The Woman from Trout Lake

In 2009 Jane (not her real name) moved to rural southeast Washington from Portland in search of a new life and a closer relationship to the natural world. She was 37 at the time, a 6-foot-tall Irish woman with sensible red hair, calm eyes, and hard-won rules about the way the world should work that she remained faithful to even as the people in her life seemingly refused to. She didn’t buy a car, even though it made finding a part-time job difficult and turned going to the nearest Quaker church on Sunday mornings into a 135-mile roundtrip bike ride, but she didn’t let that stop her from getting out and enjoying everything that the Pacific Northwest has to offer. She started an environmental design business shortly after moving to Trout Lake and traveled up and down the west coast going to conferences and meetups; she’s been biking to and from church for four years; she uses a network of “trail angels” to get rides to and from hikes in the area; and once a year every year since the move she’s picked a 5-day hike, generally somewhere along the Pacific Crest Trail, and relied on a combination of trail angels and rides with strangers to get to and from the trailheads (she insists that she’s never hitchhiked because she doesn’t put her thumb out, but the mechanism otherwise is indistinguishable).

I met Jane this past Labor Day weekend in Mt. Rainier National Park on the road to White River Campground, she wanting to check out the Sunrise lodge as a detour from her annual trip and me en route to a weekend of car camping and day hiking with some friends who had arrived earlier in the day. She was wearing a huge pack and walking by the side of the road, so I pulled over and asked if she wanted a ride—in 2004 I spent 7 months in New Zealand and Australia hitchhiking as my primary mode of transportation (I proudly used my thumb), so I try to pay it forward when I can—and I took her the last couple of miles into camp and didn’t think much more about it.

I ran into her again our last morning on my way down to the river; we talked a bit and it became clear that she was heading for home, so I offered her a ride down to Paradise lodge and then out of the park. I picked her up towards the front of the campsite a few hours later, and we spent the next four hours or so driving to Paradise, meeting up with a couple of my friends from the group and hiking back to the cars with them, and then heading west until I wished her good luck and dropped her off at the intersection of 706 and 7, in the parking lot of the Elbe Bar & Grill.

The unspoken contract of hitchhiking, ridesharing, or any other form of transportation that involves getting free rides from strangers is that the passenger is trading conversation for transportation. There’s a certain form of fleeting intimacy that comes from sharing a car ride with someone you don’t know and who you’ll almost certainly never see again, and it’s the reason why hitchhiking remains my favorite mode of transportation to this day. Jane did most of the talking in this case—my role in our conversation was primarily to bear witness to her internal monologue and occasionally guide it a bit by asking questions or answering her questions about me—and it was fascinating to observe the way in which she revealed the contours of her world to me, slowly, circuitously, somewhat cautiously, and with a sparseness of detail that seemed to introduce two questions for every one it answered, to draw me further into this world of hers where there were absolute rules of right and wrong but things were always more complex than they seemed. “Where do you live?” and “What kind of work do you do?” were both 45-minute answers at least; and her original goal was to get back home in time for church, but aside from telling me about the 135-mile roundtrip she never mentioned her religion at all in a conversation that spanned work, relationships, family, backpacking, loss, friendship, and belonging.

A lot of what she told me I would consider too personal to put into this blog post, anonymized though it is, but the overwhelming sense I got from her was a mixture of intense loneliness and unlikely hope. She was divorced, living in a tiny rural town of 400 people, most of whom were at least 20 years older than her, and her steadfast refusal to buy a car made every aspect of her life more difficult; she had started a business 3 years ago but hadn’t gotten any paying clients yet, there were no friends or family that she was close to, and she carried with her from Portland a deep sense of having been wronged by people she trusted…and yet her basic faith in the goodness of humanity remained unshaken. She talked about her past experiences as outliers that didn’t fit with her overall vision of how the world worked, and she refused to compromise her standards to reflect the injustices she’d suffered. She used a lot of very peculiar turns of phrase over and over again—“fiscal earnings”, “love relationship”, at least three contextually modified versions of “friendship”—that implied a whole system of Newspeak-style linguistic order beyond them, an attempt to create order out of chaos through language.

At the time I thought that it was a naïve way to see the world, expecting it to live up to an idealized internal vision rather than adapting your internal vision to reflect the world as it actually is…but the question that was on my mind for a good portion of our time together was what gave her hope, what kept her going on a daily basis through the work setbacks and personal setbacks and the lack of people to turn to for support; and in retrospect I think it was her internal sense of right and wrong, the same reason that she was willing to bike 135 miles round-trip to go to church and put her trust in complete strangers to get her where she needed to go on longer trips.

