Written for NaNoWriMo (unedited)
Chapter 3: That feeling when you're going everywhere because it's better than going nowhere.
I can go anywhere. I find this freeing but surprisingly exhausting and overwhelming. I want to be somewhere anonymous and desolate so that I might be forced to face my thoughts. I yearn for a sort of desert mirror, somewhere I can climb but can also be reflected back to myself in a devastating way. This trip has to be productive, I tell myself.
I decide on Utah, specifically the mars playground surrounding Moab. Leaving Vegas feels good. I love leaving. I hope that my sickness will stay to play with the slot machines. Moby and I don’t even have to pack up because everything is contained in this little blue car of mine. I don’t even make the bed. I leave at 9 in the morning without changing a thing inside the vehicle. I drive through busy highways, wishing I would’ve left before the morning commute, but I make note of this and avoid the morning commute for the rest of my trip. I feel bad for the poor souls stuck in traffic on the way to shitty jobs that barely pay them enough to live. I feel bad for them and I want to roll down my window and call to them: I have been you! That is not all life has to offer! Please, come with me!
Maybe they would turn their cars around and caravan to the desert with me and I could teach them how to climb and how to spend the whole day doing nothing but admiring the way sandstone changes colors as the sun moves across the sky in it’s blissful arc.
I was less than a year out of college when the banality of daily 9 to 5 life got to be too much. It was dismal. I’d left college an optimistic martyr, and less than a year later, turned to a lifeless zombie.
I moved from school in Boston directly to Boulder, CO and took the first job I was offered, a Marketing and Donor Management role at a nonprofit. It felt like a real adult job, but the salary was not. I made 17k for 30 hrs a week and hustled other mountain-related gigs on the weekend. In hindsight, I should’ve been patient for something better. This was a job with meaning, I thought, a job that wasn’t just for making money.
And in many ways it was. The nonprofit helped people with disabilities participate in outdoor adventure sports. I regularly got to go on trips where people who thought their lives were over got to rock climb, ice climb, hike, and more.
I used to be that very same person sitting in the car, but I snapped.
I walked to work like I did every day. From my apartment, it was two blocks to the main street. I walked usually alone, but bikes might pass. It was winter, but the sun was warm and thawed my nose and toes as I moved along. I walked quickly, not looking up. I didn’t need to. I walked the same way every day. A giant truck careened past, spewing a black cloud right next to me on the street. I held my breath until I was past it.
Like every day, I turned right to walk diagonally through a parking lot, saving myself about 20 seconds from the right angle of the sidewalk. The parking lot was always empty at that time in the morning. Only two more blocks straight and I was at my building, all in all, 15 minutes of walking.
I walked into the brick building and unlocked the door to our office. It was small, with two rooms. There were massive piles of climbing gear stacked to the right. We had organized it once but it always got disorganized. One room was for out Executive Director, and the other I shared with our third employee. I liked to get there early before the others arrived. I could get a lot of work done. I put my shitty homemade lunch our mini fridge and turned on the hot water heater. I sat down at my computer. It was my own laptop from home. The nonprofit couldn’t afford to get me a work computer.
I opened my email. It was a Monday and my inbox was full. I looked out the window onto the street to see two homeless men fighting over some frozen pizza. The water heater beeped, letting me know it was ready, and I filled a cup and dropped a ginger tea in the top.
As I sat back down to start answering emails, I felt a deep sense of malaise fall over me. I realized that I could not distinguish this day from the other 100s of days I had walked to the office on the same path and made the same tea and opened my email the same way. For that moment, I felt time had in fact lost it’s meaning because the moments were indistinguishable. I’d spend another day in front of a computer and then I’d go home to eat and then I’d go to the gym and then to bed. The routine left no meaning. As I attempted to sip my tea, it spilled out onto my lap. Was this it? Was this all there was to life? I could not believe that.
The idea of a road trip was planted into my head by various people I look up to who have also spent time living in vehicles. The weekend after my existential crisis at work, I researched building platforms in cars and pretty much decided I had to do it. Maybe I would come back and work a similar job one day, but at that time in my life, I needed to search outside myself. In hindsight, this is an extremely privileged position. I had no student loans or family to take care of. I was able to drop everything.
I quit the job. I felt guilty because I hadn’t even been there a year, but I also felt compelled beyond reason and no feelings of guilt could stop me.
I spent a month selling my things, rounding up my savings, and telling people goodbye. I spent a short trip in Thailand, and then Belize, and when I came back, I packed everything in my car and drove to Oregon to drop it off.
Goddamn it, I love leaving. If I could be a professional leaver, I would. And so, after a brief stint in Vegas, I was off to Utah, another place to visit and search for meaning and leave when I couldn’t find it.
Out of Vegas I practically flew to St. George. A few hours in the car was nothing. I stopped to eat but only briefly because I had places to be! I shot some messages to Southern Colorado friends and they were planning to be in Indian Creek (1 hr from Moab) that weekend. The stars had aligned. Driving through the middle of Utah, I played my radio as loud as it would go, signaling to the world that Madeline was capital F Free!
