08 January 2014

A LEAP OF FAITH IN SOLO TRAVEL

Yeah, I went camping by myself somewhere in this photo
A friend of mine asked me today when was the first time I traveled alone.  I had to think about it because as far back as I can remember, I’ve always been a bit of a loner and did things on my own.  Even after I learned to drive a car, I was always on some sort of road trip with my friends, but then I recalled that first time, that spark, the trip that popped my travel virgin cherry.  I had just turned 18, freshly graduated from high school, already accepted into the University of Oregon (I was a bit of a hippie back then), and ready to quickly spread my wings.  There was this event happening in Eugene, Oregon that I had heard about called the ‘Oregon Country Fair’ that I really wanted to go to.  Think of it as a hippie renaissance fair meets Burning Man (without the electronic music and extreme weather).  So once I get an idea into my head, I figure out a way to do it.  All I had to do was convince my dad that I could go there alone.  I believe I told him I was going up to sign up for classes, do the university intros/tours, and such.  To be perfectly honest, I don’t even remember if I did those things or not or if those were even scheduled on campus… and to be even more frank, I think that I could have signed up for classes over the phone and done the intros when I moved up there for the school year at the end of August.  I just really wanted to go to the OCF.  So after enough convincing to my dad, I did. *Sorry Dad!  Water under the bridge, right?  ;)

So a day before the fair, I took off in my Taurus station wagon (lovingly missing half of the paint on it) with a small bag of clothes and toiletries and I hit the open road for the first time all by myself.   Now, from where my parents live in California to Eugene, Oregon takes about 10 hours to get to.  I start my drive in the morning going up the I-5 driving through flat farm land for hours, until I start reaching the mountains of Shasta going all the way up through Grants Pass in Oregon, up through Ashland where the Shakespeare festival happens every year, then down into the valley where Eugene is.  I check into a motel and the next day, I head to the fair outside of the city and spend two days wandering around this mecca for hippies nestled into the woods where this little utopian society is creatively made amongst and within the trees.  Everyone is dressed in tie-dye or some form of very creative attire.  To me,  I was in my own little heaven with my overalls and Jesus sandals (aka Birkenstocks) and away from home for the very first time on my own.  Little did I know, my adventure was just beginning. 

Now, because of my excitement I had left California in such a rush that I decided I would deposit my paycheck when I got to Eugene so I would have enough money for my little adventure.  After the first day of the OCF, I went to the bank ATM to deposit my check.  At first, I thought it was strange or some sort of a glitch that it wouldn’t allow me to deposit my check.  So I went inside to the bank and found out that I was not allowed to deposit a check into an out of state account.  Since I was a bit naïve in all this real world banking BS, I hadn’t really budgeted my trip for what I had available to me in my account.  At that point, I decided to cut my trip there in Eugene short so I could cross over the Oregon-California border to deposit my check.  Thing is, is that I didn’t want to draw any attention as to why I had come home early and I really didn’t want my newfound freedom and adventures to end so soon. 

Instead, I decided I would go camping in northern California… somewhere…. without camping equipment.  I did after all have a sleeping bag that I always kept in my car in case I ever got drunk at a party and couldn’t drive home (you can’t say I wasn’t being responsible!).  My “supplies” I had in my car were: my large CD player (this is back when they were the size of a medium-sized dog) and a liter of vodka that I kept just in case I happen to go to a party (I didn’t drink beer back then) - thus why I also had the sleeping bag.  I decided I had more than enough to survive at least one night out in the woods.

After Day 2 of the Oregon Country Fair, I headed back to California, with my tail slightly between my legs, but ready for another adventure.  And adventure I had!!  I crossed the border and got into the Shasta area in the late afternoon deciding I needed to find a campsite.  Considering there was a massive forest all around me, I figured it should be pretty easy to find.  Yeah, I pretty much ate those words shortly after thinking them.  I saw a generic state sign on the side of the road signifying there was camping to be had at some random exit.  So I took it thinking it wouldn’t be too far from the freeway.  Perhaps there was one, but I certainly never found it.  I drove into the woods, further and further looking for some sort of sign for this elusive campground.  At this point, the sun is set, I’m alone, 18 years old, and no cell phone as they didn’t exist back in those days.  I’m thinking “hmm, what the f*ck did I get myself into?”.  FINALLY, I saw a sign for camping, though it wasn’t a “camp ground” like the KOA type campgrounds with facilities and all.  This was a dirt road heading further into the woods with about 3 cars and 4 RV’s parked in random places.  Considering the time and such, I thought I’d make the best of it. 

From there, I pulled into a spot near a creek and went into the back of the car, pushed down my seats so they were flat and could lay my sleeping bag out, go through my bag of “food” which consisted of my usual road trip cuisine: a bag of Cheetos cheese puffs, Original Corn Nuts, a small bottle of Coke, Toffifay, and a bottle of water.  Surprisingly, an older though trustworthy gentleman in his 60’s or so approached me and asked if I’d like to borrow a flashlight to set up my “camp”.  I took it and thanked him for offering it to me.  We make small talk and he offers to have me join him and his family for dinner that night over at their RV set ups.  Sure, lots of red flags should be going off, but he was genuinely kind and I saw his family, which included a few generations of people.   Plus, the idea of having a nice hot meal sounded great – at least significantly better than me hanging out in my dark car, eating cheese puffs, and listening to music all by myself until I fell asleep.

When I was done getting everything together I headed over to their camp, which was so nice and well set up.  There were three families there and they told me stories about how they all came about camping there.  The three eldest couples had all met in high school and were high school sweethearts.  They had been camping together there in Shasta every year since they were in high school – that’s a solid 40 years of camping together!  I found that absolutely incredible and all the other family around them were their own children and grandchildren helping keep the tradition alive.   We sat around the fire and they offered me plenty of food to eat, shared stories with me, I shared my adventure with them, and introduced me to their children of which one of them I learned was the accountant for the Grateful Dead of which at the time, I was a bit of a deadhead, so it was particularly cool.  As the night waned, the offered for me to have breakfast with them before I took off in the morning, of which I was happy to. 

I suppose that this is every parents worse nightmare of a scenario that could potentially turn bad – an 18 year old girl with no real experience in the world, no money, no cell phone, no one knew where I was at, alone an hour deep into the woods at night, with no (real) food, and no first aid/survival skills… yeah, it does sound bad.  But I don’t think I would have done it if I felt there was any real danger.  Don’t get me wrong, I was certainly a bit terrified, but I was more terrified of the unknown rather than something bad happening to me.  I look back on this and I wouldn’t have done any thing differently - it changed my life.

Because of that night, this chance encounter with strangers in the middle of nowhere (quite literally!), changed who I was and my faith in going into the unknown alone.  That’s not to say that I don’t take certain precautions, but I learned that I can’t be scared of my fellow human beings either.  Most people in this world are good people.  And because of these leaps of faith with the universe that I’ve taken numerous times in my life, going into a very foreign scenario alone, I have ended up meeting some incredible people with amazing gifts to share that I would never have met and I likely wouldn’t have had those experiences otherwise.  It seems when I open up, so does the universe. 

Photo credit: via Steve Motley

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