I kept telling myself when I was traveling that I would write at a later date, the morning after or in lieu of an afternoon nap, on the bus on the way from one place to another, but somehow that never happened. I spent a lot of time daydreaming and staring out of windows. A lot of time noticing the landscape change and wondering how the coming year will play out, but very little time committing any of my thoughts to the page. When it became clear that I was never going to write anything on the road I told myself I’d have time once I got back to South Bend, forgetting to take into account how fast the day goes when you’re looking after a toddler. It is a brutal change of pace from my self-oriented life, and the the luxury of sitting quietly with my thoughts belongs now to a month of traveling that feels long gone.
the view from Brooklyn
I left Nantucket November 1st, bound for New York in Mariah’s overstuffed car. We stayed the weekend with the Irish and had a fabulous dinner at Prospect where our friend Nathan has been working for the past year. On from NYC to Wilmington, NC where Mariah and I finally parted ways. The past four years have been full of change and growth and innumerable adventures. We will no longer be each other’s partners in crime and we may end up having to grow up after all. It is very strange and very difficult for me to think of not spending next summer with her, of not having the riotous season on Nantucket as my playing field. I’m still not quite ready to face my decision to leave in real terms.
walking the dog with Freya
From Wilmington I took a bus to Tuscaloosa, where Freya has been in grad school for the past few years. We hadn’t seen each other since I left Boston, ages ago, and the reunion felt like both a rediscovery and a sinking back into something sweet and familiar. We have changed in the intervening years–Freya more drastically than any of my other friends. In my journal after my visit I wrote that she seemed like a more condensed version of herself, less nebulous, more concrete. Like is is taking shape in a way that will hold, that she can trust. She is in the middle of writing her thesis, a collection of poems focused on the self, identity, self-discovery, and will graduate with her M.A. in the spring. Her life in Alabama feels settled in a way that I hadn’t experienced with her before. She has a dog and a man, friends and a set of goals to focus on. Beyond that she has a sense of what she wants for herself in the next few years–something that I envy. What would it be like to really know what you want? How would that kind of certainty feel if you could sustain it over any length of time? Admittedly, I have only the vaguest sense of what that would be like.
Any sleep is good sleep
The 32 hours on a bus from Tuscaloosa to Flagstaff were not the brightest moment of my cross-country adventure. I had dreaded that leg of the trip since I booked it but the other options were just too expensive for a girl on a fixed budget. Although comfort is somewhat lacking on some of the Greyhounds, traveling by bus is always an interesting experience. It’s no secret that bus travel in the U.S. belongs to a certain class of people, but aside from the obvious, it is also more personal in many ways than air travel these days. People talk to each other, the drivers crack jokes, at rest stops everyone pours off the bus and people stand in groups, smoking and commiserating about aching backs and cramped knees. The range and complexity of human interaction is truly fascinating and having a job that involves paying attention to physical cues and the subtlety of physical responses has made me more sensitive to non-verbal cues and body language, which makes observing people that much more interesting. The people I encountered in my bus travels were richly entertaining and their faces and skin colors shifted the further West I got. Some were wise and kind and sweet, sincere for their appreciation of what they had. Some were anxious, some annoying. Many looked older than they should have, the results of stress, rough living, poor diet. Very few were young white women traveling alone and I had conversations with more than a few curious strangers, although none of them asked me why I was traveling alone as a young white woman. It was kind of refreshing after the astonishment that such a choice engenders abroad. It also highlighted how privileged I am to be a white woman living in a first world country. I have much less to worry about than women of other ethnic backgrounds. Add to that they way I talk and dress and the most difficult situation I faced on my trip was figure out how to answer people who asked me where I was from. It seems I don’t know what to say to that anymore.
We pulled up to the Flagstaff bus station well past midnight a day and half after I left Alabama. The futon that served as my bed at Ryan and Lucy’s felt like the lap of luxury after such a long stretch of sitting. In the morning I celebrated my arrival with an enormous (and excellent) breakfast at MartAnne’s, a famous local joint known for supercharged coffee, chilaquiles and gigantic portions. I gorged on chilaquiles and was well into my third cup of coffee before my heart started racing and I realized I was short of breath. Whoa caffeine overload! Fortunately the weather was beautiful so I spent an hour recovering in the sunshine outside the library before wandering through the shops in downtown Flag.
Northern Arizona charmed me in ways that I hadn’t really expected. Flag itself is a cute little town (parts of it, anyway) nestled at the foot of the San Francisco Peaks. A university town (it’s the seat of the NAU campus) brings a youthful energy to a place that is at a perfect crossroads for any number of outdoor activities in the Southwest. On my second day I drove Ryan’s truck through Oak Creek Canyon down to Sedona. My first view of the canyon caught me completely off guard. I was following a road over gentle hills lined with pine trees when I rounded a bend and all of a sudden found myself staring down through what felt like miles of a deep and winding canyon. It was so unexpected and so spectacular that I burst into tears. I didn’t grow up with mountains on a large scale and the sheer amount of space encompassed in between the sheer walls on either side of me was astounding. I drove through the canyon hunched over the steering wheel, craning my neck to see through the top of the windshield, wishing someone else was driving so I could lose myself in my surroundings without becoming a hazard on the road. I stopped at nearly every pull off to take pictures, knowing how little such shots would be able to convey the experience.
