Friday, August 20, 2010

How I Spent my Summer Vacation

I've returned to Boston, to fast wireless networks, humidity, and traffic.

It's a marked contrast to my time on the John Muir trail. Not better or worse, just different.

On the trail, time slowed to the point that my measurement rubrics became dawn and sunset, the amount of water left in my hydration pack, and the time until my next snack.

I walked about 150 miles through the Sierra, up and down numerous peaks and passes. I gathered wild mushrooms (Leccinum, Lentinus, Agaricus). I ate numerous wild plants (waxy currants, gooseberry, swamp onion, mint). Temperatures varied from the 20's at night to the 60's during the day.

When I rested, I was joined by golden marmots, pikas, chickarees, Belding's ground squirrels, mule deer, and even a beaver, dragging an aspen branch across the trail at dawn.

During the day, my constant companions were Clark's nutcrackers, grouse, hairy woodpeckers, stellar jays, and the occasional great horned owl.

I stored my food in a 6 ounce Ursack, a kevlar bag approved for backcountry use everywhere along the Pacific Crest Trail except in Yosemite and Sequoia-King's Canyon. Since I never slept within the borders of those national parks, I was fine. No bears ever bothered the vegan food I was carrying.

My pack with food and water never weighed more than 10 pounds, enabling me to cover 20-25 miles per day with several thousand feet of daily elevation gain.

I only met two other north bound hikers along the trail but we walked at different paces, so I spent the time in solitude.

The physical challenge was not a problem - once I acclimated to 10,000 feet I had no problem with the hiking. The emotional challenge of being alone in the wilderness, with no one to speak with, no internet connection, and no pressure other than to keep warm and hydrated was admittedly a struggle.

Numerous studies have been done or are in progress to examine the effect of constant connectivity on our brains. We all develop a kind of ADHD, losing the ability to maintain focus, explore issues deeply, and savor the experience of the world around us.

The Last Child in the Woods explores the way our children have lost touch with the rhythm of the natural world.

It took a few days, but I regained the ability to sit on a rock, listen to the wind, and soak in the details of every flower, tree, and waterfall.

It's tempting to believe that I could maintain that reverie for months, living in that archetypal cabin in the woods that many of us dream about.

However, by the end of my trip, I realized that my highest and best purpose at this time in history is to share my technology, management, and problem solving skills with government, academic, and industry leaders to accelerate positive change. If I work hard enough, I can ensure my daughter and her future family never experience a medical error, a problem with care coordination, or a bankrupt healthcare system.

So, I'm back, recharged and rejuvenated, with a new sense of perspective. The world will continue to have its pessimists, its critics, and naysayers, some of whom will direct their ire at me. However, if I just think back to sitting on a rock in the Sierra, not knowing what time it was or having a to do list, I can keep it all in perspective. This time of Stimulus funding, healthcare reform, and meaningful use is creating high pressure, unreasonable deadlines, and unrealistic expectations for everyone. As long as we treat each other right and remind ourselves of the true cadence of the natural world around us, we'll be fine.

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