A Journey in Images through Utah’s Canyonlands National Forest

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You’re heading to desert country. From Monticello, Utah the 191 North goes through a Martian desert landscape all the way to Moab, an oasis of a city in the middle of the canyons. Before Moab, though, you turn left into Canyonlands National Forest and take the 22 mile drive to Needles Overlook. As you’re driving you come across a deer, or more like the deer comes across your car, and you pull over to follow it with your camera. You don’t want to cause it too much anxiety so you keep your distance.

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Every few feet you walk it walks one, but keeps an eye on you. At some point, it determines you’re safe despite the odd clicking noise you’re making. It continues to eat as you step on a cactus.

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And what a beautiful cactus it was, you reflect. On your way back to your car you take a lingering glance at the rock structure only to be overwhelmed by the weight of it. For miles, you’ve been driving through this Martian landscape and have yet to see a single soul, save the deer.

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You wonder when, if ever, you will get to the end of this back country road. All of a sudden you get a call, despite the persistent feeling of isolation out here. It’s from an 855 number. It’s your debt collector.

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“Hello?” She asks.

“Um… Hi?” you respond.

“I’m calling about a personal business matter, can you confirm your identity?”

You confirm.

“So I’m actually from a debt collection agency. Do you have a moment?”

In fact, you assure her, you’ve been having lots of moments. You’re living out of your car traveling America and, on top of this debt, you have college debt you have to think about as well. No, you don’t have a job. The little money you saved up you are using to pay for gas and peace of mind. Right this moment you’re driving through the desert in your underwear with your heater on full blast to cool down your transmission, as it works like a generator and it really is quite hot out here and how did she manage to call you anyway?

“Oh, I see,” she says. You can hear a slight chuckle.

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You tell her you’re surprised her call even went through.

“Well what about your parents?”
“What about my parents?”

You think you hear a nod of agreement.

“Right. Well. I’ll call you back in 30 days, is that alright?”

You both laugh.

“It was nice speaking with you,” she says.

You’ve been avoiding that call and hanging up on this woman for months now, trying to avoid this emergency room bill you received when you couldn’t afford health insurance and got denied Medicaid. After this call, a weight lifts off your shoulders and you drive a little faster and let out a long, trailing scream. It sounds more like a laugh.

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For a moment, you were pulled back to Earth, back to reality, and the relinquishing of it for a second time has your feeling of lightheartedness exponentially increasing. Your heart rate feels like one long beep. Funny, how no heartbeat and a constant one can both feel like a straight line heading deep into the Canyonlands. You go commando.

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Finally, you reach Needles Outlook.

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You remain there for a while, fixing your car, talking to bikers, eating out of cans.

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A touring older couple with the most massive wheels you’ve ever seen on a Jeep Cherokee picks up conversation with you. For five years they have been searching for a Spanish horse carved into the red rock somewhere in the park. You don’t ask where it is. Asking would be a paradox to the journey of finding it. You don’t even look it up on google. Instead, on your way back to the highway, you fantasize about finding the massive sculpture, about the five-year journey through the desert it took the couple to find it. You’ll be back one day.

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Roadtrip America: Ridgeway, CO to Durango, CO: Million Dollar Highway

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If you saw my other post, then you may be aware that the Million Dollar Highway is slightly dangerous road with steep inclines (I found it on dangerousroads.com, no kidding). It’s also incredibly beautiful, however.

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The Million Dollar Highway is a part of highway 550 and starts, depending on who you ask, in Ridgway or Ouray, Colorado and ends in Durango, Colorado. For a lot of the time, the road ends when the land does. That is: at the edge of the cliff. Oh, and there’s no safe guards. But if you’re confident in your ability to not swerve even slightly, the view is definitely worth the anxiety. (Click the photos)

How to Survive the Million Dollar Highway Without Your Brakes*

(Do not do this!)

I have not always been a careful driver. My brakes have taken a beating. So before heading to Ouray to begin my drive through the Million Dollar Highway, I stopped in Montrose just to see how damaged my poor Betty the Buick is.

Consensus: pretty bad.

My rotors could not safely be filed down and my brake pads were a few millimeters to nonexistent, Wayne assured me. He took me out back where poor Betty was being manhandled and defiled by a car lift and a mechanic. Wayne asked me if I wanted to replace the pads and rotors for $700. I laughed.

