roap trip

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

I pulled up to an adobe house that I couldn’t quite see in the dark night. Julie, my host for the next three nights, came out to greet me and show me into the homiest, cozy, eclectic, perfect abode she called home. At the dinner table sat a few of her friends, who invited me to join them at the wooden dinner table. I sat at the head with Julie to my right and Frank to my left. Everyone at this table was some sort of magical, but Frank was an astrologer who immediately took an interest in my chart. With my permission he started stating insights he gleaned from my planetary placements and the angles they met. When everyone realized how tired I was after a night of no sleep and a day of hiking and driving, he declared he needed time with the chart and that we would pick up the following evening.

After a quick shower, I shoved in my ear plugs and passed the fuck out. I awoke the next morning to cloudy skies and my period. That may sound like a bummer, but getting my period 3 days early, when I had running water, a bed and a laundry machine, was just another surprise that made this trip feel totally magical. The clouds made me feel alright about taking it slow. I didn’t have a ton of plans for Santa Fe, and now I knew why. My body needed rest after the week I had put it through. Amazing, transformative, life changing, but three hikes a day in Loveland, watching every sunrise, and the mountain of sand the day before left a deficit I needed to pay. And so, I curled up with some tea, dealt with some emails and nursed my cramps with the hot water bottle I made sure to pack. 

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Eventually, I felt recovered and hungry enough to venture out making my way to Maria’s, a homey and casual little spot that was totally decked out for Dia de los Muertos. When my server, a Mexican man named Miguel who could have been in his 40s with a medium build came to take my order I told him I was deciding between the pose and the flautas. Without waiting for me to confirm, he replied that I would be having the flautas and walked away. I sat back surprised, but absolutely loving that perfect display of masculine / emperor / structural energy. It was like “decision made, I will take care of you and you will not regret it.” 

I did not. Those flautas were so friggin bomb it was like I catapulted into another dimension and that was a crispy cheesy dimension full of tasty green chile. For dessert I ordered natilla, a Spanish custard topped with cinnamon and I swear it tasted just like my great-grandmother’s used to. Another unexpected magical moment. How could I be so lucky?

Love at first sight

After my meal, I saw a cemetery near by on the map and decided to walk over, but hit an antique store on my way. Inside I saw the most insane collection of items big and small from statues that belonged in churches to animal heads to this WWII jumpsuit that I would have bought were it not made for a man twice my hight.

Eventually, I found my item — an old school hand fan from a funeral home with the words “licensed lady embalmer” written across the center. Thrilled and waving my fan despite the 60 degree weather and light rain, I sauntered over to the tiny cemetery next door and greeted its residents. Another quiet homey resting place, this time in the middle of a city.

There were two other cemeteries a short drive away. I parked in the Rosario Cemetery and meditated in the car since as the rain drummed all around. It felt cheery in there. So close to Dia de los Muertos, you could feel the festivity brewing along the veil. With a smile, I departed to see the Santa Fe National Cemetery before closing time. The contrast jarred my nervous system as I pulled up beside rows and rows of uniform white crosses. Everything felt heavier. 

Like the pain of a thousand souls ripped from life as we know it too soon hanging from the branches of every tree, resting over every blade of grass and rising from the decaying bodies below, their process slowed by embalming and coffins.

I stayed as long as I could, and then ran off to make a Trader Joe’s stop before returning to Julie’s house. I had dinner with her, Frank and some other friends. Later that evening Frank came to my room to talk astrology and after two hours of deep soul cutting truths, we called it a night.

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The next morning was as gloomy as the last so ya girl decided to treat herself to a spa day. On this day I sustained my only injury of the journey by tripping up the stairs in the plastic spa sandals and cutting my big toe. Great job, me. 

After some soaks and meditation, I enjoyed a bowl of ramen while naked underneath my robe (by far my favorite feature of this place) and a new friend who was also enjoying a solo day. Then it was time to pick up hiking poles and a first aid kit and socks at REI and I managed to find the only comic book store in Santa Fe like a true nerd.

When I got back, the haze lifted I finally experienced a true Santa Fe sunset. I’m talking 360 degrees of pink and orange cotton candy surrounding me. It was the perfect reward for getting laundry done like a responsible traveler who definitely was out of clean yoga pants and socks.

