joshua tree

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