Themes Emerge: Driving from Edgewood to Oakland

Here I sit on a couch in the Oakland mountains soaking up the morning Sun, listening to the soft din of wind chimes, and adoring a cup of coffee. As I turn my attention to writing, I think back on the road trip I just took from Edgewood, NM to this mountain retreat in Oakland, CA. There were several themes from the trip I wanted to explore in today’s post… hopefully I can do them justice.

To begin allow me to show you the route I drove earlier this February. (NOTE: Who chooses February to do a roadtrip? I suppose I did.)

map with route outlined
The route I drove from New Mexico to California.

I should note the route I took was a long, lonely drive across the New Mexico mountains, into the lands of the Navajo and Hopi, then up into the canyons and mountains of Arizona and Utah. Finally, I made my way down into the desert of Las Vegas and through one last mountain pass to Arvin, CA, a farm labor community just south of Bakersfield. Once back in California, it was an easy trip up Interstate 5 and into the Oakland mountains.

That was the external view of the trip, and dare I say it was the “simple” part to describe. Here, let me share some pictures from it before we get into the deeper stuff.

a dam over a river with canyons
The view before I cross the Colorado River near Page, AZ.
coffee shop outdoors
River Rock Roasting Company in La Verkin, Utah.
patio and mountains
The view from the River Rock Roasting Company.
Desert art installation
The Seven Magic Mountains art installation outside Las Vegas.
Desert mountains
Desert views as I drove West from Las Vegas.

The internal part of the trip is a bit more challenging to talk about, but since this is a No Judgement Zone, I’ll give it a go. Here are some of the themes I considered along the way:

Theme 1: Trust that the universe has your back

Shortly before the trip began, a friend of mine recommended this book to me. I began reading it a few days before I set out and found the advice provided to be necessary as I traversed the terrains.

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but driving in bad weather is probably one of my biggest fears. This is especially the case when I’m driving alone. So, when the day before I left Edgewood my friend, who is a pilot and always has his eyes on the weather, showed me some radar maps indicating a storm was going to move through the exact area I’d be driving in, I began to freak out.

“Am I going to be ok?”, I asked him as I looked at the swirls of blue, yellow, and orange. “Yep you’ll be fine. Just be aware”, he assured me.

His words and insights were helpful, but they didn’t halt my fears. That night as I was reading the above book, it seemed to read my mind. The lines I read talked about noticing your fears. It suggested that when you do, instead of feeding them, give them up to the universe and thank it for the lesson that having the fear was sure to bring. I used this mantra consistently as I drove, and sure enough my anxiety calmed.

As I traveled through New Mexico then Arizona, no bad weather found me! Then I got into Utah. It started as rain, then before I knew it I was in the mountains of Zion National Park in the midst of a snow storm!

Snow on the mountain roads
The snow begins.

I held my fears close, but before I let them overcome me, I let them go telling myself, “I’m a woman from upstate New York. I’ve got this! Thanks for the lesson, Universe. I release my fears.”

Shortly thereafter, I made my way safely to the inn I’d be staying at that night:

Mountains
View from the Bumbleberry Inn in Springdale, Utah.

This theme of trusting the universe had my back extended well beyond weather. I used the mantra to release my fears around staying alone in motels and AirBnBs, and even smaller fears and anxieties around trying new places and things.

The more I trusted, the less I worried. The less I worried, the more present I could be. The more present I was, the more beauty I saw.

Trusting in the Universe is something I plan to take with me for days to come!

Theme 2: There is so much more to this world than me and yet I’m one with it all

This is a big concept with a crappy title, BUT it rang oh so true for me throughout the trip. As much as I got stuck in my own anxieties and fears, I was able to recognize that life happens around and without me. I was also able to reflect on how even though life is happening around and without me, I can still connect with it, and others, in a very real way.

For example, when I arrived in Gallup, NM the first night, I stopped to grab an afternoon coffee to revive me. The man working at the coffee shop was so incredibly kind to me, and he treated me as if we’d known each other for years. He correctly guessed I was on a long drive, and when I left with a delicious coffee in hand he said, “Enjoy that coffee, and safe travels!” I considered how the man’s entire life took place without me, but how in that moment it was just him and I.

I rolled that juxtaposition around until I arrived at my Airbnb for the night. The host greeted me and before long we were exchanging life stories. She told me about her time teaching on the Navajo reservation, her time in The Peace Corp, and her current life in Gallup. We connected on politics, life, and work. Before the night was through we said our goodbyes as she would be at work before I woke up the following day. Again I considered how close we were in that moment and yet how we’d never meet again.