I don’t know how happy she was—she was never very emotional, even when she was describing things that would make most people I know break down and cry—but I hope that she finds what she’s looking for in life, and I’ll think of her every time I hear the name “Trout Lake.”

A brief history of airports

Airports still remind me of Carolyn. I’m sure that won’t last—this is just the end of the most recent phase of my relationship to them and everything they represent—but of the dozens of times in the last three years that I’ve done the dance of checking in and taking my shoes off and grabbing a bite to eat on my way to the terminal, this is only the second trip for which she hasn’t been my invisible dance partner in one way or another, the end to my travels that I’d always wanted even in my younger days.

In college I used to look up from the quad at the planes flying overhead and daydream about freedom and one-way tickets, the romance and adventure that was waiting for me on the other side of the one-way tunnel of my academic career. Airports, then, were gateways to unexplored frontiers, to exotic locales waiting to be filtered through my senses and stripped of their exoticism and incorporated into the world of my lived experience. I longed, in college, for the discombobulating feeling of stepping off an airplane alone into an unfamiliar place—the leaving behind at Hobby and DFW and others of their kind of all the structures that defined my day-to-day life; the interstitial period of separation from the world of man altogether and the perspective that came from being confined like a terrestrial astronaut in a steel cage hurtling through the air 30,000 feet above the earth; and then the moment of disembarkation into New York or Honolulu or Beijing or Kathmandu, landing on foreign soil and going forth to claim it in my own name.

Eventually, though, I realized that the journey was what I was really looking for, not the destination, and that the interstice itself—the open road—was something that I was flying over instead of experiencing directly. After college my travel practice outgrew the air in favor of shipping lanes and trade winds and foreign highways and dirt roads, and airports for the first time became barriers that disconnected me from the world around me and separated me from what I loved. When I eventually left America to carve my own story out of the unblinking monolith of my future I did it on a cargo freighter, with no separation between me and God’s green earth, and my freedom was a tangible thing. When I had to fly from New Zealand to Australia and again from Mauritius to Durban—both times because I prioritized seeing people I was close to over the purity of the overland ethic—I regarded each one as a calculated skirmish with the enemy, a small but manageable defeat; and when I returned home prematurely from Cape Town the airport represented the end of my freedom, a return to responsibility and utility and the web of context I’d left behind. I would happily have given Cape Town to Fort Worth three more meandering and irresponsible years of my life, but as it happened it took only 24 quick, efficient hours.

The second time that I flew back to Fort Worth from Cape Town, almost exactly a year later, marked the end of the great foreign overland adventures of my twenties. Airports became associated with vacation time and temporary escapes from work after that, part of a system that made the world smaller and more accessible—precisely what I’d established myself in opposition to during my travelling days—and they stayed that way until I started dating Carolyn.

If air travel once represented a barrier between me and the part of my life that held the greatest meaning, with Carolyn that barrier changed into a doorway. Our relationship was the most important thing in my life, and without a smaller, more accessible world it wouldn’t have been possible. When we started dating she lived in D.C. and I lived in Seattle, so SeaTac, Reagan, and later O’Hare (after she started grad school in Chicago) formed the boundaries of our time together. They, and a few other airports, were where we said our hellos and goodbyes, where our long weekends and vacations and summers began and ended, and so I came to associate them with some of the strongest emotions of our relationship: reunion and separation, holding her in my arms for the first time after not seeing each other for a month or more and not wanting to let her go when it was time to say goodbye. Our time together was more sacred to me than my travels ever had been, and the happiness that came from our relationship was more sustained; when I looked up at airplanes I thought about Carolyn and smiled, and I counted the days until we would outgrow airports ourselves. As it turned out, we never did.

The last time that I saw her was at SeaTac, one day before my 33rd birthday, on a Sunday afternoon at the end of a weekend getaway to the Olympic peninsula. She broke up with me in a parking lot down the road from the airport, then changed her mind just before I dropped her off, and then ended it for good when I called her that Friday evening after work.

