I’ve developed some bad habits over time.
I gaze at my phone right up until the moment I go to sleep. I drink to relax. And I have verbal tics I’d like to get rid of, like saying “you guys” too much.
But I also have some really good habits. I have uncomfortable conversations even when they’re awkward, because I believe it’s better to stumble through than to avoid. I moisturize. And, of course, I get outside as much as I can. I run, bike, hike, ski, swim — I’m into most kinds of physical activity in the outdoors, even when I’m not quite competent.
As I’ve grown older and especially since I’ve gotten married, I seem set in these habits. It’s difficult for me to break out of cycles when it feels like they are intrinsic not just to myself, but to who I am in a partnership.
I know I should break the bad habits. But I also wonder — what would happen if I explored outside of my routine?
It was in this spirit that I attended Salmonfest last weekend, the annual music festival in Ninilchik. Friends were going, my husband was out of town and I figured — with a choir of good friends telling me I really should go — that it was worth a shot. I’ve never fancied myself a “festival person.” But, I thought, I can try this on for a weekend and rock out like I’m in my 20s.
This decidedly non-20-year-old slathered on some pink lipstick, put on a tank top and jetted out the door at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to gun it as fast as I could to the Kenai Peninsula in my Prius. I had a fanny pack to hold all of my personal items, something I felt proud to think of since I’ve never done the festival thing before. But, I also felt like a mom heading to a concert.
I arrived at noon to a camp that was slowly waking up. Coffee was being poured. I rooted around in my car and found my fanny pack and eventually headed down to the festival with friends.
Backing up: I have never been to a festival before, but Salmonfest seemed impressively well organized given the crush of people that attend — typically about 8,000 (that’s 1% of Alaska’s population on fairgrounds and adjacent campgrounds for a full weekend). The organizers made a concerted effort to reduce single-serving waste and to compost and recycle. The bands were varied and excited to be there. I saw some absolutely incredible performers. The overall feel of the festival was upbeat yet relaxed. That first night, I got into it! I got full-on facepaint, danced until very late at night and profusely complimented one of the performers who offered me his gratitude and a fur-lined hug.
And, did I mention that 1% of Alaska’s population descended upon Ninilchik for a weekend?
A few times I looked around and made the joke, which wasn’t really a joke, that my husband would absolutely hate this. But then I started wondering if maybe he wasn’t alone.
I started thinking about my life and my habits and what I’ve come to rely on, and I realized that my habit of being outside in the ways that I typically get outside — running, hiking, etc. — is about more than physical activity. Those small adventures in my day-to-day life also serve as my respite from a constant hum of other activity.
Yes, I am mostly an extrovert. I get energy from spending time with people. But over time that’s come to look like a group of people around a dinner table more than like, say, a weekend-long festival marathon of socializing. Toward the end of the weekend, I found myself with my mouth hanging open just watching people wander by, unable to contribute much at all and feeling lost in myself.
Feeling lost in myself is different than feeling challenged in myself, and it’s not pleasant. It’s reminiscent of being a teenager wondering why I don’t fit in.
As the weekend went on I had this nagging feeling that I wished I were backpacking or bike-packing or just going for a run in the woods. I kept making the decision to stay, but that was informed as much by me making the choice as it was, later in the evening, by alcohol.
Still: I had amazing moments, and I left with important lessons learned and conviction.
There were truly amazing performers. I love my friends. I made new connections with people and saw people I hadn’t seen for a long time. The final night, the aurora came out strong and I stayed up until 3 a.m. watching it light up the sky.
And I learned that at least one of my habits has solidified into an essential part of who I am. I need outdoor escape and adventure in order to be me. That person can also be the mom driving to the festival with her lipstick and fanny pack, or the person jumping wildly in the crowd at a concert. But at my core, I need the quiet, challenge and awe of outdoor adventure underlying my life, with the fun and bright blips of everything else along the way.
Maybe I’ll go to Salmonfest again. But maybe I’ll bike there. Or just go for a night, and spend the rest of the time out in the hills.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.