6300 Miles - part 1

7.30.2015 -
The first day of my trip I drove 12 hours. 12 hours straight with stops for gas and food and right back on the road again. I left home that morning leaving 2 weeks straight of rain storms, tornado warnings and gloomy rainy days in a small unwanted town. I wanted sunshine and blue skies and newness and wide open spaces and giant city’s and magnificent mountains.

I had only planned to drive 8 hours that day and thought that was going to probably be rough. But at the end of those 8 hours I felt so good and the time had gone by so fast I just decided to keep on driving. The worst part of the drive was the first 4 hours trying to get the hell out of Oklahoma and Texas running away from the flat pastures dotted with cattle, the endless brush lands and the heavy gloom these places put over my head. Once I crossed into New Mexico it was like someone turned the lights on. The clouds scattered, sunshine, desert, road for as far as the eye could see, high speed limits, windows down, sunroof open, music went up. And it was like one of those scenes from a movie, yes I imagine life like pictures and scenes sometimes. Hair whipping around my face, singing at the top of my lungs, tears, and laughing and more tears and yelling and more singing. Wheels turning, miles disappearing behind me, the sun's gleeming rays hitting the sand and pavement, at times blinding and shooting off in a million different directions. I realized just how much shit inside I had to dump. I was alone. Responsible for once for just me. I could focus on myself, drive as long as I wanted, stop wherever I wanted, eat as I needed or felt, listen to what I wanted, scream if I wanted, feel things without thought, let all guards down. I didn't have to be strong for myself or anyone else. I could just be...
“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.” – Henry David Thoreau
It was day one of my 18 day trip and it is one of the ones I remember the most clearly.

I've never gotten to take a trip by myself and it wasn't something I thought of ever wanting to do until a couple of years ago. I'm a crazy adventurous soul and all the more so now that I have begun to claim who I am and dig my truest self out of the depths of the dust and cobwebs and embrace that being. Over the last year I imagined what it would be like to adventure on my own. To explore oneself as you explore the world. I love to travel. I am not one to sit in comfort zones at home and pine away life. I have a constant hunger to see things, taste other cultures, experience life. To realize there is so much more to this world than what I have known in the south, than what I have grown up in. To not listen to others experiences of places and take their word for it but to open my mind up to new things and possibilities while experiencing it for myself. When this trip became a possibility it felt too good to dare hope it could be real. That it could happen and when Sam kept pushing the realness of it being able to happen back onto me I would get afraid to hope and trust that this could happen if I wanted it and try and push it back off. Even up to the moment of packing the final bag into my car at 7 am on that Saturday morning and backing out of the driveway I was still thinking, wait am I really doing this and that adrenaline and sheer heart pumping excitement kicked into my being as my wheels started rolling away from this little town.
“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

Through Amarillo, Texas not much to see, been there, done that, on into New Mexico, somewhere I had never been, desert, long roads, rocky mountains and dry lands. This is where my time went the fastest, the miles where I did the most thinking and processing and where I left a trail of tears along that blacktop interstate. I don't remember much about this state other than that. I had no reason to stop, nothing to see, my brain was overly occupied and the time flew right bye.
On into Arizona planning to stop for the night in Flagstaff. As I was driving in here it was getting dark and I was trying to take in the first glimpse on my trip of mountains and lush greenery, tall pines and warm forests that were beginning to surround the interstate. Historic flagstaff at night on a weekend; I walked around for what felt like hours. Neon lights, historic hotels, quaint shops and restaurants and bars with live music from bass cellos, to bands, to vocalists, lined the streets. There were back alleys with strings of twinkle lights and outdoor patios to sit at. There was a kids movie in the park happening that night and the park was filled with families and blankets strewn out in front of the big projector, food carts and balloon carts and laughter and little people noises. Then a passenger train would rumble through the big station there, the pedestrians and cars stopping with the dinging of the railroad crossing mixed with the train whistle blaring, the train cars whizzing bye so close the wind whipped from them around you and you felt you could reach out and touch the crazy movement. I was soaking every light, every sound, every movement in. Opening my mind up to feel. Watching people interacting. Watching every dog out being walked by their owner getting smothered in attention from strangers. I watched the live music through glass fronts the people inside nodding back and forth to the music while others seemingly unaware of it talking amongst themselves. I watched the group of middle aged jolly's roll by on a pedalpub their laughter and shanangans amongst each other contagious and found myself grinning and adding riding one of those things with a group of people onto my bucket list. It all felt right. People moving and living and laughing and being. And I wondered what some of their stories are. Wondered what their lives were like. Wondered what was being those smiles that made them who they are today. The movement and interaction and life. I wanted to meet some of them.
“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.” – Bill Bryson

