Natasha Buffo |
︎Sierra Nevadas 

Fleeing corporate America: how one woman’s trip to Moab gave her a new shot at life.

Walking down the paved sidewalk from my office, an eerie sense of deja vu struck me.  No eye contact. No communication. The day before I had completed a ten-day silent meditation course.  Now back amongst my fellow coworkers, I found myself in a surprisingly similar confinement that lacked human interaction. After ten days staring at either the ground, the roof of my tent, or the backs of my eyelids, I was aching for the opportunity to chat! Instead, everyone was staring at their phones.

Over the last ten months of my three years working in Silicon Valley, I realized that my closest work relationship was with my laptop and that the repetitive topic of money in conversation was both unnerving and unnecessary. I was living the wrong life. It was a gut decision to resign, confirmed with confidence on the day, shortly after, when I felt alone while surrounded by my colleagues.

Two and a half weeks later, I chose instead to be surrounded by a towering wall of 24x6 cylinders of nylon. Picking my very first tent from the various options was both inviting and overwhelming. They whispered to me, “backpacking ...adventures ...camping in the woods the world!”  The stacks felt like they were tilting toward me, about to collapse on top of my body, slowly crushing any dreams of this new life. After my purchase, I continued the unplanned road trip I was on, full of more firsts. Next stop - Moab - to camp alone for the first time. Having lived in California my entire life and worked as a business analyst in online advertising for the six years since college, I was in an unfamiliar place making unfamiliar decisions. This is what I wanted. What was familiar felt wrong. What was familiar created inexplicable nausea, inconvenient tears, and undiagnosed depression. I needed unfamiliar.

Next to a picnic table at a BLM campground along the Colorado River, I parked my pristine white two-door hatchback. Both relief and determination exuded from my lungs in one deep sigh. As the sun was setting, I had yet to face the biggest challenge of the day: setting up my tent. I attempted to play it cool and not attract the attention of strangers with a big neon sign that said, “I have no idea what I am doing! I’m alone and have never camped alone before! I am completely vulnerable!” With feigned nonchalance, I scanned the words my outdoor home needed me to understand.

Stepping away with my headlamp donned, my heart pounded while my limbs moved slow. While I gently bent the orange poles and clipped them to the body of the tent, a lady walked by in the shadows. “Good evening. Beautiful night, huh?” she said as she looked up to the sky. She had two thick grey braids framing her face and two thin silver circles framing lenses that reflected my head torch. Too focused on my rugged masquerade, my ignorance of the nature around me painted an imposter portrait. I clicked off my light.

The grumble of the river could not only be heard, but it could also be felt. The cold air floating off its waves was palpable: the sensation of a fresh breeze but without movement. High soaring sandstone walls stood on either side of the river colored by shades of deep orange and red. These rose much higher than the barricade of tents I stood beside earlier that day. Rather than anxiety, the results of thousands of years of nature’s carving brought me peace and comfort, like being held safe between cupped hands. Following the wrinkles of lifelines up, the mesas met the blackest sky I had ever seen, cradling shimmering diamonds scattered across the dome above.

My companion told me her name was Devra. She invited me to enjoy a bottle of red wine at her campsite once I was done setting up my tent. We chatted and I learned she was on her solo adventure. Soon two younger men also said hello and invited us over to their campsite for acoustic guitar and singing.

Together we sipped wine from camping mugs, laughed about life, sang Bob Marley songs and thumbed through black and white photography.  The outdoors, music, photography - one of the men was ticking all my boxes. Plus, he was tall and fit, with endearing brown eyes and a captivating smile. My heart jumped to dreams of romantic adventures. My lips curved up on the sides as my eyes lit up. I was falling in love. Yet, it was not a person I was falling for. I was falling in love with this experience. With this life. With this place. With people that resonated with my soul. I felt safe. And free. Accepted. I was where I belonged. The friendly and welcoming interactions with my new campmates were a stark contrast to the culture I had become accustomed to back in Silicon Valley.

In Moab, the dust binds us and disrupts our distractions from technology.  The endless horizon expands our perception to see money only as an object bartered for the gear needed to propel us through our adventures. Whether pulling our kayak out of the Colorado River, gliding fingers on both sides of a slot canyon in the Needles District, or recapping the day’s adventure’s over lunch at a local cafe, we smile and nod at one another. No words are needed because we can feel the vibration between our souls. What we share is far more powerful than any ties between the open floor space of an office in Silicon Valley.

My first night camping solo created a ripple effect, leading me to follow those feelings of belonging. Since then, I’ve made lifelong friends around the world and the place I call home provides me a daily reliving of that first night in Moab. My closest relationships at work are people who I cannot even call colleagues because they are family, bound by mutual love and support. Conversations are centered around our latest adventures outdoors, skiing, or hiking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Each morning is made both invigorating and exhausting by the amount of ‘good mornings’ exchanged during a short five-minute walk to work.

Moab will always be the birthplace of that enlightenment. Returning every year or two, I am reminded of that night - the people I met and the freedom I felt. I am reminded of my true values and the places to go to find them.

Published 2020 April 24

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Interested in contributing to The Dust Magazine? Check out our submissions page.