Posts Tagged ‘road trip’

Final Days in Chicago

Thursday, November 12th, 2015

My final full day in Chicago was a blur of car horns, books, helicopter noise, cracks in the pavement, and good food. I dedicated my day to simply walking everywhere in the city. The only way to know the heart of a city is to walk the streets that pulse with people like the lifeblood pumping through the veins of this vast entity. Before putting my feet to the pavement and letting the sole of my shoes meld with the soul of this city I visited a place that brings my heart great joy, a library. The day was long and the journey longer to get to the center of the city.

I woke up early in the morning to grab the train only to learn that they were not running at the moment. Helicopters swooped over the train line towards the cityscape of towering skyscrapers. Apparently a man tried to end his life by throwing himself in front of the train. It was horrible to hear and I felt the sadness drift upon me as I realized that when I did not know the reason for the delay, found myself angry about the traffic and the non-functioning train. For a moment I had felt that this man’s death, his misery, his trapped and hurting heart and mind where simply an obstacle to my forward movement. That is a horrible thing to think but I hadn’t even realized I had felt it; when I realized my own unconscious thinking it felt like a punch to the gut. A man’s death, his suffering, to a stranger trying to get to work or a tourist trying to tour the city only felt the delay of his actions, not the truth or pain behind them. It was a hard morning and I hope his family has some peace in this. I had lost sight, in my mania of exploration, of the people around me as real people. I felt like I had woken up when I heard over the cab radio what had happened. This road trip in many ways is a very selfish endeavor, it is for me and me alone, maybe to be enjoyed by others in the stories to come, but as a result I had forgotten to actually look into the eyes of the people around me as real humans with personal agendas and personal pains. It was a contemplative morning for me to say the least and I walked away hoping to never forget to value each person on the street as someone who deeply mattered in their own special way.

I took a cab to the Newberry (the rare books and archive library I planned on visiting) instead of the train but was further waylaid when my cab got hit by another cab. The accident wasn’t bad, the two cars simply slid alongside each other and took off the side view mirror with a loud bang. I sat with wide eyes in the back of the cab as my driver got out and started to yell at the other driver. It was a very strange incident, I was just happy to get out of the car and rely on my own two feet for the rest of the day.

The Newberry was impressive and I felt pretty special getting my visiting scholar badge and my own little personal desk where they spread out the books I had requested in little pillow displays. I spent the majority of the morning pouring over old Milton books and William Blake paintings. It was enough to make my little english major heart implode.

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I emerged from the library with a mind full of poetry and paintings onto the urban streets of Chicago, ready to get lost in between the towering buildings.

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After getting some coffee at Bowtruss, I wandered all over the place but the riverwalk was definitely my favorite. The different bridges and the sun reflecting off of the glass buildings like the scales of some enormous fish onto the grey streets below. The noise of this city is somewhat overwhelming, yet beautiful. The clinking of change in a cup, the thudding of tires on the slates of the bridges, the horns of passing tour boats, and the chittering of people all around me. Chicago truly is a beautiful city, there is so much for the eyes to feast upon everywhere you look. Everything vibrates with energetic life.

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I took a break at Do-Rite Donuts where I got a delicious maple bacon donut. It blew my mind. I had never had a donut like this before and I sat down by the river to enjoy the view and the food.

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I also had to see the iconic sights like Cloud Gate or as it is commonly called The Bean.

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My obligatory Bean selfie.

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After my touristy stops, I wandered back down the Magnificent Mile or Michigan Ave shopping streets where I stumbled upon a food truck. Right in from of the NBC building was this bright yellow truck with a long line. Long lines usually equal good food so I decided it must be worth while. It was Pierogi Streets, a pierogi food truck serving up tasty dumplings with some amazing toppings. The food was unbelievable; I had braised beef and spinach/feta pierogis topped with spicy grilled onions, sauerkraut, and bacon. It was heavenly.

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It was a great day of wandering, but by the end my feet were tired and the sun had set on the city. The shadows cast by the tall buildings created a canopy of darkness only broken apart of slivers of light high above. In this artificial shade I left the city behind to go pack my belongings for the road ahead.

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I left Chicago that next afternoon after a morning at the Ferrara Bakery, a visit to my aunt’s studio, and a fantastic final lunch at the Art Institute.

I am so grateful for my family that has helped me along the way, none of this would be possible without them. My lovely aunt and uncle and my beautiful cousin were so kind to me. Their welcoming love, even after so long since my last visit with them, made me feel like I was home despite being far from it. I love that I get to see so much of my family, but it is so hard constantly leaving everyone behind after just finally getting to see them after so long. I have never said goodbye so many times before in such a short period of time. Every person I see along the way makes it harder to say goodbye the next time; I am more reluctant to leave yet also more excited for what comes next. This trip is one of the most challenging things I have ever done but also one of the most rewarding. I will carry these memories and these special moments with me forever, even when I have returned home to California. But after Chicago I headed even farther East. I drove that day from Chicago to Pittsburgh across Indiana and Ohio. It felt inconceivable to be moving farther away from the world I knew and loved, but the East Coast was on my mind and I meant to reach it as soon as possible. The other end of the country was within reach and with it the goal of my solo road trip was within sight.

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Life in the UP

Sunday, October 18th, 2015

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Even though I have a home once more, I have found myself taking to the road. Not to get anywhere in particular, I have no grand destination at the end of a long road anymore, but I take to the road all the same. Somedays I drive just to feel normal again, the road has become my home in more than one way. But most days, I drive to watch the fall leaves twirl in the air of my car’s wake as I devour mile after mile of empty roadway. This is my now, after the colors turned, after the winter winds began, and after the leaves began to fall. But this isn’t where I want to begin, I want to go back when the trees were still green and the lake lay still. I want to tell you where I have been, how strange life has become, but in the best of ways.

