At the end of 2016, I sit in my room and contemplate my journey into adulthood in the last eight years. The sting of the election is still fresh in my memory and I anticipate watching the inauguration won’t bring any relief. But as I contemplate these things, I reminisce how my college campus erupted in cries of jubilee eight years ago when President Barack Obama became the leader of the United States. Riding my bike home that night, I plastered a huge smile on my face as I thought about the changes that were to come in this country and in my life. In those eight years, I graduated from college, got my first teaching job (which I still have), received a masters degree, adopted a precious puppy, and fell in love, but I think the moment that really defined my departure from childhood was the moment that I discovered that needed to travel alone.
Summer of 2014, I left the day after Father’s Day despite my Dad’s pleas for me just to stay put. The gravitational pull of the open road was too compelling to let my father’s insecurities about his daughter traveling alone to stop me, so I drove North feeling every ounce as scared as I was bred to feel as a woman growing up in the United States. My narrative, I decided, didn’t have to fall in line with ladies who were told not to travel or camp alone, to view men as possible predators, and to wait around for a prince charming to sweep me off my feet Walt Disney style. I decided that I would do the planning in my life without the American Social Construct of a cookie cutter existence as a female. Rounded edges were boring, and I felt, risk, at least a little risk, made life interesting and worth it.
I drove from Santa Cruz to Portland in one straight shot, surviving only by the powers of the radio, a CD player, and clean rest stops. The drive was far from boring. I fondly remember tears forming at the sides of my eyes as raindrops flooded my windshield, for in the summer of 2014, it had already been awhile since rain had visited California and it was emotionally fulfilling to touch it outside my car window, listen to it hit the roof of my car, and navigate the road that became greener and greener as I traveled North. At one point, I took off my sunglasses to admire all the green unhindered by the dark lenses–suddenly my overly sensitive eyes didn’t need the glasses that tamed California’s harsh browning colors anymore.
That evening, I checked into my hotel full of energy and excitement and when over my itinerary for the next two days: two authors speaking at Powell’s–Jeannette Wells, and Andy Hall–explore downtown area, get a Voodoo Donut, check out at least one Pedalpalooza event (since I had brought my bicycle along), and go to the International Rose Garden. I played the part of the tourist for the next few days and incorporated the Japanese Tea Garden, Farmer’s Market, and an additional solo bike ride.
It was during the first book talk that I learned the phrase that would become my mantra–or at least I would try to make it my mantra for my adult life. Jeannette Wells stated, “Stop seeing the world as a place full of possible enemies and start seeing it as a place full of possible friends.” I carried that saying with me as I drove through Idaho stopping in Twin Falls to see the beautiful jaw dropping Shoshone Falls crash into the green Snake River. And later at this junction in Twin Falls, is where a kind soul at the Honda dealership fixed my punctured tire free of charge and pointed me on the next leg of my journey, recommending I drive through the amazing Craters of the Moon into Yellowstone.
When I entered Yellowstone, I took the saying with me as well. I ditched the comfortable four walls of a hotel room to myself for a tent and I camped alone for three nights. I rode my bicycle a total of 50 miles one day between the camp villages and took the saying with me as I made sketchy swerves into the line of traffic, for I came face to face (well within 5 feet) with an impressive male elk and a buffalo. I trusted the cars and their drivers as my heart leapt from my chest. Staring nature in the face in such an intimate way was something I’d never anticipated. I can only imagine drivers laughed at my discomfort dand the animals thought nothing of my frightened eyes.
When I got home ten days after I had left, I was a changed and tired woman. My confidence charged through the roof and my faith in my independence as an adult doubled. I spent the rest of the summer welcoming a new puppy into my life and catching up on my reading. One of the books I picked up was the Jeannette Wells novel I bought that night I visited her in the Portland Powell’s Bookstore. I was disappointed by the novel, but her words that night defined my own narrative for which I will forever be grateful for. Now I hope they can guide me through these next four years, under what seems to be a government and country I don’t recognize.
“Stop seeing the world as a place full of possible enemies and start seeing it as a place full of possible friends.”