I GREW UP IN THE SUBURBS. When I was a little kid, the closest thing we had to adventures in the wild was a spot in the bushes at the far back corner of a neighbor’s yard, or venturing way over to the other side of the next block to play in the creek. I couldn’t wait to be a Boy Scout so we could camp in a distant forest, be like Davey Crockett and Daniel Boone. Alas, it turned out my troop wasn’t very good. Our campouts were rare, and not very wild.

So there I was, in my sixties, heading out in my freshly tricked out cargo van to live in wild places. Goodbye suburbs! Goodbye paved and mowed masterplanned orderliness! I’m a full-time Boy Scout! Or Old Man Scout. Whatever.

The first night I stayed in a state park near Cincinnati. Not exactly the wilds. Baby steps.

The next night it was a gas station in Iowa until it was too hot and humid to sleep. I decided I might as well keep driving. I finally hit the wall of fatigue in Minnesota, at a truck stop on I-95. 

I spent the next few nights “camped” at the curb of my mail forwarder in South Dakota. 

Next, a truck stop in Billings, a Walmart in Idaho Falls, a friend’s place in Boise, a state park near Twin Falls, a Walmart in Blackfoot, a relative’s driveway in Salt Lake City, another Walmart and another truck stop. My wilderness quest had taken me three-quarters of the way across the country without really leaving the suburbs. Baby steps had been more like baby crawling.

But the day came when I was finally “out there,” at a spot I’d found on FreeCampsites.net, between Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Down an overgrown two-track, among cottonwoods, by a stream, next to a towering sandstone cliff. No lights, no people, no noise, no cell signal. Totally alone.

It felt very weird. It’s okay to just set up camp here? Without paying? Without a permit? Without a numbered space? Without an authority figure or at least a sign giving me permission? That’s not… normal?

No, it’s not normal compared to how most people live. And that’s a good thing. Being a valid member of normal society means conforming to its norms. The norms of our predominantly consumerist society say nothing is free, you have to pay. The authoritarian norms say we need permission. I grew up among authoritarians, so my first true boondocking experience was weird. And wonderful. Just me, in an attractive location, being myself, totally unsupervised. Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhh…

I sat back, listened to the creek and the breeze through the cottonwoods. I watched the light move across the cliff face and the sky darken. I cleaned up from dinner. Time to turn in.

Then I started imagining banjo music.

I imagined bored and possibly drunk country boys out for some excitement. Locals pissed off at strangers invading their turf. Dudes who like to shoot up stuff. I put my flashlight and chef’s knife within reach. I didn’t sleep well.

But nothing happened.

It didn’t take me long after that to adjust to this new normal. Boondocking is great! Being alone or with select friends away from the craziness of society is wonderful! I hadn’t realized before that this is the way I’m supposed to live—the way I need to live. Boondocking brings me peace. It’s the “normal” world that freaks me out.