I car camped that first night at a hotel. First night in the car, I didn't know what it would be like. Spoiled with an air mattress that stretched across the back of my SUV, pillows, blankets, comfort in the car at it's finest. The only thing I didn't prepare for was the fact it would get so dang cold there in the valley that night. Dropped down to 31 degrees. I fell asleep and slept like a rock until waking up at 2 am chilled to the bone. I had to turn on my car, warm it up and toast up the inside nice and warm for a good 20 minutes before I was able to shut it off and sleep the rest of the night through.

I was up at the crack of dawn rested though and went on a chilly walk to a cozy little coffee shack and back. But I was just ready to get back on the road again, excited and anxious to drive that just over a hour drive to get to the Grand Canyons for the day.
“To awaken alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world.” – Freya Stark
I drove slower than christmas through the winding roads taking in the tall trees and stopping for picture or two. It was a foggy cloudy morning every now and then a drizzling rain falling from the sky and I wondered if that was why no one was out on these roads or seemly going to the grand canyon that day. I had expected for a weekend for it to be crawling with tourist and visitors.

"Little men with little minds and little imaginations go thru life in little ruts, smugly resisting all changes that would jar their little worlds." I refuse to be one.
When I was waiting in line with the handful of other cars to enter the national park I was so excited it was making my stomach feel sick. This was one of the bigger places I had been wanting to visit on my US bucket list. It didn't disappoint. Right as I got there the fog cleared out and it warmed up just enough to be able to hike but still without sweating. Like as if it was done just for me as I arrived. The first sight of the canyons, I just started laughing and leaning over the rock edge my heart thumped wildly. How do you describe something so majestic. I steered clear of the railed tourists areas and barely hiked just a ways to were you could climb out on the edges and sit with your feet dangling over into the emptiness below. It felt impossible to soak in or capture all the grandeur my eyes were beholding. I spent the whole day driving around, hiking, exploring, and meeting people and didn't head out towards Utah until later in the evening. That was something else I enjoyed immensely that day. Interacting with the people that were around me that were literally from all over the world. Taking pictures for each other, discovering where they are from, hiking a trail together, getting to know strangers for more than their faces. I met a couple from Portugal, a couple from california, a guy and his buddy in the US for the first time from England, a group of girlfriends from Canada, and even a couple that were also from Oklahoma. Such a good reminder to my soul of how many good and beautiful people and lives are in this world. Somehow in Oklahoma I never see it or I can't seem to see it as much.
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

"Sign me up for the deep life."

"I do not play with death. I play with life."

I see the details of life around me and I see my life. Metaphors to our stories, our journeys we have been given; I feel the emotion attached to everyone. From the scratches on my shoes, to the holes in my jeans, the gritty brown dirt that flies everywhere when disturbed, and the rocks that can dig into your feet or even tweak your ankles if stepped upon or off of wrong. The wrinkles in the tree trunks cut to the ground and the rough gnarly edges that process left. The grandeur of the canyons and the fog that shifts in to try to hide it. The luminous mountains dusted with snow. The rushing river so beautiful and yet at times so threatening. The mist from the waterfall kissing your body and yet also crashing on the rocks below making explosions. The rocky hills leaving you breathless; heart pounding as you fight your way to the top. The birds singing around you or the wind roaring angrily through the trees and valleys. The stench of the death of a nearby animal. The vultures circling overhead. The desert that stretches on as far as the eye can see looking parched and hopeless that then at the end opens up to glorious sights looming on the horizon. This is when the choice to feel everything deeply reminds me why that is a good thing. These are things that give me the reminders that life is hellishly beauty and that I was made to be vulnerable in my hellish beauty. Made to share. Made to inspire, to love, to heal, to grow. Made to live life alive. 