3,354 miles and a little over two weeks on the road. The space between me and everything I once called home. Now it is over a month since I left the sunny west coast behind me and I have been living in the Northernmost tip of Michigan where the sky meets water and the land ends.

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This place is not unfamiliar to me though, it is not a strange, exotic and unknown location; this is my home away from home. However, I have never seen it quite like this before. The closest city to me is Houghton, a drawbridge city with cobblestone streets and old brick buildings lining the downtown stretch of road. But every morning this is the view I wake up to.

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So many things are different now, things I have never seen before because I only ever visited in the summer time. I feel like my world has been turned topsy turvy, everything is so similar yet just different enough to disturb the normalcy of everything I had grown accustomed to since I was a very young child. Small things are off, like leaving a book on your desk and returning to find it on top of your bed with no one around to have moved it.

Small things like seeing acorns on the ground. The entire ground is littered with them but since I have only ever been here in summer I have never seen an acorn here. Or watching fog lift off of the lake in the early morning or funneling down the channel when I have only ever seen sun, rain, and lightning in the sky before now. Or realizing that the shadows fall differently because the sun is in an entirely different position. The sun sets so far south and instead of 11pm sunsets, the sky gets darker earlier and earlier every day. There are endless things that entirely transform this place I have visited almost every single year since I was born. I feel like I have found myself on the other end of the looking glass and everything is slightly distorted.

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There are two not so subtle changes that have really transformed this once familiar place into a mysterious and new experience. The first of which is obvious, it is Fall. I have never seen the once verdant ubiquitous green burst apart into such an array of beautiful colors. It makes me look at everything with new awe struck eyes.

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The land around me has become its own sea of colors. Amber, wine, violet, peach, rose, and so many other colors have transformed every tree into a color palette of startling fiery colors. Every day the world around me looks different. Every day it transforms a little more, becomes a little more beautiful, or looses a few more leaves. This ceaselessly protean landscape has dug its beautiful fingers into my imagination and lit my eyes aflame with the possibilities of fleeting life. There is such a desperate beauty in imminent perishing life.

The other difference is the life that already perished. The loss of my grandfather, one year after his passing, is thick in the air everywhere I turn up here. It is not necessarily a bad or sad feeling, just a very persistent one. Memories are the greatest ghosts we could ever conjure.

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I dreamt for years about coming up to Northern Michigan to see the peak of fall colors, but I never dreamt that it would be without my grandfather. I always thought I would walk arm in arm with him through the forest of amber and wine colored trees. I thought we would sit in his favorite chairs by a fire, no words passing between us, just a mutual understanding that sometimes words aren’t necessary to know you are loved. Now I am finally here and on the one year anniversary of his passing. I wish he could be here with me and I cannot believe, even a year later that he is actually gone. I miss my grandpa but I see him and feel him in the flurry of falling leaves everywhere I go.

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I am staying in his home without him and every time I hear this old house creak I always wonder if it is him. I feel like I cannot go anywhere without bumping into his ghost. But I know he would have wanted me here. I just wish he could have been here along side me.

I think one of the biggest things about being here by myself is how much older it makes me feel. I can physically see the changes, the way that time has transformed this place and myself. I have always known this place as one filled with love, family, laughter, adventure, mischief, and growth. But now I am here at the end of fall and the cusp of winter. It isn’t summer anymore. I have grown older, my grandfather and grandmother are both gone, my cousins aren’t here with me to enjoy each others company, and the leaves are falling one by one as the water slowly recedes from the shores.

It is a beautiful death here. A beautiful transitioning between the life of one year and the life of the next. This is where I find myself. Between the death of an old life and the beginning of a new one. The west of my past and the east of my future as Kerouac would say if his journey had been reversed. I am moving slowly towards something, but I know not what yet. For now I sit and watch the world around me changing, wondering what will come when the color is gone.

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Garden Kaleidoscope

Friday, October 2nd, 2015

Trying to catch up on the last days of my road trip, it has been kind of hectic so bear with me! Here is the account of my final day in Madison, Wisconsin.

One of my favorite features thus far throughout Madison are all of the amazing gardens. From ALlen Centenntial Garden, to the Abrotetum, and now finally the Olbrich Botancial Gardens, all have been spectacular displays of nature within the confines of a major city.

Olbrich Botanical Gardens was like a playground for nature lovers. From amazing fountains, art exhibits hidden in the trees, and my personal favorite, a kaleidoscope of succulents. IMG_9791

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My view of all the different gardens around the city had begun to feel like a kaleidoscope mash-up of everything I had seen thus far. I had luckily caught a period of time right before the major frost where flowers were still blooming and beautiful but leaves had begun to change colors already. I was getting the best of both worlds and I knew it. So I reveled in the amazing gardens and was shocked by the array of colors and textures I found everywhere I went.

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There was even a Thai pavilion in the gardens that was ornate and beautiful with the backdrop of flowers surrounding it.

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Everything was beautiful and so much fun to explore with my Aunt, we really had a great time.

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There is one thing I forgot to mention thus far and it is the frequency with which Madison has free libraries in front of their homes. It always makes me very happy to see free book boxes in neighborhoods but Madison had an astounding abundance of ornate and well stocked free libraries. A neighborhood feels healthy and lively whenever there are free book boxes lining the streets. I really enjoyed this one which was a vibrant orange and had a beautiful mosaic of a tree on the side. Well done Madison, well done.

