Friday, February 15, 2013

After the flame, a pause...

At the moment, I am very content. I am sitting in San Antonio, Texas, with my grandmother, watching episodes of Perry Mason and the original Hawaii 5-0. My grandfather is clicking away on Facebook. I have a bad cold made worse by the dryness in San Antonio and an allergic reaction to my dear friend Emma's cat Lemon. My bottom is in a state of perpetual tenderness after 36 hours of driving.

Yes, 36 hours. Over 2,000 miles.

By the time I reach Atlanta sometime around midnight tomorrow, I will have driven (according to Google Maps, my navigator) 50 hours, or just over 3,300 miles.

All by my lonesome.

I've decided, and had already decided by day two of my solo cross country road trip, that every person should at some point in their life make the drive across North America by themselves - for two very good reasons. One, so they can say, "I drove across the United States all alone," and subsequently receive the "Oohs" and "Ahhs" the statement invokes in others. And two, much more importantly, for the incredible effect spending that much time alone with very little to distract yourself from yourself has on, well, yourself.

I've always loved driving. I think I inherited that trait from my grandfather, who spoke just this morning of his own fancy for road trips, and described his desire to jump in the car at the tender age of 89 and drive the 18 hours to Atlanta to see my father. I hope at 89 I am still as raring to take on the open road as he is.

Traveling in general has always been a passion of mine, and has often signified a big change in my life. Shorter trips, such as the drive from Atlanta to college in Savannah represented a coming of age and my first venture without my sister and family to hold my hand. 5 weeks as freshman in Spain had one of the biggest impacts, changing everything about what I dreamed and hoped for. Again, as a senior in college, a trip to Spain and everything that happened (and didn't happen) while there further defined major parts of my identity.

And then, my world changed quite drastically with my very first cross country road trip in 2010 and a move thousands of miles away from my family. Even at the time I knew this drive was a huge turn in my life's path, but I could not have guessed it would be the beginning of three years of incredible adventures, the best and worst of times, and experiences I could not have expected, nor dreamt of, and could not be more grateful for.

Here I am again, in the midst of yet another big turn, realizing there is nothing quite like 50 hours in a car all by your lonesome to put you inside your head, reflecting on your life, for better or for worse - as I so enjoy doing :)

Classin' up hospital gowns since 1986.
My trip began a bit dramatically - surprise, surprise. I'd like to think that things happen in my life in such a way as to remind me to be grateful for all the luck, opportunity and blessings I have. Having to spend 7 hours in the ER in the midst of preparing for a cross country road trip is no exception. While I'm not sure what the life lesson is in having a series of exams/procedures I had hoped I would get to spend most of my young life avoiding, the time spent in the hospital and in bed for the next 24 hours when I should've been on the road did lead to a few personal realizations.

First, I am getting older, and it may be time to start acting that way - at least in terms of my health. While I can feed my free and young spirit with crazy road trips, drop of the hat life decisions and extreme sports and adventures - I cannot keep feeding my actual body without making better choices and some consideration. Not if I hope to avoid said exams/procedures in the near future. The paperwork of adult life that I have let fall to the wayside is also something to get on top of, not to mention a bit of budgeting wouldn't hurt.

A little less on the concrete side, my exciting day in the ER (along with many other moments along this trip) reminded me that I am blessed with truly wonderful people in my life. Bri, whom I was supposed to meet for coffee at Batdorf but instead met for tears and uncomfortable exams at St. Pete's, was there for me in a way that I would have before expected only from my sister or mother. I had forgotten that friends, too, are family - particularly when thousands of miles away from your own. This was similarly demonstrated by my beyond incredible roommates. Knowing the amount of things I had left to do before my move, Rey (my honorary little brother) and the rest not only visited me, updated my family, friends and boyfriend, helped me fill my prescriptions and fed me, but they also took loads of stuff to Goodwill so I wouldn't have anything but packing my car to worry about (which they also helped with).

Some of my Washington family at lunch after a kick ass climbing trip to Vantage, WA.
Driving away from Olympia on Monday morning, my Washington family (as my old roommate Sarah so accurately dubbed them) entered my thoughts - and there they remained for the next 12 hours. I may or may not have cried for the first two hours of my drive. Nothing too embarrassing, just the kind of controlled sobbing that results in snot and tears running down my face and a bit of chest heaving, all in such a way that I could still safely drive.

It is an understatement to say that I had a truly remarkable family in Washington. I had sisters and brothers and moms and dads in all of my friends, peers and even my teachers and co-workers. This family introduced me to new sports and re-kindled my love for old ones. They took me to places I could have never dreamed of, and  taught me things I never thought I would know. They told me I could do anything, and cheered me on when I did, whether I succeeded or failed. They fed me when I was hungry, housed me when I was tired and needed rest, and they made me smile and laugh and cry when the time called for it. I learned about trust and love from this family. I saw  true strength and I found out how strong I myself was from this family. I realized the value I can bring to a circle of people, and I learned how to better value other people, even when they challenge everything I stand for. I learned how to stand up for myself and I found the kinds of friends that are worth standing up for. I learned about forgiveness and I learned about moving on. I received unconditional love from this family, and I loved unconditionally. Heartbreak and failure could not destroy me, for I had more than enough love to hold me up. In the future, no matter what heartbreak I may ever experience, I know a group of people I can turn to - whether for a laugh, a hug, an escape, advice or to help show me the way when I am a bit lost.

