california

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: The Tree of Life + the Journey Home

When people rave about the magic of Joshua Tree, that shit is no joke. It’s like a real life Dr. Seuss land in the desert. That’s why the news of the vandalism in the park during the government shut down was so heartbreaking. We have literal Wonderlands on this planet. Our national parks are so precious. Vital ecosystems that have miraculously been preserved amidst a world of hyper development. Looking back at pictures doesn’t do the actual whimsy of it all justice. But this final leg of my trip happened way before the shutdown, and for that I am very grateful. 

JOSHUA TREE

Talking to trees / photo by Bridget Miller

Talking to trees / photo by Bridget Miller

After a hearty breakfast at Crossroads Cafe and consulting the delightful park rangers at the help center, B and I drove into Joshua Tree National Park while playing the Across the Universe soundtrack which was honestly perfect. 10/10 would recommend. Driving through the roads, surrounded by these magical, winding, wondrous trees was an insane experience. We stopped at Keys View which allowed us to take in a sweeping view of the San Bernardino Mountains. It was also insanely windy. Like push you over the edge kind of windy. Very very windy. There were many laughs some nervous some hearty. You had to be there. Or maybe not. 

Okay, so then we drove to the Lost Horse Mine Trail. This hike was a little disappointing because I read all these AllTrails reviews describing rattlesnakes and cool shit in the mine, but when we arrived, the abandoned mine was fenced in so my dreams of exploring this old shaft were dashed. We still had an amazing trek through dessert land, hanging out with cacti and beetles and birds, and I got to stare longingly at the old machinery. 

After we made it out of there, we stopped to walk through a field of Joshua Trees. It’s hard to describe what it’s like to walk through an open desert space full of these thin trees with twisted branches and bushy green heads. These trees that look like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Harder still to explain how they felt like magic. Like hope. Like home. I touched my forehead to one and let it speak to me, the way trees do. Not with words. With energy. I thanked it. I said goodbye for now.

We moved on to check out the Barker Dam Trail which had lots of fun rocks to climb, and a huge oasis of greenery in the middle of this dry desert land. We hopped from boulder to boulder and crawled into an opening full of petroglyphs. I found a vagina rock and immediately crawled inside it like a sapphic explorer. Bridget made an Italian friend. All around excellent time. In the car, we chowed down on our leftover breakfast while watching these really hot rock climbers pack up their gear and considered taking up rock climbing. I do have a belay certification from Brooklyn Boulders, you know. Dang. Rock climbers.

PIPES CANYON / YUCCA VALLEY

We then had a 30 minute drive to Pioneertown, where we met this really cool chick named Sarah who took us on a hike and showed us the properties of a bunch of different plants. I found her on AirBnB. 10/10 excellent time. We stopped on top of a boulder in the middle of the canyon and drank teas made from a bunch of the herbs and plants we had seen on our walk. This woman loves plants and ethically cultivating them in a sustainable way and was so generous with her passion and her knowledge. It made me feel better about the world and our future and the possibility of living more aligned with the laws of life and nature. We also saw cougar poop, but no cougars which have been my favorite animal since age 6 or something and maybe next time okay?! 

Everything was amazing, but the icing on the cake was LITERAL DOLLAR TACOS. It was Taco Tuesday and we paid $1 for each super full delicious authentic ass tacos. Perfect corn tortillas, the tastiest, most perfectly seasoned fillings. It was fucking heaven. 

Backyard at sunrise

Backyard at sunrise

We also got to know our AirBnB hosts a little who were insanely cool. An older couple, the woman was a civil rights lawyer and her husband was a jazz musician. Apparently, they saw a cougar a few days before we arrived literally hanging out on the telephone pole and I was so sad because yet another missed cougar opportunity. We talked politics past and present over French toast, eggs and bacon. As we got our things together, they did yoga together in the living room. Needless to say, I love them.