That was 3 ½ months ago—the next day I flew down to San Francisco and spent a week driving the coast in a convertible, and I hadn’t been in an airport again since I came back from that trip until a few days ago, when I started this post at the gate at SeaTac on my way down here to Texas for a cousin’s wedding. The association between Carolyn and flying is already fading—I’ve spent a lot of time in Seattle intentionally reclaiming the parts of the city that we shared, filling them with new memories, and this is no different—but the real test will be O’Hare.

After this trip the next time I get on a plane will be 5 months to the day after the last time that I saw her, the weekend we would have been getting married ourselves, and I’ll be flying into O’Hare, just like I would have been; but instead of a wedding I’ll be there to spend the long weekend with four good friends from high school who would have been my groomsmen. I don’t like to run away from anything that I can face instead; this is my way of not running from that weekend, or from that airport or that city, of facing my strongest remaining associations with her head-on.

I don’t want to run from Carolyn, either—I know that our next in-person conversation will be a tough one, but I also know it’s something that has to happen sooner or later. Symbolism and ritual have always been important to me, and I like the idea of seeing her while I’m in Chicago, sitting down over coffee to normalize relations and take the first tentative step towards rebuilding our friendship on what would have been the weekend of our wedding. I don’t know if she’s going to be in town for the 4th of July weekend, or if she’ll want to meet up even if she is…but I’ll find out soon enough.

The Direct Tui

I don’t think about the Direct Tui all that often these days. I talk about it in the abstract whenever I meet new people, but when I do it always functions as a symbol rather than as a lived experience. The other day I was walking down Pine, though, somewhere around Belmont or Summit, when I smelled something that evoked the familiar antiseptic smell of that little bathroom, and in a thousandth of a second the sensation ricocheted around my head from neuron to neuron like a bugler waking the troops for a surprise attack until I found myself back in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in a simpler time in my life, not entirely sure what lay ahead of me but ready for anything.

Direct Tui 3The tui is a small, colorful bird that’s endemic to New Zealand, and the Direct Tui was the cargo freighter that carried me across the Pacific Ocean in early 2004, after I left Seattle the first time. It was the beginning of the trip that I called The Big One; it was the salty, undulating womb in which I turned my attention inward and prepared for the experience of emerging back into the world fully under my own power; and when I finally stumbled off the boat in Tauranga into the wild, overgrown playground of complete, unadulterated freedom, I was ready in a way that I wouldn’t have been if I’d just gotten on a plane and flown.

I’ve never particularly liked flying as a mode of travel—it’s great for getting from one place to another quickly, but it fundamentally separates you from the world in a way that no other form of transportation does. The idea of crossing the Pacific Ocean the slow way occurred to me before I ever thought about trying to travel all the way around the world without flying, though—it was one of those thoughts that emerges, fully formed and unchallenged, from the primordial, modernity-fighting, pre-linguistic part of ourselves. Once my mammal brain got ahold of it and wrapped it in language it manifested itself, roughly, as “The next time I cross an ocean I’m going to do it on a boat,” and it came to me a week after graduation as I peered out the window of a Japan Airlines flight from Los Angeles to Osaka at a cargo freighter churning its way down a shipping lane like a lonely truck on a watery Interstate.

At some point after the end of that Southeast Asia trip, once my eyebrows had grown back and I’d started my life over from scratch as a car salesman in the Pacific Northwest, I started looking around to see what my options actually were when it came to crossing oceans on freighters. I realized pretty quickly that working on one wasn’t going to happen, but I did discover the world of freighter cruises—they’re essentially a way for shipping companies to earn a bit of extra money from unused officers’ quarters by renting them out to travelers with a lot of time on their hands, and in this case their interests and my interests were perfectly aligned. The booking company that I ended up going with was Maris Freighter Cruises (see the Hugo Schulte route here if you’re interested in making the passage yourself—it’s the same one that I took, just on a different boat), and at the time I paid about $1300 all told for 12 days at sea, which included 3 meals per day and the full run of the ship. Freighters had been part of my northwest life from the beginning—when I had lived in Tacoma I’d been able to hear their foghorns coming and going just down the hill from my apartment, and now that I was commuting to Burien from Seattle I’d usually go via the viaduct, which took me right by Harbor Island and added further fuel to the fire of my anticipation of the point of departure, the moment when I would leave the U.S. with no idea how long I would be gone and only a rough idea of where my journey would take me.

