VIEW: Unplugged and Connected

Suzann Willhite became the president of the ERA Minnesota organization in September 2021.

It had been a long time since I unplugged from all my digital connections for more than a day. Cell coverage and WiFi access is pretty good almost everywhere in the world.

So when I took a vacation rafting down the Colorado River in Utah in late September, I was surprised to have zero coverage on my mobile phone. No coverage, no connection, no bars for five full days.

The trip materials had alerted participants that there was no cell coverage on the river. But we were rafting and hiking, so I thought maybe I could catch a signal from a high point on a hike to catch up on my emails or check Facebook. 

One day we hiked to the top of the canyon rim. Gorgeous views. Lots of rock. I could see for miles. And no cell coverage.

After several attempts of watching my phone “sit and spin” searching for a signal, I settled in to the idea that it was useless to keep trying. I unplugged. I refocused. I relaxed. I started to talk more intentionally with fellow travelers on the trip. 

Adventures in Good Company (AGC) led the Utah rafting and hiking trip, and specializes in women-only travel. This was my first AGC trip, and my first as a solo traveler with a travel company. AGC contracted with Holiday River Expeditions to outfit and row the rafts. Intentionally, all the raft “boatmen” (their preferred term) were young competent women. 

It was a great combination. Women travelers ranged in age from 50s to 79. Some still working, and most retired but still active. Women “boatmen” ranged in age from mid 20s to late 30s. I understood the meaning of the travel company’s  name, “Adventures in Good Company”.

Many of the women were solo travelers who had taken many trips with AGC. Most of the women travelers were married, divorced, or widowed. A few came as friends from previous trips, but most of us had not met one another before this trip. Most of the women were friendly and interested in getting to know fellow adventurers. There were a couple cliques of women who knew one another prior to this trip but that slowly broke down after a few days.

Conversations covered many topics. Politics was requested by the guide to be off limits, but popped up a lot without serious conflicts. The guides provided information on the river, history, geology and insights into their lives beyond their love of river rafting. 

Human connections with these women became much more interesting than digital connections. I made a point to ride and talk with each boatman to learn from them about their lives and interests.

I also connected with the other travelers. These were adventurous women. Many had traveled extensively in the world, both solo and with travel companies. They shared their trials and triumphs. I learned and laughed a lot. I made several new friends who I plan to stay in touch with. 

Brene Brown wrote in “Daring Greatly,” that “connection is why we are here. We are hardwired to connect with others. It is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives, and without it there is suffering.” She also says, “vulnerability is the core, the heart, the center of meaningful human experiences.”

Persionally, I did not share much of my personal life with most of these women. It felt too vulnerable to be my whole self as an older single lesbian. I wasn’t sure I would be accepted, or that women would be as comfortable in shared travel and sleeping arrangements. I only felt totally comfortable with one woman who was genuinely safe and open about her own personal life.

It takes courage to be open and vulnerable. Next time I will plan for the joy of being unplugged and intentionally vulnerable, with more personal courage to maybe make deeper connections.