END OF THE ROAD

We hit the road for LAX where Bridget would be taking off back to Phoenix and I would be spending the evening with a very dear friend before heading to New Orleans to meet up with my sister for her bachelorette party which is another story entirely which will be omitted from this particular corner of the internet. This stretch of Route 66, which we embarked upon Halloween morning, was a little less eventful, but we did stop in Upland to get our hair washed and blow dried which is something I’m pretty sure I have never done, but loved every minute of in preparation to reintegrate with society. 

Still from La La Land… jk never

Still from La La Land… jk never

After I said bye to Bridget, I met up with the aforementioned darling pal who is one of those pals you can go without speaking to for months or even a year or two, but when you see each other it’s like you’re still in college trying to finish the screenplay that’s due tomorrow or strolling into class late with donuts and coffee. (He is now an actual screenwriter and my hero.) After a lovely catch up sesh, we watched the sunset at Griffith Observatory because I was in the mood for a romantic Halloween evening. It was my last sunset out west. My final chance to watch nature’s water color show so consistently. Aware of and noticing the miracle of the earth turning. It was beautiful and wonderful and everything I could have hoped for, even when the security guard yelled at me for sitting on the railing like a cool kid. 

We spent our Hallow’s Eve nomming on some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had which included a fried roti bread covered in sweetened condensed milk that was so good it make me cry literal tears of happiness. The next morning I said goodbye to my amigo, California, the west, and the best 2 weeks of my life so far. The world seemed bigger and more beautiful. I was very grateful to be in it. 


DARKNESS AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL

so tired but still cute

so tired but still cute

So if it was so wonderful, why did it take me over 3 months to write about this trip? Well, two really fun things happened. First, I had major travel fatigue when I returned. After three weeks of constant moving and stimulation (because after the training in Loveland and the road trip, I was in Nola), my body was doneeee. I had a hard time getting out of bed. My muscles refused to move. All I wanted to do was sleep. It took everything in me just to unpack and do laundry.

Then, the relocation depression set in. (For anyone just joining us, I moved from NYC — my home for the last 7 years — to my hometown, Miami in the fall). In retrospect, moving and this trip were a lot to put myself through at the same time, but that’s how life works sometimes. You can make wonderful choices and create the life you know you want in the long term, but in the moment it can still be very very hard. And then the fact that it feels hard can make you feel weak. And your mind can latch onto that feeling and turn it into your identity. I was so looking forward to moving closer to my family. To reconnecting to my hometown, but I missed my friends. I missed Three Jewels and The Magnet Theater. I missed Prospect Park and Rockaway Beach. I missed the little connections you make with people on the subway. But I knew I left for a reason and I did not and do not miss the buzzing of the city that burrowed into my sensitive nervous system.

But time rests for no one. I had to find yoga studios and healing centers and finish my MFA applications. That last one was the most confronting of all. I think I wrote a post about this recently, but basically, I realized the sense of surrender required when you send your work off for evaluation. It’s in the phrase, “submit your application.” You release your words into the ether and they no longer belong to you. They are no longer your secret project. It all becomes real. I needed coffee to make this happen, a crutch I’m still working to ween myself back off. I’m nursing a withdrawal headache as I type these words. 

In this dark place the holidays happened and I distracted myself with family and social obligations. I drank more than usual. I downloaded dating apps (which is the tell tale sign that I’m going through some shit — that’s not judgement for people who use them earnestly, I just know for me personally it’s a distraction). So how did I get through it? How did I unspiral? 

By trusting the process.

I kept meditating. Journaled when I could. Didn’t practice as much yoga, but I did when I was able to drag myself onto the mat. I let myself sleep. And when I felt strong enough, I took it one step at a time. I cut out alcohol completely. I ate foods that made me feel better instead of whatever was easiest to manage. I exercised a little more. I got outside. I made connections. I started working at Books & Books instead of at home. I found yoga studios I love. I got better every day. I climbed out. 

It’s cool to have a physical reminder of the journey.

It’s cool to have a physical reminder of the journey.

