A cathartic solo excursion to the desert Southwest
It has been a long five years. Too much has happened. If I think about all of the changes and disappointments, I start to feel dizzy. If I think too much, the stress manifests in my head, chest, and abdomen. It gnaws at my insides as the tension grows. There are fleeting moments where everything comes into focus and I feel more at peace, however those feelings have yet to fully coalesce. I believe that reflective people grow from examining that which causes them pain. That said, you simply can’t tell how long it will take to experience a release.
Months ago, I considered driving out to Big Bend National Park after multiple people suggested that I explore west Texas. Then, at some point it occurred to me that I should go farther (and elsewhere) because I had three weeks free and I felt a great need to disappear for a while. For me, the open road is rather alluring – especially when you’re looking for an adventure that can induce a shift in mindset. So, I sketched out a 4,600 mile road trip across six states. I thought, why not? I have friends and family in the Southwest that I hadn’t seen since I left Arizona in 2013, and I had long wanted to visit places like Arches National Park in Moab, Utah (click here to see a picture of Turret Arch). I’m not one to simply talk; I act. Important plans must come to fruition.
I believe that you have to lean into your fears if you want to become a stronger person. This includes the fear of being alone. Spending dozens of hours staring out of a windshield never bothered me because I’m enthralled by the desert landscape. Passing through deep gorges with rock walls hundreds of feet high reminded me of how small and insignificant we are in the universe. Our lives only have meaning because we attribute meaning to ourselves and those around us, but the natural world – despite all of the human manipulation – is largely unconcerned with our existence. Organic matter is dust in the making. While I have always enjoyed listening to music in the car, I drove for unusually long periods of time in complete silence. Focusing on the road felt like some form of meditation. There were some stretches where I found myself driving 105 miles per hour and I wanted to go faster. I didn’t know that my foreign subcompact could handle that speed that smoothly. Now, if only I never had to return home.
“Say goodbye to all the things in life that try to pull us down.”
Somewhere along a near empty road in the high desert of central Utah, two conflicting thoughts occurred to me. The people who designed and built the highway accomplished an incredible task worthy of acknowledgement because the engineering is quite amazing given the rugged terrain. Moreover, I can’t begin to imagine what it’s like to brave the elements during the construction process. The other thought emanated from my conscience: they permanently scarred the Earth so that we can drive across it. By scarred, I mean removed large portions of beautiful rock formations. As someone who appreciates topography, I will admit that this causes me some cognitive dissonance because building the road required a lot more than just laying asphalt.
How did I spend my time? Tricia and I rode a tram to the peak of the Sandia Mountains to view Albuquerque from a precipice at 10,378 feet in below freezing temperatures and 45 mile per hour winds. Joelle and I hiked into Ice Box Canyon in Las Vegas because climbing over boulders on the way to a dry waterfall is how we like to spend part of a Saturday. Jackie, Stephanie, Tim, and I shared a meal at a quaint Italian restaurant in Lake Havasu City where we discussed our careers and the nontraditional life paths that we’ve taken. Liz and I took her dog, Maggie, to a couple of local parks in the Phoenix area, and we also bought a solid wood dresser for her apartment. That’s the abridged version of my interactions with the people I care about. I reconnected with them.
There are several good words that I could use to describe my trip, however “cathartic” is the one I will default to when asked about it. I needed a new experience that would displace the painful thoughts in my mind that stay for far too long. After all, patterns must be altered for emotional growth to occur. A handful of the darker feelings that have plagued me for years just diffused into the vast openness that surrounded me as I made some peace with myself. Yes, I left them behind on the side of the highway somewhere that I can’t recall. To me, it’s better that way.
Photograph: A stretch of I-15 between Las Vegas, NV and Barstow, CA.
A map of my route: