Wyoming Part 2

If you haven’t read Wyoming Part 1, I urge you do to so before reading this post. In that last post, I was left stranded on the side of a mountain, my car at a sharp angle to the Earth’s sweet, sweet axis. Not fun stuff, but definitely funny.

All my friend Mana and I had to bail ourselves out of this snow jail was my poop shovel, which they assured me was no shovel at all, but a small trowel. Walmart lied to me.

Anyway, it was pretty hopeless from the start, but it definitely got worse thanks to two guys who showed up in their truck. To be fair, they were there to help. When they got there, the first thing they did was make it worse. They hooked up my car to theirs and tried to pull it out, to no avail. My car fell deeper off the road and into more problematic snow bank-yness. Next, they tried to drive behind us to pull Betty out from behind. Half-way into this feat two Florida girls are stuck in a Buick on the side of a snow bank, and two guys from Wyoming are stuck in a truck on the other side.

But they had a shovel.

With our powers combined (their shovel, my small axe, and my small poop trowel), we managed to free their truck from the snow in about four hours. Betty the Buick was still stuck. We tried once more to tow her from the depths and this time the tow line broke. They managed to scrounge up another tow line from their truck and we were finally free.

I was taken out for a drink by the guy who owned the truck later that evening in celebration. This proved to be the least fun moment of my life.

I’m writing this post-Wyoming at a desk in a computer lab I’ve been at for the last 12 hours, so bear with me. This part of the story telling will be quick and glossy.

The guy with the truck, lets call him Dan, I learned trapped in his car, was a Trump-supporting, gun-range manager with a silencer equipped to a 22′ in the middle seat when he picked me up. He believed Democrats have been hiring high schoolers with large sums of money to shoot up their schools. He didn’t let me out of the car when I asked, he didn’t drive me home when I asked, and so the story goes.

But I’m safe and sound now. That’s all I will say. Also this: I have been pretty reckless in my short life. I’ve maybe been places alone I should not have been going alone and doing things I should not have been doing. To non-cis non-white non-men: please be careful. Learn from other people’s mistakes and know you are not invincible. Not everyone you meet traveling is friendly for the right reasons.

Anyway, while I was doing that, Mana was skydiving and then we parted ways and I was back on the road West. I was supposed to stay for a few more days, but I needed the road after Wyoming.

I drove very far after that date. I needed to gather control again. I gained it back in miles. I drove until my eyes left me blinded by the road and I was forced to pull over in a town I don’t remember in a state I can’t recall. Immediately leaving the highway were trucks: big, towering semis. They lined the exit I left the highway for, they lined the streets after that, and they filled the gas station parking lot I eventually squeezed my car into to sleep.

As soon as I woke, as soon as the sun rose, I was back on the road. I couldn’t stop. I didn’t want to do anything else. I just wanted to feel the road beneath me and see the scenes pass by as quickly as possible. I wanted to put distance in between myself and Wyoming.

Well I ran out of gas in the middle of a dessert, I was in this desert for some time now, and before I had told myself to get gas, but I was impatient to stop. My ticker said I had maybe 20 miles left. I don’t know, it’s very unbelievable. Probably had less. Oh, there was no one on this road, too, as per my usual luck. I turned off anything that could use up my gas: air conditioning, music, car lights (not a smart move). I rolled up the windows for proper aerodynamics. It was not a comfortable temperature in my car. I screamed songs at the top of my lungs the whole way, going 20-30 miles per hour and before I had ran out of breath I coasted my poor car in the gas pump 30 miles away. Let me tell you: I was literally coasting to that pump. I was so happy I made it that on my way out I tailgated a guy on the highway and got pulled over for it.

I made it to California that day.

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Wyoming Part 1

DSC_5163I haven’t been posting lately and, I promise, I can explain. But not right now. Right now I’m going to talk about Wyoming.

Here’s where we left off: Colorado.

So. I was camping that night waiting to head on over to Wyoming to see a dear friend, Mana. They were working seasonally as a line cook in Saratoga. The drive to Wyoming was empty. What cars I did see on the road were going the opposite way. I felt like I was driving into a wreckage. This is bad foreshadowing, though, because Wyoming was nothing like a fire and everything like a still lake, or a nice stale beer you don’t mind after too much soda.

That is, until my departure, but we’ll get to that.

I arrived in Saratoga, Wyoming at an ice cream shop which was quickly followed by a bar. My friend and I caught up and traded lives. It was good to feel at home after so much isolation.

“I can’t believe we only graduated a week ago,” Mana said.

I took a sip of my beer. “It’s been a lifetime. I’m not the same person. Like, I feel like I’ve grown exponentially since I left.”

“It’s the new context. We think of ourselves as these immutable beings but we’re like water. We change states depending on our environment. If you didn’t know what ice was melted you would cringe seeing even a drop in your glass of water.”

“Yeah.”

“Yeah.”

