10 Life Lessons From My Solo Road Trip Across America

As anyone who travels a lot will tell you, life on the road isn’t easy. Whether you’re taking a short road trip or trying to live the nomadic life full-time, you’re going to face some unique challenges that only the road can present.

In preparation for my 2-month, 9,000-mile cross-country road trip, I’d formed several goals and expectations about how healthy I’d be (and further become), how much I’d do and see, and all the great self-reflection I’d achieve. I had pretty idealistic visions of how productive this trip would be for me. And this wasn’t my first rodeo, but it certainly was the longest and most ambitious road trip I’d ever undertaken.

So despite my every intention to give my physical, mental, and emotional core needs solid focus, I still found it difficult to actually implement them on the road, where every day is different. What saved me was my predilection to make plans and lists, and give everything around me structure. Without that, I would not have been able to navigate what I discovered to be a very challenging way of life. Even for someone as free-spirited as me. As a dear friend of mine once put it, “create deep structure to allow for deep chaos.”

I’m certain I will repeat this experience again, possibly even make it a more regular and recurrent lifestyle. So it will be vital to figure out how to keep myself healthy and happy in the process. Here are some key lifestyle lessons I learned on this epic road trip and fully intend to better embody as I adventure onward.

#1. Find Your Own Road Routines

Good food, enough sleep, and regular exercise. These are the core fundamentals we need everyday to stay healthy, happy, and well. Going into this trip, I knew I’d have to keep a very strict focus on these basic needs. Because life on the road can make it that much harder. And because at the start of my road trip, I was the heaviest and most unhealthy I’ve ever been. So I knew I’d need to set some strong ground rules and (most importantly) keep iterating on them, learning what’s actually feasible and compatible with my road trip life.

It’s pretty easy to create a healthy routine when you have a stable home, work, and relationships. But when all three are constantly in flux and on the move, the formula gets exponentially more complicated. So it’s important to figure out what works for YOU and how you live your on-road lifestyle. For my bedtime routine, I learned that I like to pull into my overnight spot just after sunset, have some settling in and reading time, and hit the hay by midnight. Then I’d let my body wake up naturally, which would often fall between 8am-9am. If I’d parked somewhere a bit less on the up-and-up, however, I might have to set an alarm to get up and out of dodge before any cops came a-calling. But this was rare.

I also set clear goals around what I’d let myself eat, and found that I could get decently healthy options at gas stations if I aimed for the larger truck stop travel centers (like Pilot and Love’s) which often had hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, and fruit in stock. For exercise, I designed my route to take advantage of my 24 Hour Fitness membership and hit as many of their gyms as possible on my way. 24 Hour Fitness US map.pngIf you don’t have a similar gym membership, you can still find a way to regularly exercise. I got additional cardio from national park hikes and occasional morning runs. Plus, I’m a big fan of calisthenics you can do anywhere, like lunges, squats, crunches, planks, and, my personal favorite, push-ups. No matter where I am, I have a goal of 100 push-ups a day. I rarely hit this, but just having the goal motivates me to get at least some in every day. You gotta figure out what works for you. And then don’t stray!

#2. Budget For More Than You Expect

This means both in finances and in time. It will cost you more of both than you originally estimate to get yourself from point A to point B to point C and so on. Why is that? Well you may not find the gas prices you forecasted. Or you may have a sudden travel expense you didn’t expect. Like needing to replace your car brake rotors. That gets mighty pricey, believe you me.

It’s even more important with respect to time, the one resource you can never get more of. I guarantee you it will take longer than you expect to drive (ride, bike, hitchhike, etc) to each next point in your journey. Or to explore each of those destination points. If I had a nickel for every time I wished I’d had more time to explore the various national parks I visited on my trip… well I’d have a whole lot of nickels. A few hours is simply not enough, even for a quick driving tour. And one to two days was not enough to get to know each of the amazing cities on my route, like Austin, New Orleans, and Nashville. Especially when you’re already weary from all that travel, some sleep deprivation, and perhaps even a little altitude sickness.

Ultimately, my ambitious plan to drive across the entire country (and back) and visit almost every state in two months proved to be much more hurried and harried then I’d anticipated. And I knew it’d be tight to begin with. So learn from my mistakes and give yourself more time and budget than you think you’ll need.

#3. And Expect Less Productive Time

At the same time, don’t expect to get as much work or other sedentary productivity done as you intend. Like reading. Boy did I have ambitions there. I’d designed one of the shelves in my custom cabinetry to the exact height for my books. Essentially, I built myself an in-car bookshelf. IMG_20190924_181547680_PORTRAITI packed the thing with about ten of both my favorites and ones I’d been meaning to read for forever, fully intending to finish some and at least start the rest. But being on the road makes it very hard to actually do any of that. Not unless you (once again) budget in the time for it.

