I recently completed 30 days that changed my life.
I didn't do a cleanse, or a yoga challenge, or a training program. These things are all great and really admirable and I totally think you're rad if you do them; I'm just too lazy to do them. No, I spent 30 days traveling with my manfriend, spending all day every day together and living/sleeping in the comfy confines of a pimped out Dodge Caravan. One learns things about oneself during such an extended amount of time living outside of ones comfort zone, especially when said roadtrip went from 2 weeks to 30 days. When you do anything for 30 days straight you tend to learn something about yourself. On a cleanse you probably learn that your body doesn't need sugar or a entire bag of sea salt/lime/soy sauce tortilla chips at one sitting, or a double shot Americano with 1/2 & 1/2 every day to survive. There's introspection that comes from practicing yoga every day for 30 days. You find strength in a 30 day training program. What did I find out about myself after 30 days as a road warrior? So much that I feel compelled to blog about it.
I guess I should back up. I have a manfriend - we'll call him My Man. It's something I haven't been very public with because it's really only been going on a few minutes, and well, because I like to keep my private life private. But he's crutial to this story, so out he comes. My Man and I have really only been together 4 months. One of these four months was just spent cruising the western part of America in the aforementioned Dodge Caravan. Her name is Ann. Ann the Van.
Here's how the story goes, and then I'll get to the "what I learned" stuff. My Man drove to Boulder to be my arm candy at two dear friend's wedding. When I'd asked him to be my date several weeks earlier he'd suggested that he would drive to meet me there and we would take a road trip back to where we live on Guemes Island. What?! A road trip sleeping under the stars, hiking and cuddling around a campfire with my amazing super sexy manmeat? uhm OK! Sign me up! So we decided on taking roughly two weeks to get back to the island, possibly touring through Utah, a few hot springs and breweries in Oregon, the WA coast. You know... a jaunt, a road holiday. Nothing big. Just a little road trip. So he pimped out Ann the Van with a platform bed that had drawer storage underneath that propped up during the day to be a futon-type sitting space, and a console that fit between our two captains chairs that was shoe and book storage. Yeah. Seriously. He built all that in, like, two afternoons. Attached my Thule car topper along with a dry goods storage box on the top of Ann and we were set. I shan't tell a lie; it was dreamy actually, super dialed-in, and lucky me, he's not only a carpenter, but a semic OCD/anal perfectionist carpenter, so this wasn't just a thrown together job. It was pi-imp. Oh, and the bed was reallllly comfy. There were a handful of cold nights on the road that I commented from the cozy confines inside of Ann, "sucks to be in a tent right now." Yeah. We certainly weren't roughing it.
So off we went, and immediately the best laid plans of a two week road trip flew out the window. It took us almost a week just to get out of Colorado. We started in Breck for an overnight and a hike. Then we stopped off in Ridgway (between Ouray and Telluride) to stay at the ranch of a friend's mom and boyfriend and lo and behold, totally fell head over heels in love with them and their gorgeous ranch and stayed three nights in their pimped out yurt. After we realized we couldn't stay there forever and actually had to drive more than a few hundred miles on this roadtrip, we pushed on 45 miles down the road to Telluride. We stayed there a few nights because we just kept waiting to see if anything good turned up in the Telluride free box. (Sidenote: We only came away with a set of stainless steel dipping bowls.)
Then came Utah. WOW! UTAH! I had no idea what to expect, but WOW! It took us another week to get through the state not because the beer was soooo amazing - is 4% beer even beer?!?! – but, because Utah is UN.Real. Unreal I tell you and it just takes a while to see a whole lot of unrealness. If you haven't been to Arches, Canyonlands, Zion or Bryce Canyon, get yourself a National Parks pass, a tent or a camper, or better yet a manfriend who can outfit a Dodge Caravan for you, and get thyself there. It's beyond beautiful. It's prehistoric, mind-blowing landscape will leave you in awe. In fact, at times it left me speechless. ME!
