To Look For America

National Parks.jpeg

Wanderlust levels were high and yet I still tried to talk myself out of traveling and delayed a day. I wasn’t ready and it made more sense to purchase my National Park pass on the first of the month and I couldn’t breathe out of my nose and I wasn’t sure whether to book a hotel. I woke up later than I meant to on Saturday and probably would have delayed further if my overwhelming desire to go didn’t make that impossible.

My first National Park of the year was Joshua Tree. It was colder and more beautiful than I imagined. Some areas are perfectly flat and you can see Joshua trees scattered into the distance, and then there are rock formations that look almost unnatural. There weren’t too many people in the park, but it is a popular place for rock climbers, so it caught me by surprise every time I saw someone standing high up on the rocks or repelling down them.

I went on some of the short nature walks and stopped at most of the sights, but I didn’t have enough time or the warm clothing to try one of the longer hikes. I hate for my first step in any new adventure to be “buy a bunch of stuff,” but there are some practical realities to spending time in nature (and my mom is going to send me my old ski jacket). The sun was setting while I was driving back through the park and it was beautiful.

I say that I love traveling alone, but aside from my trip to Germany, I really haven’t done that much solo travel. I didn’t expect it to be an issue for a professional introvert a couple hours from home, but feelings came up the moment I arrived. My hotel kind of creeped me out, because it was mostly abandoned.  I realized I hadn’t told anyone where I was and then I wasn’t sure who to tell. Scenes from true crime shows started playing in my head; the desert is a great setting for everything weird. As the sun was setting among alien-looking rock formations and I found myself scared to return to my hotel, I had a real sense of being alone in the world.

I always feel completely silly for having these feelings, but I give myself permission to do whatever I need to to feel comfortable. Usually just the idea that I can pack up and go home, leave any situation that makes me uneasy, eat McDonald’s in a foreign country, or turn on the TV for background noise is the crutch I need to deal with the rest of the unknown. I got over my fear pretty quickly and ended up feeling just fine.

When I picked up On The Road, I was expecting to be swept away by the romance of travel, and was instead both please and disappointed when Kerouac didn’t make life on the road look easy. There are mountaintop moments of absolute joy, but there are just as many moments of despair. Everything is more extreme than it is at home, so you are forced to confront your feelings, but the road ahead keeps you from getting stuck. The hard part of travel becomes part of the narrative, the unglamorous is eventually forgotten and the brilliant moments last forever.

I went back to the park on Sunday morning to snap some more pictures, decide what trails to hike on my return visit, write in my journal for a while, and sing “America” at the top of my lungs on the drive out.