By this, I mean giving yourself designated time being still in one place (not mid-traveling) to sit and work with your full focus. While on the road, I’d also intended to do a lot of writing (like on this blog), not to mention research into new potential career paths. However, my trip had such an aggressive timeline of ground to cover that the vast majority of my schedule was necessarily budgeted for driving time. And as I discovered, reading and writing (and even Googling) are near impossible while also driving behind the wheel. I only got any decent work done when I made the time to stop in a town and stay put for a while to eat a good meal, relax, and access some reliable Wi-Fi.

So if you have any intentions on this as well, my advice would be to set aside some solid stationary time for your own work, or whatever still-sitting, high-focus activities you intend to do on the road. It will likely eat into your driving time and extend your overall timeline. So make sure you weigh where your priorities lie and design your road schedule accordingly.

#4. Make Better Use Of Driving Time

If you’re too busy driving to read or work, you can take advantage of all that driving time for other valuable activities instead. Like thinking through stuff. I do some of my best self-reflection while driving. So this road trip was basically that on steroids.IMG_20190529_192138799IMG_20190529_192137674_HDR

I’d set a goal of making some significant discoveries and decisions about my next career and life path on this trip. So I made good use of all that time behind the wheel, driving mindlessly on one highway for hundreds of miles at a time, to do some solid soul-searching and what I call “self-talk.” Yes, I talked to myself. Out loud. A lot. One of the benefits of driving alone. My car is my little safe space where I can talk or sing or scream to my heart’s content without judgement. And personally, I also process things better out loud. I’ve just always been that way.

Maybe you can relate. And if you do, I highly recommend embracing the relatively soundproof bubble of your vehicle to let your vocal ponderings fly free. Or do whatever else you find valuable and meaningful that doesn’t require your eyes and both hands. Maybe just your vocal cords and a few small one-handed gestures. Like belting out your favorite Disney songs. Or composing voice-to-text if you’ve discovered some magical software that doesn’t suck at that. Whatever fires your jets and greases your wheels.

#5. If You Must Use Your Phone, Mount It

I can’t tell you how incredibly valuable a car dashboard phone mount can be. It’s the bees knees of sliced bread, or whatever. It saved me time, focus, neck pain, and so much more. Of course, ideally we aim not to use the phone at all while driving. 😉 But there are always going to be exceptions. Like navigating with Google Maps. Or responding to urgent (or even non-urgent) texts. Or looking up the few words you forgot in that Disney song.

I also discovered, upon using all that driving time to think through things, that I then felt a strong urge to write down all those great thoughts before they faded into the limbo of my mind. And if I hadn’t had the dashboard mount to keep my phone in easy viewing and typing distance, I would not have been able to capture all those great personal insights, or at least not without seriously compromising my driving and safety.

So be safe, be smart, and get yourself a dashboard mount (or finally install the one you bought months ago). Or if you’re super cheap, just use a binder clip and a rubber band.

Binder clip phone mount.jpgBinder clip mounted.jpg

Same difference.

#6. Be Prepared For Driving Pains

Sitting still in a driver seat for many hours at a time, whether or not you have your phone car mount handy, will inevitably take a physical toll on your body. Car seats are surprisingly NOT designed to be particularly ergonomic. Which means, as I discovered, that considerable back and shoulder pain will inevitably ensue. As well as arm weariness if, like me, you’re still determined to try and do things on your mounted phone while driving. Holding your hand nice and steady next to the car mount is actually surprisingly tiring.

My lesson from this is thus to incorporate some preventative means of maintaining better driving posture, like a back brace, or lower back pillow (or just a spare sweater you can shove down by your lower back in a pinch). You should also have ready some reactive means of addressing the pain once it occurs, like tiger balm, or a neck massager, or just a tennis ball you can once again wedge down behind you and awkwardly roll against as you drive.

You’ll also want to pay attention to how frequently your body asks for breaks to stretch and realign. I found that my sweet spot was about every 3-4 hours, at which point I’d find a place to stop and breathe (amazing how therapeutic just breathing deeply can be), stretch, pee, and perhaps refuel with a snack. Driving is especially exhausting on certain stretches of road across the country, like those long flat interstate highways with high winds that push your car about, or the kind of pavement that makes your tires whistle like an angry tea kettle.IMG_20190430_154528057_HDRSo be prepared for the longer hauls, stock up on supplies, and (most importantly) follow the next tip!

#7. Pace Yourself! 

I can’t stress this one enough. I had so much ground to cover on my road trip that my pace ended up quite spastic and aggressive. It was not sustainable, even with back braces and tiger balm and frequent breaks. I ended my road trip completely wiped out, mental drained, decently sleep deprived, and in need of another vacation to recover from that one.

I was certainly in no position to implement any of the revelations I had on the trip, let alone continue uncovering new ones. It took months to get back to a fully healthy state of body and mind. And we simply don’t have that kind of time. Life and responsibilities start nagging, and before you know it, you’re committing to another exhausting and costly endeavor. Why do we do this to ourselves?

So please, for the love of all that is holy and wholey, take it slow as you go. So you don’t have to madly (and unsuccessfully) play catch-up later. Don’t overcommit to too strict a timetable or pace or to do list. And give yourself the freedom to change your mind, change course, or just stop altogether whenever you need to. Your health is more important than seeing the world’s largest frying pan (especially since there are actually six of them across the country all claiming the same title).