The next day I entered the Navajo Nation, and stopped in the capital of Window Rock, AZ. Here I took in the veterans’ park, and the nearby museum.

Window Rock
Window Rock
Navajo Code Talkers monument
In dedication to the Navajo Code Talkers.
Sign in dedication.
Dedicated to veterans.
museum entrance
The entrance to the museum.
museum exhibition information
The main exhibit at the Navajo Museum.

All the while I was here I felt isolated and yet surrounded at the same time. As I came upon memorials and exhibits detailing the Navajo people’s past, I teared up as their pain seeped into my veins. Yet, I knew known of them.

As I left the museum, the woman at the information desk who had helped me called out, “Thanks for coming today! Have safe travels and a great day!” (NOTE: Everyone along this trip wished me a great day. Not sure if that’s a West thing or not.)

I made the long trek to Page, AZ where I stayed on the “street of little motels”.

Motel sign for Lu lu's Sleep Ezze Motel
The motel I stayed at in Page, AZ

While putting my goods in the community refrigerator that night, I met a man from Minnesota. He and his wife were in the area to escape the winter. Between this conversation and the one I had with the owner the next morning, I felt I was in the company of old friends. At the very least I was in the company of like minded individuals.

After each of these conversations where I was so highly connected, I’d go back to my room where I sat… alone.

I’m unsure where this second theme takes me from here, but even thinking back on the experience helps me feel connected in some way.

Theme 3: Meditation, I need more of it

This is another big one. Driving 20 plus hours over 6 days alone gives one a lot of time to think. And, given that I’m on this current journey that stems from a need to understand myself and my world further, I had a lot to think about.

Scratch that.

I didn’t have a lot to think about because I’m on this journey. I had a lot to think about because there is so much I’ve chosen NOT to think about over the years. Instead I’ve chosen the path of distraction.

As I drove mile after mile and had interaction after interaction, I chose not to be distracted. I turned off the radio and sat with my thoughts.

I reflected on my fears. I thought about how scared to be alone I am, and about how the fear makes no sense because I’m alone a lot without peril. I thought about my family’s fears of being alone, and considered that maybe I had absorbed these over the years. I thought more on how I had defined myself by my past, my family, my community and never really defined me for myself.

One night I decided to restart my meditation practice. Though, instead of mindfulness practice, I decided to let my mind roam. I called this contemplation instead of meditation. As I was thinking on how I’d never defined myself, I asked myself the question “Who am I without my past?” over and over again.

Eventually a vision came to me. I saw before me many versions of my current self, all dressed in different outfits and all standing, but at different heights. The Russian doll metaphor came to mind.

There I was surrounded by all my selves, and I continued to ask the question:

Who am I without my past?

Finally, the shortest Lis pushed the others aside, stepped forward, and said, “I’m here! I always have been! You’ve just been ignoring me all this time.”

The vision was a powerful one and I sat with the energy awhile longer. When I came back to myself, I vowed to try to help that Lis grow, and I saw carving out this self reflection, contemplation, meditation time was the way to do so.

As I wrap up this piece up, I’ll admit I’m a bit deflated. My coffee is almost gone, the Sun has moved, and the wind has stilled. I’m left with just me, these words, and my guess at what you’ll think of them.

Once again I find myself alone and surrounded. Once again the Universe calls me to trust in it, and once again I call on myself to trust in myself.

All these insights, from one little road trip.

Let’s be honest, it was a hell of a trip… am I right?

What’s in a Moment?

On my last night in Tucson I was lucky enough to have dinner at the house of some new friends. (NOTE: These are also friends of my RVA friends.) My time with them was (too) short, but it was impactful. As we sat outside discussing just about everything, I felt the need to get my anxieties off my chest.

I described to the two of them the doubts I’ve been having. Most specifically, Are the short relationships I’m making while on the road a reflection of me only wanting to have “good” moments as opposed to hard ones with friends? Am I missing out on that other side of the person to person experience? Will I ever be happy somewhere and with someone?

You get the drift.

The one friend stopped me dead in my tracks. She described to me how she had a recent conversation with their daughter, the topic of which touched heavily on my current existential woes. Her response to both her daughter, and now me, was simple. And, as many simple responses are, it was quite profound.

She described a story in which her and a friend were discussing memories and moments in life. They determined that even though they may not remember every story of their life exactly as it happened, the moments still impacted them for the remainder of their days. She encouraged me to consider this simple wisdom for myself:

All we have is a moment. Enjoy it.