On the bright side, though my front wheel treads showed need for replacement, my back tires were looking good. I thanked good ol’ Wayne and the mechanic and rescued Betty from her shame.

And on we went.

So, if you’re like me, relatively ballsy and trying to save money, here’s how you survive the Million Dollar Highway without touching your brakes once.

Use your gears! Crank that baby into a lower gear instead of pressing your brakes when you’re going down that super dangerous mountain. Make sure to keep your RPM at a normal speed, though, I make sure to keep it under 2.5. And check your engine heating!

Turn on your air conditioning and radio and anything else you got! This will put pressure on your transmission and help you slow down.

Roll down your windows.

Hope for the best.

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*I am not a professional in fact I’m barely an amateur so take my advice with caution.

** I felt comfortable doing this because I had to and because I wanted to make sure my brakes were available to me if I needed them so I was conserving my brake pads. Also, I kept one hand conscious of my emergency brake the whole time.

Roadside Update

When driving cross country there is nothing better than road side convenience. I pulled over to get my breaks looked at and next to the shop was a laundromat. I haven’t been wearing a lot of clothes, since I don’t have many, but the ones I do have are absolutely filthy thanks to the last two weeks. The laundromat even has WiFi so I got the chance to write this and my other posts which are on Colorado.

It’s been a wild ride the last week. I was in Denver and then Cañon City . I even briefly spent some time in a little town called Victor. Colorado has done a number on my heartstrings, which is half the reason why I have been having a hard time writing my next posts which are about it. The other half is related to insobriety. I mean, I’m in Colorado!

I’ve been visiting friends old and new, camping, and garnering supplies. My car is doing well, knock on wood.

Keep an eye out for my posts on CO! I promise they’re coming. Also, I have some other ones in mind such as road playlists and how to travel for free.

 

Two Nights in Wilting, Iowa

A day in my dad calls while I was, what else, driving. “You know what’d be nice?” He said. “If you visited your Great Aunt Jan.” This was his way of pawning off his familial guilt. You know, the one garnered from lack of acknowledging the existence of one’s distant relatives?

DSC_3943.jpgGreat Jan lives just outside a small town in Iowa called Wilton in a small housing complex of made up of 15 units. I call this housing complex Wilting, Iowa because it’s made up of 15 elderly people who stay alive by tending to the small five by ten patch of garden each one is provided outside their front doors, especially Mary-Anne. We’ll get to her in a second. Wilting: gnats more prevalent than dust in heavy summer air and the only thing more prevalent than the gnats was the gossip. For a housing complex so small there was a whole lot of news to talk about. As Great Aunt Jan says: “anywho,” the whole town might well have been Wilting, Iowa.

Great Aunt Jan is your classic super scary, soft-spoken, self sufficient mid-American relative you always forget you have until a few days after your birthday when your parents call you at college to inform you of that relative’s annual birthday card. The first and last time I met Jan I first met her she was living in an old farm house in the middle of nowhere complete with rusted key holes and a dial up phone in the basement. I didn’t know then whether she’s going to kill me in my sleep or make hash browns in the morning and I still don’t. Her stone-cold demeanor suggests both.

I got in around two in the morning. Just as I was falling asleep, around three, the train went by. At least I thought it did, but then I realized it was someone playing the accordion in the other room. Except there was no other room other than the one Jan was in and there was no way she had gotten back up to do a diddy. That’s just not how Jan lives her life. The accordion was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard through a wall, melodious and getting louder by the second. Turns out it was the train. It might as well have been coming into town through her front door and breaking through my rem cycle.

Let me tell you more about Jan. Doilies on everything, even the shower curtain. She’s one of those people that has never questioned the fabric of their existence as it’s “nothing to worry about.” She talks in monotone no matter what and she talks nonstop, never saying the same thing twice. Her stories always have a beginning, middle, and punchline-ending. She has a story for everything I say and everything I don’t say. On the first day I asked if I could borrow a can opener and the price was one anecdote about a female relative or other, how when they were once young, running away from home, but had not gotten very far as they had to come back for a can opener. Surprisingly accurate in my case as well. Always remember a can opener, kids. So when she started talking about what’s been up in Wilting, of course I was interested, but only half paying attention. Well what was up was a kidnapping.

