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Alone in the Woods 2024

No internet, no screens, no ice cream.

Alone in the Woods 2024
Table of Contents

Every year I like to rent a woodsy-looking Airbnb, at least 2 hours outside the city. When I get there, I leave my phone locked in the car. I unplug the internet and all TVs. I suffer there for a week.

Why

Why? It probably builds character, but it also allows me to face any thoughts I’ve been running away from. Don’t judge! I’d guess most of us have thoughts that pop in from time to time. They give us a little electric brain shock, prompting us to pick up the phone and think of anything else. It’s practically the new American pass time.

I finally decided I’ve run enough for now. Here are my notes for this year’s trip.

Preparations

When going into the woods alone with no screens (I’m so brave), there are a few items I’ve learned are needed that I don’t usually need on normal trips. For example, the first time I did this I didn’t bring a clock. In some ways it was liberating. I awoke, ate and slept by the sunlight. If I slept past sunrise, I had no idea what time it was until sunset. This was kind of cool, but I had a low-level, persistent anxiety that I didn’t even know what day it was. So, I learned to bring a clock of some sort, preferably with an alarm. This time I brought my trusty Loftie.

The second item I learned to bring was a kitchen timer. I typically use my phone for this. Without it, cooking becomes a significantly more daring endeavor than normal. My cooking is risky enough as is. Luckily, the first time I took on the woods, the Airbnb came with one. I’m sure I’m the only person who has actually used it. This time though, I forgot to bring it. However, I was able to use my clock and just counted minutes. (Dumb) Success!

Other items include; books, a pack of playing cards, a disposable camera, a puzzle, my ukulele, and a pile of clothes. I also brought 2 big tubs of water and way more food than I really needed. For caffeine, I only brought tea because I wanted to suffer maximally. Finally, I also brought a collection of vinyl records. I had noticed this particular rental had a decent looking record player and I wanted to see how I could integrate that into this experience.

Everything was now in place. I had to just wait for the day to come.

Day 0 - Escape

Day 0 Professional driver on a closed course. Do not attempt.

The trip started with an escape room-style puzzle. I thought it was fitting given the trip’s escape-like nature. To get the keys to the rental car, I had to locate a hidden compartment at the local ice cream shop. The rental car app indicated they were in a small cubby covered by a metal lid. As I approached the area in question, I noticed two policemen guarding the entrance. Ostensibly, they were just there for the Philz Coffee next door, but that didn’t stop me from acting extra suspicious as I rummaged around the area’s dark corners looking for my prize.

I finally found the key and escaped extra nonchalantly. Rounding the corner I held the key up in the air and clicked ‘unlock’ wildly. Eventually, the friendly chirp from my 2023 Toyota Corolla rental began to beacon me closer. Puzzle solved!

I’ve always thought fondly of Toyota in general, and I remember being impressed with the car when I first got in. Toyota never tries too hard to stand out. They don’t seem to ride trends and instead just focus on getting the basics right. I appreciate that. That being said, I’d never actually buy one. A car that just does what it’s supposed to? BORING. Good enough for a rental though.

I drove home, packed the car up, kissed Alix goodbye and got in the car again. I entered the address: 2 hours 10 minutes. If I were a bird, this would be a much shorter trip. I’m not, however. Human Bo will have to traverse the snaky turns of highway CA 1, up the coast to the north of San Francisco. Granted, it’s a beautiful drive, not a big deal. I just hate not being a bird sometimes.

After about an hour and a half of driving, Map MommyTM instructed me to turn off CA 1 and drive inland. I started to realize how truly isolated this place is. I was already on a remote part of the coast, now I was heading inland and up a mountain. As I drove, I started to see ranch-style wooden archways on people’s driveways displaying names of the properties. They all had the word “end” in them; “End of the Trail”, “Land’s End”, and “Wits’ End”. There seemed to be a ‘foreboding name’ contest among the locals.