Of course I am paraphrasing this friend’s wisdom which I’m sure was much more eloquent and detailed, but this sentiment is what I carried with me. As soon as she said this all the Buddhist lessons I encountered over the years came flooding back. This was the fact I have been overlooking. I felt it stir me.

When I left town the next day, I left knowing I had the support of others to encourage me onward. The road took me into the mountains to the beautiful state of New Mexico. Being from the East Coast I had no idea what to expect from this state, but to say I’m stunned by all it has to offer would be an understatement.

This emotion was underscored by the AirbBnB rental I stayed in on my first night. Unfortunately, I only had one night here, but even that was enough to fill me with comfort and inspiration. And, most importantly, it granted me the best night’s sleep I think I’ve ever had.

I pulled up to the property to find the owner, Beth, working on one of her many art projects. Here, let me share it with you:

artwork
I was mesmerized by this piece.

She welcomed me and stated I would be the first AirBnB guest to walk across this new installation. Woohoo! We began chatting and I found myself quickly recapping my anxieties from the night before. You all know how she responded:

A moment is all we have. Live it up!

I guess that was all the universe had to tell me on the topic, and I figured I may as well start listening.

I started by taking a tour around this beautiful property; my jaw dropping at every turn. This woman had the ability to make anything and everything look beautiful. Her attention to detail was simply amazing, and the feeling her work gave me was greatly needed. Here let me share the pictures already:

Mountain view
A view of the property including the mountains in the distance.
Mountain views
More mountain views.
Tree view
Views of the trees surrounding the property.
horse
There were even horses onsite.
outdoor kitchen and living room
The outdoor kitchen and living space.
Tea set
I loved this tea set.
Metal peacock.
Some art marks the path.
Cabin door
The front door of the cabin.
Desk and chairs
The workspace in the cabin.
Spiral staircase
This is a staircase the owner and an artist friend built. Enchanting!
Front of small building
The front of one of the galleries on site.
Gallery
A gallery interior. Pretty amazing, right?
outdoor living space
The outdoor kitchen and living area at night.

As I sat outside enjoying the cool mountain air, I took in Beth’s life. In this small town of maybe 150 people, tucked away in the Gila National Forest, she had people stopping by to help her with art projects or help her fix something or other pretty much all afternoon. She had galleries onsite with incredible local art which people knew to come see. I noted the dream like quality of my experience there, and also noted how much I loved the quaintness of it all.

I reminded myself there are probably just as many downsides to her life than any other life, but since I’m living moment by moment at this point, I pushed those thoughts aside and simply enjoyed the good vibes.

The next day I woke up refreshed and ready to start a new day. It was the best I’ve ever felt waking up in the morning… I have to be honest. I packed up my gear and got on the road for another 4 hours of driving up to the El Morro area. Along the way, the sentiments of the past few days rang loudly for me, and I finally connected with what my friend was expressing on that Tucson night.

These moments I experienced over the past few days were short indeed. Further, I may never experience the people or places again, but the fabric of them has shifted my perspective. Since perspective is everything, they have shifted my life.

So, what’s in a moment? Seems like everything is, no?

Another Coast, Another Summer Road Trip

I write this post from a friend’s apartment in Hoboken, NJ. Here I sit looking at their “Home Sweet Apartment” sign ready to share more about the additional 24 days I spent road-tripping the East Coast this Summer. But, instead of wanting to write, all I can do is stare at that sign.

Home.

I’m not sad nor regretful as I stare, more bewildered or perplexed. Maybe I’m just considering the meaning of the word. I say this because even though I haven’t been in a home of my own for the past 2.5 months, I’ve felt at home for much of my journey. I believe this latest trip, and the people I spent time with along the way, have greatly contributed to this state.

Before I get into all that, allow me to share with you where my friend and I were staying this July.

Google map image showing our route
Our route from New York to Tennessee and back again.

Unfortunately, Google Maps wouldn’t allow me to add a line from Philadelphia back up to my hometown of Fremont Center, NY, but hopefully you get the point regardless. During the trip, we stayed at the homes of 4 different friends and also spent nights at 5 hotels (well, really 4 hotels plus an AirBnB in DC which was not only conveniently located, but included a pinball machine and jukebox!)

Me playing pinball.
Look at me getting my pinball on!