#8. This Too Shall Pass

Remember, at the end of the day, this trip (or that particularly frustrating section of the trip) will eventually end. When the going gets tough and you’re running on fumes, try to remember that it’s not forever. It will have an end. And until you get there, you can take it in small sections, with small milestones, one at a time. You can even give yourself a reward as you reach each. Like a whole week in your favorite city visiting your favorite old haunts to congratulate yourself for making it halfway through this insane behemoth of a road trip you’re already drowning in way over your head.

After all, we only have so much time left. So you might as well enjoy the journey along the way and let go of the rest. However hard it may get, or much you may struggle, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. I mean park the damn van, get out, and smell some flowers. Look at trees. Breathe in some fresh air. Or whatever else that means to you.IMG_20190509_144545346Life is too short to spend the whole thing running around madly trying to cover as much ground as possible, and missing all the great stuff around you in the process.

#9. This Too Shall Prevail

At the same time, in the end, this trip will be worth it. In spite of (and no doubt because of) all these ups and downs, it will prove an amazing journey that will teach you so much about yourself and help you grow in more ways than you expect. It will be a wonderful, challenging, frustrating, amazing, life-changing experience that is entirely unique and special.

So even as you are swearing at the other asshole drivers on the road, or balking at the price of gas, or tossing and turning at night kept awake by bright Walmart parking lot lights and thunderous rain storms, remember how lucky you are to be here on the road living this lifestyle. Practice some gratitude. I try to make this a daily habit every night before I go to sleep. I think of three things I’m grateful for and send out mental thanks to those people (or places or things). And then I let that fond feeling lull me to a gentle sleep. Works like a charm.

Do whatever you need to do to find that same inner calm (like the next tip). And know that it will all be okay. More than okay. It’s going to be triumphant.

#10. Find Your Inner Peace

My mantra is: Breathe deep. Seek peace. Beat free.IMG_20190416_122057086_HDR

No matter where you are or how rough the road may be (literally or like totally litrally), you can always press pause, take a deep breath (remember how good that is for you), and find a little slice of peace, however small and bite-sized. Take it in and let it fill you. There’s no better cure for the many kinds of pain that the road will inflict on you. Unless, you know, you’ve got some serious pain, and then maybe take some medication or go see a doctor.

I got this great fortune cookie once that I’ve since taped to my laptop, so it’s always front and center (well, technically top and left). It says, “No person is important enough to make you angry.” And it’s true, of everyone and everything. IMG_20180912_160218193So no matter what upsets you as you travel on your own journey, remember these mantras. Or find your own mantras or other tricks to bring yourself back to a peaceful state of being.

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US Road Trip Week 8: Salt Lake City, Moab, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce & Zion

I began my final week of the road trip feeling especially soothed and transcendent thanks to all of last week’s spiritual beauty. So imagine the jarring experience of then driving into Salt Lake City and encountering a massive collection of intensely Mormonistic sculpture art.  At least that’s what Atlas Obscura recommended. Obscura indeed. IMG_20190603_161542322_HDR.jpgDefinitely not as transcendent, or at least not in the same way. Though you could argue perhaps still spiritual.IMG_20190603_162206881_HDR.jpg

I’d planned to stay in Salt Lake City overnight, but the sight of all the heavy handed Latter-Day Saints influence made it hard to get excited about seeing the rest of the city. But I decided this was my trip and I could do what I liked with it. So I just hopped back on the highway and continued down to Moab one night early.IMG_20190604_201204992_HDR.jpg

Plus it was quite nice to wake an easy two miles from the Arches park entrance the next day. Such a magnificent national park full of stunning contradictions. A motionless monotonous Park Avenue in the desert. IMG_20190604_110521645_HDR.jpgBalanced Rock somehow resting just off-center. IMG_20190604_112739363_HDRAll the pane-free Window Arches looking into each other.IMG_20190604_115131224_HDR.jpg(Though I did have fun climbing on their sills.) IMG_20190604_120150949_HDR.jpgThat hike up to Delicate Arch that was anything but delicate. IMG_20190604_133244173_HDR.jpgIMG_20190604_135359911_HDR.jpgThe Garden of Eden which actually looked quite barren and menacing. IMG_20190604_113250775.jpgAnd the Devils Garden which was rather more verdant and heavenly.IMG_20190604_154117912_HDR.jpg

The next day’s plan was Canyonlands, the land of canyons. I only visited the biggest one, the Island in the Sky, but it was a beaut (or should I say, butte?). Drove down every scenic route to get the full spectrum of beautiful views: Mesa Arch, IMG_20190605_102716864_HDR.jpgCandlestick Tower, IMG_20190605_104843516_HDR-1Orange Cliffs, IMG_20190605_105926982.jpgUpheaval Dome, IMG_20190605_121031690.jpgGreen River, IMG_20190605_113730734and (last but not least) the Grand View Point. And ain’t it just grand?IMG_20190606_220552_605

Even then, I finished Canyonlands faster than expected and still had half the day left. So I decided to be ambitious and try to squeeze in Bryce that same day. It was tight but I did it. Managed to drive up and down the whole Rainbow Point drive and all its breathtaking lookouts, IMG_20190605_192805677_HDR.jpgthen take in the iconic views at Bryce Point, IMG_20190605_195134832_HDR.jpgthe inspiration at the aptly named Inspiration Point, IMG_20190605_200409296_HDR.jpgand reach the final Sunset Point in time to witness its stunning view of the sunset at the end the day. (All while eating my Mountain House meal for dinner straight out of the bag. Multitasking.) IMG_20190605_204326843_HDR.jpgI did actually skip one, Sunrise Point. But at that point in the day, what would have been the point?