I arrived in Sedona shaken, a little overwhelmed, and again unprepared for the views the city afforded. I never think to research places online before I get there. As a result I am always surprised. I had no idea Sedona would be so spectacular or that the Red Rocks would so bright or so RED or so damn exciting! Hot-air ballooning is a big thing in Sedona and I would love to go back in the warmer season to see it from above, although it is hard to imagine more exhilarating views of that place. I had lunch at a gluten-free Arizona italian chain restaurant (PIZZA!!!) and then wandered through the art galleries at Tlaquepaque. All of the shopkeepers I spoke with when I was in AZ were exceptionally friendly East Coast transplants. There is something very special about that place which people recognize and explain in different ways. Like Nantucket, many people go and then never leave.
On the South Kaibab Trail
Seeing Ryan again after so long felt like a bit of a milestone. Six years is a long time to go without seeing someone, let alone someone with whom you were once very close. The invitation to visit had been standing open for a while but it never felt like I was in the right place to take it up until this year. I was nervous at first that we would have changed too much, that there would no longer be any common ground, that our connection would have been a tenuous one borne of youth and circumstance. I was so relieved when those fears proved to be unfounded. It felt like finding a brother, and my affection for him, although of a different nature now, is as profound and as comfortable as it always was. Hiking the Grand Canyon together (separate post about that to follow soon) played a big part in reestablishing a bond frayed by time and distance, as such experiences are wont to do. I am so glad that the visit went well, that he is happy, so well-loved and so in love. It was good to see his life there and to see how well it suits him. I felt very emotional when I left. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was ending a chapter, closing the book of the life I’ve known, turning to face whatever is coming next. It was unsettling and very eerie for me.
San Clemente Pier
I flew from PHX to LA and spent ten days hopping around California, never staying in one place for longer than 2 days. Francie picked me up from the airport and I got to experience the infamous LA traffic. The next day we walked down Venice Beach and all around Santa Monica, stopping at boutique shops and drinking fancy coffee. I spend a couple of days in San Clemente enjoying the sleepy coastal town and beautiful California coast. Chipp’s roommates were a brother and sister in their early 20s, transplants from Utah, who were living the California beach life to the fullest. They were certainly an interesting pair. From Southern CA I headed north to an ashram in Grass Valley for what I had hoped would be an interesting class on energy and marma points–the Ayurvedic acupressure points. Life on an ashram is extremely regimented; from 6am until 9:30pm you’re always scheduled to be doing something. Meditation, kirtan (chanting), lecture, yoga, brunch, workshop, yoga, dinner, meditation, kirtan, lecture, sleep. I followed the rules the first day, but the next day I played hooky and did my own thing (big surprise there, I’m sure). I was more than a little disappointed in the course. I expected something very different and I didn’t connect with the man who was leading the workshop so I didn’t get out of it what I had hoped for. In the end, that’s alright. I got some good books on Ayurveda, I had some interesting conversations, I spent time in a beautiful and relaxing space, and San Francisco more than made up for the let-down.
View from Jenn’s rooftop
I’ve never been in a place where I felt like “Wow, I want to be here” until I landed in SF. I’ve certainly been in places I’ve enjoyed and I have loved some of the places I’ve been, but never has any place exerted any kind of pull like what I felt in SF. Inexplicable, baseless, unexpected and yet completely undeniable. I don’t have plans to move there for now: rent is exorbitant and I am accustomed to a certain quality of life which I couldn’t have there doing what I currently do, but hopefully someday…
Jenn lives right on the border of Chinatown and Nob Hill in a gorgeous 2-bedroom with access to an awesome roof. We did a bunch of touristy things on her day off: Ghirardelli chocolate, Irish coffees at the Buena Vista, and an afternoon picnic at Crissy Field where we were randomly interviewed for a documentary about being white women in the United States, something I hadn’t really had to think about up to that point. That night we appetizer hopped in the Mission and after stuffing ourselves to the brim with tasty bites we crawled into bed and watched The Heat. The next day we had brunch at Brenda’s (hello shrimp & grits!) which I walked off after dropping Jenn off at Tosca for work. The best thing to get it all in seemed to be catching a tour of the city so I opted for an open-top tour bus, which turned out to be a stroke of genius. I’m probably a huge nerd for loving those things but not only is it a great way to see a city but they tell you all sorts of cheesy factoids which I love. After my very enlightening and educational experience I felt even more strongly like SF is the city for me and I capped the day off by seeing Catching Fire (which I loved) on the big screen before meeting Jenn at Tosca for a fabulous end-of-my-travels meal.
On the tour bus!
It was a wonderful month of solo travel, although there were very few moments when I was actually alone. I crossed the country from one ocean to another, witnessed astounding changes of scenery, spent time with a lot of people I cherish, made countless resolutions and started to nurture my dreams for the coming year. I wish I could stay on the road always, that I could resolve my internal conflicts about making such a choice (not to mention my financial obligations), that I could release myself from the things that pull me back. I’m not there yet but maybe one day this wanderlustful girl will have her heart’s desire.
Until then… travel on!