Click to watch video of my road trip!
Red rocky desert backdrops turned to purple silhouettes and faded quickly into darkness as I blazed the road ahead. Later, I backed into a dirt driveway, hopped out and began setting up camp like nobody’s business. Dog out, water and food station set up, headlamp on, tent up, stove lit, dinner on its way. It was Week 3 of my month-long road trip and I was high on life. With my trusty new Mazda CX-5 I nicknamed Dusty Blue and my seasoned furry adventure pal Shilo in tow, I had embarked upon a journey from California to Colorado and back. What I didn’t know then was that it was to become a pivotal changing point in my life – a journey to the soul.
Leaving my job at the beginning of summer became a catapult to delving into where I was in my life. Was I where I wanted to live? Was I doing what I wanted to do? Was I happy? Four years ago, I’d taken big steps to balance my work life and my social life and set myself up for the family to come, the life I so desired. I’d made strides to sell my business and escape the rat race and position myself in a city known for health, outdoor activities and smaller town family values. Granted I moved from San Francisco to Santa Cruz, not to Minnesota or Iowa or somewhere where there would have been an even greater difference, but I at least had to be somewhere where there were still single people my age and I also wanted to remain close to my sister and father and their families.
Leaving my job at the beginning of summer ended up being the best thing that could have happened to me. It caused me to finally raise the rent on my San Francisco condo to market price. It resulted in some unknowingly bad tenants moving out and some great tenants moving in. It thrust me into self-preservation beyond financial security. It caused me get in tune with myself, my inner person, my soul.
I started going to yoga regularly. I drank less. I cleansed. I cleaned out my apartment of unneeded things, the past – things silently weighing me down. I began going to therapy weekly. I’d only been to therapy at one point in my life before – when my mom died. This time I was going to dip deeper and really work on all of me. My job became working on myself.
The biggest part of my self-work became the road trip and the five ways it was what my soul needed.
Buckle up and check out 5 Ways Road Trips Are Good For The Soul:
- Restoring Faith in the Kindness of Strangers
- Connecting With Yourself Free from Distraction
- Sharing with Travel Companion(s)
- The Unavoidable Elements of Spontaneity, Danger and Surprise
- Igniting Change in Your Life
In Bryce Valley, it was 95 degrees. After an early morning rim walk with Shilo in Bryce Canyon and attempting a scalding hot hike later in Red Canyon, I decided to venture off the beaten path following a sign on the highway promising a reservoir. Tropic Reservoir turned out to be a diamond in the rough – our own private paradise. We set up on the beach and swam in the refreshing water for hours. I’d tucked my pepper spray, phone and a knife under my towel and occasionally looked over my shoulder unsure if there might be a bear or some mountain rapist. Fear aside, it was an act of bravery and following my gut that led us here.
Tired and happy, we began the long, bumpy road back to the highway but once I turned onto the paved road, a warning light went on in my car. My heart raced, as it was the first warning light I’d come across in my new car. I didn’t know what it meant. I had a long drive ahead of me the next day through Zion and onto Vegas. A quick check of the car manual told me it was the air pressure. A mechanic at the gas station helped me the next morning to get the air pressure equal in all tires and explained to me it was best to do it in the morning before it got too hot. He waived the fee and told me the warning light should go off after I drove a while. “Drive safe!” he shouted as I pulled away. When the light was frustratingly still on an hour later, I called a Mazda dealership in Las Vegas to set up an appointment. After all the breakdowns with my tired old Subaru, I was admittedly gun shy to embark on lengthy treks with a potential ominous sign. The service man on the phone walked me through how to turn the light off by a push of a button, as simple as that. I was so relieved!
Suffice it to say, these two strangers provided me comfort and security when I felt alone, in danger and far away from home. They were of many I would come across on my journey. Beacons of humanity and a reminder that the kindness of strangers exists all around us but is often revealed when we feel lost in some sense and need it most.