So after the original two weeks we thought it would take us to get back to Guemes Island, we weren't a mile closer than we'd been when we started. In fact at one point we were further. We were having so much fun we just kept going. And here's where I started learning things. Two weeks is managable. Two weeks is easy. Anyone can do two weeks. It's all smiles and clean clothes and if you're dirty and unshowered, meh... you'll shower eventually because you'll be home soon. Well at two weeks I was nowhere near home. I was staring at the same three short sleeve shirts, two long sleeve shirts, two sweatshirts, two shorts, one hiking pants and one pair of jeans that I'd packed. I'd been showering mostly with the solar shower we'd packed, which meant a soft, light spray of water from a one-gallon bag dangling from a tree, most of the time after dark, in the cold. Things started getting real. And here's what I started to learn about myself:
I'm mildly scared of the dark. Yep. I'm 37, and I'm a bit afraid of the pitch blackness that happens after the sun sets, and what is roaming around me in the pitch blackness. Now, before this road trip, I guess I've always had an awareness of animals prowling around at night, especially when camping. But I grew up camping in tents and never really had a problem with the dark. Heck, I welcomed it becasue it meant s'mores time and ghost stories. But for some reason, almost immediately at the beginning of our trip, when I'd wake up to go pee at night and get out of the van, I'd have visions of blood-thirsty mountain lions or ravenous bears needing to pack on the pounds before hibernation or some such human-hungry predatory animal attacking me whilst I squatted to relieve myself. Maybe it was the vastness of the desert canyonlands or woodedness of the mountains where we camped, but soon after we'd arrive and choose our campsite for the night I'd casually ask My Man, "so, uhhm, what kind of animals live around here? Are we talking bears? Cougars? Or just your garden variety coyotes and deer?" I wasn't really scared of coyotes or deer. Why? I don't know. Nothing about this fear makes sense, does it? They didn't seem as ferocious. Without fail every night I'd wake up, fight off the I-really-gotta-go-pee sensation for 30 minutes, give in to my urge, strap on my headlamp, cautiously exit the van, pick a spot that was close enough to the van that I could jump back in if I heard a bear approaching, but far enough away that My Man wouldn't hear me peeing, or there wouldn't be a puddle of pee to step in the next morning, and commence to pee while swiveling my headlamp left to right searching for the mountain lion that was no doubt waiting in the bushes, licking his chops, hungry for my ladyflesh and just waiting to tear into my ass. At one point when we were in Crater Lake, Oregon, bear presence was so likely there were bear-proof lockers at each campground. Imagine my distress at having to go pee. Every single time I was out of the van answering nature's call I was just positive I was going to see a fierce mama bear thundering toward me, angry steam billowing out of her big mama bear snout. Oh, and here's the other thing, we were so active during the day, and all through Utah it was really hot, that I was drinking a lot of water. So sometimes I'd have to pee two or three times a night, which offered me up to attacks even more. And each time I made it back into the van alive I thanked the heavens and the universe for letting me live one more bathroom break. I know this fear is silly. I know. But I couldnt' shake it. Nor did I ever confess this to My Man, until he reads this now obviously, because he would have had a heyday with his fear. He's amazing and sensitive and kind and loving, but he thoroughly enjoys getting a rise out of his over-dramatic, easily provoked, reactive lady friend. Now that I'm back on the island am I scared of the dark? No. Not at all. And I wasn't before I left either. It was a totally isolated fear tied to being out in the wild of the state and national park system. Plus, I know that there's really not anything predatory on this island except coyotes and drunk old men.
Net learning here: I have an overactive imagination.
