Cultivating Freedom

Lucy gripped my hand as we squealed our way out of the driveway. The highway unraveled before us like the arms of an old friend.

I was about to write that there are few moments that feel more free than graduating from college and setting off into the world, but I stopped myself, because I refuse to believe that is true. Freedom is a product of the cultivation of freedom.

My best friend and I made it from Vermont to California, saw fourteen states and twelve different national and state parks, in less than $490.00. Neither one of us were major athletes (unless you consider pizza eating a sport). Neither one of us were professional navigators. We didn’t know much about cars. In fact, we didn’t know much about any of the places we were about to see.

What we did have was fearlessness and commitment to the cultivation of freedom. We wanted our first decisions in the adult world to be bold, brave, and reinvigorating. We wanted to start our adult lives alive, as well as living.

We ended up hiking approximately 170 miles. We got lost, but loved every second of being lost, and eventually found our way home. Our steering wheel locked up in the middle of the desert of Arizona, but we learned that steering wheels sometimes require extra steering fluid, and we fixed the problem ourselves. We learned that the United States of America is one of the most stunningly beautiful and diverse places on earth. We also learned that this was just the beginning of a lifetime relationship with adventure.

When I tell people about the cost of the trip, they are amazed. They say things like, that must have been without gas, or that must have been without food or shelter. And the answer is NO! All expenses were accounted for in the grand total. I’ll admit- we definitely weren’t eating gourmet. Most of our meals consisted of tuna packets and peanut putter sandwiches. And we definitely spent most of the trip camping.

Here is my sentiment about camping: the hardest part is thinking about camping. People are often so scared of the notion of sleeping in a tent that they opt out of the trip altogether. What do I find scary? Missing out on the fruits of life because of irrational fears about breaking the mold of everyday life. Trust me, falling asleep under the stars to the sound of a rushing river, and waking up to a burnt red canyon against an electric blue sky, is far, far superior to waking up in the itchy sheets of any hotel or motel. And far, far cheaper, if not free.

Bryce Canyon defies logic. I felt as if I were entering Poseidon’s kingdom as I descended into the canyon- I had never witnessed a sight like that, and there is no way for me to truly elicit my experience in words. Suddenly I was two inches tall and weightless swimming through a massive wonderland of gold, violet, white and green coral reefs. Bryce Canyon is made up of “hoodoos”- giant limestone formations morphed by time, wind and acid rain. The balance between snow and rain ensures that new hoodoos will emerge while others crumble down to clay.

Walking through the landscape helped me realize there is so much majesty in disaster. What crumbles today is tomorrow’s kingdom. Life is not stagnant, and humans are silly for believing they are the exception! Anxiety comes from the refusal to evolve.

Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and Arches- all located in Moab, Utah- were the most unique parts of the adventure. Moab is the most wonderfully peculiar landscape I’ve ever seen. Theories vary- some believe the land was struck by a meteor, while others believe it was morphed by water. There is science that backs both hypotheses- I stand by the meteor theory. I was an alien on the moon. The landscape was smooth and free of shrubbery- the layers of rock sat bare backed in the sun. Crater-like holes freckled the surface like scoops of missing clay. The trail was marked only by deliberately placed rock piles, which could easily be mistaken for naturally occurring piles of rock (the entire landscape was made up of rocks). Each step was a fully immersive, meditative experience- one misstep could lead to hours off trail. The focus was intense and intensely serene at the same time. The best part: we were completely alone (we opted to hike Arches at sunrise, because it is the most crowded of the parks). When no one is watching, you can feel free to let yourself be swooned by the world around you. You can take off all your clothes and do yoga in the sun. You can dance based on how you feel and not based on how you look. You can laugh at the amazement of it all and jump for joy. And the land laughs because its seen it all before- a child discovering the hidden treehouse. It has been there all along.

The Grand Canyon reminded me there is no beauty like the unselfconscious. Jagged and textured, it stands silently, gracefully but grandiosely next to the raging river. An innocuous powerhouse.

Zion National Park was a pilgrimage for the soul. Scaling the ledge, holding tight to the metal chain, I pulled myself into the sky on the famous hike “Angel’s Landing”. I swung my feet over thousands of years of depth at observation point. In open spaces of grandeur my heart feels free. I feel grounded in landscapes that exemplify massive change.

I won’t tell you that I never felt fear or doubt during the trip.

Lucy ended up dropping me off in California alone- she had to leave for a job but I wasn’t done traveling quite yet. I trekked through Joshua Tree via ten foot U-Haul box truck. I then made my way to San Francisco by bus and arrived in a hostel in the middle of the night. I was the only female, the only white person, and the only one under thirty in the room. I felt my heart seize- 22 years of biases, borne out of society and privilege made me want to run the other direction. But I kept thinking of the Mark Twain quote my dad sent me right before I left:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one title corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I stayed in the hostel. The Indian man who slept below me ended up being a sustainable textile and journal designer- he gifted me a notebook that he made from recycled paper and tea leaves. The other man was Jewish and from Israel- as a Jewish person I felt instantly connected. The third guy was a Spanish salesman there on business- we all laughed at him as he fell asleep again and again on his computer in attempt to stay up and work. He traveled with a binder full of beautiful drawings from his son. In that landscape- the landscape of humans- I had felt more vulnerable than I had throughout the course of whole trip. But in that moment, the moment that I decided to stay, I had never felt more brave. I made friends that night. I wasn’t raped or robbed. No one made me feel threatened or uncomfortable. We were all just human beings existing in the same space. Then I began to wonder, where else can I dare myself to roam? How far can I go trusting my instincts? How can I break the mold I have built for myself and live my fullest life?

The few places and experiences I have chosen to describe barely scratch the surface of the trip as a whole. There is nothing extraordinary about me. I am just a person who decided to take a trip out of the ordinary, and I am reporting a few of my personal findings. Whomever it may concern, I dare you to redefine your perception of freedom. I dare you to carve it out in your own life, perhaps in your own country, in your own way. You don’t need fancy equipment or thousands of dollars. All you need is the commitment.