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I went off on my own again with a more serious mission in mind this time: visit the University of Wisconsin- Madison campus and check out the English Graduate Program. I spent the rest of my day slowly meandering around campus (with an additional stop inside of a wonderful liitle bookstore on State street) and visiting the English Department.

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The campus was really and truly very nice, I was genuinely impressed. The buildings were beautiful, the people were kind and generous with their information, the scenery was amazing (right on the lake and covered in colorful trees), and the available opportunities to talk to students and faculty was very abundant. I quite enjoyed it.

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I even found an acorn friend that sadly rolled away from me and got crushed by a car. It was slightly heartbreaking. Can you tell I haven’t been terribly sociable? I have started befriending acorns.

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But honestly, it made me miss Berkeley. There were so many things that kept reminding me of my alma mater and it left me with a heavy heart burdened by homesickness. There was even a tower that looked like the campanile (complete with carillons) and several of my favorite professors from Berkeley were going to be visiting campus to give lectures in the coming weeks. I missed my friends, my mentors, and the feeling of belonging to a community regardless of whether the people around you knew you or not. Despite actually really liking this campus, I left full of sadness because I wasn’t sure if anywhere else would ever feel like home in the way that Berkeley was. I know this is naive in many ways; I know I will go somewhere and I will learn to call it home, but Berkeley will always have my heart.

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It was a hard day, the first of probably many to come in the next few months, but not something that would stop me from moving forward. Some days are worse than others, but every day on the road is a step farther from home that I am proud to be taking even on the days when I wish for nothing more than to be back where I was. I am learning to miss the things I love and I hope each day to miss these things with happiness rather than sadness, but sadly that day has not yet come. Despite my sadness, I know nothing is gained without losing something first. Growth can be painful and I would be foolish to wish that pain away, so for now I grit my teeth and try to push forward to days when it hurts less.

But I know it is worth it.

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A Rainy Day in Madison

Wednesday, September 30th, 2015

I woke up to the sound of rain against the window. It was the first time in a long time I had heard rain calling me outside. I lay in my bed listening and for the first time it became real. I knew I was very far from home; I knew that I was no longer in California and would not be returning for quite some time. In many ways this whole trip has been so surreal. A strange mixture between road trip and living in a bunch of different states. I bounce from one location to the next, usually with someone I know waiting at the end of my drive so it never feels like I am truly alone. But this morning I woke up and felt alone. I felt far from my friends, family, and all that was familiar to me. I felt it ringing in the rain drops like a vibrating siren and each drop sang out the sound of total strangeness. It was an odd moment, of finally letting it sink in that I wasn’t going home, at least not for a while. I had to make a home wherever I could find it now.

For now home is with my Aunt in Madison but even that is not for long. I pulled my tired body from bed and looked outside at the cardinal on the bird feeder below, unfazed by the rain and even more vibrant in it. The roads ran like rivers and the fall leaves had been glued to my car like some child’s scrapbook of autumn.

On our way to explore Madison we first stopped to get some really great coffee and Colectivo. A roomy coffee shop with huge windows, bright furniture, and great study spaces, Colectivo was definitely instantly on my favorite coffee spot list.

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I took my coffee out into the cold rain to warm my fingers as we explored the state capital building. It was truly a magnificent piece of architecture and I loved escaping from the rain under their marbled ceilings and fancy decor.
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It was quite the place and the square that it sat in was surrounded by adorable shops and fantastic restaurants.

After we had circled the captial building a few times, marveling at the architecture from every angle, we drove through the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus. Going through campuses that are closer to the east coast always impress me because they are so thoroughly different from west coast campuses. The buildings are older, crafted from beautiful stone or brick and much more ornate than the average west coast campus building. I love my alma mater but I cannot help comparing the architecture between campuses and I was thoroughly impressed with the Madison campus.

At the far end of campus we stopped at the Allen Centennial Gardens, a small enclosure of nature next to an old historic home. The gardens, though small, were marvelous. Even in the rain, the vibrant crops like kale, colorful swiss chard, and of course corn, were incredibly beautiful.

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There were some really unique looking flowers, like the ones below, that lit up the entire park with vivid colors. IMG_9697

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From boardwalks to koi ponds, gazebos to vegetable gardens the entire garden was surprisingly entertaining. After marveling at the entire complex we continued on our way.

We decided to poke in at the Henry Villa Zoo. It was a fun little zoo but the alligator was by far my favorite. I had been taking pictures of the fall leaf littered pool, not realizing it was an alligator enclosure until afterwards when I looked at my pictures. It surprised me so much that I hadn’t even noticed the alligator lying quietly below the leaves.

There were also some adorable little badgers having a fun time digging around in the mud, which was pretty quintessential for all of Wisconsin. Go Badgers :)

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After the zoo, my aunt and I parted ways for a bit and I went off on my own to the University’s Arboretum for a hike. It was pretty, but also pretty marshy so my hike kept getting cut short by closed pathways. But what I did see was quite nice; the variety of different trail landscapes that I set foot on in just the few short miles I was able to hike was staggering. It was a wonderfully diverse park filled with prairies, lakes, and flowers.