And last but certainly not least, I’d saved perhaps the very best for the very end of the whole cross-country road trip: Zion! IMG_20190606_154408872.jpgBut unfortunately the visit did not do it sufficient justice. I crammed in as many small hikes as I could do: The Grotto, IMG_20190606_142706863_HDR.jpgWeeping Rock, IMG_20190606_142549690_HDR.jpgand Riverside Walk.IMG_20190606_133011738_HDR.jpgBut sadly The Narrows were too flooded to see (I waded in as far as I could go), IMG_20190606_135116409_HDRand I didn’t have the time or means to hike Angels Landing.IMG_20190606_141639054_HDR.jpg

Must be better prepared next time. And there will be a next time, coz it looks awesome!

But for now, it’s time to bring this epic road trip to an exhausting but successful end. I’m completely wiped out, mentally and physically drained, decently sleep deprived, and just generally spent. It’s gonna take another decompression vacation to fully recover from this one. So I’m likely gonna need to pause on the blogging for a bit to focus on that, and will resume when I’ve reached a solid enough state of mind and comprehension to write about all of this in more depth and deliberation.

US Road Trip Week 7: Standing Rock, Badlands, Wind Cave, Devils Tower, Grand Tetons, Yellowstone & Bozeman

Coming off that extra emotional last week, I was grateful for some more drone-like days of long distance driving. That is, until I hit my 10th hour behind the wheel driving the Standing Rock National Native American Scenic Byway (say that ten times fast) and realizing I was going to need to cut the drive shorter than originally planned.IMG_20190526_171740841_HDR.jpg

So I sadly did not make it the whole length of the Scenic Byway into North Dakota. I’ll have to save that state for another trip. But I did get to Mobridge, South Dakota to see Sakakawea and Sitting Bull’s monuments, IMG_20190526_171038631_HDR.jpgas well as the Standing Rock reservation itself.IMG_20190526_174306846_HDR

Then I drove back down to the SW foot of South Dakota and crashed so hard in yet another Walmart parking lot. Woke the next day to a fresh energy and tackled the infamous Badlands loop. 31 miles of some of the most amazing buttes, cliffs, and multi-colored spires my tired little eyes had ever seen. It actually quite reminded me of the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert, which now seemed so long ago.IMG_20190527_125732833_HDR.jpg

After the Badlands, I tried to visit Mt. Rushmore nearby. But the weather was still so bleak and rainy, that visibility was near zero and I realized it would be a waste of my time and money. So instead I decided to learn from my recent exhaustion and take it easy the rest of the day. So I went into town, here being Rapid City, and hunkered down in a cafe for some productive work time and general life catch-up. Then I found another great Walmart right in Rapid City and slept like a log that night.

The next day, I again paced myself, only aiming to hit one major attraction – Wind Cave National Park – and then relax once again back in Rapid City. And what an attraction that cave proved to be! The most intricate cave system in the US and the first cave to be named a national park. It was truly an incredible work of natural art. Unlike anything I’d ever seen before, even in other caves. IMG_20190528_112102147.jpgIts signature boxwork was truly out of this world, and especially knowing the story of how it was created in the first place. Such delicate detail, hardened from mineral deposits washed into the cracks of the limestone cave walls. Literally works of art that formed between a rock and a hard place. IMG_20190528_112824050.jpgOne of the most gorgeous things on this trip so far, and that’s saying something. Maybe I missed my calling as a cave explorer. I do like me some tight damp dark spaces. 😉

Bet you were wondering how long it’d take me to write something dirty. And when better than in a cave?

So many dirty jokes at once. You’re welcome.

By now, I’d been in the area for a day longer than planned and spending more time in the city itself than at nearby attractions, given my goal to take things a bit slower. So somehow, I found myself forming a sort of reluctant bond with Rapid City. This wasn’t even a city I’d originally mapped as a must-see on my route. And here I was, settling into the energy of this city more easily than so many others I’d been excited to visit. And finding some hidden pockets of cool shit where I didn’t expect, like a super cool street graffiti Art Alley.IMG_20190528_200623808.jpg

The weather thankfully cleared up the next day, and I was able to give Mt. Rushmore a second attempt. Visibility was indeed excellent, but that’s the only thing about it that was. Mt. Rushmore itself was incredibly underwhelming. I spent all of about an hour walking the whole limited path around the base of the thing, stopping at every viewpoint to take some more nearly-identical photos of this giant rock carving too far away to see any detail anyway.IMG_20190529_114217410_HDR.jpg

Then I decided that was enough to justify the parking fee and headed back via the gift shop. Now gift shops have been a crucial part of my road trip experience thus far. I’ve been collecting stickers and postcards – being the cheapest items on sale that I can still do something creative with later – at every single national park and key city I’ve visited. So underwhelming or not, this one was going to be no exception.

