A story by Amber Harrison
These days, you will rarely find me leaving the house without my trusty tent. On the odd occasion, I am without, you can be guaranteed I am feeling pretty miserable about it.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of walking into the unknown, with everything I need to survive, contained in the pack on my back. Finding a quiet patch of dirt, setting up my tent, boiling a cup of tea and slipping into solitude while I allow the rhythms of nature to wash over me.
I do believe I would go crazy without the freedom to do this. To be confined to the four walls and small talks of society, day in and day out, would have me slipping into personal darkness amidst the city lights.
I have been in that place before, and I have found there is no cure more potent, than packing a backpack and stepping out.
Now I try to incorporate this privilege in everything I do. If I am working at home, it is as a camping tour guide, sleeping under the stars each and every night, and empowering other people to do the same. If I am travelling another country, it is with my tent on my back, and I would go for miles out of my way in the quest to find that piece of beauty and solitude, rather than a town hostel.
And all the while I am doing this I feel safe. I feel empowered. I feel strong. I trust.
But it hadn’t always been that way…
When I was in my early 20s I was your average girly girl. Or below average, I guess, when it came to nature. I absolutely hated the outdoors and was afraid of every living thing. I used to be that girl in hysterics, screaming on the table, until somebody came to kill the spider in the room. I hated dirt. I hated rain. I hated sunshine. And I hated walking.
Believe it or not, I was very afraid of the dark and slept with the light on right up until the age of 17.
I was also a very highly strung person in my earlier years. I had a great deal of anger, an even higher amount of anxiety, and to top it off, a great big dollop of control-freak.
At some stage in my mid-twenties, I began to realise that these negative components of my personality flared up more when I was in social situations. Trying to fit in, trying to understand what other people really meant, trying to act a way I didn’t feel, trying to play the game.
I found I was much less angry and anxious when I was away from all of that.
I also found myself tuning out of meaningless conversations more – you know the ones where everybody is talking for the sake of talking but nobody is actually saying anything? As these conversations were taking place, I would be gazing into the distance, at the trees, the birds, and as I did I would feel a sense of stillness and clarity that I had never experienced before.
It was at that point in my life, I decided, for my own mental health, to distance myself from the destructive and superficial pressures of society. I knew I had to head for the trees, I just didn’t quite know how to go about it, after all, I hated the outside.
A Slow Start
It was a very slow process indeed.
I began by driving my car to nature reserves. I would sit in my car and look out the windscreen at the trees blowing in the wind. Mind you I didn’t get out of my car. Are you kidding me! I could’ve got dirty, it could begin to rain or a tree could fall on me!
Nope, I stayed in my car, and even sitting there, in the safety of my metal barrier, I still felt such a feeling of inner peace, but I knew there was so much more to discover.
Eventually, I progressed to driving to said nature reserves, getting out of the car and sitting on a picnic bench. I didn’t go walking, in fear of snakes, boxing kangaroos and all things reasonable. But as I sat on my picnic bench, with my mind so deliciously quiet, I knew there was still more out there.
Eventually, I started walking, first for 20 minutes or so on footpaths. I then progressed to longer walks, sometimes even going cross country. Not too much later, I was undertaking day hikes. However, as the sun began to set, the fear would kick in and I would head back to the car.
I simply could not spend the night.
Believe me, I tried! I really did.
There were days I even had sleeping gear with me in the car. I would be all set up and ready to do an overnighter, just to fail and drive home again.
Until one day, a day that changed my life!
The First Night
I was having a really bad day, and I decided I needed to slip away into nature to clear my mind. So, I borrowed my stepfather’s ute (tray back) and packed my camping gear, including my brand new swag which I had just bought.
Then, I drove out to a beautiful spot and took a walk all the way up the river until the sun began to dip low.
It’s okay. I told myself, as I slowly turned around. No need to rush, I am spending the night tonight.
As I made a poor attempt at walking casually back to where the car was parked, my heart was pounding and my head wanted to run straight for the four-walled safety of home.
By the time I arrived at the camp, it was almost dark, and my mind began to play tricks on me.
All the things that were not there during the day, the monsters, vampires, ghouls and wolves were now emerging under the cloak of night.
It’s okay, it’s okay, light a fire, I told myself. Light a fire so that you can see there is nothing out there.
So I sheepishly lit a campfire and sat beside its glow. But now the light from the fire was throwing shadows across the darkness. Shapes shifted and danced across the trees as the flames leapt higher. Now, I believed I could see what was out there.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I assured myself. “What about that bottle of wine you brought? That’s a good girl, pour yourself a glass to calm your nerves.”
In my frantic state, however, I managed to polish off an entire bottle of wine. I was all sorts of drunk and now I believed I could hear things lurking around in the darkness. To add insult to injury I was now over the legal limit and there was no way I could drive home. It seemed as though I was here for the night.
Dance The Fears Away
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I assure myself. “Music! Yes! That’s what we need, a little music so you don’t freak out at every harmless sound you hear.”
I went to my stepfather’s car and began to rummage wildly for a CD. Any CD! There was only one to be found. I looked at the label and read “Nick Cave- The Firstborn Is Dead”
“Sure, how bad could it be,” I thought. “It has to be better than nothing.”
So I put it into the CD player, turned the volume up and returned to sit by the evil flickering, shadow casting, monster making fire.
Now, if you have never heard the music of Nick Cave, I urge you to stop reading now and Google it.
Here I was sitting around a fire, in the middle of nowhere, drunk out of my mind, listening to a man singing about murder, death and all things foul!
Something inside me flipped and I suddenly knew what I had to do!
“Get up!” I told myself. “Get up and dance! Dance around this fire and show all of those evil things out there that you are not afraid of them!”
It seemed my last hope for sanity, so I got up. And I danced, I remember the exact song to this very day. Nick Cave’s ‘Tupelo’. The song that changed my life.
I was dancing like mad, dancing out of fear, dancing out of faith. Dancing simply because I could do nothing more.
As the song got darker, my dancing became more frantic. I misplaced a foot, smashed my shin on a log and fell into the edge of the fire. I was bleeding and my hairs were singed. Broken, I hobbled back to the car and switched off the stereo.
I went over to my brand new swag, opened it up, crawled inside and zipped it fully closed over my face. I then lay there bleeding for what must have been hours but felt like an eternity. Every noise I heard, I was convinced it would be the death of me.
At some point, by pure magic, I must have fallen asleep.
Hooked on Adventure
I woke up.
I woke up alive!
And from that moment on, I knew, that no matter how much I allow my mind to get carried away, no matter how much I allow the fear to take over, the anxiety to feed, I will wake up alive.
Every single time.
Things became a lot easier for me after that. The trust came, as did the strength. Hand in hand they allowed me to nurture my soul with the moments of solitude and natural connection it craves.
It allowed me to become a camping and hiking guide. Taking groups of people bush camping in some of the most remote parts of the Australian outback, and watching their journey unfold. It also empowered me to become an ultralight international camper. 6 months a year I will travel internationally, everything I need in my backpack. No plan, except to fall asleep peacefully and wake up with some of the most incredible natural views this world has to offer!
Nowadays, people look at me, confident on my own, confident in the wild and they assume I must have always been this way. They can’t imagine doing what I do, because they too, are carrying their own fears. Of ghouls, monsters and being alone.
If they ask, I like to tell them my story.
This strength and trust takes time, but you will get there in the end.
Take it from me, I was the drunk girl, laying with her face in a fire, and a bleeding leg, who never thought she would see the sunrise.