Camping is not just camping. In fact, there is an entire spectrum of different types of camping one can take part in. On one end of the spectrum is the type of bare bones camping that can be found in National Forests and other wilderness areas. I took part in this type of camping for the first time last year at Gunnella Pass. These are places where you just put down your tent, and pretty much are on your own. Maybe there’s a fire pit leftover from the last set of people who plopped their tents there.
On the other end of the spectrum are places like Starlite Classic Campground. These campgrounds have their own office, where one can usually buy the ice, firewood, and other standard camping supplies, specific camping sites reserved in advance for various group sizes, and often have plenty of other amenities.
On this campground, we had a pool, which we ended up spending a significant amount of time in, as temperatures soared well in to the 90s Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.
Next to the pool is a children’s play area, which I probably spent way more time than any adult should at, but, hey, I am also a grown-up throwing myself a half birthday party, so, it kinda fits.
And, not to mention, a whole bunch of other games, including horseshoes, volleyball, and even a mini-golf course.
All this made for a completely different kind of experience than your standard camping trip. When most people think of camping, they ponder up images of a campfire, roasting marshmallows, and a fairly quiet experience, which can often involve some reflection, star gazing, and deep conversations in the wilderness. With the hot temperatures, mid-June daylight lasting until nearly 9 P.M., all the amenities at Starlite, and a total of 17 people participating in the weekend (including both camping and rafting), very little of your standard camping experience happened. In fact, the weekend kind of felt like some kind of hybrid experience between being at a campsite and a party!
Starlite Classic Campground is located just across the street from Performance Tours, the outfitter we used for our rafting trip. We had a mere two minute walk to get where we needed to go in the morning. In fact, the evening before the trip, we could see the very bus we would be getting on the following morning to start our raft trip.
With the purchase of the group site at Starlite, we received a significant discount on the rafting trip, as they have some sort of deal.
In addition to all of the fun, the scenery was amazing. Just four miles south of the campground is the Royal Gorge Bridge, which can be seen by gazing across the open plane of the Arkansas River Valley. A quick turn to the right, and one can see the Sangre de Cristo Mountain Range, which contains numerous peaks over 14,000 feet, and extends all the way into Northern New Mexico.
As I walked across the open field that evening, staring across a the Sangres, and the bridge, and some of the other terrain features that look so breathtaking when the setting sun hits them at just the right angle, I came to the realization that I had entered the sweet spot that I am always looking for in life. By this I mean being the best version of me, the version of me I wish I could be all the time, but somehow can’t.
Without the help of any substance, drugs, alcohol, or even caffeine for that matter, all the anxiety had just vanished. I was just content. It’s hard to explain. But, it was like I had just simply left the competitive world that we live in behind for a few days. I did not feel I was competing with people, needing to prove anything, or potentially being judged for anything. Maybe what I felt was acceptance, something we all long for in life, and something I sincerely appreciate those who joined me on this trip for.
Out here, organizational structures, hierarchies, deadlines, and all of the things that make life stressful simply don’t exist. It is just you, whoever you chose to make the trip with, and the scenery. And, once you get to that place where you can let go of everything in your head, you find that best version of you, the one you know you are capable of. It is the you that is confident, eager to take on a new activity, and in no way hiding any aspect of who you are out of fear of judgement. It is the you that the people who you value are drawn to, and it is the you that should be celebrated, even if that means throwing yourself parties like this one.
For me, when I am being true to myself, it means being goofy, and, well this area offers plenty of opportunities for that. This section of U.S. highway 50, near Royal Gorge, has more than just one campsite and one whitewater outfitter. There are more campsites, more whitewater outfitters, other activities (such as helicopter rides), and shops and restaurants that serve the needs of the tourists in the area. Not to say that this area is a full-fledged tourist trap similar to Estes Park. But, there are some places to wander around to at night if one is so inclined.
The return trip home involved one mildly disappointing stop; the World’s Largest Rocking Chair. The chair was large, but we could not get in, as the shop that houses it has been closed for a year.
As I faced the return trip to the city, the return to work, and normal life, I could not help but think about the feeling I had this weekend, and how to be the best version of myself, the me that I was all weekend, every day. What I struggle with is that “normal life” offers pretty much two typical paths. First, one could work hard and “move up” in their organization, get promoted, become the boss, and maybe even reach leadership positions. However, I have frequently observed that in many organizations, reaching higher levels requires some level of conformity, and one often must make some compromises on who they are and what they value to get in the good graces of those higher up- particularly in larger organizations.
Then, of course, there is always the option to be content to simply stay at the bottom of the totem pole. This is a better path for those that prefer to keep their work load at reasonable levels, and seriously value work-life balance. But, unfortunately, those that chose this route will always be answering to somebody, a boss, and sometimes for somewhat arbitrary reasons. Being at the mercy of one person (and that person can suddenly change), who may be having a bad day, a bad month, or just simply be a bad person, has lead to countless terrible outcomes, all of which result in people not being the best version of themselves.
This is not to say that all is lost. There are plenty of people that find a path outside the typical two options laid out above. Many even write about their experiences here on WordPress. There are also plenty of people that find a good environment using one of the two standard paths outlined above. But, we all have a struggle. And, this weekend, I realized that in order to make this struggle easier for both myself and the people around me, I need to celebrate the attributes in others that draw me to them, and also celebrate my own attributes that draw others to me. Regardless of our paths, this authenticity needs to be encouraged.