I went into the gift shop, beelined for the stickers and postcards, and chose my selection. Then I saw them. Souvenir knives in rows upon beautiful rows with custom names carved into them. Now I’m not usually one for clearly overpriced trinkets that I can easily get cheaper elsewhere. But a knife with my name carved into it. That was catering right to me.

So I go up to the rack and peruse. But something feels off about it. I look and look, turning the rack one side to the next, and I start to realize what it is. There are NO girl’s names carved in any of these knives. None of them. There are only boy’s names here. IMG_20190529_114800232I’m getting angrier and angrier as I spin the rack around and around, studying every row for any sign of a remotely feminine sounding name. I’m sure I looked strange, muttering angrily and slowly spinning this souvenir display. But inside, I was enraged! I mean, how dare they?!

This quiet rage proved just the right fuel for the rest of my day exploring the Black Hills Forest (dotted with some ironic white birch) and then, the highlight of my day, the Devils Tower National Monument.

I felt such a warm fuzzy sensation flush through my whole body upon beholding this towering beast of sacred significance, IMG_20190529_153206095_HDR.jpgnot to mention the biggest boulder pile I’ve ever seen stacked over a hundred feet high all the way around it. I spent nearly half my time there climbing up and down that giant boulder field to my heart’s content. IMG_20190529_151632474_HDR.jpgI could have easily kept bouldering all day long. But the Tower Trail looping around the whole igneous intrusion also must be done so I could see the big beauty up close and from all angles. IMG_20190529_154058012_HDR.jpg

With a skip in my step and a light sweat on my brow, I drove on through the Shoshone and Bridger-Teton National Forests (with an overnight stay somewhere in the middle), building up to the headliner of the next day, the Grand Teton National Park.IMG_20190530_151014766

And look, there was snow! I didn’t think I’d see any on this trip, silly me. But up here at 6,500 feet, there’s enough snow and thin air to make a girl quite faint with excitement (or is that the altitude sickness again?). IMG_20190530_152119056_HDR.jpgI drove the full Teton Park Road from one visitor center to the other, right alongside its gloriously glaciated peaks and shimmering lakes.IMG_20190603_183638_850

After camping in the park, I made the quick 18mi hop skip jump into the south entrance of Yellowstone National Park. Now we’re over 8,000 feet! IMG_20190531_115636003_HDR.jpg

Once again, I drove the whole loop, stopping often to explore all the amazing wonders at every turn and trailhead. From Mammoth Hot Springs Terraces IMG_20190601_123244830_HDR.jpgto Artists Paint Pots IMG_20190531_155102789.jpgto all the geysers at West Thumb,IMG_20190531_114603691.jpgand at Upper Geyser Basin, IMG_20190531_130329607_HDR.jpgand Midway Geyser Basin, IMG_20190531_144142395_HDR.jpgand Norris Geyser Basin, IMG_20190531_162526508_HDR.jpgand of course the infamous Old Faithful (which was honestly the least impressive). IMG_20190531_140020796_BURST000_COVER.jpgI walked around and admired each one, their “potent and inconceivable radiancies shining in bright Mind Essence.” And as each geyser’s thermal sulfuric smoke washed over me, I felt a similar warm, spiritual sensation that blessed me anew. Like burning sage, only better.

That night, I decided to treat myself to dinner, complete with amusing local beer, at the Canyon Village diner near my campsite. IMG_20190531_183257174.jpgAnd I made a friend. The guy sitting at the diner bar next to me turned out to be a fellow nomad living out of his truck. We talked for hours, swapping travel stories and tips like his idea to use the space under the front passenger seat as a “wine cellar.” So clever.

I slept like a baby in my campsite that night, and enjoyed a rejuvenating shower the next morning (highly recommend that campground’s showers). Then it was on out the north entrance I went up into Montana to visit my dear friend Danny B and his little sweetie Edie in the wilderness of Hyalite Canyon. IMG_20190602_181631829_HDR.jpgWe spent a beautiful 24 hours together discussing synchronicity and our similar journeys navigating new paths and major life crossroads.

I left feeling freshly motivated in my self-exploration and the approaching end of my road trip. I had intended to have made some major life and career decisions by its conclusion, but realize now that may not be quite possible. And that’s alright. All I need to know, at any point in life, is simply what I want to do next. I don’t need to have all the rest of it figured out.

US Road Trip Week 6: Cedar Point, Cincinnati, St. Louis, Topeka & Omaha

Leaving NYC and heading back across the northern half of the country, I had a hard time letting go of what I was leaving behind and getting excited about what was to come.