A partial list of the kindness of strangers I came across on my road trip include the woman working at the KOA in Moab who directed me to a non-touristy dog-friendly creek crossing canyon hike; the camper adjacent to me on a religious group camping trip who loved Shilo and asked to pet her and chatted with us the many times we passed her tent; the couple from Georgia I came across on my backpacking trip in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness who appeared out of nowhere when no one had been seen for miles and took our picture at our highest celebratory elevation;
the hikers on the Flatirons hike in Boulder who helped with directions when I’d missed a turn; Joselyn and her friend I’d never met who coordinated getting me Joselyn’s key so Shilo and I could crash at her place in Boulder while she was away; the waiter at the brewery in Littleton who added humor to my last night with my aunt and uncle and cousin before carrying on my road trip; the many people who took our pictures along the way when a selfie wouldn’t do the scenic backdrop justice; the couple at Red Canyon who stopped to admire Shilo and tell me of their black Lab who’d passed; the bartender at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas who poured me a “deal” of a $5 beer and was refreshingly cheerful and opened up to me about her two and 14-year old kids; the jovial tipsy businessman at the Hard Rock Hotel who stopped by to say hello and put a $10 bill into my slot machine before dashing away; and the friendly check-in ranger at my last camping destination at Jalama Beach who told me I had a great tent site complete with hedge privacy and wind protection. Big gratitude to all! You meant more to me than you’ll ever know.
Let’s face it, when you remove yourself from the daily grind and open yourself up to the road of discovery, you’re bound to have time with your thoughts more than you may be used to or even comfortable with at first. I divided my time by singing my heart out to my various Pandora stations. I listened to Amy Poeler’s “Yes Please!” on Audible.com (loved it!). I got in the habit of writing in my journal, reading from the books I brought and writing a list of 10 things I was grateful for in my Gratitude Journal each evening at the campsite or wherever I was staying.
The best part is I got to do whatever I wanted. I could choose to break up the trip however I wanted, stay wherever I wanted, go wherever I wanted and do as much or as little as I desired each day.
I spent time really soaking in the beauty of the countryside.
There were times I felt lonely or scared but the key feeling at my core was definitely exhilaration. I often thought of Cheryl Strayed and her journey in the book I so love, “Wild.” At my core I really honed into myself as a tiny granule in a vast space. I mattered. I realized through all life’s trepidations, I am fortunate. I can make of my life what I want.
One of the highlights of my trip was observing my soon-to-be ten-year-old dog kick butt on our 26 mile 3-day backpacking trip in the Collegiate Wilderness of Colorado. Reaching an elevation of 12,637 feet more than we were used to, Shilo tromped through river crossings, zipped up and down rocky passages, and jumped over logs like a young puppy. She carried her own pack. Each night, she curled up into a ball at the campfire and woofed quietly in her sleep. Watching her, being with her, seemed to breathe new life into me.
Some of the greatest adventures are found when traveling solo. I chose to share mine with my best friend. Being a single female on the open road, trail or campsite, having Shilo gave me a sense of security as well providing companionship. I have so many pictures and videos of her and us from the trip. Some pictures are magnetized on my fridge so I can see them daily and be transported back to the adventurous time we had together.
We had grand one-sided conversations over the miles spent in the car. I’m so glad we had the experience together and I’ll savor the memories for the rest of my life.
The temperature gauge in Dusty Blue told me it was 123 degrees outside. All around me was flat, dry, cracked desert. I was in the middle of nowhere with many miles to go. I looked over at my iPhone and it had the ominous red thermometer symbol on it. It had gotten too hot sitting on the passenger seat. I held it in front of the air conditioner vent until it came back to life only to reveal I’d lost reception.
It never occurred to me I might not be able to rely on my phone’s GPS on the trip. I felt like a dummy. I didn’t have any paper maps. Also, what would I do if the car broke down or Shilo or I had a medical emergency? I couldn’t call anyone. Fear rose up in me like a volcano.
On this day I packed way too much in. I awoke early from my campsite in Durango, Colorado. Shilo and I spent hours exploring Mesa Verde National Park. I loved it there. The remnants of ancient cliff dwellings were fascinating and haunting to me. I was mesmerized by the history there.
