Ulaanbaatar to Ulaangom
I sought solitude in the steppes of Mongolia. It was the perfect landscape to get lost. Luckily, my Pocket Earth app was so precise it made it difficult to take the wrong trail. The major road west through central Mongolia was more often than not, a choice between six sandy trails all leading in a similar direction.
I loved the idea of off-roading but just two days after pulling Athena through sandy trails and up mountains, I soon lost all the weight I had gained recovering back in Hanoi and I found several curse words exploding from my mouth and into the Lapis colored sky. My first two weeks consisted of snow storms with head winds that made my nose so cold I learned that ice boogers are a real thing.
I was stuck in my tent for two days at one point, so I made a snowman.
Then it could quickly turn hot, melting the snow and sand coming up for it's glorious display of spring. Sand is a little bit of a show-off and she tends to think she'll go unnoticed if she doesn't hide in every crevice of your body and belongings.
It took me just short of three months to finish my route...
The landscape was beautiful no matter how extreme the weather was. I enjoyed the Mongolian's traditional milk tea and yak dumplings. Yak is quite delicious (but I have a hunch, like most meat, it's still swimming around in my intestines)! I wasn't short of protein in Mongolia- it's about all they have.
Facing my Fear
I couldn't not face it- within minutes it was literally moving at me-fast, in the middle of the night. Not only my fear, but most likely all of you, definitely my friends and family- the fear that comes into everyone's mind when a woman is heading out into the unknown-alone.
An attack in my tent, long after the sun went to sleep.
Let me go head-first to the most important detail- I am unharmed and doing very well now. It wasn't as bad as it could have been, I had no physical bruises from the incident.
There was a fight. And although I remember as a child, my brother playfully smothering some blankets over me so that I had to fight my way up to the surface, I thought that might be what it felt like to "fight for your life".
I had no idea what that would really feel like.
It was devastating but not crippling. I spent three days in a family's guesthouse healing my body and mind. Then..... I kept walking.
I will write all about the experience for any of you feeling anxious or worried. But for now, I am still allowing the experience to ruminate and will eventually translate into a story.
My little Miracle
A week after the incident, I stopped at one of the many Ovoo's to place three stones and circle the mound three times. One of the stones was a wish for a miracle. I didn't know what to ask for so I asked for "a little miracle".
Two hours later, a puppy (in the desert with no village nearby) came running towards me. I put Athena down, sat on the ground and opened my arms. He ran directly into them.
I named him Ogii (ooh-gee) after a small Mongolian fresh water lake.
He walked every step with me, sometimes 20 miles in a day. I had to ask store owners to close their entrance door because Ogii didn't want to leave my side.
He was fierce to strangers, never letting anyone get too close to me or the tent. He was my bodyguard and protector, my friend and cuddle-partner.
We ate canned sardines together and both got excited when a village had tomatoes for sale.
I didn't want to let him into the main tent and gave him the vestibule to sleep in.
But, of course, by day four, we took our love into the bedroom.
(yes, we posed for you! Although Ogii was actually asleep.)
The reason I haven't gotten a dog to walk with thus far is because crossing borders with an animal is extremely challenging. Most of the time they are quarantined to make sure they have all their shots and are safe to introduce into the country.
Ogii was a stray- no papers, no shots and very much with his balls still intact! It is not without much effort on my part that I looked into what it would take for Ogii to walk the world with me.
But it wasn't going to work out. Several hundreds of dollars to get papers "made" for him, several shots and then his adult-hood chopped off (which with a homeless dog epidemic, I think is a good thing).
And this would take three to six months with Ogii in a dog kennel.
And, for those of you that may have entertained the same thought I did, maybe I could sneak him across the border...... if I tried but he was caught, he would most likely be detained and then euthanized.
I couldn't think of putting Ogii through so much just to keep him with me.
So, after Ogii walked me to my end point in Mongolia- I went on a search to find him a home.
The challenge is that most Mongolians don't see a dog as a pet, they are security systems. Most often, they won't touch the dog (even their own) because they're considered filthy. They eat human feces which is a direct result from not being fed by their owners. Now, this is not EVERY Mongolian that does this, it is what I witnessed in many nomadic families while camping nearby and engaging with them.
Then he rode in on his horse......
A teenage boy, mounted proud on his steed, with his little sister. He held her hand as they circled my camp and when Ogii approached them, he bent down and began petting and playing with Ogii.
I new he was the one.
I spent my last night cuddling and crying with Ogii. In the morning, the boy returned and I offered him to care for Ogii.
With a proud smile, he said YES.
To keep Ogii from following me, we invited him into the family's Ger and I gave him my last can of sardines, eating a few bites with him. After a long and teary goodbye, I walked out and closed the door.
