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Isolation, carefully good for the soul

Sun Advocate publisher

One of the perks to living in Utah, particularly rural Utah, is the ability to get away from civilization and to isolate yourself if you want to.

In the late 1980s I moved from Sandy to take a job in Irvine, Calif. Orange County is a beautiful place, and it seemed I was embarking on a new adventure, one that would define new horizons for me.

I was hired to be the editor of a trade/business magazine, and worked for a wonderful small family owned company. No one had ever treated me better than they did.

I got quite a raise in salary over what I had been making in Salt Lake and it seemed great days were ahead.

But they weren't.

I was unhappy. Living amongst the 20 million or so people that inhabit that region just wasn't for me. The people were fine; the job was great; the things to do on my off work time were tremendous.

And my wife loved it there.

But there was one thing I couldn't stand. No matter where I went, no matter what I did, I couldn't get away from people.

Travel to the mountains and there were people. Travel to the beach, there were people. Even going 150 miles away to the desert, there were people.

Hey, there's nothing wrong with people. but sometimes isolation is good. And I could never find it. I felt hemmed in. I felt trapped. The only time I felt completely good was when I came back to Utah. The minute I crossed that border and into Washington county in my car, I could feel the crush go away.

I realize it was my problem, not California's. Just the same it was a problem. Living there for the that period of time taught me how much I like isolation. So about once a year, I try to take one of my dogs, and spend three to four days camping alone in an isolated place in the middle of the spring.

Usually the weather is lousy. When I went on my yearly trek the last time, it was cold, snowed a little, rained some and blew most of the time. Yet that four days I was in the Swell really was satisfying. I rode about 120 miles on my ATV, hiked between eight and 10 miles, played frisbee with my Border Collie three to four times a day, read two books and put together a small but complicated puzzle. I ate the way I wanted (and when I wanted) sat in the snow in a lawn chair while the wind whirled around me, got dirty and grubby, didn't shave the whole time I was there and went to bed early and rose late.

For some this wouldn't be fun; but for me it was great. To each his own.

Being alone, not having the daily pressures of job or responsibilities for a few days makes me a better person. It has always made me appreciate my wife, my friends and my work mates more. What they do for me is immeasurable.

Yet there is something about being alone, with one of my dogs that changes me, brings me back into line with what I really am, not what I have to be to get through the modern world.

There is also something good about running your life without much help.

This last weekend a friend of mine said she would be concerned about being alone like that. She said "What if something happened? What if you fell off your four wheeler? What if you fell while you were hiking and got hurt? What if you had a heart attack?"

She's right. The story of the woman from Maine down by Hell's Backbone south of Boulder this past week brings the truth of this story to light. She hiked without telling anyone where she was going and broke her leg. Luckily they traced her because she left a car rental agreement in her motel room and when she didn't return, the owners informed authorities who searched for and found her.

But if you consider what could happen all the time, what would life be? There are all kinds of ifs out there. Call me fatalistic, but I have found in my life when I am responsible for myself, with no one around me, I make much better judgements about what I should try and shouldn't. But things can still happen.

You also learn lessons from close calls. One particular event has influenced me for years.

In the 1990s, shortly after I moved to Carbon County, I climbed down on a ledge near The Wedge to get a better view of a side canyon. The rock outcropping I was standing on was slanted toward the canyon, which had at least a 500 foot drop off. I stood there and admired the view. When I turned around I noticed that the ledge above that I had climbed down, the one that seemed so innocuous, was suddenly much steeper than I thought going back up. The rock I had to grab onto was also the kind of shale that comes apart in your hands when you grab it. I looked around. There was no other way off that ledge. Trying to climb up that unstable rock could have resulted in me going over the lip of the ledge should I fall. While I had a back pack, what I had in it as far as water and food was minimal. My vehicle was less that three hundred yards away, but I couldn't see it. At the time I also doubted if someone standing by it, could have seen me or heard me either.

I was stuck. As the sun began to move very far west the shadows against the opposing cliffs showed the images of the trees above the ledge. There was no way I could sleep on that ledge when night came. It was slanted enough that I would have rolled off in my sleep. I started to get scared.

Then as the sun started to die, in the west, I could hear a vehicle approaching. I heard it stop and some doors to a car slam. I began to call out. Soon above me were two young men looking down on my precarious perch.

"This looks bad, " said one of them. "How long you been down there."

"About three hours," I said.

One of them had a rope and tied it to a juniper tree. He threw it to me and between grabbing the rope and helping hands from the two 20 somethings I was able to get out of my hole. I didn't know how to thank them because who knows what would have happened if they hadn't come along. Afterward they told me they were touring the area and were environmentalists studying the effects of human impact on the Swell.

I didn't tell them I was a dirt biker and opposed to land closures in many of the areas where environmental groups want to shut off land to motorized use. They had rescued me from uncertainty. In my situation, I was glad they were out looking around. Who could complain?

In the years since I have enjoyed my isolation trips, but I have been much more careful about what I do and what I tackle. The old adage about looking before you leap, is truer than ever.

And for this old guy, it is a rule to live by.

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