Facebook was kind enough to remind me that exactly 7 years ago tonight I was solo camping in Bryce Canyon National Park, enjoying a s'more and an IPA and the sweet feelings of independence and freedom and general badassery that come from taking a solo roadtrip through the desert. This photo pops up as a "memory" almost every year, and almost every year I think - that's kinda where it all began...
Although, honestly, it "began" way before that. I mean, you could argue there was never one specific moment that began this journey for me, but every single moment of my life led me to the path I chose and the big changes I decided to make in my life. But that night - that entire trip - was a pivotal one for sure.
When I look at that photo of a beer can with a s'more piled on top, I immediately remember all the circumstances that inspired me to take the trip in the first place. A restlessness in my life in Boulder, Colorado. A guy named Seth who I was *sure* was my destiny if only he'd get on board and see it too. My mom having recently moved to Boulder - my little bubble where I'd comfortably resided 2,000 miles away from the rest of my family for the previous 5 years. My uncle passing just the year before. A need to get to the ocean, to the edge of the land, to feel space, to feel freedom, to finish the book I'd started writing just before my uncle died.
I was terrified before I left, even stalled my departure by a day. It was my good friend Ronnie who helped me put my foot on the gas and head west. After about 8 hours of driving, I arrived at the Bryce Canyon campgrounds just as the sun was setting. The camp's general store was closed, but I managed to convince them to open the door and sell me some firewood - thank god. I'd packed myself a full dinner of sausage and veggies and roasted it over the fire. I sat on the picnic table at my site, and proceeded to eat as many s'mores as I could (it was 3).
In the morning I hiked the canyon; I took some photos with my uncle's Hasselblad; I packed the car and got back on the road. I drove listening to the many CD's I'd prepared for the trip - or, rather, that friends had prepared for me (funny to think about how NOT good at making playlists I was then). I took breaks in the music to dictate my novel to my laptop as it rode shotgun; the voice dictation software barely worked, I'll finish it on the beach, I thought.
I remember arriving in CA, sitting on the freeway, sunroof open, cheesy pop song blasting, me covered in dust and sweat from my adventure, taking in the air; California just has a smell to it, doesn't it? I made my way up the coast to Santa Barbara, I chose the location specifically because I didn't know anyone there or have any emotional ties to the place. I cruised around a bit looking for a place to stay. I couldn't see myself not on the beach, so I settled for a somewhat rundown motel simply because of it's location. The front desk guy was incredibly kind. I checked in and returned to my Volvo to take the bike off the back, to get to the cooler inside, and all my luggage. As I carted these things to my room, a group of four men - about my age, clearly foreign but hard for me to distinguish from where - watched from outside their neighboring room and spoke - about me- in an unfamiliar language.
The next morning I awoke to find a note slipped under my door. It was written on a torn-off piece of brown paper bag. It was from them. They wanted to know what I was up to, roadtripping alone. They wanted to follow my adventure online somehow (remember this is 2012 and Instagram was barely a thing). They told me I was a beautiful creature (in a not-creepy way), and wished me a beautiful life.
It melted my heart a bit. It made me wonder why I was so hung up on a guy who couldn't care less, when there are people who see me like that, in only a few minutes.
I spent the rest of my trip hanging out with those guys. We chilled on the cool beach, hit the clubs that night, and all traveled south to Santa Monica a day or two later. On the way there I stopped at Neptune's Net, where I recreated a photo my uncle had taken of me just a few years prior; I walked the Santa Monica pier, where we had walked together; I treated myself to a fancier hotel room, pretended to work on my book on the balcony, and met the guys for brunch the next day.
The following night as I rolled into Zion National Park well after dark - my cell service about to drop - I was comforted by a text from one of the guys checking to make sure I'd made it. I set up my tent and ate a "dinner" of almond butter and crackers and tucked myself in. Convinced there was someone or something lurking outside my tent, I slept with my hand on the mace trigger and had nightmares of the campground that night (it was my rain fly *just barely* moving in the wind). I woke up to the incredible beauty that is Zion, and hiked around a bit before taking the ~8 hour drive back to Boulder.
That trip cracked something open in me. It taught me that I was strong enough to travel on my own, and furthermore, that I liked doing so. It whet my appetite for adventure, for leaving my comfort zone. It reminded me that there was so much more beyond my bubble, and I had no reason not to see it. It had me starting to question the life I had built for myself, and the identity I had comfortably slipped myself into. I never finished my book, but started writing a new chapter nonetheless.
I planned that roadtrip mostly because I was losing my mind over a guy. He'd confused me and hurt me and strung me along only to hurt me again. I needed to rinse that off, I needed a reset button. What I didn't realize, was that there was so much more I needed to reset. It wasn't about the guy and it wasn't about Boulder; it was about me and how I'd lost myself well before Seth ever came along. But in a way, this total jerk is responsible for the life I have now. Not like, giving him credit, but I needed that push. And I think of him any time I need a reminder that sometimes the things we think are the absolute worst in the moment, could be the catalyst for something much greater.
Over the next year I got more pushes. Boulder, this chapter, was over. It was time to go back to the east coast, but not before a little detour through Europe. Why not? I thought, fully intending to hop right back into my existing career and lifestyle upon my return.
My first stop was Belgium, to visit the guys I met on the beach.