I would lose "The Amazing Race" to the old couple. You know the sweet old couple, married for 50 years that are always invited to be on the show because they're cute, and the network doesn't want to be accused of being ageist, but they are always the first team out because they're slow and can't figure out technology or maps? Yeah, I'd lose to that team. On this 30-day road adventure I learned that I have shitty map skills and even worse sign reading skills and I am a sub-par navigator. I figured this one out all by myself. My Man didn't have to help a bit. In fact, he just let me figure it out while standing on the sidelines watching patiently with his ever-present smile. And if that wasn't sweet enough, he went along with my poor direction, trusting me to know which way to go. We'd be starting out on a hike and at the beginning of the trail I'd read the first few words of the sign, glance at the rest and figure "yeah I've got the general idea." Inevitably we'd be on the wrong trail which I'd find out when in a half a mile the trail ended at the edge of a cliff that looked down into a vast, deep canyon, and I'd be surprised like, "hey, wait a minute! This was supposed to be a four-mile hike." I'd look at My Man, who'd be smiling and reply, "did you read the sign?" Believe it or not this happened multiple times. In some instances I'd be navigating while he'd be driving, but really I'd be singing along to one of my crazy-amazing Spotify playlists like the karaoke star I am (in my head) and only partially look at where we were going and totally miss turn-offs because my strategy was just "oh we drive for a while and when we see Hwy 72 we turn right." Only to be right in the middle of belting out "just like a prayer, your words can't take me there - oh shit! that was Hwy 72 I think..." I need to slow down. Read signs in their entirety. Then re-read them. Then probably read them one more time just to be safe. I need to fully understand where we are going, make that my priority when navigating is my job, and focus on that rather than my audition for America's Next Karaoke Star. Slow down. Focus on the job at hand. I don't want to lose to the old couple when it's our turn on "The Amazing Race."
I must have a hole in my lip. I spill water on myself when I drink. I've noticed that I do this a lot, but it's usually when I'm by myself, or in front of LittleVirgo, who doesn't say anything because she thinks it's normal. She's 4. I never really stopped to think why I do it. Problem #1, obviously. I becamse quite aware of it when My Man would look at me with amused confusion while the water I would be gulping out of a glass went both in my mouth and down the side of my mouth onto my shirt. The problem is that I never stop to just drink a glass of water. While I'm hurrying to take a drink I'm already onto the next thing, whether it's saying something, thinking, putting my coat on, whatever. It's sloppy for a 37 year old. I need to be able to drink water. Without spilling it.
Let go and let laundry happen. Because we found ourselves on the road for a while, we had to stop a few times to do laundry at laudromats. The first time this happened I watched anxiously wringing my hands as My Man threw every single piece of our laundry together into the washer. Jeans + my underwear + his underwear + white shirts + colored clothes. Lights and darks mingled together with jeans and my delicates. I stood watching, nodding my head, trying to get on-board with what was happening. Deep breaths in and out. My hand-washed items would be okay. They'd made it through rough situations before. I'd probably accidentally tossed them in with regular wash items at some point, hadn't I? This totally made sense, washing everything together. We didn't have money or time to waste sorting into small loads here in the laundromat. My Man noticed the worried look on my face as I watched the water drench our clothes before they were tossed about vigorously.
Him: "Everything ok?" Me: "Yeah. Oh Yeah." Exhale. "It's fine. Yeah. Everything's cool." It had to be. We were on the road. Why did I have delicates with me anyway? What about this road trip said "bring delicates?" Why was I being so fussy? This isn't how a gypsy road warrior lives. I need sturdy, yet seductive underthings. Note to self: start an underwear line of sturdy, yet seductive underthings. So there in the laundry room, probably somewhere in Utah, I let my sexy underwear life get tumbled in with my camping on-the-road life and My Man's synthetic fibered, tough-wearing, sensible life.
Then there was The Towel Incident. We'd been at camgrounds that didn't have showers or in the middle of the Oregon desert, necessitating us to use our solar shower, for about a week when we hit Crater Lake. We'd heard from some Oregonians, who were at the Oregon desert hot springs we visited, that showers at campgrounds were free in Oregon. What? WHAT?!?!! This was the greatest news I'd heard since I don't know when, which isn't to say I didn't enjoy the solar showers. I did. I totally really did. It was all part of the experience – getting naked in the moonlight and shivering under warm water trickling from the sprayer. But dammit if I wasn't excited to take the longest, hottest shower I'd taken in a while. We'd taken some campground showers on the road trip, but they were a bit spendy; $5 for 3 minutes, or a dollar a minute. You can imagine my excitement for a free shower. Just imagine your own excitement if you were on roadtrip week three and had spent the previous week speed showering under a solar shower. You'd be psyched. So when we got to Crater Lake and found our camground I wasted no time in finding the free, hot showers. I didn't care if they looked like prison showers, which they kind of did. I strapped on my shower sandals and took a hot shower like I was in the Four Seasons spa. I was in there all by myself, as these were fully enclosed shower rooms; a luxury in camp showers which are usually just stalls. I leisurely washed my hair, let conditioner sit in for the instructed 5 minutes, shaved my legs. It was bliss. I took my time drying off and emerged from the shower room squeaky clean, my hair in a towel turban, and made a right into the restroom to continue my post-shower grooming. As I was slathering my face with lotion and glowing in post-shower splendor My Man walked into the bathroom. Hmm. That's weird. Why is he in the Ladies Restroom?