I’d been looking forward to Cedar Point for so long – one of my ultimate bucket list items, and once upon a time the inspiration for its own road trip. But now it seemed almost a burden, especially since I was now going to be doing it solo. I’d created a Facebook event and invited everyone I could think of who might actually come to fly or drive out and join me for just this stop. Because rollercoasters are better with friends.IMG_20190522_101842460_HDR.jpg

But no one did. So I did it anyway, on my own. Turns out rollercoasters are also excellent solo, coz you can get on cars faster whenever there’s an empty single seat no one in front of you wants.

I drove into the parking lot, my entrance ticket and parking pass deal ready, trying to muster up some enthusiasm for the day. It’d been a long drive from NYC and I was tired, cold, and lonely.

But the moment I hit the drop on my first rollercoaster of the day, everything changed. I remembered how much I LOVE rollercoasters! More than that, these coasters were igniting and inspiring me beyond my wildest dreams. They are truly the best I’ve ever ridden.

The world’s 2nd tallest Top Thrill Dragster (1 of only 2 with a 400+ feet drop), IMG_20190522_125056465_HDR.jpgthe revolutionary “winged” Gatekeeper, IMG_20190522_122850720_HDR.jpgthe classic Magnum XL-200 (the first to start the global Coaster Wars back in ’89), IMG_20190522_112615992_HDR.jpgthe iconic Millennium Force, IMG_20190522_103108572_HDR.jpgthe legendary Maverick, IMG_20190522_105557154.jpgthe extreme-dropping Valravn, IMG_20190522_160314346_HDRthe rickety wooden Gemini, IMG_20190522_125700674_HDR.jpgthe equally whiplash-inducing Rougarou and Raptor,

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and 2018’s “best new ride” Steel Vengeance, which seriously earned that title. Hands down my favorite.IMG_20190522_130953308_HDR.jpg

Altogether, it was like a religious experience that only a true adrenaline junkie can have. It forever changed my relationship with rollercoasters. Elevated it. I found an even freer, deeper way to experience them by truly letting go and letting myself fully “fly.” I’m talking hands up the entire ride, no fear, letting my body rise and fall naturally with the rhythm of the coaster car as we flew down the track together. My arms outstretched going around every flip and corkscrew, imagining this must be what the characters in Harry Potter feel like on their broomsticks.

I no longer felt my stomach leap into my throat with that first huge drop. Instead, I embraced the drop, every drop, and leaned into it with all my heart. It makes such a difference. Instead of fear (however thrilling), I felt a flood of joy and lightness flow through my body as it dropped, swooped, and rose through the air. I grinned like an idiot through every turn, and giggled uncontrollably every time we pulled back into the loading area. I must have looked like a crazy person to the others riding next to me. But I couldn’t care less. I was having the time of my life.

This mind-blowing experience catapulted me onward to Cincinnati, a stop I’d picked largely in order to catch the Burning Man exhibit that had moved on from the Smithsonian before I could get to D.C. Its next stop was the Cincinnati Art Museum. So there I went too. And it was almost better this way, seeing the wacky world of Burning Man juxtaposed with the more traditional permanent art exhibits. IMG_20190523_155530856.jpgThe museum did a beautiful job of weaving the two together, side by side throughout most of the rooms, as opposed to keeping all the Burning Man pieces quarantined in their own separate room. IMG_20190523_160313386.jpg

After Cincinnati, I decided to take the route through Louisville IMG_20190523_192552859_HDR.jpgand St. Louis – pausing for only a few hours in each – IMG_20190524_122034637_HDR-EFFECTS.jpgon my way to Topeka, Kansas. IMG_20190525_112330876_HDR.jpgNow why Topeka, you may ask. Well it’s where my mother was born. So I promised her I’d go find her old house and childhood haunts, and take pictures for her. I found them alright, and then stumbled upon a most interesting contradiction just a few blocks away. Here lived this beautiful, heartwarming rainbow house painted with words like “love” and “equality” and “acceptance.” And then across the street in stark contrast was this imposing, infuriating church flaunting huge banners that spelled out “Fear God” and “godhatesfags.com.” IMG_20190525_111337017_HDRIt was shocking, and yet quite evocative about our country’s increasingly divisive climate. Deep thoughts.

Kansas was proving too heavy an experience for me, not only because of the heavy downpours that rained down in sheets and thundered with flashes of lightning so close to me that I shuddered while driving and barely slept wide-eyed in the Kansas City Walmart parking lot on the way through.IMG_20190524_202333668.jpg

So onward and northward I went to seek lighter affairs in Omaha. Noticing the state of my over-bitten and outgrown manicure, I’d decided to try to find a nail salon with availability last minute. But alas, everyone was booked solid. On a Saturday afternoon. Imagine that. So instead, I spent that time walking across the country’s longest river (the Missouri River) IMG_20190525_153356651_HDR.jpgon the country’s longest pedestrian bridge (The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge)IMG_20190525_153135433_HDR.jpgand standing in two states at once (Iowa and Nebraska).IMG_20190525_153652539

Not a bad alternative.

