When I finally followed the 10 out of Los Angeles in July of 2018, my Ford Fiesta (where every drive is a party) was packed with a few bins of belongings stacked neatly between clothes and camping gear. My dog Nahla rode shotgun, curled into a furry ball on a pillow like a princess. I crossed the Imperial Valley eastward on a road that melted into a heat oasis between mountains of piled rock. It merged into an alien landscape bristling with Joshua Trees and tumbleweeds. I imagined my future extended before me, equally out of focus, and perhaps as barren and inhospitable as the sun that scorched the dust and asphalt.
Leaving Home to Return to the Familiar
Although I was returning to a theoretically familiar place, I knew I was venturing into the unknown. I was leaving my social and professional network, and the life I had built in Northern California for 14 years. No more Harbin Hot Springs or Sierra Hot Springs. No more respite from the heat in the Yuba River, the Trinity River, the Salmon River, the Feather River, or the Sacramento River. No more camping in the Siskiyou-Trinity Alps. No more Bigfoot. No more slow Saturdays with coffee at the Weathervane, an afternoon swim at the Capital Athletic Club, and an early evening pint at the Fox and Goose. No more running into friends at the park. Northern California and the Pacific Northwest will probably continue to be the place where I felt like my most authentic version of myself, where I felt most like I spoke a language aligned with the other humans.
Every Path Includes a Detour
The whirlwind whisked me through 15 states and eight foreign countries. After leaving Los Angeles, I ventured north through Nevada and into Utah. I explored Zion National Park before continuing along Idaho’s Salmon River Byway. In Montana, I rested at the Lost Trail Hot Springs, got lost on back roads in the mountains to luck into one last available camping spot at dusk to discover it was actually the site I had reserved and so was not lost at all, and ate my first hot meal since Los Angeles at a brunch cafe in Missoula.
In Wyoming’s Big Horn National Forest, I hiked Medicine Mountain to gaze in wander at the active Medicine Wheel, met a traveler from Russia who wore her traditional village clothing and who carried a glass bottle of water in a woven basket, and camped in a hail storm shivering with cold and fear of the bear that lurked outside my tent silhouetted against the full moon light. I arrived at my brother’s place in Bloomington in time for his birthday, and with two weeks to unpack before boarding a plane to Budapest from Manhattan.
Opening to Opportunity
Had I not said “yes” to the opportunity to travel, I would not have met Oben a Turkish doctoral student in Budapest; Jeff the Taiwanese teacher in Bratislava; Bella and Pauline from Brussels in Zadar; Oliver the French chef in Ljubljana; Nikki and Cade from Australia who had been traveling for over a year with only a small backpack between them in Sofia; Ole the Norweigan prison guard; Thomas from the Netherlands in Belgrade venturing into a journey to discover his heart and his talent; Janet from New Zealand in Bucharest; Peter in Csikszereda with tattoos on his arms written in runic Hungarian script; Botond and Maria the Romanian middle schoolers who laughed in embarrassment at their attempts to say the English words “squirrel,” “walrus,” and “seal”; and the many others who etched their shared destiny onto stars in my own version of sky.
On August 16, 2018, before leaving Indianapolis on a Manhattan-bound train, I wrote:
My life is an unanswered question. The future is unwritten, and has yet to rise from the ash of the past. I welcome it, however it appears, and I welcome this time to create it, to invent myself again, and move forward into a brighter freedom. My life is what I want it to be; I am whoever I want to become. The events in the past are gone, and they have no more power over me. It is a new morning. The great rain has washed it away.
Today my life is singing crickets, the moist air of a humid summer, trails through verdant meadows and dense forest, and the promise that what I initiate into being through my energy, my focus, my creativity, and my desire will return as gifts on the horizon. Even if within this moment of pandemic and social unrest, I do not see them from where I currently watch, if I keep moving forward, I will reach them. Life is an adventure with a multidimensional view, and another storm is brewing on the eastern horizon.