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That night, I drove to Meow Wolf, an interactive art installation with a weird Stranger Things like story attached to it. I made my way to the rooms that morphed into psychedelic, dreamlike and magical landscapes like an adult playground. 

At one point, I decided to lay down in this empty treehouse looking thing to connect to myself and the energy around me when a group of friends who I later found out were all on a legal version of LSD stomped in and semi-adopted me into their crew. After an evening of exploring, conversation and music, I drove back to Julie’s for the last time. Standing in the light of the full moon, she shined so bright I cast a shadow.

For so long I thought, “my people are in New York.” With every encounter, it became clearer that “my people” are everywhere.

Check out part 4: Challenges + Reservations

Go back to part 2: Sand Dunes and the road to Santa Fe

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: Sand Dunes + the road to Santa Fe

Sandstone on the dash, Cemetery ahead

Sandstone on the dash, Cemetery ahead

My first stop on day two, just after 9AM, was a tiny town called Villa Grove. Before I entered the town proper, the cemetery called me and I pulled off onto a short dirt road. I like to meet the dead of the places I visit. Pay my respects and my attention to what the history feels like. I’ll have you know, they were quite charming. Quiet, peaceful, serene, tender, simple. Small town cemeteries fascinate me. Instead of lavish stones and sculptures, their simple, sometimes uneven slabs and crosses make them feel uniquely cared for by an intimate community that knew each member well. Unlike the cemeteries I am most familiar with that require a vehicle to travel the length of, here, all the departed tenets remain within eyeshot. 

 After taking in the silence, I moved on to the small general store / coffee shop to use the bathroom and grab a second cup of coffee. A woman named Amber made me a cappuccino while I browsed the store and overheard a couple of old men chatting about immigration. 

Did you hear about those people from Guatemala? They’re sayin’ it’s so bad down there, they’d rather die at the border than stay. Can you imagine?

It was a relief to hear born and bred Americans speaking with empathy instead of the usual fear and anger.

Amber passed me my drink and wouldn’t let me tip her. “No, honey. You might need that on the road.” I thanked her and smiled, overcome by the kindness of strangers.

At the instructions of a friend, I stopped at the Mosca Pit Stop before turning towards the dunes to pick up quinoa, which I should probably make this week, and beef jerky, which I ate pretty much immediately. There, too, I encountered kind women happy to help and answer questions before sending me on my way. I spent so much of this trip preparing for danger, I was genuinely surprised by how easy and friendly and wonderful every human being I met had been thus far.

Then I spent a solid 10 minutes watching a raven go to town on a trash can before I pulling back onto the road.

Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve

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At the base of the dunes, I found a ton of pretty rocks and every couple of steps I just HAD to bend down to inspect them. The variety of colors and shapes and patterns could make a kaleidoscope envious. I am not ashamed to say I talk to all beings now and saying hello to every rock that called to me, granted a certain kind of playfulness and community to the whole endeavor. Maybe that’s why I never felt alone… Then again, maybe it’s because as I organized my shit in the car, a man in his 70s crowned with uniformly white hair and clad in a university sweater chatted with me for about 20 minutes after I said hello. (Or both)

Barefoot hiking FTW

Barefoot hiking FTW

Hiking up a mountain of sand is partially Sisyphean. For every step up you take, you sink down at least a half step. The dunes also don’t form linearly. You go up one, then you have to come down a bit to make it to the next one that reaches a bit higher. This would be frustrating if it weren’t so fun. After about an hour of trekking up and careening down, I ran into a mother and her child trotting along barefoot. BINGO.

I sat down and ripped off my hiking boots and socks, tied my laces around the strap of my backpack and continued on, lighter, freer, with the familiar scratch of sand wrapping me in it’s warm blanket like embrace. I also noticed the soft padding of my feet allowed me to stay elevated on the harder patches of sand and sink a little less in the softer ones with me weight distributing more evenly. Also, I was hiking barefoot and it was dope AF.

When I finally made it to the 2nd highest dune (the highest one was much much further and not happening), I snuggled up and journaled, closing my eyes for a bit to enjoy the feeling. I watched the sand shift soft and steady in packed black layers among the tan, feeling cool shifts beneath the surface. Looking around you could see the shadows morph and change and I kept hearing Mufasa in my head saying, “everything the light touches in our kingdom.”