Him: "Hi. Have a good shower?" Sweet smile plastered across his face.
Me: "YES!!! It was glorious and hot."
He nodded his head and shifted his jaw.
Him: "Good. Good. Ok. You're in the Men's Room."
Me: "WHAT? Ohmygod!"
Him: "And that's the dirty car towel on your head."
I crumbled. I was a broken woman. I ripped the towel off my head and threw it at him, as if it were his fault. "Fuuuuuuuuck. God dammit. Whatthefuck!?!?!?!" I'd somehow mistaken the towel we used to wipe down coolers, the front windshield, picnic tables, anything dirty really, with my bath towel and used it all over my gleamingly clean body and wrapped it around my freshly washed hair. The Four Seasons would have never made such a fatal error. I stormed out of the bathroom and proceeded to pout for the next 24 hours while he conveniently "remembered" all the things he'd personally used the towel for - as a snot rag, wiping down his undercarriage after a sweaty hike, cleaning between his toes, sometimes riding it like a pony while naked because he liked how it felt. It wasn't until he admitted using the towel to wipe the afterbirth off a litter of baby opposums he helped deliver that I laughed and got over it and realized I was making a big deal out of nothing. And from this, which shall forevermore be known as The Towel Incident, I learned to laugh at myself. It's much more fun than getting mad at myself.
I'm less maintenance than I thought. I'm not bragging here. This was quite a revelation. I've never been what I consider "high maintenance," but I didn't realize I could just roll with it on a barebones level. I don't need much, and this was an amazing personal revelation for someone who has 10 tubes of chapstick and at least 15 lipglosses that are basically all the same color. At one point on the trip when we were in Telluride I saw a homeless man heating a cup o' noodles with a blowdryer in the town park and thought, "Right on. This guy's got the right idea. You just work with what you've got." Now, I'm not going hobo, but you know what I mean. I like to have stuff. I like clothes. I was a clothes and shoe whore with the best of them. I like to get fancy. I just realized on this trip, though, that I can really be low maintenance. I don't have to "do" my hair every day. I can shower or wet it down throw it in some braids or a bun and be fine. And for that matter, I don't have to shower every day, and if I do it can be in the moolight under a fir tree, standing on a piece of plastic, splashing water on myself from the solar shower. I can survive with just a few pair of clothes and when those clothes get dirty I can let them all get washed together. I don't need things. I brought jewelry and a handbag with me, you know, just in case we hit a social scene somewhere and I needed to enlist my fashionable self, which of course never happened. I didn't even look for that situation in fact. I just don't need stuff, and can be comfortable and happy with very little. I can be as much or as little maintenance as I want to be. I think I might actually be able to be a gypsy.
But really, let's get serious. What did I really learn? What did all these stories teach me? What was the big, introspective, life-changing, I need to write this down for posterity, thing that I learned? Well..drumroll... It's That I Can Do It. That I kind-of am a warrior, actually. I didn't have a spear, nor did I kill anything on this road trip, but in a sense, I found that daring spirit inside me that is chanting "Do it. Do it. Do it." Whatever it is, I can do it. Life may toss shit at me, almost literally sometimes, but I can do it. Challenges, good days, bad days, a dark night full of blood-thristy animals, crazy ideas, whims, anything. I Can Do It. 30 Days as a road warrior - I Can Do It. 30 days with the same person 24/7. I Can Do It. Live in a one-room cabin in a forest on a small PNW island - I Can Do It. Write a novel - I Can Do It. Before this 30-day adventure, I might not have been so sure of myself. I might have said, Um Yeah, there's a possibility I can probably do it. Now, I welcome whatever life throws at me. Whatever the opportunity. Whatever the challenge. Whatever the test. Whatever the adventure.
I CAN DO IT!