Direct Tui 1When I boarded the Direct Tui in late January of 2004 I’d been planning the trip, in one form or another, for at least a year and a half—I had the loose framework of the journey sketched out all the way to re-entering Texas on a Greyhound bus from Monterrey at some indeterminate point in the future, but my focus had been at the level of border crossings and my perception of how interesting different countries would be to travel across overland. I didn’t want to bog myself down with too much overly detailed planning; staying light on my feet and being flexible were really important to me, so I didn’t even buy my first guidebook until the day before I boarded the ship, and I didn’t open it until we were already out at sea.  There wasn’t much to do during the crossing, but that was the way I liked it—I spent a lot of time reading novels and planning out a draft itinerary for New Zealand, talking to the Eastern European officers and the Burmese crew, and getting to know my fellow travelers. It was also, to this day, the longest I’ve ever gone without any kind of access to the Internet.

My fellow travelers, in this case, were Kent, a native Montanan en route to Melbourne to get a Master’s in creative writing, and Ruth and Lyle, a couple of retired Queenslanders who taught me everything I needed to know about animals in New Zealand vs. Australia (in New Zealand, nothing can kill you; in Australia, everything  can) and who I described in my journal as follows (from 1/27/04):

“Back from dinner, and dinner is the meal of the day where we linger, where we stay afterwards and talk, and Ruth and Lyle are usually the focus of the conversation, the centerpiece if you will, an active older Australian couple, late 60’s, I’d say, or early 70’s—two people who you talk to and interact with and you think ‘grandparents,’ and this is them on vacation, breathing life into the package tours and Italian villas and cargo ships of their past, weaving together the facts and figures and claims to fame of their different experiences, stitching them together with their thick Australian accents, snapping at each other just a bit over the details, because the details are what’s important, they bring the people and places to life, and that’s why it makes sense that Ruth and Lyle are grandparents, that they must be grandparents, because they’re so full of life, of living, and the more or less routine nature of the day-to-day life that you imagine for them does nothing to diminish that life, that vivacity with which they approach you and the ship and, presumably, the world as a whole.”

They weren’t grandparents, as it turned out, but they were definitely the life of the party, such as it was. Ruth had been a race car driver and a nationally ranked equestrian dressage competitor in her younger days; I forget what Lyle did before he retired, but a near-death experience when he was changing the channel on their TV in 1971 had convinced them not to wait for retirement to get out there and see the world, and they’d been doing one big trip per year ever since. When I met them they were on the penultimate international vacation of their long career, and they were really planning on doing the last one right. They were cargo freighter junkies, because the price was right and they liked the peace and quiet, but their swan song was going to be a month-long all-inclusive cruise on one of the most luxurious boats ever constructed—a 6-star (out of 5) Russian vessel that would take them from Japan to Alaska over the course of a month and that was small enough to be able to go into all of the little rivers and inlets in Alaska that the bigger boats couldn’t touch. The floors were all made of marble, Lyle told me; the faucets were made of gold; and the cooks that were on call 24 hours a day were some of the best in the world.  It only had room for 375 passengers, it cost $600 per person per day, and this was to be its maiden voyage. Clear rituals around beginnings and endings have always been very important to me, and I loved everything about their plan (from 2/1/04):

“It seems almost like a myth, or a legend—a cruise ship of unimaginable opulence, smaller, faster, and more nimble than all the rest, materializing in Tokyo harbor for a single historic voyage, completely unknown to ordinary men. And this secretive, indulgent ghost ship will be the culmination of Ruth’s and Lyle’s travel impulse. Beautiful.”

Direct Tui 2There’s a concept in Hinduism of four different phases that one passes through over the course of a lifetime, and the final one, the second stage of old age, involves becoming an “ascetic renouncer”—leaving behind friends, family, and all worldly possessions and attachments and wandering the earth alone, trying to achieve enlightenment. After college I thought of the rest of my 20’s as front-loaded retirement, and the idea of ascetic renunciation was one that appealed to me in that context; it was appropriate, then, that my 24th birthday was the only one that I’ve ever lost to the International Date Line. Clear night skies were few and far between out on the open ocean, but when they came through they were absolutely amazing. The first time I ever saw the Southern Cross in the sky was an hour before sunrise the morning of February 3rd—I sat on the highest deck in the ship, which Lyle had christened the monkey island, for two hours watching the stars and then the sunrise, and when that night was also clear I spent several hours watching the sunset and then admiring the clear night sky again. I knew that once I went to sleep I was going to wake up on February 5th, and part of me was disappointed at the lack of ceremony to note my transition from 23 to 24, although I recognized that it fit the general theme of homelessness and wandering that marked the phase of life I was entering into. I was just getting ready to head back to my room for the night when one of the brightest shooting stars I’ve ever seen fell in a long, slow arc right in front of my eyes. I took it to have been the universe’s artistic interpretation of my birthday, smiled with every fiber of my being, and went off to sleep feeling totally content.

