What a Solo Road Trip Taught Me About Where I Was Stuck
Updated: May 16, 2022
The only thing holding me back in life was me — and my inclination to play it safe.
I had to leave, if for no other reason than to know I could. I needed to have the experience of stepping away from my salary, uprooting myself from my reclusive complacency, and venturing out with confidence into a country in chaos. I wanted to flirt with chance, explore new places, and give birth to a new version of myself. In the passing of miles, I sought to know what it felt like to live life at the crossroads, forever in the present moment, and allow myself to be guided by my intuition and whim.
There were some people who questioned the wisdom of driving cross-country during a pandemic and others who found it more than a smidge irresponsible. I showed them my coronavirus-prevention kit and promised not to make out with strangers. Others asked me in disbelief, “You are going alone?!” like the country is a giant haunted house full of murderers and sex pervs (no, it’s not — mostly). Truthfully, there was some fear, but it wasn’t about a dark stranger lurking in the shadows or running out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
I wasn’t afraid of danger but of continuing to play it too safe.
Before I left my temporary Cape Cod sanctuary, I took a walk on the beach. In preparation for the imminent autumn, the beach crews were pulling in the ropes and buoys that designated the swimming areas. As I watched them, it hit me. I had become too comfortable living inside the boundaries of others’ expectations and too content to stay away from the edges of my life. But like the swimming area, the only thing limiting me was my perception of what is safe, permissible, and possible. Whether open water or the open road, it was time to stretch into the unknown and see just how much I could trust and take care of myself.
Action creates change
There were unpleasant parts of traveling, like the guy on I-80 who positioned his truck so I would see his naked manhood in the drivers’ side mirror and the motel in Portage, Indiana with a bathtub full of hair. But there were other moments that brought joyful tears to my eyes. Straddling a log on a cliff staring into the deep blue of Crater Lake, I cried at the beauty and power of our volcanic nature. Seated in the garden at a farm-to-table restaurant in Guerneville, CA, I cried happy tears as sea salt, caramel, and chocolate filled my mouth, sips of a local red wine washed it down, and notes from a hot club jazz quartet danced in the air. In that instant, I fell hopelessly in love with my new life.
As my hairdresser cut my hair for the last time before I left, she said, “You are so lucky you get to do that!” But this was not a trip borne of luck, bestowed upon me from the road trip fairy. It was a conscious choice — a series of decisions I made to reassess what I wanted out of life and reprioritize how I spent my energy. Preceding that day in my hairdresser’s chair were decisions to leave a state that no longer felt like home, divorce a husband whose path was diverging from mine, and work hard to save enough money to cover travel expenses for a few months. But beyond logistics, I had decided that I wanted to make myself available for more.
I didn’t know exactly what that more would be or where I wanted to end up. Part of what I was hoping to discover on my road trip was clarity. When I pondered what was next for me, I had inklings and inclinations, dreams and desires, but nothing concrete. I knew that I wanted to spend less time doing things I didn’t really enjoy and more time being creative and making a positive contribution to the world. I wanted to be financially supported by endeavors that I would do for free because I loved them that much. More important than the form it took was how I wanted to feel: happy, peaceful, energized, and fulfilled.
What the road trip provided was a physical break from my old life and normal routines. It created the space for inspiration to come in and opportunity to find me.
It is not that inspiration and opportunity were unavailable to me on my couch, but there is something about physical action that catalyzes energy and starts the process of pieces lining up.
It acts as an invitation to new avenues of possibility and an exercise of expanded freedom and choice, which can be powerful attractors.
In my forward motion, I had thoughts I hadn’t had before — realizations about myself and the universe that shifted and elevated my perspective. I came to know things that only became clear once I heeded the call. With the confidence that came from camping alone without getting killed, stumbling across hidden places of magical beauty, and delighting in synchronicity after synchronicity, I connected with my own creative powers.
Challenges at the crossroads
Like the classic hero’s journey, I had my challenges and temptations along with my triumphs. In entering the unknown and confronting the unpredictable, I bumped up against my beliefs, especially those holding me back. This was somewhat by design. In being open to whatever experiences came my way, I knew that some would make me uncomfortable and perhaps scare me a little, but in doing so they would show me where I still had room for inner growth. The things that incite anxiety in me are usually what need to be healed and transformed.
Money was a big one. I had saved and set a budget that I was more or less following, but there was a lingering unease with spending more money each month than I was taking in through the five hours of on-call consulting work I kept doing each week. Despite having planned for this expense, there was a sense that I was on borrowed time, like I was depleting money that couldn’t be replaced. As soon as I settled in one area long enough to have stable internet and a somewhat reliable schedule, I sent off an email to my colleagues asking if they needed any help. And just like that, I started working again.
As I waded in that discomfort, both of feeling like I needed to make money and then like I compromised my intentions, I had to get real with myself. What was I believing about freedom and security? How was I defining abundance? What role had I given money in the decisions of my life? I knew that I had to shift my relationship to money for the road trip to truly be the gateway to something new. Otherwise, I would always revert back to what felt safe, which was a corporate job where the terms were known up front.
In that fear, I would keep choosing being safe over being truly happy. But that is a false choice.
I remembered a mentor of mine telling me I didn’t need to take baby steps, that what felt like risks were just invitations to something bigger and bolder. Even in my own life, I had taken leaps of faith and witnessed the ground form under my feet as I flew through the air. I had acted with courage before — this was just one more time. But until I actually adopted some new beliefs and behaved like they were true, those ideas wouldn’t be enough to break me out of old patterns. I had to see myself as the master of my own destiny and take full responsibility for my life. To do that, I had to know what I was capable of.
Trusting the waters
I walked into the visitors center at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park in Humboldt County to get a trail map. From behind the plexiglass, above a mask, was a pair of eyes that I would recognize anywhere. My glance darted to the name tag on her chest. Sure enough, it was Kelli. Kelli opened her Boulder, Colorado house to me when I was 22 years old and starting over after a teenage wild streak had run its course. She had come into my life just when I needed some guidance, introducing me to books, people, and teachings that helped me wake up. As roommates, we had a falling out, which I always regretted. Yet, there she was in front of me nearly 20 years later, offering an invitation to share a meal like old friends.
Kelli called it a love letter from the universe. What it was to me was yet another example of the beauty and magic that can unfold when we truly make it welcome and when we align ourselves with the abundance that wants to come our way. Right now, I’m sitting in a bright and spacious guesthouse in Ojai, California surrounded by orchards, mountains, and some amusing chickens. In a town of extremely limited housing options, I found just what I wanted by following my inner nudges and looking online and taking action at precisely the right time. It is not cheap, but considering that I am not driving much and cooking many of my own meals, it fits my travel budget. I had what I needed to make it work.
What if all of life could be like that?
What if I trusted that there is always a path or multiple paths for my dreams to come true? What if I gave up worrying about not having enough or things not working out in favor of relentlessly following my heart? How might my life look then?
The road trip was one way of finding out, kind of like a trial run. What I discovered is that when I prioritize joy, believe that I am worthy and capable of a beautiful life, and honor my intuition, wonderful things can happen.
I like the adventure of the open road and the expansiveness of exploring new places. I like the contemplation that accompanies long drives and hikes alone. But it didn’t have to be travel. What was important was that I took action and actively participated in what I wanted to create. Before I left I set intentions to identify and heal any remaining limiting beliefs and patterns, get clear on important next steps, and find the courage and motivation to fully commit to my future. What I found is that the only thing stopping me was the imaginary rope I hid behind.
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