“non-lesson” learned

“non-lesson” learned

Hiking back down was magic, sliding and swirling in the sand like a friggin earth bender. I found a patch of grass and a few flowers and laid beside them, asking the mountain what it was teaching me. I felt heat spread like a flower blooming between my shoulder blades. Translating the messages isn’t an exact science, but it was something like, “not everything has to be a lesson, it can just be joyful.” Which, of course, was a lesson in and of itself. 

I constantly wonder, how did I get so lucky? How do these places I’ve never been feel like coming home?

Driving to New Mexico

Cruising down CO-159 in the mid-late afternoon, felt like drifting towards a portal. Somethings about the vast valleys, the outline of the mountain ranges, the surprisingly symmetrical cloud formations, the way the blue and whites of the sky contrasted the yellow beige and grey below… sent me reeling. And then my raven friends would say hello and bring me back. And then my navigation would remind me to keep going straight. Cool.

San Luis Peoples Ditch

San Luis Peoples Ditch

Still not bored, still digging my amazing playlist, still awestruck by every ranch and tree and abandoned hut along my path. My favorite thins to drive past were these yards littered with multicolored tractors. They looked like abandoned adult playgrounds. I stopped in San Luis, described as the oldest continuously occupied town in Colorado, to talk to another tree and stare at the San Luis Peoples Ditch, which is a small channel of water and not a ditch of people like it sounds at first. Yikes.

I stopped for gas, and a man in his 40s let me know my hood was slightly popped. I thanked him and pressed down hard, high on human kindness and the music of his Burqueño accent, so different, but reminiscent of the Miami accent back home.

I eventually made it into Taos for a very late lunch / early dinner at around 4 PM and stopped at a spot called Bella’s. My server was a delightfully polite and slightly awkward young man named Scott. I had my first taste of green Chile which can I tell you, my friends, did not disappoint. It was the most delicious plate of chiles rellenos I has ever had. As I was finishing up, older couples started to tickle in. A pair sat next to one another (instead of across) at a four top table. It looked like love.

After dinner I decided to walk around and saw a beautiful Adobe church. It warmed my heart until I saw a fake grave for all the aborted fetuses. Double yikes. I stepped into a store within the historic Taos Plaza and picked up a few locally made items like incense and soap. I talked with the woman at the counter, Sunshyne, about arrowheads and how my dad wants a viking funeral and she mentioned that Vikings was her favorite show and she was opening an Etsy store and will be selling custom obsidian arrowheads so you’re welcome, dad, I have your funeral arrow.

I also noticed the sage bundles and asked her how she felt about non-native using white sage and the de-colonization of spiritual practices. She said that people’s intentions matter, sourcing matters. There are people whose livelihood is linked to harvesting sage in safe and responsible ways. Buying from them is not a problem. Of course, this is not everyone’s opinion and this is a longer conversation and I honestly hesitated including this, but I thought I’d would be better to share it for anyone who might be interested. (I personally no longer use white sage in my practice, nor do I use the term “smudging”.) There were also bundles of non-native plants that are harmful for the environment and make great alternatives.

After a quick stroll around town, I was on my way to my final destination of the day. The sun was starting to set, and the Land of Enchantment was coming to life. Within the hour, warm oranges and pinks gave way to cool blues. Rolling throw the mountains in the dark, I could see a sliver of light though the clouds, as if the kids were holding up a flashlight. Clouds gave way to a nearly full moon, and by her light, I made it to Santa Fe.

Read part 3: Celestial Surprises in the Land of Enchantment

Go back to part 1: An Introduction

Solo Road Trip as Rite of Passage: An Introduction

There are so many stories of men finding themselves in the great outdoors and on the open road. This great big adventure open to them like a baptism into reality and nature and life. As I started planning my route, I realized how few women I had as role models to guide me and it honestly freaked the hell out of me. Is this safe? Will I die? Can I handle an emergency situation on my own?

I may not have realized it when the planning first started, but I essentially designed my own Rite of Passage road trip. I booked a five day training in Loveland, Colorado with Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, an initiation in and of itself, and decided it would be the perfect kick off to this trip. Excavating the interior before expanding into the exterior. In case you haven’t noticed, excavation and expansion is kind of my thing. 