Wits' End

I finally found the place. It was exactly what I was looking for, except one thing. Right next to the house I was in, there was a fence, then right next to that the neighbors’ house. Endless, dense forest all around us, then two houses plopped right next to each other. We could each clearly see into each other’s living room. I sat and watched the elderly couple have some early supper, while feeling my dreams of ultimate freedom slipping away.

Day Rating: 5/10

Day 1 - Gluttony

Gluttony

I woke up on Day 1 unrested. I can’t usually sleep the first night somewhere new because my classically tough man-body needs time to adjust. There’s always some problem. The main issue this time was the pillow. It was the thickest, hardest pillow I’ve ever encountered in the wild. I felt like an Egyptian mummy with their wooden headrests. I woke up with a stiff neck and shuffled slowly into the living room.

In any case, I try to not put much pressure on the first day out in the woods. I like to see where my digital withdrawal takes me. For a while I walked aimlessly, unsure what to do with my hands. From time to time I’d impulsively pat the empty phone pocket. No dopamine hit there. Then I worked out a solution: Food.

I suddenly was ravenously hungry. Throughout the day I must have eaten a full week of calories; Eggs, pizza, pasta, salads, yogurt. I think I was on meal 6 by the end of the day. And in between meals I slept. I’m not typically a napper, but in the woods I’m a different beast. Eat and sleep. I was proud of my primal self.

Before I went to bed, I rummaged around the closets and found a more suitable pillow for myself.

Day Rating: 9/10

Day 2 - Fiction

I woke up rested. Today I wanted to engage my mind a bit, so after a light breakfast I took stock of all the activities I brought. There was a puzzle I never ended up opening. I (ambitiously) had 6 books. There was a deck of cards. And finally, a vinyl record box. I decided to try the turntable. I’m a bit of a hi-fi audiophile, and have never enjoyed the low-fidelity nostalgia of records. But it’s what I had.

Record Player

It took me about 5 full minutes to even figure out how to turn the player on. Note to self: the switch is on the back. Then I was able to get out an Arctic Monkeys album, lower it delicately onto the turntable, then gingerly place the needle (or whatever it’s called) onto the soft vinyl disk. Pretty good! The Arctic Monkeys sound lends itself nicely to the record format. It’s more of an acoustic experience with little need for bass. I briefly wonder if they ever imagined a random American would be listening to a record of theirs in the middle of the forest in 2024. Answer: no, that’s stupid.

Task complete! That whole episode only ate up about 10 minutes of time though. I had to find something else to do. It was nice out so, why not indulge in a walk? The country road outside was clearly not made for the casual stroll. It was two-lanes, with no shoulder. However, since it was relatively remote, cars would only come by every 10 minutes or so. There were a few trucks, a few friendly waves, but I was mostly by myself with the fresh air.

After about a mile I turn around to head home. From behind me, I hear a shriller engine whine than I’m now used to. This wasn’t a truck, rather something with a small, high RPM engine, and it was moving fast. I move to the side for safety. The noise zips past me, then slams on the brakes to stop a few paces in front of me. The noise was a little red (and badly sun damaged) Miata.

As I stroll up to the small pretend sports car, the man in it initiates communication.

Old man Miata

”I haven’t seen you around here!”

His tone seemed uncharacteristically open and bright considering all the foreboding signage around. I get excited to interact with someone for the first time in a few days. I walk a bit closer to see a man much older than me. He was wearing aviators and a sweater vest. For a moment I thought it was Stan Lee making a real life cameo. I responded.

”Hey! Yeah, I’m just in a rental up the road.”

I’m close enough now for him to get a good look at me. I see his eyes go wide, then turn his head away. He mumbles something like “OK”, then speeds off.

I’m left standing in the middle of the road, dumbfounded. What just happened? After some thought, here’s what I settled on: At this point in my life I have pretty long hair, and I was wearing it down. He must have pulled over thinking he’d talk to a new woman. Instead, he got me; a tall, 200 lbs man with a permanent 2-day stubble. At least I look good from behind, I guess.

