instantly eroded. During the course of the next hour or so, I devoted much mental power to rationalizing my way through why this was a good idea and why I should stick with it. Unfocused on the task at hand, I made what should’ve been an easy 90-minute paddle into a meandering, three-hour metaphor for finding oneself out of one’s element.
I managed to turn my attention back to the present and focused my efforts on finding a campsite and getting setup, hoping that busying myself with the routine tasks of camping would help shift my perspective and hasten the acclimation. With tent pitched and hammock hung, relaxation finally started to set in.
So I sat a moment by the fire grate where I’d later cook that evening’s meal, took a few sips of freshly purified lake water and watched two loons fishing just offshore. As I listened to them sing updates to each other between dives, it occurred to me this moment of stillness after a rocky start was not unlike a typical afternoon.
Mornings can be tough with a toddler, but afternoon nap always has a way of resetting the day. It’s what my 2-year-old often needs, and it’s exactly what I needed that first day of my trip. I needed patience. I couldn’t force the experience any more than I can force my son to do long division.
When I reimagined Mother Nature as a toddler, the remainder of the weekend, though soggy and cold, went by as quickly as an afternoon at the park. No more fear. No more regret. That longing, however, never fully faded. Instead, it revealed a renewed sense of thankfulness for what awaited me back home.