A short, comfortable silence.

“I’m feeling pretty tipsy already,” I said, breaking it.

“It’s the altitude, man.”

“Damn. Nice.”

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Mana apologized for their living conditions before we ever arrived at their house, remarking on its grunginess. They obviously forgot where we used to live not too long ago: a 60 person dorm with one kitchen and communal bathrooms. Moldy everything. When we finally made it from the bar to the house, it was clean enough. And airy. Homey. Dogs everywhere. They had a room mostly to themselves, which I made myself comfy in.

The days were spent talking much of the same talk about life, identity, and the relativity of time. The conversations flowed out of us freely and we lingered from topic to topic through the days. We didn’t feel attached to our shared recent past because it seemed to lack relevance in our present and immediate future, even maybe our foreseeable future. Mana was talking of their dreams of chefdom. I spoke of the road. We both were surprised at how badly we wanted trucks. It was scary, how fast we felt we were adapting to our new lifestyles and how foreign we felt to ourselves. But also kind of freeing. Still is.

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When Mana went to work I would languidly remain in bed, sometimes for the whole day, until they got back, enjoying the fact I had one to be lazy in.

Then one morning it was Mana’s first day off they had had for two weeks. We decided to go hiking up in Medicine Bow. The snow had yet to melt and as I drove higher into the mountains there was less and less of road and more and more of snow. I could tell Mana was getting nervous. We’re from Florida, after all.

“Don’t go up this road, Azia. we don’t want to get stuck.”

I laughed. “We won’t get stuck,” I said.

A few minutes later two Florida girls were leaning too sideways on a snow bank in a buried silver Buick. One kept laughing, the other started.

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On Camping Cold and Alone

I remember when I was a little girl I took a motorhome trip with my father. One night I insisted I sleep by myself in a tent outside. I wanted to feel alone in the wilderness.

“You’re not going to like it,” he said, exasperated. But, as always, he let me learn my lessons on my own. it sticks with you better that way.

That night was the coldest of my life. I woke up with ice for bones. My joints ached to bend and I longed to return to the motorhome. I broke myself free form the tent after much deliberation only to find the door to the motorhome locked. He must have locked it without thinking. I banged and banged on that door to no avail until I eventually slinked back to my lowly tent to await the morning. Since then, camping for me has always been associated with the bitter cold.

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A little (much) later, in college, a few friends invited me on a camping trip to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Georgia. I asked if it would be cold and they assured me I wouldn’t.

“Bring a light jacket at most,” they said.

To their surprise, not mine, it rained and then snowed that spring break in the mountains. Almost immediately upon our arrival. Despite my asthma, I built our fire int he rain and then snow as they held a tarp over the pit and my sopping hair as if it were a veil.

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Never once have I found camping miserable, only darkly humorous. I’ve found living difficult moments like this is something learned. Over small things, I am a complete nut. I can worry about anything that shouldn’t be worried about. But when it comes to hypothermia, count me in for the “experience” of it all.

This morning I awake in the rockies on the side of a small cliff, ten crusted with ice. I put my pants on in my sleeping bag, make a small fire by my tent, and squat over it for a while to warm my backside. It’s the calmest I’ve felt in weeks.

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Camping alone is a certain type of boring. For most of it, I forget consciousness and I meet my needs. There’s collecting firewood, making a shelter, eating. None of this requires much thought. I spend a lot of time sitting and staring like, I imagine, other animals do. Without service, without people or music or anything that could interfere with my just-being save a book, I’m in a rare state of complete non-performativity. I am so largely defined by how I want to be perceived that the impact of this state on my actions and thoughts are insidiously omnipresent. I strain to be who I want to be instead of who I am. Camping alone, I forget to be me.

Steinbeck, in his travelogue Travels with Charley: In Search for America, also noticed this shift in self-perspective when he was alone. He called it a reversion to the pleasure-pain basis. “The delicate shades of feeling, of reaction, are the result of communication, and without such communication they tend to disappear.” Steinbeck is wary about isolation, concerned only with how it “diminishes the subtlety of feeling” that comes with social performance.

Right there: social performance. That’s the difference between Steinbeck and I. What he calls subtlety of feeling I call performance. One insists on the sincerity and selfhood of this state and the other insists it is a mere performance of an identity. As someone who has been to more new schools than grades, I’ve always known how to adapt my identity. I did this to the point where I didn’t know what my identity was other than a fluid that moved from social circle to social circle, molding to their shape.

But it’s not only this experience that has shaped me in this way. Social media has also done this to all of us: all of our interfaces implore the performance of self in a multiplicity, as if bundled together they are the verb-form of a fractal mirror. Analysis turned inward is a constant for those of us who use regularly tune in to social media. The irony is, this analysis is often directed to the inwardness we are trying to project, and not our inwardness at all.

And so I go camping. I: not-bored, not on display. Completely myself. It’s wonderful.

 

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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