US Road Trip Week 5: New York City!

From D.C., I drove north to my beloved New York City – the perfect bookend to mark the halfway point of my journey and mirror the opposite coastal city bookend of LA. So as with LA, I gave this city a full week of my time.

I lived here in NYC back in 2015-2018, and while it was the right decision to move away at the time, it also broke my heart to leave. That city holds such a special place in my heart, and will always light me up in a way nowhere else can.IMG_20190517_182627103_HDR.jpg

So it was amazing to not only be back in this magical city of dreams, but also spend that visit staying with my dearest bestie Adam who still lives here.We did all my favorite NYC things: Bryant Park & Central Park wanders, IMG_20190515_143618754_HDR.jpgexplored The Met Cloisters, IMG_20190517_154616585_HDR.jpgthe New York Public Library, IMG_20190515_140342727.jpgthe Union Square farmers market, IMG_20190515_132644687_HDR-ANIMATION.giflunches with industry friends and nights on the town to classic bars and restaurants, IMG_20190515_183532500_HDR.jpgand all sorts of shows (truly NYC’s speciality) including live jazz, movie premieres, friends’ plays, and of course Broadway musicals. I felt tingles watching Kiss Me Kate on Broadway, and it reminded me how magical theatre has always felt to me. IMG_20190516_192716660.jpgAnd how much I miss it. That was an interesting realization, considering I’ve been seriously considering leaving the entertainment industry altogether. Definitely rethinking that now… All the world’s a stage. And that stage is in New York City!IMG_20190516_193417986-ANIMATION.gif

This city certainly gives me a “feeling of wacky comradeship somewhere in some streets,” as Kerouac described it. I have to say, it’s starting to bring me back around to an empire state of mind.IMG_20190517_183140449_HDR.jpg

… But not yet. I’ve still got a whole second half of my road trip to go. THEN I can figure out where I want to live more permanently thereafter. But right now, I’m here “at the end of America…no more land…and nowhere was nowhere to go but back.”

And so back across I go.

US Road Trip Week 4: Nashville, Atlanta, Great Smoky & Blue Ridge Mountains, Asheville & DC

Feeling especially exhausted from a particularly packed week. And I thought the last week was too full! I left New Orleans and drove up the Natchez Trace Parkway, a truly beautiful and historic route, to Nashville.IMG_20190505_160358613_BURST007.jpg

I’d planned to stay here two days as well, including a ticket to attend the Grand Ole Opry one night!IMG_20190507_181813698.jpg

I wasn’t sure what to expect in Nashville. I hadn’t heard much about the city before or been recommended much to do here, so instead I did what any good traveler would – I asked a local. After some museum and downtown wandering, I stopped in for a drink at the Woolworth and struck up a conversation with the bartender. He was very nice and helpful, and recommended some great spots to go for dinner and fun-but-not-too-touristy live music.IMG_20190506_183445459_HDR.jpg

So it was that I found myself sitting at the Merchant’s restaurant bar in downtown Nashville, chatting it up with the folks sitting around me, when I hear “Becky?!” I look up to see a familiar face placing my food in front of me. Who would be calling me that? I stopped going by that nickname in college. After a stunned pause, a lightbulb went off. “Melanie?!” I couldn’t believe it. I was looking at one of my dearest high school friends, all grown up and serving me my dinner. What are the odds? I haven’t seen this girl in 17 years!

We caught up all night, chatting in between her serving rounds, and then going out for drinks after she got off work until 3am. Then we hugged goodbye, promised to stay in touch, and onward I drove to my next stop: Atlanta. I only had a few hours to spend there. So I looked up the coolest spots on Atlas Obscura (highly recommend this resource!) and hit them one by one in rapid succession: the Rainbow Crosswalks,IMG_20190508_163736855_HDR.jpg 54 Columns art sculpture, IMG_20190508_165919286_HDR.jpgJunkman’s Daughter store, IMG_20190508_174145214_HDR.jpgKrog Street Tunnel graffiti walk, IMG_20190508_182758758_HDR.jpgand then dinner at Krog Street Market, where two men sitting next to me at the bar tried to give me $100 for winning their “bet” about who had done the craziest thing in their life. Guess being a former stuntwoman has its perks (though just to be clear, I did not take the money).IMG_20190508_184920795_HDR.jpg

After Atlanta, I drove back north to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Smoky indeed! It was so smoky and windy that day, I could barely see any of the 522,419 acres many call the “Wildflower National Park”, even from the lookout on Clingmans Dome at 6,643 feet.IMG_20190509_134701851_HDR.jpg

Slightly disappointed, I drove on along the Blue Ridge Parkway, which was much more visibly beautiful. That more than made up for it. The beauty was so distracting (not to mention the hilarious scenic outlook names like Devils Courthouse, Big Witch Gap, French Broad, and Grassy Knob), that I didn’t notice I was starting to speed. A lot. Well much to my surprise, I got pulled over. My first of the road trip! Didn’t help that I was one of the only cars on a less-traveled road in a remote area where rangers/patrolmen have little else to do. Don’t worry though, I sweet talked my way out of a ticket. Not my first rodeo. 😉IMG_20190511_102708_381.jpg

Despite that one minor mishap, I will say the Blue Ridge Parkway’s distractingly beautiful backdrop did provide excellent inspiration for all that introspection I’d intended to do on this road trip. And the long monotonous route allowed me to switch my brain into self-talk mode. Which is to say, I talked to myself. A lot.

