Finding Your Spark: Embracing Fear, Being Present And Making The Road Home Pt. II

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

In August 2017, my friend Eileen quit her job to embark on a 90-day road trip, most of which was by herself. We talk about how she planned her trip, how it felt to experience new things alone, some of her most memorable destinations, and what the trip taught her in the end.

You can read part one here.

Sunset in Craters of the Moon, ID
What was the coolest place (or what were the coolest places) you traveled to during your trip?

It would be cliché of me to say the whole trip was like a dream, and I wanna puke whenever people actually do say that, so I’ll narrow it down a bit.

Craters of the Moon, ID – Falling in love with a National Monument and Preserve in south-central Idaho was definitely an unexpected surprise. The preserve is made up of huge lava fields covered in sage brush, black soil, lichens, and twisted limber pines. It is breathtakingly beautiful and unlike anything else in this country.

Yucca Valley, CA – Southern California in general is just amazing, but having grown up in the Midwest, this small town near Joshua Tree National Park is unlike anything I have ever seen. One thing you can’t fail to notice are the Joshua trees – which are surprisingly not trees at all – scattered everywhere. Seriously everywhere.

Santa Fe, NM – Oh boy, I honestly never thought that I would ever go to New Mexico but I’m sure glad I did. Route 66 took me through Albuquerque but I was over sightseeing cities so I decided to go to Santa Fe to "get away." It has become my most absolute favorite place everrrrr. You’ll have to go and see it for yourself.
Slab City, CA
What was the most unique experience during your trip?

This is an extremely difficult question to answer but I’m going to have to say Slab City. I don’t even know where to start with this... If you want to visit one of the most unique and slightly unsettling places in the U.S., go here. 

I am no expert but what I do know is that Slab City is an abandoned Marine Corps training base from WWII. It is an uncontrolled area of land owned by the state with no running water, electricity, or plumbing. The residents come and go, but most, if not all, have learned to live off grid. By “off grid” I mean the nearest town is four miles away. 

If you do happen to venture out to “the last free place on Earth,” I recommend visiting East Jesus. East Jesus is an experimental art center that gives a new meaning to the word recyclable. Installations are kept up by monetary and in-kind donations for future projects. I arrived too late in the day and was only able to walk around for about 30 minutes before the sun went down but what I saw and what I heard from the artists living there was incredible and very inspiring. The installations do not have the artists’ names on them or give anyone credit; they are merely there to educate, inspire and taunt. It is wonderful and I loved it. 

Most memorable experience?

Essentially, there are two ways to drive directly west into California from Reno, NV. You can take the more direct route, I-80, all the way, or veer off on the more scenic route, Donner Pass, and then get back on the interstate. Our friends advised us to take I-80, but we noticed the interstate had some heavy traffic and we didn’t want to slow down. So, we took Donner Pass.

This is my most memorable experience because it is now forever ingrained in my brain to not freak out when driving very close to the edge of a mountain and going up and down steep grades where you are not allowed to brake because, if you do, your brake pads will start smoking and might stop working.

I just remember holding the steering wheel so tight that I probably made imprints with my hands, and my friend in the passenger seat pointing her camera at every opportunity and shouting, “Oh my god the view is amazing!” Good times.

You stayed in some unique places. In a trailer, on an alpaca farm... How did you find these places?!
When I am in a pickle and need a place to stay, Airbnb is usually the easiest and most convenient for the host and myself. It allows you to message the host if you need a same-day accommodation and most of them say yes. 

To find a place to stay, I honestly just calculate how long I want to drive that day and then find a place near my end point. Secret’s out: I choose the cheapest option. The trailer I stayed in was $20/night and the Alpaca farm was around $40/night. I don’t understand why people still stay in hotels when there are so many other options out there that are cheaper and way cooler.

You also SHAVED YOUR HEAD during your trip! How long have you wanted to do that? And what made you decide to do it then? How did it feel?

Yes! I have always wanted to do it and figured what the hell. I was already halfway there because I got half my head shaved before my trip and was too hesitant to go all the way for a long time. I gave myself multiple pep talks and finally bought a buzzer at Target and planned to do it myself in an Airbnb or campground or something like a true weirdo. Every day I chickened out and every day I thought about it more and more, so one day I just pulled off the interstate and went to the nearest

I love my short hair. If anyone ever wants to do it, just go for it! It’s just hair and it will grow back.

What was your favorite part of your three-month trip?

This doesn’t narrow it down at all but honestly, just driving with some great music. Free as a bird.

What was the most challenging part?

I had a list of things I wanted to accomplish but when it actually came down to do them, I was afraid. The most challenging part was having to recognize why I was afraid and talk to myself, in a way, to calm myself down and remember that everything would be OK.

It’s hard, at least for me, to get out of and get back in to my own head. I know that sounds weird. For me, a few examples of when I was really challenged (AKA afraid) were when I hiked alone, camped in an isolated area, went bald, slept in my car, drove to Slab City, among other things. Another challenge was just parking the damn car. Where do you park in LA?! Good question.

What has the trip taught you?

It’s OK to be afraid. It’s a great feeling to conquer it too!

Also, I learned how to take it slow. By being slow, I mean being present and taking more time in all aspects of what I’m doing, whether that is driving, walking, or talking to people. Chicago living is rush-rush-rush all the time, but I don’t have to be like that.

What advice do you have for solo travelers?

Do what you are afraid of. If the thought of something scares that crap out of you, I recommend doing it, but obviously do whatever that is safely. You won’t regret it.

Drink a lot of water. Having a full bladder forces you to pull off the highway and go into a little diner or cute gift shop that you wouldn’t have gone into otherwise. It gives you an excuse to meet someone new while asking them where the nearest restroom is.

Pack light. Nobody cares if you wear the same outfit 3 days in a row.

Brush your teeth.

Talk to people.

Listen to people. Like, actually listen to them.

Be who you want to be. No one knows you in this new place. You do you. You might like yourself so much that you stay that way when you come back home.

Additionally, don't come back home if you don't want to.

Be willing to learn something new. I sat in on a college glassblowing class in Tulsa. Now I know how wine glasses are made. Cool.

Force yourself to be bored once in a while. Sit in a chair with no computer, TV, or phone screen in front of you. What are you thinking about?

Make a playlist before you hit the road. It takes time to create a good one and you will not want to set aside time to make one while exploring a new place.

You don't have to post every picture you take on social media. Keep some stuff to yourself. If all you want are "likes," then you probably shouldn't be on this trip in the first place.

If and when you do post pictures and stories on social media, it would be a great idea to not tell the whole world where exactly you are. This is for your own safety. Don't post a pic of your cute Airbnb for the night or your campsite coordinates until the next morning when you are leaving. Nobody likes stalkers.

Don't be a distracted tourist. Do stuff YOU want to do. You don't have to go to that shitty touristy spot even if it's number one on Condé Nast or Lonely Planet's "must-see" list.

Most importantly, pack lots of snacks.

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