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We finished out day with a sunset mini walk along some overgrown boardwalks next to Lake Monona. Stepping over a natural bubbling spring, we walked along the creaking old wooden planks along the rim of the lake watching the sky turn pink under wispy clouds. IMG_9754 IMG_9755

It was a good first day in Madison (finished with some really great pizza) but I am finding myself growing more and more tired as each day passes. Michigan is only one day away of driving from where I am now and I can feel the closeness in my road wearied bones. I have been traveling now for exactly two weeks and I have been alone for one week; it feels like a lifetime.

A good rest is in order soon and I know it awaits me on the shores of Lake Superior, so close yet so far from where I am now. For now, there is still more work to be done, more things to see, and always another adventure around the corner.

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Missouri Tried to Kill Me

Tuesday, September 29th, 2015

Kansas City, Missouri to Madison, Wisconsin; day two of my long days to come. To break up the monotony of corn I decided to make a quick stop in Wallace State Park, a small natural park about an hour outside of Kansas city, to take a hike and get out of the car. It was a great idea but also turned into somewhat of a nightmarish experience that I could never have predicted.

I exited the main drag of interstate and entered into a wonderfully windy and hilly back country road that wove its way deeper into forested countryside. The road was pleasnatly meandering through farm houses and red barns disappearing from my fast paced world into obscurity behind me.

As I found the enttrance to the park I was pleasantly surprised by a doe and her little baby deer grazing calmly on the roadside. I took a few pictures, kept my respectful distance, and continued on my way just as they did theirs.

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There was no one else in the park, so I had the stillness of the lake and the chittering of the woods all to myself. The forest seemed alive and vibrating with wildlife that remained unseen but well heard. The lake was so still and serene, the perfect reflecting basin for the world that surrounded it.

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I laced up my hiking boots and headed out across some wonderful foot bridges, but I did not get very far before things started to get weird. First of all, I was slightly on edge because there were so many noises all around me that I had never heard before, be they bugs, birds, or small mammals, the noises they made were somewhat haunting and remotely sounded like a child crying or a wounded animal screaming. Not a great start. So I tried to ignore the noises that were far off but present in the mysterious woods around me. I tried not to let it get to me, but being a woman hiking alone and having no one else in the park put me too on edge. So after a short bit I returned to my car and decided to drive around instead of hike because I was sort of freaked out.

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Once I went back to my car I drove to a separate trail away from the strange noises of the forests I originally started by and found an amazingly beautiful boardwalk.

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Again, I didn’t get far before everything went down hill. I didn’t even get onto the boardwalk, I was just taking pictures of it, when all of a sudden there was a wild frenzy of cracking twigs and rustling bushes coming from the hill behind me on the other side of the parking lot. I turned around with my heart in my throat and the horrible thought in my mind that it was going to be a bear charging at me out of the woods. A thousand things go through my mind: I don’t have a weapon, just my camera, I can use my telephoto as a (very expensive) weapon if I have to defend myself, if it is a black bear I have to stand my ground and get angry, big, and scary fast, there is no one to yell for if I need help, my car is so close but whatever is coming at me is between me and my car, and a bunch of other gut reaction thoughts about whatever was making that horrible ruckus in the woods.

When I turned and found the source of the frenzy I was relieved but also deeply shocked and confused: it was a deer. A very angry deer. I don’t know why or what was going on except maybe there was a baby nearby it was trying to protect, maybe even the same mom and baby deer I had photographed early about a mile away, but I didn’t know. It was a very angry doe running out of the woods kind of hunched over, straight legged, and kicking every which way and coming right for me.

Luckily, I was already on edge so I was able to react quickly and jumped up onto the banister of the boardwalk above the reach of the deer. I don’t know what I would have done if it had reared up because it could have possibly reached me, but thankfully it stayed roughly on its four feet. It ran up to me on the boardwalk and started battering the post I was standing on with its front legs and angrily snorting. I started yelling loudly at it to scare it away and weilding my telephoto in one hand, ready to use it to defend myself, tried to scare away the pissed off deer as it attacked the boardwalk posts I was perched atop.

After this back and forth went on for a little bit the deer seemed to calm down and kind of ran off back towards my car and away from me. Warily eyeing it I waited until it seemed distracted and jumped from the banister to run off into the woods the other way since it was still between me and my car. I had planned on taking a hike, this was just not necessarily the way I had wanted to do it.

It didn’t come after me and all I can assume is that it left and whatever spooked it was gone (including myself). So I calmed down from the scare and tried to enjoy my hike. Then things got weird again. Yeah, I know, again.

I was walking through the forest when I started accumulating a few more spider webs getting caught on me than I was comfortable with. So I stopped to wipe them off and kept going only to get even more. Feeling the hair on my arms rise, I stopped again, wiped them off and tried to peer forward into the wooded pathway I was taking and was horrified: there were spiders everywhere. So naturally I almost threw up, ripped my coat off my back and yelled

FUCK THIS PARK

And ran as fast as I could out of woods, frantically clawing the webs from my body and trying not to imagine all of the possible spiders crawling on my body. I made it back to my car, the devil deer was gone but my car was COVERED in spiders and webs. COVERED.

I ripped the door open and jumped in as fast as I could and took off. I kept trying to wipe the spiders away with my windshield wipers and couldn’t stop twitching I was so freaked out. Once I was a safe distance from the park I pulled over, screamed at the top of my lungs at a corn field and thoroughly checked myself for spiders. I flipped off the park behind me, hopped back into my car and continued on my way.

I’m sure it was a perfectly nice park, it just hated me. It was a misadventure to say the least, but at least I got some nice photos of the beautiful scenery.

I pulled into a McDonalds to wash off my hands, ordered the largest coffee I could get and looked like a mad woman pulling twigs out of my hair as I waited for my drink, being watched by a tour bus full of old women with questioning eyes.