It was quite the journey, and of course I learned a lot along the way. I can’t begin to pretend I’ll be able to share all I’ve learned in one post, so I’d like to use this post to bring up the top lessons learned which come to mind. Here we go!

Stay Open to Random Acts of Kindness

I realize I’m a pretty extroverted person and so to others it may seem that I’m adventurous and open to anything, but that isn’t always the case. Much of the time I close myself off to new things as a form of protection. This was something I was actively working on along this trip, and this work paid off.

For example, instead of closing myself off due to fear of rejection, I opened myself and reached out to friends whom I haven’t talked to in a long time to see if they’d be open to having a couple of visitors. Not one said no. Instead everyone we stayed with was overjoyed with our visit! If I hadn’t stayed open, I wouldn’t have come close to having the experiences I’m so very grateful for.

Cristina, Lis, Karen and Joe
Our dear friends Karen and Joe (the two to my left) who hosted us in Richmond, VA.

Also, when we were up in New England I was explaining to a friend what I was doing and why. This friend isn’t the wealthiest person (He’s married with two wonderful, young children and is, like many of us, just trying to make ends meet), but he so wanted to show his love for our adventure that he handed over a gift card for us to use along the way. When I tried to deny it, he wouldn’t take no for an answer. This small act made a big impact on me, and this energy carried me through the trip.

Don’t Shy Away From the Hard Times

Most of my friends and family reside on the East Coast of the United States, which meant I spent a lot of time visiting and traveling with friends I’ve known for years. Some of these interactions were successful and some of them were not. I was faced with some real relationship trials this go-round. I found myself mourning old relationships and feeling distraught in thinking what would come next.

Thing is this time around I leaned into these hard times. I sat in the hard feelings and I reflected on what they were. Through all of this I grew leaps and bounds, and shed old energy and regrets. Had I turned away from the despair I wouldn’t have seen the other side of it, which is where I now get to dwell.

A bridge we saw in WV.
You need to cross the bridge to get to the other side.

See the Love

It doesn’t seem like it given the current state of our media, but there is a whole lot of love out there in the world. For the 24 days I was on the road I was cloaked in it. I reconnected and deepened connections with friends in ways I never even considered. There were times when the love from both friends AND strangers lifted and carried me through.

Besides the overwhelming love from friends, one example which comes to mind is from our stay in Winchester, VA. We stayed over 1 night at the local Motel 6. In the morning the hotel Wi-Fi wasn’t working in our room, though it was in the lobby. As I sat in the lobby working, I saw the front desk employee (who had been on duty overnight since 10pm and wasn’t leaving until 4pm due to a sick co-worker) exhibit so much kindness to all who came in. There was a couple who came in who couldn’t afford full price for a night so she made an exception. There was a family who came in who couldn’t speak English and she went out of her way to calmly and caringly get them a comfortable room. It was better to watch than any TV show out there.

I Should Write a Book

I write this somewhat sarcastically, but I won’t deny that it came up several times along the trip. I’m sure sharing my story will happen in some way, but with several different people around me saying this I feel like I should get cracking on it!

The World is Beautiful

There’s not much else to say here. Take a look around! There’s so much beauty and wonder waiting to inspire you. Take 30 seconds and really SEE it.

Quote from the State Park
A quote from a WV state park.

As I mentioned, these are just a few of the lessons and reflections which came to me. There was also the idea of working hard and following your passions which I learned from touring Dollywood,

Lis at Dollywood
Yes, that Dollywood.

and the newest Sierra Nevada Brewing property.

The Sierra Nevada Brewery outside Asheville
The Sierra Nevada Brewery outside Asheville, NC.

But, those are for another time.

For now, I’m a bit in need of a rest. I’ll be heading back to the West Coast in a few days and when I get there I’m not sure what kind of life I’ll find, so I want to be ready for it. One thing I am sure of is I’ll take these and many more lessons and beautiful (and not so beautiful) moments with me from which to be inspired, learn, grow, and adventure even more.

Wish me luck!

Lessons Learned from My West Coast Road Trip

Prologue

Earlier this year I decided to put aside a life tethered to a physical address and head out to parts “kind of” known. I didn’t, and still don’t, have any concrete plans on what this means. But, given that I can work from anywhere, I figured why not try to see as much of the world as I can? The West Coast Road trip I talk about below was my first official adventure where I didn’t have an address to return to.