Three days later we reached Tauranga, a little ways down the coast from Auckland, and I was ready for it—we had reached land at last, and I had as much time as I wanted to explore New Zealand at my leisure. Stepping off the boat and onto dry land brought with it an extremely powerful burst of travel euphoria, a very specific sensation that I’ve only recently realized has always been associated with my being completely and totally focused on and present in the current moment. My plan had worked—I was in New Zealand with a messenger bag, a bank account full of cash, and not much else, thousands of miles from my friends and family, and I’d gotten there from southern California without leaving the surface of the earth. The Big One was off to a good start.

On driving, and California

Driving has been an important part of my life ever since I turned 16 and got my license in high school. Growing up and going to college in Texas, a car was a necessary mode of transportation—I spent a lot of time behind the wheel, and I came to enjoy the driver’s seat as a place where I could be alone with my music and my thoughts. I still remember my first job, working as a telemarketer the summer after my junior year and driving 45 minutes each way to get there and back; the thing that I looked forward to most at the end of each day was getting out of my air-conditioned cubicle with all its rules and restrictions and into my little Civic hatchback, which didn’t have air conditioning and where I got to set the rules. To this day I still associate the feeling of a hot steering wheel with freedom and relaxation.

I started doing road trips out west my freshman year of college, and in the process I fell in love with Interstate 10 and its 70-mph-plus counterparts—long, uninterrupted stretches of American engineering that took me to the deserts of the southwest and the Grand Canyon and California and all sorts of great places in between. Driving across the country, and travel in its other forms, became a form of meditation for me, a way to disconnect from the context of my day-to-day routines and think more clearly about my life.

I’ll never forget the first time I followed I-10 all the way to the California coast and came face to face with Highway 1, the long, narrow strip of road that hugs the Pacific for the majority of the state’s 840 miles of coastline. It was love at first sight, and it sparked what would eventually become the next phase of my relationship to the open road.

It was the summer after my freshman year of college—my older sister had just graduated from the same school at which I’d just started, and as soon as her graduation ceremony was over a good friend of mine and I jumped into my little Civic hatchback and sped off for L.A. to see the world premiere of the first of the new Star Wars movies at the Mann’s Chinese theater (now called the Graumann Chinese). We drove through the night to Phoenix, crashed hard at his grandparents’ place, and eventually met up in L.A. with another college friend, a girl whose parents lived in Orange County and with whom I would start into the first serious, long-term relationship of my young life less than a year later. When we picked up our tickets at the theater around midnight we were told that they’d be opening the doors at 7:00 to start letting people in. We had a choice—we could either wait in the huge line of people, some of whom had been camping there for weeks so that they could be the first ones through the doors, or we could use the 7 hours we had to see a little bit of the area. We opted for the latter, and had a fantastic time driving around Hollywood before we headed out for the coast. I remember thinking that the Pacific Coast Highway (as 1 is called in Santa Monica and Malibu) was one of the most beautiful things that I’d ever seen—we watched the sunrise from the Pepperdine campus, then turned around and headed back to Hollywood for the movie.

I returned many times to the California coast and beyond over the remainder of my college years, alone and with good friends, and it was on a trip to visit two of my roommates who were interning at Microsoft the summer after our junior year that the seed was planted that would eventually lead me to move to Seattle after my own college graduation. When I made the decision in the summer of 2002 to start my life over from scratch in the Pacific Northwest I’d never driven the full length of the west coast, so I resolved that I would take my time and do it right, and let the drive serve as the buffer between my old life and my new one. I stopped off in Orange County to pick up my friend, who by this point had gone from being a close friend to a girlfriend and back to a close friend again, and we drove up the coast together, she on tour with a couple of fellow singer-songwriters and I just entering the ascetic renouncer phase of my life, obsessed with independence and with the germ of The Big One swimming around somewhere inside my head, still waiting for it to take root in the fertile soil of Millennium Ford and then blossom in the port of Long Beach into the Direct Tui. As we drove along by the ocean, in a time before “travel all the way around the world without flying” and “cargo freighter across the Pacific” had entered my vocabulary, I looked out and wondered, not what was on the other side—I already knew that firsthand—but what the expanse felt like, what it meant experientially to cross an ocean at eye level instead of from 30,000 feet.