It’s hard to trust the process. I can’t tell you how many times the idea that “if I can’t get my own shit together, how am I supposed to help anyone else” popped into my head. What I learned is the dip into the underworld is part of the process. Healers and teachers are no exception. That my ability to work in those spaces are the reason I’m good at what I do. They give me deeper layers of understanding. I know this mentally, but it’s easy to constantly put pressure of ourselves despite the circumstances. 

So when you’re scrolling along Instagram and seeing those #vanlife #roadtrip #adventure pics, know that they come with a cost. Know that it’s not just sweet views and smiles. There is difficulty everywhere. Would I do it again? 150% Am I planning on doing it again? You know it. Maybe the descent won’t be as hard. Maybe it will be harder. Maybe it will be plain different. But with every cycle and spiral, I learn how to surf the wave of life a little more gracefully. I hope you do, too.

Go back to part 5: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

Back to the beginning: Solo Road Trip as a Rite of Passage

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Get Your Kicks, Grand Canyon + Route 66

While one of my concerns going into his trip was being harassed by truckers, it was a woman in Page, AZ who slapped my ass as I walked into the bar / bowling alley / lunch spot. This kind of shit doesn’t really phase me anymore, but it was a bit surprising getting these really insane comments about my ass in the middle of the day. And then she literally slapped it as I walked back inside to fill my water bottle. I had just picked up my travel buddy for the remainder of the trip, Bridget, and she also got a little verbal action. Yeesh. Moving right along.

We said our good byes to Oscar (the guide mentioned in the last post) and then drove over to the Glen Canyon Dam at his recommendation. The quick pit stop was worth it for the sweet views and delayed us enough to create the most magical accident later but more on that in a moment

Glen Canyon Dam

The drive was delightful although a little nervous at first. Gas prices in Paige were nuts so we waited a ways before stopping to fuel up and ended up at an adorable gas station complete with jerky, tea and free stickers. The second time a woman insisted I keep my dollars in case of emergency on the road. I now have a sweet Grand Canyon sticker on my yellow notebook and I think of her a lot.

GRAND CANYON

After many miles of snacks and singing, we eventually made our way to the Grand Canyon South Rim BY ACCIDENT. I had not realized that Google’s route to Williams, AZ (where we would be camping the next two nights) went through the Canyon entrance and it just so happened to be sunset. It was so fucking beautiful I almost cried. Actually I might have cried. Yet another moment of perfect synchronicity. Every little delay made the trip more and more charmed. Made every little stroke of luck feel like magic. Made me wonder why we don’t live like this. Following. In flow. Instead of trying to smash things into place.

While sunset in the Grand Canyon was 100% worth it, the traffic getting out of the canyon at that time was insane. Unrelated, I’m pretty sure a bat flew past us, but I couldn’t quite see. Needless to say, we arrived at the camp ground way later than we expected to. We stopped for dinner and after a lot of pure darkness driving on a dirt road, we finally found the camp ground and the flashlights I brought came in very handy as we poked around in the dark. 

Grand Canyon South Rim

Our tent didn’t zip up, but rather used little clips which was a super fun discovery as the desert cold crept up on us and I was very grateful for the fleece set up I purchased over at REI. We passed out at 8:30 PM. The next morning we awoke bright and early with the rising sun and caught a meditation sesh with the heat of the car. After a few delays and a trip to the visitor center, we settled on Horseshoe Canyon for our hike. A more challenging hike with less foot traffic and zero donkeys. I never really knew what hiking path descriptions were talking about when they mentioned a copious amount of “switchbacks” but now I certainly do. They are zig-zaggy bits that help you get down really steep ass sections of mountain rock. Fuck me gently. 

The day was gorgeous, and we were surrounded by other worldly rocks, turning leaves, evergreens, we even saw a hawk dive the fuck down from the sky towards some sort of prey. Nature. Majesty. Etc. The thing about hiking the Grand Canyon is that the uphill part is on your way back. So the hard part is last. People die because they underestimate how long it will take to get back. I obviously didn’t die, but I was CONCERNED when it felt like we were the last folks on the trail heading back.

