It has been a long time since I have gone camping. Ten years to be exact. So when I went with my boyfriend for 4 days at the age of 44, I was surprised at what I learned about myself.

Let me start here first.  I am a UCSC banana slug, former loc’d-now-natural-curled, black woman in San Francisco who puts coconut oil in her coffee and on her skin, only eats organic, and has both the Calm app and a pilates instructor. However, before I turned into this acupuncture and bee-sting (yup bees) hippie, I was born in Brooklyn, raised in conservative Orange County, and after college headed straight back to NYC. I tell you this because I am in a continuous mental battle of loving the natural life vs beating the shit out of some hipster with my Metallica album.

So when I went camping for the first time in 10 years with my man, I thought I had this. I know myself. For the last few years, I have been squatting in my middle-aged self and getting to know the new me, lumps and all. But let me tell you. Four days later with no loofah, curl activator, or a bar of soap, I learned a few more things about myself. I learned to smell and love my personal brand.  

I’m not talking about my StrategicLee marketing brand. I mean the real me—armpits, attitude and all. The wild me. Let me share a few discovers:

  1. You don’t really smell bad. In fact, you don’t really know what you smell like until you haven’t showered for days. Think about the hair products, deodorant, lotion, perfume, toothpaste, coffee, breath mints, alcohol, and out-of-season food we use and eat everyday. That stuff doesn’t go away after just one night. It takes days and turns into a variety of not-so-pleasants before you get to you. And when you finally get to your real scent, surprise! You don’t smell like that guy on the bus. Once the junk food and alcohol are gone, and a few hikes are in, you’re actually pleasant to be around and less nauseously perfumy.
  1. Stop napalming down there. If I have said it once, I will say it again: leave it alone ladies.  Stop trying to make your crotch smell like a cherry cough drop. It’s all the scented pads, toilet paper, deodorizers, and wipes that are making it worse. Give it a breather and ditch the smells and even those chonies for a while. Run free!
  1. Yo ‘natural’ products, you ain’t all that. I kid you not—I put some coconut oil on my ashy legs and Burt’s Bees lipgloss, so my lips looked luscious even if my hair didn’t. The amount of wasps, bees and flies that found my body within 10 minutes was ridic. To an animal I was like a slushy from 7/11. Luckily the bears weren’t around.
  1. The river heals all heels. The woods are the world’s greatest spa. Walking down beach rock and sand, barefoot and resting those tired old dogs in river water, gave me soft bunny feet. You have never had a bath that soothes all aches like a flowing glacial stream. And washing your hair in a natural whirlpool? Heaven. Saved $300 dollars and it was priceless.
  2. Mindfulness isn’t hippie bullshit. There was a day on the trip where I literally watched the seasons change before my eyes. The temperature dropped, the leaves changed color and floated to the ground in a matter of hours, dragonflies floated higher and further on the wet air, the sky filled with fat rain clouds (in California!) and small drops of rain turned me, my skin, and hair into something new. The rain was warm, and the earth let out a sweet cinnamon smell. I saw it all before my eyes. Oh the colors! I was a part of the change of the seasons and it was amazing. Mindfulness is more than watching. It’s being a part of your surroundings. I don’t know how to keep that mindset, but I am going to work hard to find that mountain every day.
  1. She or he really loves you. You have had a smudge of oily campfire soot on your forehead for two days, you don’t smell like pomegranate body spray, and your hair is – well – crunchy. But your love is in love with you all over again. They’re having the best time talking to you and only you in the wilderness. They are listening to your thoughts, watching you freak out from every snap of a twig in the night, holding you close in the rain, and when they fall asleep they say, “this was the best day,” and sleep with a smile. I know you thought it was the skinny jeans and that pole dancing class, or your famous dinner parties, or the way you have your shit looking tight. But it’s this chance to see and love the real you, that they know inside without the accoutrements, that they love.
  1. The real you. After this long list, believe it or not, the real me is actually quiet. When I am alone in my own brand, I don’t have a single reason to talk or explain or rationalize. Every decision is truer to myself than the last. I don’t have to eat, sleep, or drink it off. I am emotionally open and without fear of being discovered or taken advantage when I am exploring this me.
  1. But I will go Brooklyn. One more thing. Bears are mostly vegetarians with a bit of pescatarian in them. They would rather you walk your side of the road and they walk theirs. But as with all languages, sometimes you’re saying one thing and they are understanding something else. While I don’t plan on bringing it to any bears, I know that in a heartbeat I’ll go straight Brooklyn. On that mountain, I was hyper aware and vigilante. And while I wasn’t that way all the time,  I liked that I knew that if I had to, I was strong enough mentally to protect myself and those around me and then, when all else failed, go batshit crazy.

At the end of the week my personal brand wasn’t the brand I thought it was.  It was the brand underneath the brand and it took me days to actually smell it. I kinda like it. It’s like fresh roses and grass in the rain – mentally and physically. And now that I’m off the mountain I am going to try to keep some of it. Except conditioner. I need conditioner.