“Anything I should make sure to do while I’m up there?” I asked the ranger at the Joshua Tree Visitor’s Center.
“Yeah,” he replied, leaning forward in a stern posture. “You need to make sure you hang a flashlight in your tent, turn it on, then take about thirty steps back, snap a photo, and post it on social media.” He tossed me a wink, handed me a map, and added, “Have fun!”
I was exhausted, which, I know, I mention in pretty much every post -- but this time, I’d stayed up most of the night finishing "Parentification," the latest podcast episode. I'd spent the morning attempting to jolt myself awake with 16 ounces of opaque coffee while catching up on emails at a yuppified hangout close to the road leading up to the park. Now, I hopped in the car, turned my phone on airplane mode and started winding my way through the low-lying rock formations toward Joshua Tree National Park.
It was with reluctance that I’d departed from San Diego a few days before. San Diego is a soothing place -- I’d made friends in the relatively short time I spent there, and laughed and hung out with my longtime best friend. But after ten days and an overstayed welcome, it had seemed like time to leave. I drove through the dry dust of I-15, past windmills, red cliffs, billboards, and small towns. I pulled over to watch a train wind around the base of a bluff.
For the next few days, I laid low at the Harmony Motel, a historic motel in Twenty-Nine Palms, and took advantage of having a roof over my head to furiously catch up on the work on which I constantly seemed to be slipping behind. I took a break only to stop by the grocery store in Twenty-Nine palms and go on a quick run in the craggy rock formations on the outskirts.
Now, it was time to disappear.
Drifting away from cell service, I entered a flat landscape bordered by a rise of hills -- Twenty-Nine Palms and the Harmony Motel, my temporary home from earlier that day -- were just on the other side. As I drove, granite boulders loomed up to reflect the vintage-colored sun in their clasts. Joshua Trees duplicated themselves across a soft and seemingly endless ground.
I drove through the Jumbo Rock campsite and was surprised to find it full, something that struck me as very Californian. At every other site, there was a group of other millennials unloading their cars, setting up tents, poking campfires, and shouting to their friends.
When I’d added Joshua Tree to my list of destinations, I’d considered it a social opportunity, throwing my climbing shoes in my car as an afterthought. Maybe I’d camp out for a week, or even two. Maybe I’d find a group of dirtbaggers and settle in for awhile. But even though I’d been alone now for a few days, all I wanted at this point was solitude.
I was three weeks into the roadtrip, and at the moment, tired of explaining, listening, and relating. I just wanted to lie low for at least a night and sleep for maybe twelve hours. As the sun set, I found a spot in the quiet, small Belle Campground. I set up my tent, took a quick walk to catch the last of the sunset, ate some dinner in the light of my headlamp, and crawled into my tent. Ahhh.
It's the first week of 2017 now (I'm writing this post a little late), and I'm noticing just how much time we spend thinking of the ways we need to push ourselves. It's undeniable that drive is an essential factor for success, however you define that. But I’ve often said I want to be everything, do everything, see everything. This, not surprisingly, is a burden.
This is what leads me to stay up all night in a hotel room cutting an episode that may or may not be listened to. This is what makes it hard for me to sit still. This is why, later in the trip, I will pull over at a rest stop in Arizona and have a phone meeting with a client, then pull over at a rest stop in New Mexico to get a workout in, then later arrive in Texas. And this is what makes me need to crash for twelve hours when I'm finally horizontal.
This drive of mine sometimes allows me to get that “everything” that I’m looking for. But sometimes, instead, it means my life is full of fragments. Because if you want to have everything, you may only be able to exist in a sample shop.
Zipping up my tent at about 6 pm on this dark, cold, and cloudy evening in Joshua Tree, I’m surrounded by my favorite things: practical, portable pieces of camping gear I've curated for moments like these. My tent, a Marmot Earlylight given to me by my grandmother years ago with the suggestion that I use it as often as possible, feels just the right size for my small frame and my dreams. My Thermarest, a purple, faded, and sap-stained relic from my late teens, has kept me off the ground in Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, California, Montana, Oregon, Alaska, and dozens of other places in the last ten years. My 0-degree Marmot Ourey sleeping bag, which I'd bought when I maybe should have been paying rent this fall, was just the right amount of warmth for the 40-degree Joshua Tree night.
This is all I need right now, right here, to love myself. The existence of these items my life is a reminder of what I strive for, what I'm running toward: self-sufficiency, mobility, that feeling of being suspended in a vast world where I finally have space to think. That feeling of wanting to be warm and then being able to keep myself warm. Of wanting to hop in my car and drive somewhere, and then doing it.
I don't believe in God -- I'm not religious at all, in fact -- but I can't help myself right now. I write in my journal: "Dear GOD, I am grateful for this moment." Because I'm so grateful, and I don't know who or what to be grateful toward. The gratitude spreads throughout my body, soaring through my chest and into my toes and fingertips. It becomes a feeling of elation.
Maybe, in this moment of stasis, I have found it: the vortex of simplicity where I can, in fact, have everything.