A year ago today I loaded up a truck with everything I thought I’d need for several months of solo travel. With Dharma dog in the passenger seat and some hot coffee in my mug, I cried as I hugged my mom goodbye at the gas station up the street from my house. Goodbyes have always been difficult for me, and that person who had hot tears rolling down her face on a warm day in Colorado had no idea that’d she’d be saying goodbye to the current version of herself.
A long time spent traveling alone ironically taught me how to better sit still and better connect with the people around me. I learned that just because someone is nice to you, doesn’t really mean they’re right for you. I got to witness how incredibly old connections could be rekindled into strong friendships in the span of a week. It’s surprising what people come out of the woodworks when you’re looking for a place to take a shower and sleep in a bed that you can sit up in. A lot of people apologized for putting me in their spare bedroom turned gear shed but those are the places I remember best.
I had to learn how to selectively listen to my fears; how to separate them from actual gut feelings. At first, I really let fear take the reins. I plan on going back to the places where that happened because I don’t feel like I gave them enough exploration. I met a lot of new people. Some of them let me park my truck on their property, others gave me recommendations of places to go, some shared beers with me, some climbed with me, some of them shared stories with me that I hope to never forget. Mostly everyone was kind.
I’ve always considered myself someone that enjoys being alone. It wasn’t until I was really alone in new places that I learned I didn’t quite know how to be that level of alone. I’m not sure if I do, even now, but I’m better at it. Being alone with my thoughts, worries, and joys put my emotions through the ringer. I cried a lot, for a spectrum of reasons.
I further learned how to enjoy the simple moments. Mornings where the coffee tasted just right, and the light bounced off of the hills in a certain way. How amazing it felt to listen to songs about being on the road… while you’re on the road. Understanding what you’re feeling is something most people crave in their lifetime but are never curious enough to actually go out and find it.
I learned how to get unstuck, physically and mentally. I learned how to suffer and how to use that to make my rewards feel even more deserved. Diner coffee and fried eggs taste particularly amazing when you slept in a truck in freezing temperatures, and a hot shower in a climbing gym where you have to hold the door closed with one arm feels like a damn spa treatment, trust me on that.
Now a new woman sits here and writes this. I hope she never forgets eating blackberries on the coast of Oregon, or being completely afraid in an empty forest in Washington. Waking up to deer running through her campsite in Idaho, and driving to Canada just to eat poutine. All of the countless strange times at gas stations in the middle of nowhere, and the string of coffee shops that provided a chance to rest. I hope she never forgets the look on Dharama’s face when she saw the ocean for the first time, or the time she spent the day climbing apple trees in Montana. And I hope that further into the future, I can look back at this time and recognize how transformative it was.