I arrived in Moab early and decided to look for camping because I knew things tended to get overcrowded. I drove along the river and stopped at every campground, finally finding a spot at the third. It was something like $12 and that felt VERY ritzy for a single night. I didn’t have enough cash, so I put $10 in the envelope and wrote a quick note: “I’m unemployed so this is all I have”. No one ever said anything about it. I backed my car into the camp spot so that I could open the back hatch to face the river. It was only four, but I decided to make dinner. I snacked on red vines while I chopped veggies. My mom had gifted an entire bucket of them upon my departure.
The most wonderful thing about camping is that you can't do anything fast. Try. I dare you. A small stir fry could take an hour. The gods of camping just drop this cloud on you that forces you to relax and slow down. As I chop veggies, I slice each individual piece so that, in the end, they are frighteningly uniform. I put them into the one bowl I brought with me. Then I put some rice on my single burner stove and kind of stare off into the river until 30 minutes have passed and the rice is ready. I heat a cast iron, throw the veggies in, and stare at the river again. When you have nothing to worry about, your mind just kind of settles into life and becomes, well, still. The small current of the river drifts by, sparkling the sun's receding reflection outward. The long grasses sway just enough to make a sound, but the sizzling of the vegetables is louder. I wish only that someone was there to feel the stillness with me. That is the only thing that could’ve made the moment better.
It’s not as if I didn’t WANT a partner to join my road trip. My boyfriend at the time was not the type to go on such an ambiguous journey and the rest of my friends wanted to stay working at their jobs. Plus, it sure would’ve been hard to FIND myself if someone else was around. Traveling alone also forced me to meet people, which was terrifying and necessary.
My veggies finished cooking and I spooned them on to some rice and ate each bite like it was the only bite. It was nearly an hour and a half later. There were various other campers around me, but I didn’t notice. When I finished my food, I rinsed my dish, lazily without soap, and ate some more red vines. I got into my bed and read a few chapters of Infinite Jest as the river’s breeze passed through the hatch and teased my hair. When it got cold, I closed the back of the car and stared up into my moon roof to the galaxy above. I had forgotten what it felt like to feel so small. I watched until a shooting start passed by and wished that I would never have to go back to my old life.
The next day I woke to the sunrise but snuggled my face into my pillow until it got too bright to manage. Have you ever slept so well that you feel as if you’ve just exited a long-contained cocoon? I reached over head and cracked my neck as I moved my body or the first time that day. I didn’t have service on the river, so I hastily brushed my teeth and left to go into town.
I should probably take a shower. I mean, no ones going to judge me if I don’t, but I can smell myself, and that’s never a good sign. In town I find the Lazy Lizard, a hostel-looking place that seems to house other dirtbags like myself. I have to dig in the bottom of my car to find shampoo. The shower costs $2 and I take my time letting warm water sanitize my body until it is red. When I am finished I feel even more like a butterfly than when I woke up that morning.
I charge my phone while I shower and find 3 messages, all telling me where to find friends once I get to the Creek (Indian Creek). There is no service there so they have told me to look on one of the message boards. I go to the grocery story and then I am off to the Creek.
I drive south out of moab along a single lane highway and get stuck behind someone who has nowhere to be, noodling along in an old ford truck that used to be blue. I also have nowhere to be, but for some reason I feel the need to move with speed and efficiency. I ride close to the Ford’s bumper for no other reason that to signal to the driver that he is going slow, but he doesn’t seem to notice, and eventually I back off.
There is nothing out here south of moab except an occasional lonely house and and odd rest stop hiding next to a large rock face. This is how I like it. I turn right about 30 minutes later. The sign says ‘Canyonlands’ but that’s not where I’m headed. I pull off in a gravel area to send one less text message before service is gone - it goes to my mom to tell her to not expect to hear from me for a few days. I power down my phone, which causes a sort of jolt of adrenaline because it feels dangerous.
Moby and I wind along the road to the Creek. Sometimes I slow to peak out my window up towards red cliff faces to see if there are any climbers out. It is the middle of the day but only in the mid-60s. Before too long, I am at the message board. Various pieces of weathered paper are pinned to the back with cryptic messages.
“Holly - we’re at the usual spot. Dan & Taylor”
“Jojo and Yarn! We are at Supercrack for the day. Meet us here around 5?”
“SLC crew. We got a spot at Super Bowl in the back but not much more room.”
I read almost all of the 3 dozen messages before I find one with my name in it.
“Maddie, Greg, and Jules - We’ve got three spots in the Bridgers. Out climbing today but look for the red truck and the two spots next to it. - Sam & friends”
I get back into my car and drive the rough, rutted road the the Bridger Jack camping area - the only camping area without toilets. My friends choose this area because it usually keeps out the city slickers. Sedans can’t make it through the river crossing and banked turns. Moby does well, but I scratch her bottom once.
I find the truck and the spots. It’s only 1 pm, so I take a solo hike up toward some red towers and wander around the backside of the camp spot. I’m nervous to see Sam.
I met him a year ago around 1 am in Salt Lake City at the Outdoor Industry Convention of the year, Outdoor Retailer. He was passing around copies of a book he wrote and the end of a music performance. He was jittery and jumping around as he talked to various people. My friend and I went with him to another bar and he tried to climb the brick face out front. He was way older than me, but he seemed innocent in a way I found endearing.
He came to visit me from Southern Colorado a few weeks after and then we met up in Crested Butte a month after that. I just didn’t feel anything that strong, but I was attracted to him because he was attracted to me. Since then, we’d just been friends.