"What am I doing here? I don't know a soul." It was the summer of 2002, and I had just driven four hours from my home in south-central Utah past Logan to come to a summer camp for teachers. My thoughts were interrupted as I passed by the faded blue sign outside Utah State University's Bear Lake Training Center. I parked my aging El Dorado next to a flashy SUV. Two friendly faces met mine, and the smiles broke the proverbial ice. I had been so nervous getting ready for my week-long stay at the Utah Writer’s Project, but now that I was here, I knew I was in the right place at the right time.
People were getting reacquainted, and women were rushing up and down the stairs. Friendly greetings resounded from the foyer. Heavy backpacks and suitcases were being lugged into the building. People squeezed past the visiting throng to find their rooms. It felt like being a first week freshman at Brigham Young. Once before I had been the outsider trying to find herself in the masses.
I gripped the huge camouflage duffle bag, and flashed a weak smile, in case anyone was looking my way, and made my way up the stairs to settle into the narrow dorm room. My husband's hunting presence felt so conspicuous among all of these nature-loving, Birkenstock-wearing teachers; tree-huggers, he would have called them.
How had I come to this point? The girl who had climbed Rock Canyon, skied past Strawberry Reservoir, and hiked the Uintas was somehow so far down the trail from the woman I had become. Now I was a mom with a mortgage, a full-time job, driving a ten year old Cadillac. The outdoorsy me was buried under the layers of who I'd become. We missed each other. We needed each other. It's why I was here. I was determined to find my inner granola girl.
"Granola Girl" was the nickname Sid gave me when we went white-water rafting down the Colorado River after graduation. After college, Sid, the man with whom I'd spent every weekend hiking, camping, rock climbing, and skiing began fading from my life, and the door to the outdoor enthusiast I had been began to slowly close. I went into the mountains less because I didn't like to be reminded of how alone I was. There was safety to consider, too.
When I married at the age of 25, I felt like that door slammed shut. I was letting dust gather on my lightweight hiking gear and cross-country skis. My husband tried to encourage me to continue my outdoor interests, but my climbing and hiking partners had all been single men. He had to admit he wasn't really thrilled about my going with them, but he suggested I go with other women. He did not slam the door shut; I did.
During the spring of 2002, a flyer in the faculty room for the Utah Writer's Project caught my eye. It offered hiking, writing, and the lure of summer camp experiences for teachers. The words caught my breath. Bear Lake in the summer. A chance to work on my writing. Hiking in northern Utah, even. This was my chance to open that all but forgotten door. The focus of the camp would be nature writing.
Before bedtime that first night at Bear Lake, I called home. "So, are you with a bunch of weirdoes?" he asked me. He always cut to the chase. I smiled half-heartedly into the phone, my cheeks pink realizing that that's how we talked about these people we didn't really know.
"Well, I guess you'd say so. I've never seen so many vegetarians, and people with dietary restrictions." I didn't bother to mention the Buddhists. Vegetarians were probably more than he wanted to hear about for now. After telling my kids good night, I climbed up onto the top bunk, and tried to calm my racing brain.
I lay awake on top of the sheets, missing the cooled air of my farmhouse, my children, and my husband. It could have been the heat, or too much Diet Pepsi, or the lumpy bed underneath the filthy mattress cover, but I couldn't sleep. Pressing the light on my digital watch, I checked the time periodically. Sometime after 2:00, I fell into an exhausted slumber.
The next day, my children wandered through the back of my mind for most of the day. What did they think of their mother who took no more thought of her children than to leave them for a week? My words rang hollow that I had said so often, "I love being a teacher so I can spend my summers with my family." What kind of mother leaves her children behind in search of herself?
Before I left for the camp, there was much deliberation, much self-doubt, much fear. The prologue to this story is found here: DO MOMS DESERVE ADVENTURES?