I cried. And cried. And cried.
It was harder to keep myself from going back to get him than it was to keep walking after an attack.
I miss you, Ogii.
I don't like filming myself and decided before I began this walk, that although video is one of the most interesting ways for people to engage in a journey like this, I wasn't comfortable with it.
What got me inspired to try it was to think of filming something for my friends and family. And to thank all of you who have supported me and the walk.
So, I gave it a try and this is what happened.
Where I'm at now...
I'm in Tbilisi, Georgia. I begin walking West towards the Black Sea and into Turkey in two days ( July 12, 2015).
My SPOT locator is working and will continue to track my steps every hour.
Thank you for being on this journey with me.
I'll be in touch soon.
The Influence of Land-escape.
I’ve landed on new territory. I left behind bamboo coned-shaped hats and banana trees for furred boots and earmuffs. The streets are lined in ice and snow. Pink cheeks occasionally smile at me as I cross a working pedestrian crossing. In Vietnam, stoplights were optional and made pushing Athena difficult (and intimidating) when making left turns. Here, the streets are wide and as I head west into horse and ger country, everything will become wider.
I am chasing solitude.
I crave the shapes around me to be hills and mountains instead of cars and buildings.
I desire the sounds inspiring me to come from birds instead of vocal chatter.
It was challenging for me to decide to change my route. I had created a few rules for myself in the beginning. One of the most important ones is to walk every step myself, never to take a ride no matter how difficult it may be. This was only broken when I got heat stroke in Australia, and was returned to where I was picked up.
Another was that my route be a beautiful, unbroken line across the planet.
The major challenge I have in sticking to my own straight-line rule is Visa’s.
Even in my original plan of walking across SE Asia, traversing Myanmar in the allotted 28 days was physically impossible. (Although, I admit I convinced myself that any hidden superhuman powers that lie latent in myself could help me accomplish it.)
And there are some places that as an American, I am denied a Visa. If I stood in the middle of Asia and looked in all four directions, there is a country that I do not have access to or enough time to traverse on my own hooves.
Instead of feeling trapped by the politics, this realization freed me from the constraints of my own walk. If I am bound to hit a wall somewhere, I might as well walk where I want. And take my time doing so.
Listening to my feet on the earth.
Taking the time to sip hot tea while watching the sunrise.
Spend a day (or a week) by a lake just to watch, read and write.
I still have a very long way to go.
And I’m still learning how to walk, how to enjoy it when it’s either scorching hot or overpoweringly cold. I have pushed hard, sometimes walking up to 45 kilometers (27 miles) in a day. There are times when it’s vital to do so, like if I’m running low on water or food and there’s a village ahead.
Sometimes it’s because I have a desire to finish.
As if I can see my old cottage just a few feet ahead of me.
Or I can smell the coffee brewing in Crows Feet Commons, feel the warmth of cuddling my Godson while watching Thomas the Train, or chanting with my friend Jenni Peskin.
But I know that all my greatest wishes, dreams, prayers….are here in the presence of my footsteps and the landscape that cocoons me. Even with many miles and years ahead of me, I am beginning to understand the importance of moving slowly. And it took getting sick in the jungle for me to listen even deeper to my heart, which is the true compass on my walk.
I wrote a shorty story about where I am and what lead to the transition from Vietnam to the wide-open steppes.
The reason I'm linking you to my friends website to find out where I am is because I support the vision of community building and story-telling that Pema has created. And through Soul growth Radio, the quarterly themes help me focus on how to share my journey with you through writing. I am new at telling my story through words on paper and SGR has supported me since the beginning. It feels good to support SGR too.
So, if you have a a few more minutes, HERE is my story of why I am in a snowstorm.
Lots of appreciation,
Relax your back, Angela. Use your butt. Keep breathing. Focus on the shade, looks only five hundred feet more. Damn- this is more difficult than I was expecting.
My sweat had become slimy and my glasses were falling off my nose. All I could see was up, up, up. I kept peeking ahead and around the corners to try and catch a glimpse of a motivational peak that would tell me this climb would be ending soon.
And I knew, that because I was on foot, downhill is just as challenging but at least the summit would offer a break from pushing my hundred pound cart tediously uphill.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into. When I saw the signs pointing left for the tunnel and right to the mountain pass my thought was, I'm not walking the world to see a tunnel. Besides, Hai Van Pass has been listed as one of the most beautiful unspoiled roads in Vietnam. There are plenty of places that I would love to see along my walk that are literally just a few miles away, like some of the world's largest caves with their own ecosystems, but the distance, extra cost of food, water sources and terrain usually inspire me to stay on course.
I stood at the crossroad, scratching my chin like I had a growing beard and pretending I was deciding, but I knew- I'm going up and over that mountain.