And so as I continued on down that picturesque parkway, I found myself making some significant discoveries and decisions about my life, my goals, and some potential next (post-road trip) adventures. I only stopped when I reached Asheville, and felt it a good pausing point for a breather, a brief wander, and (breakfast for) dinner break. IMG_20190509_184454604.jpgWhat a strange pocket of hippies in the middle of North Carolina. This is the same state where I saw a billboard to this effect:

Christian: “God, why haven’t you sent us another savior?”
God: “I did, but you aborted him.”

I was so distracted by the absurdity of it, that I totally failed to get out my phone and snap a picture as I drove by. So you’ll just have to take my word for it.

After Asheville, I realized my schedule was running a tad behind. So I got on the highway and (after an overnight along the way) booked it to and through the lush green paradise that is the George Washington and Jefferson National Forest.IMG_20190510_125743789.jpg

And then shortly thereafter, a slightly-less-brief exploration of the Shenandoah National Park. I basically just drove the incredibly scenic 105-mile Skyline Drive through the length of the park, stopping at nearly all of its 75 overlook turnouts for some gorgeous photos.IMG_20190510_161713922_HDR.jpg

Then in the same day (because time was still tight), I made it all the way over to Washington D.C. where my dear friends Lauren and Chris were awaiting my arrival. I hadn’t seen Lauren in ages, and in that time she’d gotten married and pregnant. So a visit was long overdue. I’d set aside another two whole days of my precious road trip time for this part. And it was a thankfully quite relaxing one. Instead of rushing around trying to pack in the sites (partly coz Lauren was less mobile and partly coz I was so exhausted), we just lazed around their home, took their dog for short walks, ate home-cooked meals, and did lots of catching up.

A lovely and perfect end to a lovely but overwhelming week.

US Road Trip Week 3: Boulder/Denver, Amarillo, Austin & Nola

Continuing this week up I-25 through Denver into Boulder to visit another old friend. I’m starting to see what Kerouac meant calling the landscape here an “endless poem”. Such a strong sense of space to breathe and think. Will definitely need to come back and explore it more someday. Hopefully soon.IMG_20190429_143317140.jpgUntil then, it’s on down I go the entire length of Texas, top to bottom, to Austin. Spent a full day and overnight driving like the wind, like “something, someone, some spirit was pursuing [me] across the desert of life and was bound to catch [me] before [I] reached heaven.”IMG_20190430_125340370.jpgMaybe it was the ghost of one of these crazy Cadillacs in Amarillo.IMG_20190430_102905537_HDR.jpgReached Austin and got to stay put for a whopping two whole days exploring the wonderful world of all things weird, uncommon, BBQ’d, booted, and batty, all while waiting for a forecasted thunderstorm that mysteriously never came. “It was a rainy night. It was the myth of a rainy night.”IMG_20190501_224824_671.jpgStumbled upon a small show at the Museum of the Weird and somehow found myself volunteering to assist the performer who was sending electric current through his body to turn on a light bulb!IMG_20190501_120711877.jpgAnother thing Austin boasts, in my opinion, is some of the best 24 Hour Fitness gyms in the country. One in particular, because it actually had a punching heavy bag available. They never have those! That just made my day.

After Austin, I drove over to New Orleans for another two-day long visit, which still somehow seemed like not enough time. I’d reserved one of those days for the New Orleans Jazz Festival. The festival ran for two extended weekends, but I could only go one day. So naturally I chose the day Diana Ross would be performing. She sang “Ease On Down The Road” from The Wiz! So worth it!Also discovered a new favorite artist Judith Owens who covered some of my favorite songs and artists beautifully, as well as her own hilarious original hit “Secondhand Sexbot.”IMG_20190504_183703553_HDR.jpgBut the day before, I’d had perhaps a little-too-fun-filled day. It started with brunching in Jackson Square,IMG_20190503_115010490_HDR.jpgshopping in the French Market and wandering the French Quarter,IMG_20190503_133057006_HDR.jpga classic cemetery tour,IMG_20190503_141842010_HDR.jpgand epic donut lunch in the Garden District.IMG_20190503_153112799.jpgI nearly called it an early night then, but decided to take myself out to dinner at Coop’s, where I couldn’t help but make some new friends who kept me out till all hours afterward drinking and dancing to all the great big band music of Marigny’s historic Frenchmen Street. IMG_20190503_194537251.jpgLiving my inner Kerouac. “‘I just won’t sleep,’ I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.”

So I was understandably a little stumbly the next morning as I tried to rally and navigate the freshly inclement weather (the event parking all flooded!) to get to the festival fairgrounds.

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