Day Rating: 4/10

Day 3 - Ice Cream

Snacks I like to park in the middle of the road. Sue me.

Every night I sleep easier, and wake up more rested. The detox is working! It’s now Day 3, which is my last full day. I’m a little sad, but I’m also getting restless. At this point I haven’t really left the house except for a daily walk. Instead, I had been reading (2 books down!), and playing Solitaire. I was hoping to get more work done, it just wasn’t in the cards (sorry, I had to). However, today I was done with all that. I needed adventure! I also had a deep craving for gas station ice cream.

I spent the morning planning a small road trip. I’d typically pull out my phone and scan my maps app for points of interest. Sadly, my wonder device was still in timeout. I looked around for any scraps of paper the Airbnb hosts may have left. I finally came across a pamphlet for Fort Ross, an old wooden fort occupied by Russian settlers in 1812. Yay history! Aside from a few glorious fort facts, there was also a crude map of the surrounding area. Fortunately for me, and my complete lack of navigation skills, there were only essentially 3 roads in the area; CA 1, the road I was on, and the road connecting them.

Now I have a purpose. I’d spend the afternoon driving until I found some sweet, sweet ice cream. I was probably out for 4 hours. I went up and down CA 1, it was beautiful. A few times I stopped to read a little at the beach. Once I had my fill, I found the only gas station in the area to snack up. I got my ice cream and some Boom Chicka Pop. During checkout, I forgot briefly how to speak. It had been almost a week with no human interaction and my voice took a second to relearn how to voice again. I got out a squeaky “Thank you,” and headed back to the rental home.

The sun was starting to set as I got home. I inhaled the ice cream and did some good damage to the Chicka Pop. Now, with a solid sugar buzz going, I started reflecting on my past nights here. Every night I slept a little better. How could I maximize my sleep the next night? One problem I have is that nights in the cabin were kind of scary. The whole house creaked, moving with the wind. What if the noise was someone breaking in? It could be a machete-wielding, hockey mask-wearing madman ready to chop me into cat food! These thoughts gave me a low-level anxiety that kept me from my full slumber. I figured having some kind of weapon next to me would allow me to fully embrace the dream world.

The only weapons in the house were a set of cheap, but shiny kitchen knives. I pulled one from the knife block King Arthur-style and felt the weight of it. Perfect. I gave the knife a few quick swings from the wrist. I’m imagining how my attacker might come at me, what moves I’d deploy to stop them. I could get behind the bed, wait for them to peek over and thrust upward, like so! Alternatively, I could get into the closet, wait for them to check the bed and swing at them wildly, like this! Or maybe I’d just go full 3 Musketeers on them and use my non-existent fencing skills. Soon, I’m all hyped up and jabbing irrationally into the air.

Then I sense something.

While my arm is still extended, I turn to look out the window. The old woman is there, looking out her window, looking at me, horrified. I have become what I feared.

Old woman I’m so sorry

Day Rating: 10/10

Day 4 - Escape

I left early in the morning. I didn’t want to stick around too long in case the cops were on route, plus I was getting bored. I didn’t feel like abstaining from technology longer was going to bring me closer to enlightenment. I put the knife away and removed any fingerprints from it. I packed up my stuff and loaded up the car.

I sat in the car, ready to go. I just needed to turn on my phone again. I take it from the glove box, and inhale deeply. We all know what’s coming. The phone wakes up and starts frantically looking for data signals. They come slowly at first, but then in a flood: notifications. Icons, buzzing, beeps, and bloops. It’s relentless. A full week’s worth of distractions all come in at once, and I’m instantly taken out of my hard-won zen.

I sigh. These can wait, I’ll need stimulants first. I drive south for a while until I see a cafe. Latte in hand, I’ll be able to re-join the modern world.

Latte

Day Rating: 2/10

The End