Less Than 24 Hours In The Desert, a Few Wrong Turns, and Thoughts On Knowing When To Get Out Of Your Own Way In Order To Do What You Love
When you head east from Bend you are immersed in sagebrush and juniper trees that get shorter by the mile, soon landing yourself in a place that feels almost other worldly; a desolate and unforgiving landscape scattered with boulders and distant patches of green where a spring or stream meets the dry tan-hued desert. With farms scattered here and there, and cattle crossings around nearly every corner, the mind is given time to wander between where you are, where you're going, and the moment that you just left behind, which turns out to land itself somewhere in the present.
With the music playing quietly in the background, I dive into this in between world, noticing just how much I crave this place as I look over to see Sheila taking a midday snooze in the passenger seat. And when I'm not in the drivers seat, it's feet up and camera out, in awe of just how ever-changing this landscape really is. As we make our way through a small town called Frenchglen, more than a few hours south east of Bend, we turn onto a gravel road, rumbling our way up the back side of the Steen Mountain as billows of dust remind us of where we just came from.
Road closed, the sign read, as we look past the closed gate and over this wild place, gaze lingering just near the summit, the place we were hoping to camp tonight.
Since a plan b was in order, we took our rumbling stomachs and quinoa salad to a lake we had noticed on our way up; sun-warmed flat rocks makes this serene place the perfect spot for reassessing and picnicking. La Croix in hand and wildflowers all around, our choice was made, we'd head a few more hours south to the Alvord Desert where we'd camp for the night, wake up for sunrise, and depending on how we're feeling, go for a hike just a couple miles from there after coffee, journaling, yoga, and some serious lounging.
Back down through the Steen Mountain Loop, past Frenchglen, up the hill only to be greeted by more desert landscape, and the occasional cow that found it had wandered a little too far down the road, we finally caught a glimpse of our destination, the Alvord Desert. This roughly (I could very likely be wrong) 12-by-7-mile dry lakebed nestles itself just beneath shadow of the towering Steens Mountain, just north of a little town called Fields.
Windows down and music up, we made our way (thanks to Henry, the brave little Element) over a very bumpy and uncertain-of-if-we'll-make-it road, and out onto the dry earth, happily cruising until the urge to feel the cracked earth between our toes instead of the tires beneath us.
No more than ten minutes later we found ourselves a temporary home; little specs and the subtle movements and shadows of other campers off in the distance reminded us that we weren't the only ones seeking out solitude. As we unpacked, I kept bringing my hands to my ears, wondering if that ringing sound had anything to do with the elevation change, it wasn't until a decent amount of time later that we both realized, that ringing, it was our bodies getting use to the sound of, well, nothing.
Turns out, the more of this nothing-ness that I can get, the better off I am both physically and mentally.
I'm wrapped up in my sleeping bag, eyes wide as the glow of the stars stream through the mesh of my (actually, Sheila's) tent. I don't look at the time, but as I stumble out onto the playa I am in awe of my surroundings; the sky is as dark as I've ever seen it, yet the haze from the millions upon millions of tiny dots that make up the billions upon billions of galaxies, sends light across every square inch of this barren land, filling my mind with the kind of humbleness that can only be experienced not explained.
But I'll give it a go, because more than anything, it's places like this and the gentle reminders that live in them that keep me going.
That push me out of my place of comfort and into this very vulnerable and often times scary role. A role that no, does not come naturally to me. You see, I am incredibly indecisive and hesitant when it comes to adventures. Does this seem crazy for me to say? Maybe, but it's true. Before my bags are packed and car is filled with snacks, I've somehow managed to talk myself in and out of a trip more times than I can count, and it was a long time before I started to listen and lean into the part that said, "go! Just go because I guarantee the only thing that is stopping you right now is yourself." Yes, there will always be those internal and external factors that put up a good fight, but whatever it is you're thinking of saying no too, give it a good hard look, making sure that the adventure you'd be giving up wouldn't be the very thing that would lead you to back to a happier and more fulfilled you.
Now, by no means am I saying that you need to go out into the middle of nowhere and get lost to find yourself (frankly, I don't buy it), and realistically, there are things that I have to take into consideration before embarking on an adventure to this middle-of-nowhere land.
For instance, my health.
It's always going to be something that comes into play, and will always be something that I need to be especially mindful of. Yet more often than not, I will end up saying no before I've given myself the opportunity to sit down and listen to the many reasons why this, this often times very terrifying decision to put myself out there, might be the most beneficial and healing thing I could do for myself right now.