From there we drove on to New Mexico where we stopped at Four Corners Monument. We quickly got kicked out of the New Mexico side by one of the vendors who screamed at me, “No dogs allowed in here!” I tied Shilo up at the Colorado side and left her with a bowl of water while I ventured to the centerpiece where the four states meet to take the obligatory picture. I had to wait in a long line of picture takers before securing the spot to myself. When I returned to Shilo, she’d knocked her water dish over and was very hot and distraught. I felt horrible. Back at the car, it was scalding inside and I realized I had low blood sugar and a dull headache.
I had planned for our next stop to be a quick one at the Grand Canyon in Arizona before ending the day’s travels at the Bryce Valley, Utah KOA. Moments after realizing I’d lost cell reception, I came to a sign at a T in the road pointing to the “South Rim” of the Grand Canyon by turning left. South Rim? Did that mean there was a North Rim? I knew I eventually needed to go north to get to Utah but before my reception was lost, my GPS had just been taking to me to whatever it defaulted to when I typed in “Grand Canyon.” Ugh!!
To make matters worse, as I paused at the T freaking out on what direction I should go, my eyes detected my gas was at well below half a tank! I’d gotten in the cautionary habit of never letting it go below half a tank on the trip since I never knew how long it would be until a gas station.
I ended up going south and stopping at a gas station 10 miles down the road. When I got out of the car, wind instantly beat me in the face and pelted gritty dirt at me. It was so hot I felt like I couldn’t breathe. When the tank was full, I drove around to a store on the property. It looked like an Indian Reservation. There wasn’t any shade and a big sign read “NO DOGS.” Again, I faced fear and panic. Parking as close to the entrance as I could, I left all the windows open in the car and, regrettably left Shilo, running inside where I bought an Arizona and Utah map and asked the advice of the cashier. She said I was so close to the South Rim, I should go there but looking at the distance I still had to cover and the little daylight left, I made the reluctant decision to skip seeing the Grand Canyon. I was more than a little heartbroken.
Looking back on it now, in the midst of all the unexpected events and the danger, I felt alive. I was living in the now. I was using my survival instincts to the best of my abilities. I learned the most from that day. Shilo and I were survivors!
We had a bit of an escape from our adventure when we reentered civilization in the big city of Vegas. I was craving a bed and non-camp food and desperate for conversation. We stayed with friends and I indulged in such things as comedy shows, pool parties, gambling and lots and lots of gluttony.
While I was grateful for the escape from my escape, I was happy to get on the road again. I wasn’t quite ready to be home yet so booked one more night at a campground. Fittingly, as I entered my home state of California, we camped our last night right on the beach.
That night, as I watched the sun setting and my ears consumed the crashing waves I hadn’t heard in a month, with Shilo resting beside me, emotions came flooding up. Mixed emotions. A part of me didn’t want the journey to end. A piece of me pondered whether I could lead a gypsy life forever. Another side of me missed my family, my expansive deck at my apartment and the life I’d grown accustomed to in Santa Cruz. I wondered if I should move. I had fallen in love with Colorado years ago and it still called to me. Tempted me.
With ferocity, I traveled the remainder of the way home, determined to make every last bit of the road trip mean something. I took the coastal route and we stopped at San Simeon, Big Sur and Carmel. We watched the sun set at Carmel Beach and arrived back home two hours later.
Sitting in the darkness on my deck, looking at the stars, I knew I was headed on a new path. I didn’t know where I would end up exactly but I felt closer to me than I ever had before. I looked into my soul through this wondrous journey and I knew, without a doubt that the future would be grand. That I was going to be all right.
The road trip ignited a fire within me to make no excuses for my own happiness. Not to settle for anything less than what I believe to be amazing. To fight for what matters to me. I’ll no longer allow myself to become complacent or feel unnecessary and if I sway that way again, so help me, I’ll be hitting the road again sooner than you can shout, “Weeeeeeeeeeeee!”
I’d love to hear from you! Please share learnings, observations, revelations of your own road trips. Where did you go? What was the best part? What was the most challenging part? Please reply in the comment section below.