I had finally calmed down after I crossed the Missouri state line into Iowa and was glad to have left it all behind me.

To further soothe my rattled nerves I took an innocuous stop at an Amish Country Store in Iowa. I sat on a curb for a while and pet a little Amish Corgi that had popped out of a bale of hay covered in straw and wagging its entire body like only a Corgi can do. I spent some time there just enjoying the sunshine, the endless fields of corn, which suddenly seemed strangely more appealing than the woods to me after that morning , and my little Corgi friend.

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The rest of Iowa was more of the same, endless corn that swayed in the wind like the undulating waves of a dusty amber sea. After a while of this I decided to take a break because I was getting pretty tired at this point. I felt like a person who has been on a boat for a long time who then steps foot on shore and feels like everything is still rocking, except I felt like the world was still whizzing by me at 80mph despite everything moving at its normal speed. It was disorienting and I figured it was time for a breaking from the mind numbing monotony.

I just so happened to pull off in Des Moines, Iowa at a BBQ place called Smokey D’s BBQ Joint, which had been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. So I got some good ol’ Iowa BBQ and enjoyed my break.

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The rest of the drive was a blur, nothing between Des Moines and Madison except corn, corn, and more corn. I do enjoy the silos though that break up the continuous fields. But aside from that, nothing.

I made it to Madison totally exhausted, toast. But I got to relax in my Aunt’s backyard who I was staying with and watch cardinals flit about a bird feeder dancing like little red ballerinas about one another. It was a peaceful and restful way to end the day, watching the sun set over the green backyard of Madison.

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We’re Not in Kansas Anymore…

Monday, September 28th, 2015

Literally. Yesterday I drove all the way across the width of Kansas from Colorado to Missouri. It was a long day of solo driving, just me, Mama the Llama, the Serial podcast, and corn. Lots and lots of corn.

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I drove away from Colorado with the Flatirons of Boulder in my rearview mirror and my heart in my stomach as I left behind the state I had grown to love over the last week or so. I traded in my grand majestic views for two lane interstates, the loss of beauty exchanged for ease and speed of transportation. Sometimes I think that places like Colorado have such wonderful single lane roads in order to force you to drive slower through all of the beautiful scenery, while places like Kansas and Nebraska offer speedy roadways so you can get the hell across them as fast as possible.

While I will admit, I actually didn’t hate Kansas like I thought I would, it was still a really long day of somewhat monotonous landscapes. It was still better than my old road trip nemesis Nebraska. There were at least some nice rolling hills across the state and every once and a while the sea of corn fields where swapped with some lovely fields of a red colored crop (possibly old corn?) that contrasted with the rolled hay bales resting like giant marshmallows across open fields in a rather photogenic manner. There were also some impressively large energy wind mills that almost seemed to be stirring the clouds like cotton candy as the gusty winds whipping across the open plains sent the clouds speeding across the horizon. My little prius did not care much for the high winds that kept jerking my car across the roadway like a toy.

But the journey, though long, went quickly with a few fun stops like the Kansas welcome center, the World’s Largest Easel, and the historic landmark of Brown vs Board.

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But mostly it was just me and wide empty expanses of road heading off into the flat horizon and my own thoughts. I had thought a lot about how this day would go, considered whether I would be able to make it all the way by myself or not. This was my big trial day where I was either going to be able to prove to myself that I was capable of so much more than I thought I was, or I would crash and burn. I will jump past the long anxious hours of ruminating about whether I could do it and tell you that I did. I made it in one piece and feeling fine.

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This might not seem like a big deal to most people but this was a huge deal for me. Time for some honest talk. For those of you who don’t know me and even for those who do know me but don’t know about this, here it is: I am sick. No, not sick in some horribly dramatic, I am terminal and will never recover sick, but not in a cough cough I just have a cold way either. I have been plagued by chronic pain, migraines, and unknown illnesses almost my entire life. I have some names to label my pain like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, Fibromyalgia, and Alopecia Areata but even they do not encompass what is wrong with my body. The baseline is this: I am an adventurer in my mind and heart, but most of the time my body physcially disagrees with me. I cannot predict or know when I will feel bad (and usually what accompanies feeling bad is headaches, painful muscles, extreme and sudden fatigue, and nausea) so I live in a constant state of anxiety about whether I will feel well enough to do the things I want to do.

Most of the time, there is no physical or external symptom that others can see so it is hard for a lot of people to understand this fear and these feelings. I have an invisible illness that even I don’t fully understand. It is unseen yet dictates most of my every day decisions and actions. This is why this road trip means so much to me as a solo adventure. I am so constantly worried about being incapable or handicapped by my illness and this is my big middle finger to not feeling well. That might be strong, but I have a lot to prove to myself and each day at a time on this solitary adventure I am learning to trust in my own abilities and stretch my capabilities.

So to drive for ten hours by myself is a huge obstacle surrmounted that has lingered in the horizon for quite some time for me. Despite how flat Kansas is, it has seemed like Mount Everest to me. This long day was my veritable mountain to climb, just to show myself that I was capable of anything, no matter my illnesses, no matter my fears.

So driving across the Missouri River into Kansas City where I was staying the night with some incredibly generous and hospitable family friends was like crossing the finish line of my own personal race. I was tired, but it was a well earned exhaustion that was soul satisfying and only bodily tiring.