As I stopped under the shade of a tree hoping it would bring some relief from the humid jungle, a sound took shape, sharper than the clatter of all the mopeds passing me. A woman's voice dripping over the deluge of flora and fauna. I took a closer look at all 360 degrees around me. It wasn't till I looked upwards that I saw a round, hearty woman calling me towards her with an encouraging smile. I wasn't sure she was directing her cheer at me but I needed it, so I took it.
I pushed my glasses up my nose, inhaled a mixture of fresh mountain air with hints of exhaust fumes, shifted my soaked and useless bra, and continued higher into the mist. As I got closer to where she stood, near the peek of that sixteen hundred foot incline, she began clapping, which although called too much attention for my liking, allowed us to share in the revelry of a small victory.
What happened at the top of that misty mountain, in her tin shack, changed everything.
And so not to spoil a good story, I will wait to share what happened and the changes that have taken place in a short piece I wrote for SGR. It will be published in early April and I'll email you that link shortly.
For now, I can tell you that I found clarity and conviction in my calling since I've last written to you. I've journeyed through guilt for wanting what I want, for desiring solitude and fearing change.
I was catapulted, quite painfully, through an experience of feeling alive while being riddled with a sickness and gaining clarity and deeper meaning through it.
Out of the darkness of disease, comes a new life; a new way of being. In this case, how I walk my walk.
I had drwan a straight line around a circular shape. Reasonable. Practical. Doable.
But not where my heart was inviting me. Was I being committed or stubborn?
A hint: My new mantra; Fuck a straight line.
I'll share the details with you in a few weeks.
Know that I am safe, have recovered from my debilitating but inspiring sick episode and will be pushing my SPOT locator beacon shortly. I am in Hanoi (Vietnam) and haven't pressed that button since I have been in one place recovering.
Be in touch shortly!
Thank you for your faith and support in me. It goes a long way. Carries me around the world, in fact!
I got a whiff of a Vietnamese woman's perfume in the midst of roasting snails and it oddly reminded me of my childhood. I don't think I've ever smelled cooked snails before but the memory was visiting a peanut factory with my mom when we were visiting my grandfather in North Carolina. He loved Virginia roasted peanuts. His breath always smelled of peanuts my mid afternoon.
Strange and beautiful memories pop into my mind as I walk the streets of in Da Nang. I am overwhelmed. My senses are on overload and after walking several hours in search of food to stock up on for my walk in the mountains, I am ready to retreat into my tent.
I am already missing the desert. It was so much easier for me with no people around. I find navigating an extremely populated area much more intimidating than being in an arid desert. So, I have decided to leave the beautiful coastline of Viet Nam to trek through the mountainous Ho Chi Minh trail. It will take a lot longer, is extremely strenuous with escalating inclines and is hotter and wetter than the coast. But I am longing for more solitude and I have enough dried noodles and dehydrated shrimp flakes to get me to the Laos border.
Because I've had plenty of concern from caring friends and family, I got a SPOT device. What this means is you can click on "My Location" near the bottom of the landing page to see my route, in real time. There will be occasions where I don't have signal but most of the time you can track my steps and see where I'm at on the map. This brings a big smile to my dad who has reserved funds to rent a camel and rescue me if I get in deep sh*t ;-) I know he doesn't really and I can't imagine him riding any kind of large animal but it makes us both giggle at the thought of it.
I've also compiled some short stories that you can read over on the chapter by chapter page.
Just a little light reading till I can share more with you.
I am also contributing short stories over at my friends website, Soul Growth Radio. I highly recommend you check it out. And she's always looking for good stories to share (for those of you who've had a yearning to share your story).
I'll be in touch in a few months when I reach Vientiane, Laos.
Happy (Chinese) New Year!
I'm still shocked by my decision to walk around the world as some of you may be.
When I crossed my personal finish-line through the isolated desert of Western Australia, I streamed a few tears along with laughter. The euphoria of finishing something I began that took an intense amount of physical, mental and emotional strength to accomplish made me feel a deep gratitude for life itself and the capabilities that human's have as a birth right.
When I had to begin making a shade shelter at high noon because the heat was too stifling to walk in my mind fantasized about Nordic skiing in Bend, Oregon, a place I still consider home. I longed for the bitter cold of a January winter. The kind of snow storm that makes it impossible to drive in and difficult to fully warm every corner of the house. The sweltering heat inspired me to practice a memory game of making a list of some cold, luxurious drink or item I'd get when I reached a store. I usually got to eighteen items before I gave up on remembering item number three because the first two were always vanilla ice-cream.
