The following is an edited transcript of this episode of Humans Outside.
When was the last time you completely unplugged in nature? For a few hours? For a day? For a few days?
If you keep tabs on my daily outdoor habit via the Humans Outside instagram and facebook pages, you may have noticed a few days of my daily outdoor time missing at first and then posted later in bulk. That’s because we were taking our annual outdoor adventure trip somewhere without any cell service or internet access.
I was completely unplugged, and it felt spectacular.
This was not a last minute trip. In fact, I’ve been planning this one for over a year. I wanted to head out for a trip across Kachemak Bay to the Halibut Cove Lagoon state park public use cabins, which you have to book 7 months in advance to reserve. And because I realized this was something I wanted to do early last summer when it was way too late to book them, I marked my calendar for November to book in time. One of my first podcast guests here, Charles Wholforth, had mentioned Halibut Cove as being his favorite outdoor space, and ever since then getting out there has been one of my top summer goals.
The planning was totally worth it.
With the help of a water taxi and three kayak rentals — two doubles for me and my family and a single for my sister who is visiting from Idaho — we headed out for the about 30 minute boat ride to the lagoon, which is outside Homer, Alaska. The weather was cloudy with passing showers, but nothing really chilly or too much to handle. We packed our gear into five backpacking packs, plus a large tote and duffle bag full of food, a stove and some other comfort extras like camp chairs. And off we went.
The boat dropped us off at the dock, surrounded by the lake-like blue-green lagoon water, bird song and the voices of a few kayakers out on the water. We hauled our stuff up the ramp to get ready to occupy the cabin, which ws still full of the previous users for the next few hours. Thanks to the tide schedule we had to come out a few hours before they were required to move out of the cabin, and many hours before their own boat came to get them. They were very gracious and let us hang out in the vicinity while we explored and ate some breakfast. The boat left at 8 a.m. and we decided we’d feel less queasy on the trip of we werent full with breakfast food first, so we saved it until we got to shore.
In case you haven’t heard me talk about these public use cabins, here’s a little background. The state park system has almost 100 cabins that can be rented by users. They are typically located in spectacular places around the state, many of them very remote — even more remote than where we were this time. The price is right, too. Our cabin cost us about $230 for a three-night stay with five people. Most of the cabins are fairly small — just one room with bed platforms and a table and benches, counter and wood burning stove. This one, which had been repurposed to a public use cabin from an old ranger station, had two bedrooms attached to a main kitchen area with the table, stove, countertop and even a sink that drained outside below the cabin, which made dishes a lot easier. A spigot between our Lagoon Overlook Cabin and a smaller nearby cabin known as the East Cabin, had fresh water brought in through a gravity system from a nearby creek. We were able to fill our jug there before treating it. The cabin was really well maintained with a large outdoor area dedicated to it.
And one more word about the overall facilities: I have never seen a state park area with so many outhouses per capita. A state park employee friend said it’s probably so they have to perform maintenance on each one less, which is a valid point. But there were four outhouses for two cabins in a very remote area that can only be accessed by boat or float plane. For perspective, the Finger Lake State Park near our house, which has a pretty large campground and a hugely trafficked boat ramp, also has four. The difference has to be hundreds of people per weekend.
The Halibut Cove Lagoon, where the tide comes dramatically in and out revealing hundreds of star fish in the tide pools or moving much farther up the bank than you thought it would, was a menagerie of wildlife. Otters. Loons and their cookey calls. Harbor seals. Robbins. Bald Eagles. Star fish. Jelly fish. Porpoises. Rumors of bears but no actual bears. And of course all of this under the endless daylight, because we were there just before Solstice and the longest day of the year when it never actually is dark outside. Here’s some sound I captured for you while sitting on the dock reading a book.
One day we kayaked 6 miles round trip and hiked to a glacier lake. Another we hiked over a mountain saddle to a different bay. But more than anything we rested our souls and minds by the cabin, reading books, paddling around the lagoon and taking advantage of the three day effect.
The three day effect is this idea that when you spend time unplugged in nature in a place that makes you feel awe, your brain and stress levels experience a recovery that does not happen in two days and is not any better than what happens in four days. Three, it seems, is the magic number. If you’re interested in hearing more about that, you should check out Florence Williams’ audiobook of the same title. But you’re just going to have to trust me that it’s a thing.
Three days and three nights after heading into the lagoon, we came out and again on the same boat, cruising into Homer on a bright and sunny day. We were dirtier than we were to start with, but we were also happier and well rested in a way that fed spirit and soul.
These multi-day trips are really important to my health — mental, emotional and physical. They unplug me from all the noise and help me recenter on what’s important. They give me a chance to make an effort to find an adventure and experience worth having. And they clear out the clutter so I can take a beat and understand what I want in my day to day life — what’s worth giving my time to, and what things I should stop doing.
You can see photos from our adventure on Facebook and Instagram. And I hope you’re having a magical summer, too. Share your photos with me with #humansoutside365. Until next time, we’ll see you out there.