After 6 hours, we finally made it back to the trailhead. I don’t think I had ever been more tired. When we gazed back at how far we traveled, I was very fucking impressed. We rewarded ourselves with $2 8 minute showers. It was my first shower in 3 days and honestly the best $2 I had ever spent. My hair was clean, my body was warm, I used a flannel as a towel. Truly thriving. On our way out of the park there were hella elks trooping around. Big papa with his horns. Big mama nomming with the babes. It was a wonderland of large mammals. On our way back to camp, we stopped for dinner at a spot called Yippee-I -O and it was the perfect touristy cheese fest we were hoping for. We drank some local beers and then called it a day.

ROUTE 66

Next morning, bright and early once again, we took off towards the Yucca Valley. Time to dominate the Historic Route 66. We had a few stops along the way. First we stopped in Seligman. Cute little tourist spot. Time to pee and peek in the gifts shops and chat with some folks on a bus tour. We stopped for lunch at a diner in Kingman which was adorable. We had Dr. Peppers and patty melts. My stomach did not love me on this trip.

After fueling up, we went through the Black Mountains. MY DUDE. I was not prepared for this. This was a very narrow, steep and winding part of the road that went straight through the mountains and I understand why they built the more modern highway elsewhere. After 15 minutes straight of hugging the meridian, We made it to Sitgreaves Pass which was a memorial for the ashes of local folks. You park your car and walk to the edge where dozens of marked memorial spots reside. I straight up thought we might have hit a graveyard, but the ground was pure rock so that was a quick no. ANYWAYS, as you know by now I love hanging with dead people so it was very cool to be like what’s up in this very special place. All these little memorials were decorated so cute like people probably come and hang and pour one out for their homies and it felt like a tender happy sadness kind of like the Mexican cemetery in Santa Fe. 

Around the bend, we hit Oatman, Arizona, the most touristy little ghost town you ever did see. Hella burros (donkeys), trinket tourist stores littered with Jesus and gun paraphernalia in such a way it screamed “why, yes, this is very much a red state.” (Literally there were two signs right next to each other which I essence said “Jesus + kindness” and “DON’T YOU FUCKING TAKE MY GUNS”). Oh, America. 

After loading up on gas and snacks (and word to the wise, if you’re headed from AZ to CA make sure you get gas in AZ because it’s twice as expensive in CA), we drove past the border, into Needles, past the Mohave Desert through some of the most desolate shit I have ever seen. It was magic. We stopped in Goffs which might have been my favorite part of the day. This was a fully abandoned city, a true ghost town. As we explored some of the structures, Bridget casually mentioned, “watch out, there might be rattlesnakes.” Cool. We saw a sign for an old saloon, what appeared to be a diner / grocery store and a row of old mailboxes. We kept driving along past abandoned railroad tracks and old decaying tractor parts. Houses and shacks that stood like graves and memorials on the way to the next marker of civilization. 

Just before we arrived in Twentynine Palms, we stumbled upon what I now know are referred to as salt flats off of CA-127. We saw a couple park and check it out so we decided we wouldn’t die. This is where Bridget took the dope picture that now graces the banner of my homepage. As you can see, it was a bonkers beautiful crystal paradise. We had no idea what it was, but guessed it must be salt since I saw a sign that said sodium chloride earlier, and then Bridget tasted it to make sure, the brave lady. We also heard loud booming sounds which may or may not have been explosions which led me to believe they may have been mines? EDIT: after more research I’ve discovered it’s a dry lake called Bristol Lake!

After that last stop, we made out way towards the Yucca Valley seeing hippie ass houses and domes over a magical fucking sunset. We picked up tacos and tamales at a spot called Artega’s spending I swear like $4 each and met up with our hosts for the evening, a baller couple that consisted of a lawyer / activist and jazz musician where we enjoyed a bed and a bathroom to prep for the next day in Joshua Tree.

Check out part 6: The Tree of Life + the Journey Home

Go back to part 4: Challenges + Reservations