17 months later, with my money and my plans and my freedom firmly in hand along with a burning desire to spend them all while I was still young, I slipped out of Seattle on a snowy New Year’s Eve morning and left no footprints behind me as I drove back down the coast en route to Texas. I’d thought about what the freighter would be like every day as I drove past Harbor Island on my way to work, and now I wondered the same thing as I looked out at the calm timelessness of the Pacific to my right and prepared to say good-bye to America for awhile—until I ran out of money or wanderlust, whichever came first.

The Direct Tui—like an economy car in its relation to the global body of water, vs. the convertible roadster that Ragtime would eventually represent—lost sight of the shore before dawn one morning in late January of 2004, with me watching it recede into nothingness from the observation deck. The next time I saw the California coast was in early 2006 on a 3-week, 10,000-mile road trip extravaganza with a good friend from high school, after what I didn’t yet know was the end of the international adventures of my youth and before I started an office job in Texas, where I would again look forward to a hot steering wheel at the end of the day, in the name of being able to spend more time with my mother in what would turn out to be the last year of her life. It would be the last time that I drove Highway 1 in a Civic.

There’s a certain feeling that comes from the combination of a warm, sunny day, a twisty driving road, and a car that’s been built from the ground up to take advantage of both. It’s a feeling I know well now, analogous to what surfing is to a wave or snowboarding is to a mountain, a visceral connection and an adrenaline rush and a personal test all rolled into one; but up until the Burning Man trip I was missing the proper vehicle, not yet fluent in the physical language of curvy mountain roads. That changed in 2007, and my relationship with the California state highway system moved to a whole new level, when I rented a Miata for three days and took it on a whirlwind tour of the best driving roads between San Francisco and Los Angeles before heading out east to Black Rock City. It was an amazing experience—all of the twists and turns and switchbacks were transmogrified along with the sun and the car into something else entirely: a new sport, a new form of control, and an entirely new way of being alone with the open road.

I totaled the Civic in Ohio in 2008 after logging just over 240,000 miles with it altogether, and I replaced it with a used S2000, one of the most beautiful driving cars ever created. After election day I was off and running—I spent 2 months and 15,000 miles hitting all of the best driving roads in the country in style, learning the car’s physical limits and my psychological ones, and then after the inauguration in D.C. I turned my sights Seattle-wards and got here via a magnificent drive up the coast. It was the most fun I’ve ever had with a car and a road, and when I arrived in Seattle it was the first time in my life I’d ever moved somewhere that I wasn’t planning on leaving, where I was actually planning on putting down roots and building a future for myself. A month after I hit the ground I sold the S2000 and went car-less for the first time in my life; I’ve toyed with the idea of flying down to San Francisco and renting a nice little driving car a few times since then, but I never acted on it until this past week.

Two Fridays ago my fiancée broke off our engagement and brought my whole world crashing down around my feet. My response was almost automatic once I recovered enough to be able to sit down and think about what my next steps would be: I flew to San Francisco the next day, had a long conversation over dinner with the same friend I’d watched the movie and driven up the coast with, found a place that would rent me a manual-transmission Miata for a whole week for a reasonable price (City Rent-a-Car—highly recommended), and took off for Palm Desert to enjoy some uninterrupted communion with the open road. At the time I just felt like I needed to be able to breathe, but in retrospect I realize that it fits well into the “boundary between two phases of life” role that California has often played for me—it wouldn’t have been physically possible for me to go about my life as if nothing had happened, and I don’t think that I could have processed that first week well if I’d stayed in Seattle. I’ve always evolved via travel, and the road trip was a great way to clear my head, temporarily leave behind all of my commitments and obligations, and start working through the situation and thinking about how to rebuild my life from a neutral frame of reference.

There were a lot of good revelations over the course of the week—I’m still sorting through it all, as you can imagine, but one thing I realized very clearly the last day, wandering down a short little path to the Pacific that reminded me of New Zealand and the freedom-and-happiness-seeking mindset of my youth, was that writing, the road trip impulse turned inwards, needs to be a bigger part of my life going forward than it has been recently.

Consider this a down payment.