After four months of living out of the back of my van, I am drinking coffee in my childhood living room, my dogs that we rescued when I was sixteen are at my feet and California sunlight beams in through the windows. I am twenty three years old.
I had plans of traveling further: heading up to Squamish after two weeks of climbing Wyoming, but money, lack of it, a twisted ankle, and a little incident that involved my van flipping upside down and pulling up to my friend’s campsite in a U-Haul prevented my going-on-five-year long dream of climbing in British Columbia from happening.
And that is totally okay. (And so am I, by the way. Lesson: always wear your seatbelt and I have the most generous parents around).
I felt that it was just about time to come home, before I was forced to. As I hiked up to the Dakota sandstone blocks in Durango, I noticed myself thinking about granite, the Sierras, my family, Bishop, the apple tree in my backyard that will be heavy in a month or so, farmer’s markets, my dogs and how it would be really nice to have them smiling next to me right now, a bed. I think it was Snoop Dog that said, “my heart beats for the west coast” and yeah…I feel ya Snoop. Straight up.
If I tried to tell you everything that I learned and experienced in the past four months, I would have to write about 3892137490123478 of these blog posts and you would probably get bored and I’d like to keep some of it to my self anyway, so I’m not gonna do that. But I will tell you about one thing that I learned, something that I’ve been learning since the day I was born, something that you’ve probably learned before too but it’s always nice to hear it again and from someone else’s mind.
Routt National Forest, Colorado–the tow truck guy shows up, white hair and skin that’s been leathered from sun and years, he looks at my van, looks at me, and says, “Well hey girl. You were driving this thing?” I tell him yes and he puts his arm around me. “Get in, girl.” I step up into his truck and we head to the closest town which is about 25 miles south–Craig, Colorado. The ride down proves to be one of the most interesting thirty minutes of my entire trip.
The tow truck operator starts talking to me. Nonstop talking. I’m feeling pretty low–my van, my home, is being towed behind us and I’m mentally calculating how much–if any–money I will have left when the repairs are done. All I want to do is get to cell phone service, call my mom and dad, decompress. But Gordon keeps cracking jokes and telling me about his new truck, the crazy weather, Craig’s local deer herd. I don’t say much and look out the window. He obviously catches on to my less-than-enthusiastic demeanor and interrupts himself in the middle of telling me about a red Ferrari he towed last week.
“Girl, it could have been a lot worse,” he says, loud, alarming. We both get quiet after that.
Gordon breaks the silence. “You’re not my girl, but today I’ll treat you like you are.”
Gordon is about seventy, looks it, he’s not fat but he’s thick, and his eyes are different sizes. He has worked on cars for something like fifty years, still satisfied by a sun up to sun down day of hard, physical, honest work.
They definitely don’t make ’em like that anymore.
“I had a stroke ’bout ten years back. Couldn’t move my whole right side. And some folks just quit after somethin’ like that, use it as an excuse to just sit around and feel sorry, but girl, I seen people do that and they just die. They might be actually livin’, but not really, they’re dead. You just gotta keep going girl, keep doing it, or else you’ll burn out.” He looks straight at the winding dirt road ahead.
“And look at me now girl! I’m seventy three but I look fifty three, don’t I?” he laughs loud, puts his hand on my shoulder and shakes me around a little. His right hand, that is.
His left hand is ringless and I assume he doesn’t have children because he hasn’t told me about them, but who knows. Whatever his story, whatever his losses and set backs–Gordon is happy.
He somehow convinces triple A to cut me a huge deal, doesn’t charge me for just about any of the work he does on my car, hugs me, and points to a motel. “Good luck girl. You’re okay,” he says.
I’m okay, I think to myself. I am okay.
I think that’s what I was looking for this whole time, or at least part of it. To the outsider, the past few years appear is if they have been full of adventure and good things for me, and that they have, but what most people don’t know if that they have also been times of heartache and loss and confusion. I play it off well, even to those who know me best.
I felt myself starting to get bitter, starting to see people as bad, with selfish tendencies and bad intentions, I felt my heart closing. So I had to leave, I had to get on the road and just go, for adventure and fun and beauty, but most of all, for the reminder that I am okay. That it’s okay. That it’s all good. To work hard and be brave and to keep going, or else you’ll die, even if you’re actually still living.
I got the reminder that people are good. That strangers will help you, selflessly. Gordon will make you laugh and be thankful that you’re okay, Doug at Rocky Mountain Auto will make sure your van is ready to drive to California and quote you $600 but only charge you $300, the woman who works the front desk will offer to rent a car for you in her name so you can go climbing in Wyoming with your friends, and Lynette at Safeway will spend her day talking to your mom on the phone about Western Unions. The young U-haul girl will take an hour to find you the best deal, the guy at the gas station will let you fill up your water jugs, the girls at the coffee shop will let you dump your trash in their dumpster, random climbers will give you a beer and beef jerky, sisters will let you crash on their couch. Alex, Joe, Hayes, Matt E. and Candace will drop you off at your newly fixed van even when it adds on a few hours to their already 32 hour car drive back to Georgia, Dad will send you money and Mom will offer to fly out to Salt Lake City to help you drive home just so you don’t have to be alone. Joe will laugh with you until you both cry. Phil will give you a place to stay in Colorado and climb with you in Truckee, Corbin will take you up Half Dome, Sarah and Nate will meet you in Yosemite for your birthday. Callan will ask you every week when you’re coming home, Kava will make sure you’re okay and Will will text you funny things, Meredith and Alex will love you through it all. Your dogs will wrestle you to the ground they are so happy to see you, you will receive countless messages and emails of support, admiration, and gratitude even when you’re a 23 year old mostly unemployed yoga teacher dirtbag climber.
And then, you have yourself. The one who you internally talk shit about and sometimes forget to thank. The person who sees but more importantly perceives all this stuff, the eye and the lens.
It is this simple: People are good. You are good. The world is a good place and even though bad stuff happens it’s okay. You’re okay. The shit that you’ve been through is even good. It makes you awesome. People think you’re awesome. All of your friends think you’re hilarious. People love you, like really love you. Strangers are nice and I bet you’ve helped a stranger before. That’s so nice of you. I bet you still say thank you and tell girls when they look pretty. Tell more girls that they’re pretty. Tell boys that they’re handsome. Eat avocados and keep your eyes and your heart open.
Just keep going.