From time to time I go on these trips that sound crazy to others from their outside perspective. I guess I live with my own crazy every day so crazy feels normal and normal feels familiarly comfortable; so when I go someplace unfamiliar, I just make sure crazy things happen and then that gives me some level of comfort. I’m working on implementing a less stressful means to feeling at home, but until the present it has added some wild cards into my experiences.
People always want to hear about these trips, and sometimes I feel like my stories are going to be really good, but not that often. Every now and then I do something that felt truly epic to me, and those things feel easier to tell stories about. But a lot of what I get from these journeys comes from long stretches of day to day sorts of experiences punctuated with events that are less than climactic… things that would not make good magazine headlines, nor would they make me look like I’ve achieved something notable in the grand scheme of things. Yes, I’ve climbed some big mountains, but there are loads of people doing that every day and faster stronger than I will probably ever be. Yes, I took my first month-long road trip at 18 years old, driving all the way from Arkansas to California and back by myself, and it felt completely natural for me… but who can call it bravery when I had very little concept of what was out there to be afraid of? Yes, I’ve camped in the jungle for two months straight at a homesteading project, but let me tell you how not glamorous that life is when you lose your shit over flies constantly being in contact with your skin in muggy monotonous heat.
I get really turned off by the overwhelm of posts and advertisements about taking nice vacations and checking off the awesome destinations that are easy to access in all these beautiful parts of the world. I know that sounds extra cynical and snobby, but what would you expect from an only child? Totes just played that card. Owning it. I am willing to own that my experience of being well provided for and getting plenty of attention growing up afforded me the luxury to think about what I wanted for my life beyond what could just be handed to me. I am willing to own it because I also recognize that the same desire (to take direction over your own life) can be born out of much more difficult circumstances, having to decide to make your life what you want because necessity and survival demands it, that if you want things to be better than just what can be dealt to you, you are going to have to reach out and sweat for it.
I will digress, but it’s worth noting that I was aware of not having to struggle to live comfortably as a kid and young adult, and ironically, that very fact made me incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t have the confidence in myself to get myself through difficult situations, and as I looked around at lots of the people I grew up with and who graduated college before me, I became terrified of striving toward a comfortable life like they seemed to be doing. I saw so many people deal with their hard times and stress by trying to make their life into this cushion that would help prevent challenges and conflict as much as possible. This seemed like such a lower, disempowering place to operate from, on the defensive 100% of the time.
What would it be like to simply be strong enough in myself to handle whatever unpredictable elements came my way?
When it came down to it, I often buckled under high pressure and used lots of unhealthy coping mechanisms just to get through those times when a lot was demanded of me. There were many times that I straight up couldn’t deliver what I needed to, especially in college, when in reality I was perfectly capable to complete the tasks at hand, but my unconscious anxiety was winning the battle every time.
I suppose I have generally been more attracted to trips that don’t show up in a brochure. It always seemed more rewarding to find my own escapade, something that the majority of others weren’t doing, or at least doing it in some way that made my experience unique. Those were the types of trips that both (through offering and force) broke me down to my core when shit hit the fan and also allowed me to work out the kinks in my self-confidence.
This notion of disgust for tourist attractions became very consciously articulated for me the first time I visited the Grand Canyon. My mom and best friend were with me, helping me move home from California when I was 19. The first mistake we made was deciding to just “stop by” the canyon for an hour. You should not be allowed to only spend one fucking hour at one of the richest corners of all creation. Gods arms, how irreverent can we be? In my defense, I was not on board with this proposition. The detour was also going to add at least two hours of travel time to our day.
What was the point?
Let me flesh out even more context for you- I grew up in Arkansas always spending time in the Ozarks and other outdoor nooks and crannies. Relatively speaking, for as beautiful and stunning as Arkansas is, it doesn’t feel like the place has been over-commercialized. There are an abundance of places you can camp and swim for free, get completely alone in the wilderness, and really disconnect to reconnect (if you know what I mean). The idea of paying a $35 day pass to a National Park was beyond me, nor had I encountered such a large crowd of rambling cultureless tourists at a natural landscape before, and I feared being associated with them. It was the greatest irony to me- “Let’s take the greatest icons of nature’s grandeur and celebrate them by robbing them of what makes them wild.” We drove up, had to search for parking, and then hundreds of people were crowded around the guardrails, souvenir shops, and other shelf level attractions. The entire horizon looked fake, like a massive blurry painting that I wasn’t allowed to get close to… it was so immense that my senses couldn’t compute what I was asking them to take in, and this was not in the sense of “awe” or magnificent overwhelm. It was amotion and underwhelm, combined with feeling a little pissed off at being on the same turf as these sunscreen-slathered fanny pack dependent bipeds. Tourists were benchwarmers on the sidelines. If I was at the damn canyon, I wanted to be in the canyon. I would rather it eat me alive than pay to have my picture taken and put in a frame that says “Grand Canyon, 2007. We were here!” Yeah, along with everyone else who could chuck $35 to attendant at the circus.
Seriously though, can you imagine arriving to one of the seven wonders of the world for the first time and the only overwhelming feeling you have is “I don’t want to be here”?
This is my preface for the series of posts to come disclosing my recent cross-country roadtrip, leaving my 8-6 job in Atlanta, driving through California and back. This is my preface for why I throw myself into dicey situations, compulsively, and how I am still trying to make sense of why I do how I do, again and again.
Side notes: Rest assured, I now appreciate and understand the importance of park fees (Thankyou Ken Burns for your fantastic documentary) seeing as if we didn’t make parks out of these precious natural areas, they would fall prey to the pollution and degradation inherently paired with ravenous industries for natural resources.