Now Mary-Anne is the tenant in apartment fifteen. As I was grabbing Jan’s mail my first morning at Wilting I couldn’t help but notice the garden outside of M.A’s (M.A for Mary-Anne, but also for MAstermind) door. It was the most catered to, decorated, and extravagant one in Wilting. Well behind every beauty there’s a beast.

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Mary-Anne’s gaudy garden

Great Aunt Jan loves her tulips. Her garden is probably one of the sparsest in Wilting, but that’s because she knows what she likes and she doesn’t compensate for anything else. Jan is a no-frills kind of gal (except for the doilies). But when her tulips weren’t coming up this season she got worried. This poor woman went to dig them up one day only to find they were missing. Not only were they missing, but the container she put them in was missing as well.

A few days later, M.A. strikes up conversation, claiming she hadn’t stolen Jan’s tulips. Jan hadn’t yet mentioned her tulips to anyone. M.A. had gone, in the middle of the night, and dug up Great Aunt Jan’s tulip bulbs, straight out of the ground. This is how badly M.A. needed to live through her plants.

Another time, Jan’s lilies started showing up in the garden of M.A. When confronted, M.A. shrugged and said maybe the wind blew them over. They both knew very well that Jan’s lilies didn’t grow from seeds.

But Jan assured me, this Mary-Anne is a charmer. So here’s what I learned in Wilting, Iowa: Watch out for those charmers and don’t move to Illinois. It’s one of the most broken crooked states there is, but only after Wilting, the home of the #1 bulb thief Mary-Anne.

Day 1: Eager, Young, and Unqualified

I’m known to be spontaneous, so it came as no surprise when I called my parents half way out of Florida when I was supposed to be going home to the Florida Keys.

“You’re where?” Dad said, “Oh, O.K. Well, have fun.” And that was pretty much it.

I’m writing to you from a local cafe called “Local Cafe” in Fayetteville, TN. It’s officially Day 1. I woke up in a Super Walmart parking lot in Grandsden, AL much to the surprise of the guy waiting for his partner in his car next to me. I smiled and got on my way. First stop: Noccalula Falls. Not much was falling, so I headed North.DSC_3835

This is how badly I wanted to get out of Florida: I changed my tampon at a stoplight in Orlando. Oh, by the way, always keep toilet paper in your car. You just never know.

Anyway, let’s take a little inventory:

$800

Boots

Assorted tampons found in my college’s “free store”

Birth certificate

Hammock

Rope

Clothes

Passport

Drivers License

My Lucky Yu-Gi-Oh Card “Dian Keto the Cure Master” my close friend Hunter gave to me one night I was doing LSD at a party.

IMG_9676And that’s about it. Right about now I really wish I had brought a can opener and a tent, they’ll have to be got on the way.

I don’t exactly have a destination, except maybe Alaska, and I don’t exactly have a route, except maybe West, but that’s the beauty of it.

I graduated from college four days ago. The last couple of weeks I’ve been applying to myriad of marketing and publishing jobs in NYC, LA, and DC. I got some of them, but none of them seemed appealing. My college was the first place I have 

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lived for more than a year since I was 8, and I really didn’t feel like continuing the streak of long-stays. I had to get on the move. I didn’t know this, however, until I was driving 

home. Needless to say, I turned around and headed straight on out of Florida, less the sunshine state and more the state Americans come to die. I didn’t feel like dying, I had just graduated.

So here I am. I’m not trying to Into the Wild this, but this morning I woke up in my trunk outside Walmart in Gadsden and knocked my head on bananas I hanged on a handle with my bra and, god dang it, I felt alive.

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So far all I’ve seen is some really depressing scenes of American food before it becomes food, but I wouldn’t exactly call them living animals, either. I was drinking bone broth out of the carton when I passed the Tyson Chickens. I think I may go vegetarian.

I also passed some extremely skinny curious cows.

I’ll keep you all updated as to where I am and whether I’m coming back.

P.S.

If you feel like going on a little road trip and you’re in IL, TN, or CO, hit me up!