"Do not go where the path may lead. Go and make you own trail."
I was bushed after that day and wanted to get a good meal and crash somewhere soon that evening. I was googling towns ahead looking for a larger decent place to car camp so I wouldn't have to drive on into Springdale, Utah but I quickly decided to drive on into Springdale. I was in no man's land in-between the north side of the grand canyon and zion national park. Every town I googled to see what was there my mouth dropped open and my heart picked up pace. One town I googled I actually texted Sam and dared him to google. The entire first google page went something like this, polygamy, cult, man trying to get his siblings out of religious cult, woman escaping cult, polygamy...what the?! Needless to say I drove through that town quickly my heart squeezed with triggers, emotions and extremely angry reactions that these things bring up in me. "Just keep driving, Leslie. Just keep on driving."

And I drove right on into Springdale. Ate a somewhat sadly disappointing pizza (but scarfed it down anyways) on a patio watching the sun disappear behind the peaks that felt straight overhead and car camped at a hotel at the base of the looming rocky mountains. Woke up 3 hours after the sunrise a little bummed I was so tired I slept that long into the morning but feeling refreshed and ready to hike some hills in Zion. I determined to myself I would not do any trail past intermediate difficulty that day even though my heart begged me to tackle the biggest baddest hike I could find. After a small hike that left me begging for more, even though I had forgotten to wear my ankle brace and had already tweaked my weak ankle, I ended up putting on my brace and taking a trail down into the narrows and wading/hiking through ankle to waste deep current thriving waters. I met a group of college students here from California that I ended up joined in with and tagged along for 2 miles down the narrows. I wished to have gone further in now that it is said and done. The further in the narrower it gets and the water levels were down that day and I could have gone in further but in reality I was bushed and my ankle was started to scream out me through the numbness of the icy water. So I wished them good luck and headed back the way we had come on my own. Hands down the coolest hiking experience I've ever had and I most definitely will be wanting to go back again.

I stayed in Cedar City that night but didn't do much exploring. Got a hotel, got out of the wet clothes, ordered take out for dinner, had a hot shower, watched a show in bed, silence...an entire room to myself. And silence if I wanted. Woke up with the sun and stayed in bed the entire morning. Because I could. Just being alone with myself and my thoughts. Reading and pondering and gazing out the room window at the snow tipped mountains.

"I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and truly like the company you keep in the empty moments."
I drove the short afternoon drive to Salt Lake City that day. I had no idea Utah was as beautiful as it was. There were long stretches of road that reminded me a little too much like Oklahoma with the pastures, and farms and flat lands but then there was a part of Utah as you got more northern where the mountains just appeared from nowhere. It was 68 degrees and sunny and yet the looming mountains were dusted with snow and had clouds dancing around them playfully. What was this madness? It got to the point where every direction I looked there were mountains kissed with white fluff. Absolutely beautiful.
That day my awesome experience was a happen chance meeting and striking up a conversation with a random stranger next to me at a gas station, that turned out to be a school counselor, that then led to having dinner and hours of deep conversation about life. And just like that I am reminded sometimes choosing vulnerability, to try out trust, put yourself out there and getting out of your comfort zone can bring you some of the most rewarding and life giving experiences. Crazy thing and a totally God lined up circumstance turned a rare and across the country good hearted, deep minded stranger into a friend.
And from here... my next big planned stop was Seattle. I was enjoying the mountains and hiking and being with my thoughts but I was also so very ready to get to a big city!