Sometimes these terrifying decisions are small, and to an outsider, it might seem like the craziest thing in the world that I would be terrified of such a thing, but to me, to the person wrestling with their doubts and uncertainties, it's no small thing and it never will be. Not just that, but the act of saying yes can be life changing, showing that person that having the power to overcome the limitations in front of them, whether it be a chronic illness, state of mind, anxiety inducing thought, or more than a handful of other things, gives you back the control that you need to take that next step.
To say yes when you think you should say no, no when you think you should say yes, and to take control of your adventures, whatever they look like to you, with the mindset that you have overcome this before, and this can and will help you overcome it again. And maybe most importantly, that throughout all of this decision making and mind wrestling, there is no right or wrong answer, facing your fears might never get easier but it will always be worth it, and you are far from alone.
I climb back into my tent, temporarily leaving the dark of the sky for the rest that's found behind heavy eyelids, letting the light from the stars make their way into my dreams and through to the first light of morning, which happens to be at around 4 something? I'm not sure, I didn't end up looking at my phone so I cannot confirm. Regardless, I think it's safe to say that there wasn't much sleep to be had on this particular adventure.
We had to hurry to drink our coffee before the warmth of this summer's day hit the desert floor, which proved to be quite the challenge as I was most definitely shedding layers half way through my first cup. Just before we dive into an array of delicious fruit for breakfast, we each take on our own form of meditation for the morning. Sheila, grabbing her journal and pen, dives into some of the thoughts she's been wrestling with recently. As for myself, I sprawl out on a blanket, covered by a blanket and with what's left of my coffee, doing my best to soak in the view in front of me, while not beating myself up for the occasional wandering thought.
In those wandering thoughts: I think of our evening, full of selfie-challenges, a delicious dinner, one dollar Kombucha (unheard of - I know!), and stretches as the sun sank below the mountains. I give the doubts and worries that I notice myself circling back too some extra love, realizing that I have the power to either write myself a mile long to do list, or take all of that and put it on the back burner, while consciously prioritizing this moment above future ones. Not to mention placing my mental health (and thereby physical) above the idea that my self worth is based off of how much I can "accomplish" in a day, and what I decide the word success really means to me.
I guess what it comes down too is that stepping away from it all and giving yourself the freedom to "figure it out" on your own time, might just be the very thing that sets you on the a path that you feel more comfortable, confident, and motivated on. One that is more naturally you and less of what your fears and expectations think it should be.
In the very least, it's worth a try! So adventuring I shall continue to do.
After breakfast we gather up our things, slowly I might add due to the weight of the now very-warm sun, and climb into Henry. With our minds at ease and bodies covered in dust from the cracked earth, we take off, exploring what we thought was an entirely dry lake bed. Key word "lake bed," as it turns out can still have parts that aren't as solid as others. This, in the very place that every guide to this place tells you not to be, is where we find ourselves: pedal to the metal going five miles an hour while the mud coats Henry with absolutely no hesitation. We look at each other, and not sure whether to laugh or cry, hold hands and do our best to navigate ourselves out of this sticky and anxiety inducing scenario.
Hearts beating a mile a minute, we follow signs of dry earth and eventually end up there, exhausted and not entirely sure how to feel we decide to go with our gut: let's get out of here before we're swallowed up by this wild place! Naturally, we head to the closest "town" with access to Kombucha, food, and gasoline, which just so happens to be the Fields Station about 30 minutes south. We take our seat in this west-coast-famous burger joint, being as incognito as we can after we ask for no bun with our patty, soon realizing that there was not a chance in the world of our request being fulfilled. If there was, we would most likely never be allowed back, and seeing as it's the only place for miles and miles, we figured it would be best to stay on good terms.
Kombucha consumed, burger devoured, and tank filled, we were once again on the road.
After a rattlesnake warning, being chased down on a hunting road by a man on a four wheeler (this one was entirely my bad), and our nerves getting the best of us, we toss in the hat and decide to post pone our trail-seeking plans for another day, realizing that more often than not things don't go as planned, and when you feel like heading home, to hold no guilt or shame around that decision.
After all, it is all part of the experience, and looking back on this adventure I would take this crazy 24 hours over two days of everything going right. Why? Well it's makes for a far more entertaining story to tell. Plus, the conversations we had on the way home brought me the same kind of calm that a day spent writing, hiking, and doing yoga in the desert would have.