I have crossed thirty state lines from July to October this year.
In perfect conditions, I like to open a beer and watch the sun bend a thousand shades of violet before it is just me and the darkened sky and whatever critters take the stage to sing it down in my temporary corner of the universe. With any luck, the people I meet in my last day-drenched hour will be kind and humble, like the Vietnam vet named Larry who sold me firewood tonight from his small silver Nissan truck. His last words to me, the last human words I heard this day on earth were, “I am just here to help.” He meant in life. I keep an atlas shoved heavy with hand drawn maps and notes, a short library of books gifted to me along the way, fireworks, and a small amount of mushrooms in a matchbox.
I am settled in motion. I need the phenomenon that road people know where the air moves past you in intermittent warm and cold pockets, expanding and contracting with changes in the topography around you — a respiratory system all its own. I take two lane highways and dirt roads and chase rivers that I haven’t passed in years — making good on promises made from a bridge above, out the window of a van while on tour long ago.
This isn’t a vacation. This is simply my life, happening across multiple locations. Much of my work is done remotely, and because I have been at it for some time, I complete projects in large batches, freeing up greater concentrations of time to pursue the explorations of my choosing: time in the wilderness, my relationship with fear, and other mental real estate. I don’t identify as someone who is “seeking,” I am just “being.”
I am a woman. Being a woman on the road alone is big enough in the minds of many to even perceive my choices as “extreme.” My gender asks that I explain my freedoms differently and certainly requires a lot of additional conversation. I answer the following questions:
Aren’t you scared?
How did you get so brave?
Do you have children?
It must be hard to maintain a relationship.
I wish I could do that.
So you carry a gun?
I don’t get mad at the people asking me these questions in the way that I don’t get upset by people telling me they are praying for me because they are the same thing. The conversation always rolls back and forth between congratulatory and all-out panic. Also I am always the calmest one in the room. Statistically, as a woman I am safer on the road and mostly outdoors than if I were living in a city full time. Animals don’t kill people: People kill people. I stay safe and responsible with my choices. I drive well and understand my vehicle. I watch for others on the road as well as animals and always motorcycles. I am in constant conversation with my instinct, and avoiding it is a non-option.
I keep practices that lessen the probability for trouble. For example, I don’t go to bars alone on nights where I will be camped in my van. I also stay at established campsites the majority of the time rather than renegading, but I have my spots and know when the time is right.
I have been flagged off the road thinking I had a headlight out and asked to dinner twice in the last month, and sometimes men suggest some local camping information and invite themselves to roll out for a beer later. For the record, none of those things are cool and I am always going to go the opposite way.
This summer I was followed in eastern Wyoming by a man I had met at a gas station. After the third time he approached me as I filled up, my instinct went off and I gave him a ten-minute lead before climbing on the highway. Fifteen minutes down the road I saw him waiting for me on top of an overpass. I confirmed my suspicion by slowing to half my speed when he pulled next to me. I allowed a few cars to get between us so I could maneuver out of the situation. I was thirty miles from Sturgis and a whole lot of loved ones that put up with zero shit moved in my direction.
I have had a neon life full of travel, creative and professional success, confusion, waking dreams, fuck ups, and an endless train of friendships. I am grateful for all of the forms that luck has taken and continues to take as I make my way through this turn as a human, doing my thing as I was meant to.
Ultimately, being a woman on the road in my thirties is beautiful because I am fully aware of who I am, and no longer bear the weight of living “in spite of” anything. I am totally happy and exactly where I am supposed to be. In motion. Just being.