I had the great treat of trying out a local Kansas City BBQ joint called Gates where your ears are constantly ringing with the sing-songy cry of “How MAY I help YOU?” as you enter into the building. It was the perfect end of a long day filled with conversations with old family friends and good food. I was only stopping for a night and would then be continuing on to Madison, Wisconsin the following day. One step closer to Michigan, one step closer to my next major stop. I am almost halfway done with my trip now, Michigan is the next major stop and I will be there for about a month and then continue onward to the East. My mind is being pulled in a thousand directions towards memories of what I have seen and imaginings of what tomorrow will bring, but all of it boils down to the road, the pavement beneath my tires and the miles speeding past my eyes. I am right where I need to be.

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Leave Me Alone I’m Lonely

Saturday, September 26th, 2015

Even though it has only been three days since I set off on my own to take this journey across the country, I have already started to notice things about myself as a solo traveler as well as how it feels to travel alone.

The main thing I have noticed is how exhausting it is to travel alone. However, it is more than just the obvious answer (since I am alone I do not have anyone to split the burden of effort/work put into travel like driving, purchasing things, making plans, etc) that is behind this exhaustion. It is the feeling of being in the world, but not of it; feeling like people are talking at you and not with you essentially, but it is the city, the places, and the people all figuratively talking at you while you have no in into the conversation to allow you to actually take part. When you have someone to do things with it feels like no matter what happens in the day, at least you have one another for entertainment/enjoyment. However, when you are alone it is just you confronting the world so even normal everyday things like getting a cup of coffee at a cafe becomes a battle to engage with strangers, act friendly, and act as if everything is normal when everything is new, different, and strange. At least for an introvert like myself, it is hard for me to deal with small talk and polite smiles, which results in me wanting to have as little contact with people around me as possible despite the fact that I am lonely and really do want to be around people and make friends. Every day events become exhausting because I no longer have the buffer or the comfort of my friends or family to ease my interactions with the world around me, it is just me and the rest of humanity clamouring towards me with an overload of information and sensory input that I just do not have the current capacity to handle. As a result, I have found that when I travel alone I wind up avoiding people and try to remain alone rather than branch out and make new friends.

In some ways this is hard for a road trip like this because it is hard to go so long without really talking to anyone, but it also results in me seeking out nature instead of humanity, which leads me to some truly amazing places in pursuit of natural solitude. I may be anti-social or maybe just really overly introverted, but either way I have realized my own tendencies towards self isolation, but I have not yet decided whether I like or dislike these tendencies. To be determined…

Today was one of those days where these reflections were extremely apparent because for the first time I didn’t spend my entire day out in the wilderness. Instead, I dedicated today to exploring Boulder and learning the streets as well as the happenings of this bustling town.

… But I had to fit a hike in there somewhere. The iconic backdrop of the city are the Flatirons, a series of giant rock slates slanting towards the sun and rising high above the cityscape of Boulder. I decided to check out these wonderful mountains with a hike in Chautauqua Park.

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I hiked a series of loop trails on the adjacent mesas that provide sweeping views of the mountain range as well as the city of Boulder down below them. I hiked through Ponderosas and up steep hills lined with breezy grasses and rocky trails up to the top of the mesas.

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There was an astonishing array of landscapes on the four miles of trails I traversed which made for an interesting and ever evolving experience of the nature in Boulder.

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I managed to only get lost once and then some how actually helped some other girls who were visiting the park for the first time as well find their way after getting lost. I suppose that is one good thing to say for getting lost, you can advise others not to follow your trail. But when I finally finished my hike I had a firm grasp on the baseline trails around the Flatirons.

After my healthy dose of nature I was ready for some city experiences. Luckily I was in Boulder for one of my favorite things to do in any city that I visit, farmers’ market. Boulder Farmers’ Market was a fantastic way to ease into high density human interaction after having spent so much time alone for three days straight. Everyone was so friendly, talkative, and helpful at the market even though I was slightly lost and aimless amongst the crowds.

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The market was huge so I wandered up and down the stands for quite some time before going in for some conversations, samples, and small purchases. My first stop, naturally, was at a local bakery’s stand where I got an amazing almond croissant to eat as I wandered around with big hungry and fascinated eyes.

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I visited two produce stands where I bought some tomatoes and carrots for the road tomorrow. One had a stunning array of colorful turnips, beats, and carrots while the other had a beautiful selection of green veggies like kale, swiss chard, and many other delectable items. IMG_9539

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The second stand had an incredibly sociable and kind staff, which led to an encounter in which my inner introvert ran away screaming while I was left laughing awkwardly on the outside looking for the nearest and socially acceptable place to go hide. It was a stupidly simple interaction that caught me totally off guard and unsure of how to respond it went like this:

Me: What a beautiful stand!

Farmers’ Market Man: Look at how beautiful you stand.

He didn’t break eye contact, I couldn’t tell if it was a joke or a genuine compliment so I just awkwardly laughed as the rest of his coworkers began to laugh too and then I slunk away into a corner and died a little. Awkward muffin time.

So naturally I went and spent some time smelling flowers at a stand clear on the other side of the market that was full of Dahlias and sunflowers (two of my favorite flowers).

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Finally I rounded out my time at the market with some fresh tamales from the Amaizing Corn Tortilla stand. Get it, aMAIZing. May or may not have been the only reason I decided to try them out, but you will never know. IMG_9530

Then I wandered down the incredibly popular Pearl Street Mall, which is a long expanse of street closed to cars and filled with shops and plenty of street performers. Everything from bango players, clowns with balloons, mimes, and performers balancing on rollers while hold fire could be found on the couple of blocks that make up the Pearl Street Mall.

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For the rest of the day I jumped from coffee shop to coffee shop writing postcards and working over delicious cups of coffee from Boxcar Coffee, Ozo and the Laughing Goat again. The mochas at Ozo are to die for, I may have to go back before I leave early tomorrow morning for one for the road.

I also took a drive around a section of Boulder right next to the university dubbed The Hill where all the college students roam in hordes. I was somewhat appalled by their conduct and quickly left after driving through blocks of street covered in shattered beer bottle glass, red plastic cups covering frat front lawns, and drunk students literally face planting in the middle of the street in front of moving traffic. I got out of there fast when droves of drunk students began wandering the streets, possibly after a football game got out? I hope it was an event, because if this was an every day occurrence, I would be genuinely concerned for this school.

After another long day alone I returned to my hostel for some more alone time because, ironically, after so much time alone, what I really wanted and needed was to be even more alone. So I set up my hammock on the river after slacklining alone for a little bit. That is how I finished my day. That is how I finished my time in Colorado. Tomorrow morning I leave this wonderful state to continue eastward.

I find it funny that in many ways I am doing Jack Kerouac’s journey backwards, moving west to east instead of the other way around. I am so glad that I decided to pick that book up from City Lights back in San Francisco before I left my beloved Bay because never have I read a book more applicable to my current state of being. I too have found myself exclaiming to the wild and dark night

“‘And here I am in Colorado! …Damn! Damn! Damn! I’m making it!'”

And now that I am leaving Colorado, I too am passing the center dividing line both in the continent and in my life, except the reverse of Kerouac’s, where his east is my west.

“I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future.”

Funny how the world works out and the road rolls on, I wonder where my future will find me.

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Rivers and Roads

Thursday, September 24th, 2015

With the sun rising over the mountains on one side and the open horizon on the other, I drove away from Durango, my brother, and the comfort of knowability to begin my first day totally alone on the road. It is never easy saying goodbye to the ones you love, even if it is just temporary. I have loved getting to explore the city my brother now calls home with him and meet some really amazing people that he has in his life. I really feel that a part of my heart belongs to Colorado and my brother is a huge part of that feeling. So I drove away in the dark, the first light of sunrise peeking through the rugged mountain tops, knowing that I was leaving a piece of my heart behind me.

But the road is open, the way is long, and I have many miles to travel before I find more places to leave pieces of my heart in as I move forward.

The end destination for the day, Boulder, Colorado. Another Colorado city that has a lot of meaning to my family; it is where my parents met and fell in love after adventuring and working together for some time. I have visited Boulder once in the past but for a very brief time, so needless to say I am excited to get to dig deeper into what Boulder has to offer. But first, the nine hours of driving in between Durango and Boulder that I completed by myself today.

To leave Durango you have to go over Wolf Creek Pass, a mountain range that climbs steadily to heights of even thinner air than Durango (which was hard enough on my wimpy sea level conditioned lungs). The colors were spectacular and the river that followed along the road after the summit was wondrously beautiful.

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I took about a two hour detour to visit a National Park that I made the mistake of skipping once many years ago and refused to make the same mistake twice. Great Sand Dunes National Park is a natural wonderland of sand, mountains, and colorful trees. I can never pass by a national park, even if it is quite far out of my way. So Mama the Llama and I settled in for a long drive and went to check out the park that lays claim to the highest sand dunes in North America.

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Before we hit the dunes though, we went and explored a small side trail that wove uphill through colorful aspens and alongside a fast moving creek. It was quite a nice spot even though it had nothing to do with the sand dunes that give the park its name.

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I hiked out from the main parking lot across trickling remants of a river and a wide expanse of flat sand to reach the base of the dunes. I must have been quite a sight to the other people out there who were decked out with walking sticks and proper hiking gear, while I was walking bare foot and in a dress. One man asked me where my high heels were as I climbed up the side of a gigantic sand dune.

But I didn’t mind, I was out there, I was doing it, and that was all that mattered to me. Deserts have always struck me strangely since I am not a terribly big fan of the sun or anything hot in particular, yet I have always deeply enjoyed going to desert parks. Death Valley is one of my all time favorite National Parks and here again, I found myself loving the desert sands of this entirely new national park.

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I hiked to a vantage point on a ridge of one particularly long sand dune and sat down to eat my lunch. This didn’t go as perfectly as I had imagined it as I was working my way up the ridge because I was being sand blasted the entire time. I think I ate more sand than I did sandwich. But it was a magnificent view and to watch the sand shifting under the powerful winds right before my eyes was awe inspiring. The way that the sand blows in high flying eddies feels like the entire world is vibrating and moving with exuberant life. I always have to bury my feet in the sand when I watch the world move beneath my feet because when they are buried you can feel your own pulse in your feet, but it feels like the heartbeat of the Earth beating in tune with your own.

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Mama had a bit of a hard time at the park and actually took quite a tumble down a sand dune because the wind was so incredibly strong that she couldn’t stay grounded even with her feet entirely buried in the sand. IMG_9247

Covered in sand, we both returned down the dunes as the wind whirled around in pirouettes. On the way down some very nice women actually let me borrow a sled to slide down one of the sand dunes, which was wonderfully exhilarating except for the tumble I took at the end. But still, it made me laugh and it made me feel alive. I waved my goodbye to the friendly group of women and Mama, PriPri and I left the Great Sand Dunes National Park receding in the rearview mirror. IMG_9260

The rest of the drive was a confusing mixture of flat nothing and bounding mountain passes covered in colorful trees . There was such an amazing array of autumn colors that I kept stopping all the time to take pictures because I was so awe-struck after rounding every corner by the new landscape that lay before me.

