“Traveling is never a matter of money, but of courage.”—Paulo Coelho
Sometimes it’s financial security that holds us back, other times it’s emotional security, but it takes courage to step outside your front door and head out into the world. Many are afraid of making that small step. Still, I believe the benefits outweigh the risks. What I learn each time I hit new roads, often while testing my courage, is invaluable in my life. It allows me to grow and understand myself better. It teaches me flexibility and resilience. I trust it makes me a more patient and kinder soul. And it feeds my insatiable story-catching radar. Outside my comfort zones and moving into my courage zones is where I have some of my best encounters and most unusual experiences.
I can’t tell you the amount of times strangers said to me on this trip, “I wish I had the money and freedom to travel like you do.” I try to encourage them that they can make choices to spend their time and money in different ways if they really want to. I encourage those who are single and who are afraid of traveling alone, that if they wait until they find the perfect (traveling) partner they may miss out on so much.
In May when I made a decision to take this trip, I could easily have looked at my circumstances and only seen what I lacked. I could have said that I had neither money nor freedom. Time had pretty much run out and I didn’t have a job and visa to stay in the US. I had used up most of my savings to complete my MFA and believed I would probably have to return soon to Europe. Also, while I love solo travel, I do still prefer to travel with one or two good companions and knew no one with a few weeks spare this summer. It would have been easy to conclude that extended travel was not an option. Instead, I looked at what I did have—time, creative thinking, friends around the nation and the possibility of freeing up some cash if I was willing to give up my room rental in New York. Suddenly the summer looked wide open. Boy, no regrets there!
So let me share some of the highlights of the last two months:
I’m on the road again.
My spine fused to my trusty backpack.
Plans spread out from me like grabby tentacles stretching west and east; north and south.
The miles mount up—through the air; along the rails; in the saddle; above the greyhound wheels…
And each trip, I find, is not unlike writing a novel.
There is a beginning.
And there are climaxes along the way with momentum lulls and unexpected turns.
In the beginning, anticipation strides pace for pace with uncertainty.
But I am always excited.
After all, the journey is filled with ‘whatif?’ possibilities.
My destinations offer a chocolate assortment of hope and optimism, and a belief that everything will turn out well in the end.
But I never know for sure.
And that is the magic and the beauty of being on the road.
New locations, new scenes, new characters.
So it is with a novel.
My journey paints urban-scapes, landscapes and seascapes; all escapes into new realities.
Some routes are little more than skinny lines – some blue, some red, and some black – outlined crookedly on the map, connecting sprawling metropolitan centers that encroach on contour lines, lakes, farmland and deserts.
Colorado confers craft beers, July 4th in a kayak, sunset kombucha on the porch, whiplash paths up peaks, grey swirling summits, and cyber connections.
Denver station—don’t miss the daily train!
The Zephyr takes my trip into fantasy realms as all long distance train travel still does for me. Despite the demise of steam engines 50 years ago, the romance of rail has not been blown away by the uncompromising diesel and electric monsters that followed.
Chooga chooga, clickety clack—so slow, and so near I can see the faces of the rafters along the Colorado River below. Zipping in and out of tunnels, over the Rocky Mountain passes and through small hamlets scattered along vast red, rocky wastelands of Utah and Nevada. Purple sagebrush tufting the desert.
Aging communities. Decrepit towns. Empty streets. Fences down.
Automobiles rusting in front yards where weeds don’t even grow.
Shuttered, dilapidated buildings, all except the newly whitewashed church scarring, jarring the abandonment.
Death rattles in the throats of these towns.
Dust in the wind.
All that remains is hope.
Not even hard times can erase the hope.
Over the Pine-plaid Sierras, regaining time lost in the deserts, picking up speed and arriving at a clip on the west coast.
With its: divine dairy, wicked wines, balmy clime, bike paths, organic fair.
Characters are everywhere you look in Cali, although I’ll never know their names.
The old lady sitting on her front porch in the shank of the afternoon, her dress worn by too many washings, her face wrinkled by winds too hard and sunshine too hot.
A schoolteacher prays for rain but not as hard as the farmer does.
Grapes and cattle-hay waiting on the rain.
A dog dressed as a clown.
A young man on a unicycle twice his height, with a Rip Van Winkle beard, Birkenstock and teasing tattoos curling below the sleeves of his Deadhead tee.
I see them, and I would like to know more about their lives. Each life demands its own story.
I’ll always wonder.
And I’ll write about some of them even though I’ve never met them.
I don’t have to.
On for a night to San Francisco—a fogless San Francisco, my first. A fire pit and friends on this starry night on an urban Pacific beach.
The heatwaves shimmer through the bus window, bbqueing me as I retrace my steps back over the Donner Pass into Nevada.
“Nev-A-duh”, and don’t get that wrong!
Spooky legends and tales abound here.
Don’t believe me? Ask any of my SCBWI Nevada writing buddies if they’ve seen the ghost in Virginia City.
It is considered one of the most haunted states in the country.
I call it more haunting than haunted, and the novel
I am trying to write as I travel this summer,
suddenly finds its location in the isolation and desolation of the desert scrub and geysers gushing from the nearby foothills.
Nevada provide familiar faces.
Heart-to-hearts and history on early morning walks greeting rattlers and wild mustangs, and discovery-drives.
Los Angeles, a city that will only, always and forever be etched in my heart as the place where my tribe convenes for its summer shindig to celebrate, motivate, congratulate and
conclude with a unanimous “Ay” to another year
of creating, revising, submitting. SCBWI Forever.
West coast finale—epic day road trip snaking the Pacific Coast highway
to sip fruity cocktails in Malibu, spy on seals below the Carpinteria bluffs and savor the festive sights and sounds of Santa Barbara.
After two years of the panther pace of New York,
5 weeks at the more slothlike speed of the West coast has spoilt me.
And I am a little sad to leave the cooler nights, dry azure days and crunchy granola vibe of California.
A Brief New York interlude to see doctors and gather employment documents before heading north for a final fling.
I march through Portland and up the coastline of little ports,
to the beat of the Maine Highland Games’ bagpipes,
the early morning engine hum of the lobster boats
and ships’ bells at the Topsham boat show.
I take early morning walks with unleashed sea dogs along secluded sandy coves, and I remind myself of a promise to write a middle grade novel set in a Maine Lighthouse.
My federal employment documentation now in hand,
I can make my final destination in Jo’s Journey 2015.
A few hours north on the bus, flanked by thick deciduous forests in their pre-fall green palette, transports me to the St Croix River,
where I cross the border into New Brunswick.
One of the poorest of Canada’s provinces,
but rich in community and lush in hospitality.
Calm lakeside fun whatever the weather.
Dawn solo-kayaking, slaloming islands to the call of loons. A minxy mink, a fat horned caterpillar, a two-foot sleepy snapping turtle and porcupine
join my list of Snowy Egrets, Californian voles and many other critters encountered.
Traveling is indeed like writing a novel.
Both take courage.
You can get on a highway, big or small,
and head straight to your destination.
But you’ll enjoy the journey more if you make a few turns
at a few crossroads, take a few back roads, leave some blank pages on the agenda,
and always take time to schmooze with the locals.
When you travel you start with a bag full of luck and an empty bag of experience. The trick is to fill the bag of experience before you empty the bag of luck.
And for my blog followers, I am back with my regular Monday, Wednesday Friday schedule.