My friend, my sister, my lover ;) There is no one who has been there for me more in the last couple of years. Photo by Robert Combier.
I cried because I was leaving them, but also because I am worried that this family doesn't know what they meant to me. I have spent so long planning and looking forward to this move, I am worried I didn't show these unbelievable people in my life how much I appreciate them. I spent too much of the last year talking about Atlanta, and too little thanking them. I cried, feeling that as I go through this major change in my life, I have committed another great folly, knowing I have still not corrected one of my worst flaws - I have failed to tell the people I love how much I love them.

My brother from another mother and a godsend in the last six months, Rey.
I eventually got it together and stopped bawling, but memories of times in Washington and thoughts of them stayed with me through the entire drive. The scenery was perfect for a day of nostalgia. Rivers and lakes and rocks and mountains reminded me of all of our times together. The straight forward highways gave me time to reflect on it all, and the important lesson I want to keep with me always - life is short, sometimes later is never (a quote from my little brother), so I better find a way to make sure everyone I love and appreciate knows they are loved and appreciated. Hell, I was almost t-boned in Salt Lake as I drove around in circles trying to find my Aunt and Uncle's house according to my crappy navigator!

So, Washington family that read my blog and managed not to get bored out of their mind and tired of reading this extremely long winded post, I love you and I appreciate you. You all, in each of your own ways, have made me a better person and I can only hope to have a smidgen of the impact you have had on my life on someone else's. I already miss you and I cannot wait to see you in April.

All smiles with Emma in Boulder, CO.
I was lucky enough to get to see a bit of my ex-pat Washington family in the form of bestie Emma on days two and three of my road trip. If there is anyone who can appreciate drastic life changes and being far from both the family you choose and your biological family, its this beautiful lady. After two days of driving while beating myself up mentally, spending time with someone as sweet, supportive and positive as Emma is a godsend. Though Boulder may be too slow paced for me and filled to the brim with hippies, I can't wait to get back so I can spend more time eating, drinking, arting, shopping, and talking about everything from child pooping habits to dream mean to skeletons in our closets - next time, preferably while not finishing a round of antibiotics, in zombie mode from driving and battling allergies/cold symptoms - with Emma.

The longest legs of this trip are the drive between Boulder and San Antonio - a stinky, smelly, unpleasant drive through small towns with 35 mph speed limits, farms populated by evil cows and fields of oil rigs and windmills - and the 18 hours to Atlanta tomorrow.

My favorite capture from the trip so far... The Columbia River.
Luckily, as I did in Utah, I have a safe haven for rest with my Dad's family in Texas. I am recovering both physically and mentally, taking a break from the endless self-analysis and reflection the open road seems to inspire. Instead, I am enjoying listening and recording the stories about my aunts, cousins and people I've never met that my grandmother tells, and conversations with my grandfather about my thesis and his great grandfather who disappeared on a Spanish ship. Though I know how much work it takes on the part of my aunt and cousin, I am envious that they live with my grandparents, and have gotten to spend so much time with my grandparents throughout their entire lives, particularly as the pair grow older, their endless stories, though told and heard many times, becoming even more valuable. My grandparents lived a good, simple life, filled with travel, accomplishments, and most importantly, lots of children and grandchildren - inspiring much of what I want from my own life.

Tomorrow I will complete my cross country road trip, this crazy 3000 mile journey that marks, in many ways, the end of a hugely important time in my life. I feel more or less prepared for the drive, to move in to the loft awaiting me, and to start this next step. I am definitely ready to put an end to eight months of transition and looking forward. I know I have my family, great friends, and a wonderful man waiting for me. I know that, just like before, I can't even guess what adventures and experiences this new path will bring.


  1. I really realized that I was getting older at 27. Now I get injured more. I can't eat whatever I want and not exercise and not get bigger. I look old in the face. My hair is receding. It's like 23-26 was when I was at my fittest and best looking and I didn't even realize it.

    It feels like things are more serious now. I can't be a carefree young guy anymore. It would be great if I could go back and be me again knowing what I know now.

    1. I completely understand. I think that's why I take so much time to reflect on the things that I do and the things that happen in my life, that way I won't have that feeling of wishing I had known what I know now - because I took the time to figure it out.

  2. Have you ever heard of a vision quest? It has an entry on wikipedia. When I was little I was watching a cartoon and one of the characters in it was a Native American and basically he said, "Peace out guys. I'm going on a vision quest." and then he left into the wilderness. It seems like a good thing to do once in a while. Maybe it's a solo climb for a few days, a trek alone, a hitchhiking adventure, or a long drive. Looking back at solo stuff that I never thought I would do, I realize that these could have been my version of a vision quest. I didn't do a lot of self-reflection, but maybe there will be chances for more vision quests. And maybe it doesn't always have to be alone. A lot of being in that zone happens when you're in a new place. You're in a new place, appreciate. You're back home, appreciate. Appreciate when times are good and when times are bad. Be aware etc.