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I even did some off roading down a National Forest side road that provided some amazing aspen forest views. IMG_9283

No matter where I went, it was breathtakingly beautiful. I have never in my life seen sights like these and I cannot believe I am lucky enough to be able to take my time driving through all of it so I can soak it all in on my own time and at my own pace. IMG_9288

The most beautiful array of fall colors was at an overlook by Kenosha Pass. The entire mountainside was covered in a kaleidoscope of colors, like a chameleon caught between hues, the trees were somewhere between deep orange reds and fleeting green that could be completely gone tomorrow.

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After the astonishing natural beauty of this day of driving, I also have to throw in some kitschy weird things too; namely, a weird Coney Island hot dog stand that is shaped like a giant hot dog. Yeah, there are some pretty random and strange things to see out on the open road…

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Finally I cleared all of the mountains and descended into Denver. I didn’t stop in Denver proper, but I did take a quick trip to the Red Rock Amphitheater.

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After many a stop light and countless rush hour traffic jams, I made it to my hostel in Boulder where I am currently crashing and burning because I am so exhausted. It will be interesting to meet my roommates and see what sort of people they are, but I already like the hostel complex, which comes complete with a slack line yard that I am dying to try out and a wonderful river running directly through the complex. I can’t wait to see it in day light.

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Most importantly (at least to me), I did it. I made it. I completed my first solo day with no great tragedies, no misadventures, scary happenings. I was fine. If I can do one day I can do many more. This was almost like a trail for myself, I needed to prove to myself that I could actually do this, not just talk about doing it, but actually succeed in doing it. And here I am, all in one piece, a little tired, but ready for more adventure tomorrow. I cannot wait to see what adventure the newly risen sun will bring with it tomorrow.

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Final Day in Durango

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015

It has been a long final day here in Durango that started out horribly and got better as it went along, which is normally the opposite of what happens. Normally as the day progresses it deteriorates into a nervous mess of unpacked bags, future travel plans, and unfinished business. However, this time the day began at 2am in the bathroom with food poisoning. After spending a few lovely hours wrapped around the toilet throwing up everything I had in me, I finally got a few precious hours of sleep (on the day I was supposed to be able to sleep in) only to wake up a short time later to try to start the day.

After recovering somewhat and rehydrating I decided that the best remedy was a calm walk along the Animas River and some fresh air.

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My dad and I meandered along the river next to the railroad tracks for quite some time savoring the thin crisp Colorado air that he would be leaving later in the day.

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Clouds hung in the distance looming with thunder held close to its chest, ready to out pour rain on the mountains of Durango. The ominous clouds began to gather and we out ran the clouds to the airport to drop my dad off at the tiny Durango airport. It was a bittersweet moment watching him walk away behind the security screen feeling so happy that he was able to accompany me on the first leg of my long journey, but also deeply saddened that he couldn’t continue with me any farther. It was a strange moment as I walked away knowing that the next part of my journey was beginning, but this part I would have to do alone.

Now the solo trip truly begins. I leave early in the morning for Boulder, CO where I will be staying for a few nights by myself to finish my adventure in Colorado, a state that I have come to love dearly. I am nervous, excited, and not sure what to expect in the days that lie ahead on the beginning of this truly solo adventure.

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The Face in the Forest

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2015

The rain against the window pane sounds like chimes in the wind; a sound I have not heard for quite some time in California where the land is dry as old bones being bleached in the sun. Soothing and persistent the rain falls here in Durango as I sit in a coffee shop called the Steam Bean in the historic downtown of Durango. The crowd has slowly multiplied as the sidewalks become drenched in water and the awnings drip continuously. I have missed this. Rain, no matter where I am, always makes me feel instantly like I am home. Maybe it is the smell of the earth that rises when the rain falls, petrichor, that rattles around in my brain like a phone call from a friend you have talked to in ages. Maybe it is the feeling of being unabashedly alive as the cold water hits your face and stings with the freshness of new life springing from dry soil. I am not sure, I have never known why or how the rain can make any place feel like home, all I know is that it does. So I sit in this cafe full of college students studying, businessmen working, women chatting of chai lattes, a woman in black making jewelry, and a group of weary backpackers joyously reunited after a month on a backcountry trail and feel like I have always been here.

Before the rain there was a cloudy morning out on the trail. We began our day, after Gabe finished class, with a hike up Animas City Mountain. We climbed up the switchbacks in a very different sort of setting than the previous hikes that were enveloped in the branching arms of colorful aspens. This trail was more arid with cacti, bare twisting trees growing out of boulders, and small but colorful wildflowers.

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Amongst the scenery we found a hidden gem that we almost passed by: a face in the low lying forest skillfully carved into a tree stump.

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We then continued on along the trail and made it to the viewpoint that overlooked the entire city of Durango and the Animas River snaking out of town towards the surrounding mountains.

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We sat on the edge of the mountain enjoying the view and reveling in the beauty that this amazing town has to afford.

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This is my brother’s city, his home and I am so grateful that I have been able to see it through his eyes and experience the things he has grown to love about his new home. It has been almost a week since I left California and soon I will be moving on from Durango to continue on my way. I have only been here a short while and I wish it didn’t have to end, but there is still so much to see and do.

But for now, I am here, right here with the rain on the window even though my mind is already a thousand miles away. Being present is something I have always struggled with and now is when it means the most to be in the moment and I won’t let this experience pass me by. Here I am, I am Here.

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