Renee on the Road: Day One

solo cross country road trip

Once when I was eight or nine, my dad and I went hiking in woods and he asked me an interesting question. Walking together was something we did frequently as I was growing up — in the woods, along the beach, down railroad tracks, around the neighborhood. We’d walk to breakfast or to a river or lake or sometimes with no destination in mind, just to get some air. And, of course, we’d talk.

On this particular walk during this particular talk, our conversation took an interesting turn that was probably nothing to him but stands out as one of those random-childhood-memories-you’ll-never-forget for me. He asked me:

If I were to have a heart attack right now and you had to run back to the parking lot to get help, would you know how to get out of these woods and make it back to the car safely?

If you’ve ever read Harry Potter, you may recall Mad-Eye Moody in the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, and his rally cry of “CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” to relay the importance of awareness because he believed it to be imperative to survival.

My dad is basically him — but with two normal eyes and (sadly, for both of us) less aptitude for spell casting.

And that’s how I grew up: in a very loving family, doing fun, exciting things, being reminded on a regular basis (usually by my father) that if I ever stop being constantly vigilant of myself or my surroundings, someone could die and it would probably be me.

It might sound intense, but here’s the thing — his question that day struck me (and stuck with me) because I didn’t know how to get out of the woods. I wasn’t paying attention to which way we came. I was just following along obliviously, looking at leaves and talking to the sky and trying to keep up with his long strides. I had no idea where we were or what direction the car was in. But I’ll tell you what — I didn’t walk into the woods without memorizing my route ever again.

In fact, for the next decade, I was a cautious, rule-following, mildly-paranoid, danger-avoidant human. The next two decades in fact, which brings us to today — though I eventually fell off the rule-following wagon (thank god) and wouldn’t call myself paranoid anymore either (minus the occasional I’ve-watched-too-many-CSI-reruns day). But I still consider myself careful, risk-avoidant and “constantly vigilant” — especially in new places or surrounded by new people, especially when I’m alone.

Which is part of why, up until the last year or so, it has never occurred to me to take trips by myself.

Now let me clarify what I’m saying here: I have traveled alone. Many, many times. I drive to see family, I fly to see friends, I’ve even flown across the ocean alone more than once and without any worry whatsoever. But I don’t tend to travel to a destination without either knowing someone on the other end or having a purpose for being there (like an internship or a class or a conference where I will likely know other people). I’ve never gone somewhere just to go, just because, just to explore, just to be there. Not alone, anyway.

So, naturally, I’m leaving today - by myself - to drive (yes, drive) from Asheville, NC to Santa Cruz, CA and I’ll be there for a month without knowing a soul. I’m even going to sleep alone in the woods a few times while I’m there.

Over the past few days as I’ve been prepping and packing and saying “see in you in August” to friends and family, they’ve been asking, “Are you excited?”

And my answer has been: “Actually…I’m interested.”

I’m interested to see how I handle being on the road for 10 hours a day. I’m interested to experience that much solitude for that long. I’m interested to see what comes up for me as I spend uninterrupted time with my brain and my heart (still waiting on that peace treaty to be fairly negotiated). I’m interested to try all of these things that I’ve never done before: driving across the country alone, flexing my “digital nomad” wings, being on the west coast with my fiance on the east coast, camping by myself.

The Humans of New York posted a story a few days back about a woman who left her job and was traveling alone for a couple of months before starting a new one, and it resonated with me. She said:

…I’m going to travel by myself for two months. Just to turn the page. I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m nervous, I’m anxious, I’m excited. I have no idea what to expect. I’ve never spent this much time alone, and I know I’ll have to think about stuff. Personal stuff that I’ve never had to think about before. Because I was too busy with work. But those things were always there, whether I thought about them or not. So I think I’m doing something that I should have done a long time ago.

Now, being a woman with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, I’ve done plenty of thinking about plenty of personal stuff (because that kind of thing is literally an assignment in therapy-oriented grad programs). But this year has been one of growth for me in a multitude of ways. It’s been freeing and uncomfortable and utterly terrifying and completely exhilarating and sort of confusing and a little strange and a lot of beautiful. And no matter how much thinking you do about personal stuff, there’s always more thinking to do. Growth is not a finite process where you reach an end point and then you’re done. It’s a forever sort of thing. So I know I’ll have plenty to think about.

And I’m interested. I’m nervous and anxious and excited. I’m looking forward to the beach and the sun and the library of books I’m bringing with me. I’m holding a heaviness inside me about how much I already miss my fiance and my dog. I’m feeling brave about leaning into whatever comes up for me on this trip. I think I’m doing something that I should have done a long time ago.

If you have any interest in following along, I’d love it. I’ll be journaling on this blog periodically along the way in what I’ve dubbed the “Renee on the Road” series (#alliteration). That way at least, if I do get lost in the woods, there will be somewhat of a record of my last known location.

I told that to my dad and he didn’t think it was funny.

See you in Santa Cruz :)