For a month of the late summer, I took my hatchback out solo into the American West. Despite treading some familiar ground, It was fairly novel overall. Car camping is interesting in finding and tackling the grand sights while managing one’s itineraries, logistics and mental health. It’s good to know I’m still adept at backpacking, in whatever medium it tilts towards in a given year. Long drives alone left me with plenty of time in my own head to think about the past, present and future, and the directions my life has taken and could go.
This would be only my second time road tripping, after I moved west in November of last year. That journey had a pleasant air to it, with stops nightly with friends or couchsurfing on my way to a new life. This year’s was more gritty. While there were moments of levity, I was often isolated for days at a time barely interacting with people, and saying showers were infrequent is generous to put it mildly. In that exchange, I was out in the furthest places and sometimes taking deep dives into some of America’s most premier wildernesses.
The highlights included overnights in Canyonlands, Grand Teton, & Glacier National Parks, each of which I spent multiple nights in. Only in Glacier did I get to have the banter around the campfire experience. I do sort of live for those short, intimate interactions. Alas, it is kind of bittersweet on breaking camp the next morning and going your separate ways. It makes me pine hard for another social trail, where you can build strong bonds and usually find someone who’s got your back like I had on the Appalachian and TransAm.
I only paid to camp one night, after arriving in the Tetons and getting walloped for $33 outside the park. My fellow backpackers in line at the permits office the next morning had some laughs at my expense, talking about how easily accessible the forest land was to throw down on. And in fact, I had no difficulty finding the spots they talked about. After that, I made it into a game for the rest of the trip. Helps not having an income, and no traveling partners to question your hygiene!
In terms of maneuvering around COVID-19, I think I did a good job. It’s been really hard navigating the virus politically, with a mishmash of regulations, muddled scientific understanding, and a president intent on using it as a means to rile people up. Keeping my distance out in the wilds, wearing a mask whenever in a shared space, and minimally using services, I felt safe and justified in taking this trip. The amount of troublemakers I encountered were few, but it sure is it uncomfortable indoors when you see someone maskless these days. I just never know if these people are a hair trigger away from losing it should they be confronted.
The fires have just been an ugly ubiquity. They canceled my original vacation plan (to hike the Arizona Trail). Before things got really bad, smoke was settling on me between Utah and Wyoming from fires East and West. I got delayed for four hours when winds blew over power lines that burned along Washington’s 101. My trip’s sudden finale was brought upon by the burst of wildfires along the Pacific, and I wound up choking my way home through Oregon in a grey-orange smog. Fires on my trip ran the gamut of photographic curiosity to personal inconvenience, but for many, this year’s fire season has been a real tragedy. It’s hard to doubt humans effect on the environment with all this happening annually, and nowhere forested is safe in a drying American West.
I’ve thought a lot about what the future may hold for me and how I can steer myself towards some distinct reality. I’m still not really sure where I go unfortunately. This year has left me feeling more than a bit like Sylvia Plath staring up at the fig tree. I guess I’m more consumed by a where than a what. I will say that having completed a decent size adventure at the least lets me feel like leaving the workforce wasn’t in vain.
In terms of staying in Flagstaff, I’m unsure. Things are good enough in my home life at this writing I have glimmers of hope that a social life may blossom again and that I even may have a shot at building some community in the juggling space. Alas, it has felt goddamn weird here ever since the pandemic. I know it’s a logical fallacy to not assume life everywhere else (in the states) isn’t similarly altered, but here in Flagstaff is where I am and what I experience. I’d like to think that piercing the fog of the pandemic, this could be my forever home, but my nomad’s mind always is thinking of other ideas.
Memories of New York particularly fluttered about in my head as I drove those long, empty roads. It’s probably all the old playlists I listened to taking me back to the concert venues I called home and the people linked to those songs. Moving back there really wouldn’t be hard, but I’d yield my civic advantage I got by moving to a swing state, not to mention all the other things I’ve come to like about living in Flagstaff: the climate (minus it never raining), no Spring allergies, a pro outdoors culture, and no daylight savings to list a few. Living with a car again honestly hasn’t been the worst either. After a year in Flagstaff though, I have yet to find myself able to separate from my identity as a New Yorker. I may just be one for life.
There’s always some place new to ponder as well. Alaska and Hawaii are particularly exotic locales to think twice about; it could be easy to think about living a year in one or the other like I have done here in Flag. I also am pondering emigrating, and that’s where the coming election looms large, a deep, dark cloud hanging over everything I do or think about. Justice Ginsburg’s death and the Republicans insistence on immediately, hypocritically replacing her has sickened me to my stomach. I’m enraged knowing that the courts are stacked against us and will regress this nation further against what the true majority of people are for.
It’s so hard for me just to step away from reading the news and analysis, or getting provoked by the injustices the right are perpetrating on a regular basis. I think a lot about electoral reforms to reduce the poisonous attitudes between red and blue in this country, but to be honest, they can’t happen without the republicans and Trump, who has made things so much worse in only four years, being CRUSHED at the ballot box. What a catch-22! This is because republicans are the beneficiaries of voter suppression and our rural-biased elections, and will block anything that hints at changing it. This country just can’t sustain itself any more under the minority rule that the Electoral College, Senate and Supreme Court all currently embody. If we can stop Trump in November, and regain the senate with a good enough majority, there may just be hope to save this country.
Thus, it’s impossible to long term plan for me right now. Once the dust settles, if we’ve won, I can move forward under an optimistic tac and hope Biden and co have the grit to make hard changes on electoral fairness, before we have to do battle again in just two short years. If Trump remains in power, I just don’t know. Things will likely be forever lost for America as we know it, and I’ll be thinking hard about how I can get out or if there’s a protest movement I throw my life into. Until then, it’s simply counting down the minutes ’til midnight.