Of course I meet another Northwestern alum

Of course I meet another Northwestern alum

And so for 5 days, I sat in lectures and hiked and watched the sun rise and set and met other curious, beautiful, creative, spiritual beings from all over the world. In the training Dr. E, as everyone calls her, asked us to allow what we learned to marinate, like a pressure cooker, and so I’ll be keeping that to myself for now, but here is what happened after (along with some tips and tricks should you feel called tonplan your own adventure).

From October 21 - October 31, I drove over 2,000 miles through Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. The first thousand miles on my own. The second thousand, with a friend I picked up in Page, AZ. 

One of the many sunsets on the ranch in Loveland

One of the many sunsets on the ranch in Loveland

Taking the first leg of the trip alone was important to me. To prove to myself that I can handle anything. And as your friendly neighborhood Capricorn, I was prepared. I booked AirBnBs which ranged from a private room in a home in Santa Fe, to a hostel in Salida, CO, to a tent near the Grand Canyon, to a hogan on an unnamed road on the Navajo reservation. I planned my big drives making sure I’d arrive at my destinations by sundown (which I missed by an hour or 2 a few times, but it was actually alright.)

I then packed and gathered supplies. Some of the most important items included: my green jacket, sunglasses, caps, fleece jacket and pants, Lululemon pants (literally the guy at REI was like, “they’re honestly the perfect hiking pants”), first aid kit, water bottle canteens, wool socks, hiking boots and poles, a flashlight with backup batteries, Swiss army knife, mace (thanks, mom), rx bars, protein powder, emergen-C, instant coffee, Advil, a hot water bottle, Thinx, tampons (yes I had my period on this trip), a lacrosse ball (for rolling out sore muscles), journals, crystals and a tarot deck because duh. 

I also wore my mala beads throughout the entire trip. They extend down to just below my pelvis and so they felt like a protection spell and served me well. I also kept a few crystals in the car given to me by my darling Bakara when I visited her at Everyday Magic for safe travel including sandstone and red tiger’s eye (thank you so much, the sandstone didn’t leave my dash). I also threw in a little pyrite for power and luck. These items are not necessary, but having talismans for protection really helped me feel more capable and less alone. They helped me trust my intuition and my instincts and my intellect. To sum: never say no to help.

I have to say having five days to work towards finding my center (and acclimating to the altitude) was super helpful so if you’re flying to a starting point, definitely do that. I felt almost charmed throughout the trip with every setback having a unique and perfect outcome. Starting with my car rental. 

The lady that helped me, suggested I upgrade to a Nissan Murano for the navigation and honestly I’m so in love with that car now. We had the best time together. I haven’t owned a car since high school, but this car rules in my very humble opinion. I picked it up at around 2:30 or 3PM and started driving down I-70. I was going to the Great Sand Dunes the next morning and wanted to make sure I was off the road by sunset because I know reception and light can be tricky in the mountains so my destination was a hostel in Salida, CO. Driving through those mountain ranges and valleys was breathtaking. The way rock and sky met and dipped and made way for ranches and pines. I was literally weaving in and out of the Rocky Mountains. I even sped alongside the Arkansas River for a spell. I will say that on day 1, I was not very good at stopping for historic views because I had already passed them by the time I realized I could pull over, but there was so much to see from the car, it didn’t really matter. 

The sun was just starting to set as I pulled off the highway and into the beautiful little mountain town, guided by the glow of a waxing moon. I stopped for a quick dinner at a local bar and chatted with an artist who owned a gallery in town. I had all the tips about not letting anyone know you’re alone in the back of my mind, and of course, didn’t give away any details of my plans or lodging, but you know how you can just tell when someone is buena gente? This town just felt good. 

Back at the hostel, I was given the tour and picked my bunk, the second tier in a three level bunk bed toward the back, and settled in. I had to be up at 6AM for the drive to the Dunes so I expected to be in bed early, but I got sucked into reading poetry and playing Uno with a group of regulars who totally blew the lid off of what my experience of a life could be. Here were people so different from my usual crowd in Miami or New York and I felt like I fit in immediately. My 10pm bed time soon turned to after 1am, after meeting another Cuban who lived in this town. 

The next morning one of the veterans (as in army) I had met made breakfast while I made coffee and we spent the morning talking before we went our separate ways, a little later than I had planned, but well worth it for the company. My adventure had just begun, and what an initiation to the road it was. 

Read part 2: Sand Dunes + the road to Santa Fe