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Finding Fayettechill: How a camping trip changed my life

Note from the editor: At Fayettechill we take monthly creative retreats where we curate experience for our team and any friends that wish to come along. This is the story of an Indiana-based FC fan that fell in love with Arkansas upon joining us on a creative retreat in late 2015. For those of you wanting to take a year break from work or school, this is for you <3

by Abbie Downes | @abigaileigh18

I didn’t grow up connected to nature, it was more of an afterthought. Growing up in a suburban area, I mostly associated the outdoors with a much needed daily break in the form of school recess.

A few years ago I began to realize how much I value the outdoors. I encouraged my family to step outside and plan quick escapes down to the hills of Brown County, Indiana to flirt with the idea of what mountains might be like. Our walks in the woods brought a sense of clarity and contentment to the remainder of the day.

I found myself more and more interested in the lifestyle that seemed to come along with hiking, backpacking, camping, etc. Although I spent time outside, I had never camped or been set loose in nature to explore all that it can provide a curious mind. My hungry mind devoured others’ social media feeds to satisfy the longing I had to be surrounded by mountains, camping gear, and all the adventure that seemed to follow.

The complex web of Instagram eventually led me to Fayettechill. I was hooked. Maybe it was their invitation to disconnect from the fast paced lifestyle I was so accustomed to, or maybe it was the wholesome model of living I had begun to strive for. After a few months of keeping up and connecting with the company, I contacted them to show my interest in the brand. The value I received from sending one simple email was more than I ever anticipated.

That email ultimately led to a solo road trip to Fayetteville, Arkansas in March 2015 and another later, in September 2015. I walked into coffee shops full of strangers and was met with friendly faces curious about my trip. I found I was putting myself out there in a way I couldn’t quite grasp at home. My soul felt challenged and alive. After experiencing a taste of what both Fayetteville and Fayettechill could bring out of me, I knew I would be coming back. 

As an undeclared sophomore in college at the time, the trip was vital for me. I relished in the benefits of being completely lost. Not only was I getting a glimpse of a rad mountain town, but I got to peak into the world of a company that inspired me in a new way. The months after returning from Arkansas brought new clarity-- I declared my major in Community Health and opted to take a self-guided approach to my upcoming fall semester. I wanted the freedom to immerse myself in the lifestyle-wellness industry through job shadowing and event attending rather than through traditional class. My mundane routine was no longer serving me. I needed a break from it in order to reawaken myself and grow. I wanted to venture into new places and expose myself to all that’s out there. I needed to be thrown into the uncomfortable.

I informed Devin (whom I had visited in March and continued to be my constant source of encouragement) about my break from school so we could begin the process of planning my visit back to the world of Fayettechill for a more in-depth adventure. As September rolled around, I took off for a week to shadow him. I spent some time in the Smokehouse where I learned about the inner workings of the company and met different faces of Fayettechill, humans and canines alike. Towards the end of my trip, I got a firsthand experience of a Fayettechill creative retreat/photo shoot during the release of their Fall/Winter collection. 

This road trip led me on my first camping trip, introduced me to some of the most inspiring & encouraging people, brought me incredible conversation, and taught me what a little bit of balance can do for the soul.

On Schooling & Exploration

I never worried that the discontinuation of school would lead to a discontinuation of learning. I’ve learned so many lessons that I couldn’t have uncovered by sitting in a classroom. Having time to process why you’re doing certain things is invaluable. If done with mindfulness, every moment and experience can teach you something about yourself. By taking a break to forget about report deadlines and instead truly live, I had the chance to expose myself to some life-altering opportunities. Much like an afternoon break spent in nature to pause and recharge, my semester break allowed me time to breathe and reflect.

As I reflected, I rediscovered the value of college. Classes offer a whole other learning environment with different lessons waiting to be gathered by the student. How remarkable is it that we can take breaks to assess where we are? Whether listening to a professor or stranger, there’s endless knowledge to be gained. I’ve found great importance in furthering my education because I took the time to question why I was going to school.

On Leaning Into Discomfort

Comfort can be just what you need sometimes but it can also leave you stagnant and unwilling to veer from your routine for fear of something unexpected. Although I’m comfortable with my life in Indianapolis, I feel I belong in the new places I’ve been suspended in since traveling. It turns out that being familiar with a place doesn’t necessary promise that you’ll feel a part of that place. Traveling to new places provides an unparallelled zest to life.

New places offer a myriad of uncomfortable situations waiting to be worked through. These situations help me feel alive, give me confidence, and require effort that can be ignored when I’m confined within my own comfort zone. I welcomed conversation with new friends, whether we were chatting across the coffee bar or lying on blankets in the middle of the road gazing at the stars. While with the Fayettechill crew, I willingly divulged that I had never before been camping and was as nervous about it as I was stoked to witness the magic of a perfect campsite. The idea of roughing it in the wilderness for a few nights was something I had daydreamed about countless times while surrounded by a concrete jungle.

No matter how many articles I read or photos I saw, I wouldn’t be able to truly capture the togetherness that ensued until I had both feet planted in the Ouachita Mountains. I witnessed both ends of the uncomfortable spectrum. I had instances of self-doubt and worry that I was pushed to work through amongst new faces. All those moments came together to show me that being uncomfortable is not a punishment. It’s proof that you’re awake! I’ve learned to work harder to bring the motivation and liveliness I experienced while traveling back home with me. 

On Solitude & Community Engagement

My journey from Indiana to Arkansas totaled 18 hours, round-trip, allowing me plenty of alone time to question why I left the comfort of my own bubble in the first place. This time taught me how to engage in thought-provoking conversation with myself, and helped me fine-tune my choice of pitstop locations.

I’ve always been more than content being on my own. I enjoy the quiet, the freedom, and the opportunity to look inward. The amount of alone time traveling and community immersion upon arrival provided the balance of solitude and conversation I was needing. Whether it was the glow of the campfire on my new friends’ faces or sleeping outside with the sounds of the flowing river right next to us, I quickly realized that there’s something about community and engaging with others that can enliven you in a way you can’t always achieve on your own. I appreciated the outside perspectives and eager support from people that inspired me with their own stories and positive vibes. There’s a balance to be found between getting to know yourself and getting to know others. Reflecting internally on what you took from conversations with others is just as important as sharing what you’ve learned while conversing with yourself.

The toughest part of the trip was leaving. Even the end brought striking contrasts as I was beyond grateful for the week I’d had, yet distraught that I had to drive away from a place and people that had grown to mean so much to me. The tough moments and the beautiful moments were equally nourishing. I worked my way through accepting both as worthwhile; the tough moments help you recognize and become thankful for those moments of pure joy. I soaked up as much as I could possibly hold and left feeling fuller than I ever have.  

photos by Heno Head | @hennythepooh & Sam Matthews | @samjmatthews