“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” “Henry David Thoreau, “Walden”
Sam Duregger gets a lot of questions these days. When you’re living in a tent, it’s to be expected.
Fortunately, Duregger has the logistics worked out for his new living arrangement, which he documents on his Web site, tentlife.net. Showering? Go to the local YMCA. Wi-fi access? Head on over to a coffee shop. And, then there’s that question everyone is thinking, but no one wants to ask. In fact, the No. 1 question Duregger gets is always about where he does No. 2.
“I schedule it for the bathroom at work. Seriously,” he said with a chuckle. “Most people are very intrigued and have a ton of questions. Some of the first questions are the most tentative questions. I actually talked to someone about Tent Life and he left, and I sat there with his sister and talked to her a little more about life, and then I drove off. She called two seconds later and said, ‘Hey, my brother just called me and he had one last question but didn’t want to ask you: Where do you go to the bathroom?’ People are really interested in it and have a lot of questions. But there have been people who have said, ‘That’s weird.'”
The tent experiment, which he calls Tent Life, offers Duregger a chance to experience a more simple way of living. He set up his rough home on June 1 and will stay until Dec. 1. He has not only lived in a tent, but documented his attempt to live life by three words: simple, cheap, different. Duregger’s imprint on the blogosphere is indeed different, and he hopes it will pose a challenge to others to reconsider how they live.
Of course, this experiment isn’t an easy one. Like Henry David Thoreau and his escape to Massachusetts’ Walden Pond, Duregger faces everyday struggles between loneliness and communion, conserving and consumption, high-tech and no-tech.
“The unpublished side of Walden Pond is that Thoreau would go to his sister’s house for dinner ” more often than not,” he said of Thoreau’s own struggles with isolation. “It has been a lot more difficult than I anticipated. You have a lot of time to think, and when you’re unplugged from a lot of things, you see life from a different mind-set. That’s been difficult, because I like to consume: I have an iPhone, I have a MacBook, I work in technology, I love movies. But the ideological side is coming out, like, what if we didn’t consume and what if we produced? What are your gifts and talents that God’s putting you on Earth that you can use instead of coming home from work and watching TV?”
The inspiration for the experiment came from some of Duregger’s friends, whom he met a few years ago while working at a Durango, Colo., outdoor adventure camp. Those friends committed to living in a tent, ranging from six to 15 months in duration, all before getting married. For them, it ostensibly served as a way to save money. Duregger himself got engaged in August and, while his fiancee is supportive of his tent experiment, she has no desire to become a “Tent Wife,” he joked.
Besides the silence and solitude ” part and parcel of tent living ” Duregger said the time outside also had the potential to lead to a spiritual awakening; that was, after all, an unexpected benefit each of his friends took from their own tent-living experiments. But before he could begin the experiment, he had to take care of a few details. It’s one thing to say “I want to live in a tent for six months,” and it’s another to make that statement a reality.
Duregger, who worked in a technology-related job at LifeChurch.tv and currently is the Bible studies curriculum writer there, said a co-worker’s friend kindly donated the land for his six-month experiment. But the support didn’t end there: Bicycle Alley donated a bike and Sunrise Alternative Energy gave him a solar panel to generate the tent’s fan and LED light. Duregger said he wanted to stay sustainable, and the donations have assisted him in that goal. For cooking, equipment is as simple as a Coleman stove and a grate.
While people have been supportive, Mother Nature, well, not so much.
“June and July, you really couldn’t be in the tent past 9 o’clock (in the morning), because it was way too hot. A lot of times, I would leave for work around 6:30 or 7 and either go to a coffee shop after work or stay at work until about 7 o’clock (at night) and then go back to the tent,” said Duregger, who lives on private land in the metro but doesn’t want to disclose the exact location. “During those lightning storms, I curled up on the ground. I got so much prayer time during that. It was like, ‘Lord, please do not kill me.'”
When the experiment ends, Duregger hopes the Tent Life mantle will be assumed by another brave soul. He would like the blog to become more contributions-oriented. He also has plans to work with those friends who have experienced a Tent Life of their own to create a “how to” book on the subject.
Duregger gets some funny questions about Tent Life, but, in the end, it’s a pretty serious endeavor for him. And while he may be able to discuss the philosophical aspects of the experiment, that won’t prevent people from wondering why a guy with a steady job who holds two advanced degrees ” he earned an MBA from the University of Oklahoma and a master’s in youth and family ministry from John Brown University ” would want to spend six months in a tent, living a relatively ascetic lifestyle.
But for Duregger, the answer is simple: “I struggle with idealism,” he said. “If you look at some of the greatest people of all time, they all have their demons. There’s a side of them that wants to pursue greatness, but then there’s always something that keeps them down and nailed to reality, and that’s part of what I am trying to figure out. What are those things that are hindering me? And also, is it good to let an adventurous spirit out, to pursue those ideals? Do we not allow people to do that, do we look down on that? And I think we do.” “Deborah Benjamin