The Story

One month ago, I sat in a cottage in White Salmon, WA preparing myself for what was next. OK… that statement is only partly true. I was in part preparing; but, as usually occurs before any of my major life changes, one of my best friends was visiting and we were spending an awful lot of time enjoying Memorial Day weekend in the Columbia River Gorge instead. Not only was I enjoying friend time, but I was soaking up as much of the Gorge as I could before hitting the road. Come June 2, my best friend and I would start our road trip to Los Angeles. It was there where I’d be storing my car for the Summer as I headed back East for a few months.

I’m writing to you from the other side of our journey to share some points of reflection and lessons learned in hopes they can be helpful to someone else… or at least be somewhat entertaining. Here goes:

The Trip

Let me start by laying out our route for you geography fans out there:

  • Bend, Oregon – June 2
  • Klamath Falls, Oregon – June 3
  • Redding, California – June 4
  • Kelseyville, California – June 5 & 6
  • Alameda, California – June 7 thru 14
  • Monterey, California – June 15
  • Templeton, California – June 16
  • Santa Barbara, California – June 17
  • Los Angeles, California – June 18 & 19
  • Flight to Newark, NJ – June 20
A map of our route down the west coast.
Here’s more or less our route from White Salmon, WA to Playa Vista, CA.

Back To the Story

Traveling just for the sake of exploration was wonderful. I got to see much of the West Coast states which I hadn’t seen before, and I got to try some delicious food and drink along the way. In fact, one of the main reasons we drove through Kelseyville was so we could be in position to stop at Russian River Brewing to pick up a couple of bottles of a “hard to find on the East Coast” beer for my friend’s brother. We even bought a cooler to store said beer in for the remainder of our trip! So yeah, food and drink were a priority.

Two bottles of Pliny the Elder on a park bench.
The “hard to find on the East Coast” beer.

On the down side, much of my adventure time was spent hunched over a computer working. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for the work. But, I do wish I had more time to explore. Despite the work focus, however, I was still able to gather some lessons learned.

1. Stop Working and Adventure a Bit

Perhaps one lesson learned that stays top of mind is my desire to better integrate my work and my life. Living alone in a new town with few friends for the past couple of years (or on a tropical island with few friends), I forgot and ignored my tendency to focus solely on work and not one bit on myself and my life. Thus, having a friend along to remind me to stop and enjoy was essential to breaking me out of my work flow. Along the road trip I had several opportunities to practice relaxing instead of working. The Universe even shut off the Wifi a time or two to force me to chill out.

Lesson Learned: Work will get done. Making work my sole focus holds me back and means me missing out on life happening around me.

Lis playing pinball.
I would have missed out on the Pinball Museum in Alameda, had I not taken my head out of my work.

2. It Will All Be Fine

Usually when traveling I’ll prepare at least where I’ll be staying somewhat in advance of the trip, but for this trip we often didn’t know where we were going or staying until a week or even a few days beforehand. In fact, our original route took us through Big Sur, but a few days before we were to venture there we decided to take another route. This was somewhat anxiety provoking, but also VERY liberating! In the end, even with last minute planning, it was all just fine. Take that, anxiety!

Another example of things being fine even when you worry they won’t be happened as we pulled up to our motel near Kelseyville. Let’s just say the location and clientele out front didn’t make us feel as secure as we were used to (after traveling through “Be Nice, Oregon”). In the end, the place clean, the people nice, and the price was right. We were fine. Everything was just fine.

Sticker that says Be nice... you're in Oregon.
A sticker we saw reminding us of where we were.

Not surprisingly, and quite purposefully, we also met a lot of strangers along our way. On the surface meeting new people while in new surroundings can be scary. In reality, there was not one person we met who was dangerous or even unkind.

Lesson Learned: Give new people, places, and circumstances the chance you’d want to be given. Learning about them and learning to be with them is a huge part of the journey.

3. A Need to Travel More Intentionally

Between having so much work and needing to reach Los Angeles by a certain date, I really didn’t get to see and do as much as I wanted. In the future, I aim to get more intentional about my adventures and to travel more slowly. I believe doing so will help me to be more present and find more enjoyment in my travels.

Lesson Learned: Remain observant and aware. Listen to what you’re trying to tell yourself then apply the lesson.

Morro Rock
Reflections at Morro Rock.

Now, I have a couple of weeks of “stay in one place” time before kicking off a month of road tripping the East Coast with the same friend… yay! I plan on taking the lessons I’ve shared here with me as I go. I do all of this in an effort to architect and live my best life. With that, let’s see how this next step of the adventure pans out. Wish me luck!

Toasting two margaritas
To what lays behind us AND ahead of us!