Yet, now that I've finished walking through just the first of a few deserts to come, I feel a sadness in my heart that longs for the tuscan-colored sand that made my skin look like a terra cotta pot, and fumbling with the zipper of my tent while I tried to hide from the sunset mozzies (or skeeters as my grandma called them), the dripping moisture that seeped into my sleeping bag when it rained, and the abominable flies that accompanied me across the entire continent. I miss it all.
But I know all the frustrations and challenges of the road that I may be glorifying now will come again soon enough.
As I write this now, I am sipping a cappuccino on a dairy farm in the southern region of Western Australia. I have all the luxuries I can think of. I have a soft bed, a fan to cool my face at night, an electric stove to cook on, cold drinks and even a pilates machine to help build a little strength before my next continent- ASIA.
I am spending some time preparing Visa's, changing some of my gear after I've learned what works and what doesn't, and renewing my website.
Time in the desert helped me gain clarity about my walk. It doesn't mean I can clearly articulate why I'm walking but my vision of how I present the walk is shifting.
I have decided to change the name of my walk which I will share soon.
My website will become much more simple and focus on the short stories of my personal encounters with nature, the culture and the people I meet. I am still a beginner writer but I promise to share the most vulnerable experiences I can. I'm not interested in creating another travel blog- I want you to feel that you're emotionally on this journey with me.
I am still working on writing more stories of my walk through Western Australia.
I hope to have something for you soon.
Happy Holidays to you and thanks again for being with me on this adventure.
Here is a map of my route and some photos from the road.
Hi Traveling Comrades,
It's been quite awhile since I've been able to write to you. Spending time in this desolate, beautiful and wild landscape with a lack of internet and cell phone reception has been rewarding for me. It's allowing me to spend more time in the experience of my walk and what this journey really means to me. I've never been as challenged physically or mentally as I have in the past month. The heat has escalated to an average of 95-106 deg Fahrenheit which feels like a I'm navigating through a pressure cooker. Some say I should learn Celsius but I just don't find that 41 degrees expresses the same intensity as 103.
The beginning of my Gibb River walk was magical. Birds invited me for early morning tea and the mid-afternoon sun seemed to only shed deeper meaning and shadows between the gorge walls.
Then, Athena got her sixth flat.
I lost my spoon and (relearned the joys of finger eating).
Got sprayed with cow diarrhea by a passing cattle truck- followed by a maniacal laughter and the awareness of no shower in sight for days to come.
The flies were multiplying by the minute.
And then one afternoon, it just turned hot.
I think a curse word that starts with F would be the right adjective to describe it. Overnight the season changed.
I could no longer wear my typical (aka- my everyday) pants and t-shirt, the only bearable thing to wear is a cotton dress. It allows a little breeze and when no cars are on the road, I can lift it up to my chest, creating an air conditioner with the wind and the cascade of sweat dripping down my torso.
I did spend a small stint in the hospital from heat stroke (think stomach flu with the inability to sleep). But I have since learned some tricks and I'm armed with an umbrella and a car windshield sun visor which I found on the side of the road, confirming that I have turned into a bag lady! I'll share photos soon of my afternoon shade structure using rope and bungee cords. It makes me feel like I'm flexing my McGyver muscles.
While on the Gibb River, I was reading a book about the Kimberley people, particularly the tribes of the Worora people and wanted to walk some of the stretches they had lived and walked before. I decided to walk to Kalumburu which also happens to rhyme with Waneroo, the suburban area I left from in Perth.
Although I was heading to Darwin originally I felt called to end my walk in an aboriginal community and to stay in the Western Territory.
This was the beginning of understanding that my walk is carrying me somewhere.
A little note on why I'm walking (or learning to commit).
Walking the world means there are a lot of things that I will miss out on seeing like cultural landmarks and landscapes that my feet just can't take me to. But this journey is about how I walk, and where the walk takes me and the people I meet along the way. I am in it for the love of travel and adventure and for the challenges I face that will strengthen my character.
When I practice listening, I am exercising trust.
Trust that I am exactly where I need to be, no matter how difficult it may be right now.
A passer-by in a car once said "It's a lot easier to drive."
My response- after my initial irritation at a statement that felt condescending - is that I'm not walking because it's easy.
Easy would be at home in air conditioning eating vanilla ice cream and avoiding anything related to willingly ambling through a scorching desert.
I chose to walk because it felt right. It felt like my calling to step into the world, the web of the unknown and slowly watch the world around me shape itself into being.
This walk has become more personal and more emotionally connected to everything and everyone around me than I have ever felt before. I can no longer walk past a grasshopper without admiring it's genius construct or the cacophony of bird calls in my immediate surrounding.
To walk the earth, for me, is to practice being deeply connected to the subtlety of every moment and how it changes and forms itself.
I have also been impressed at how many people can come up with reasons and excuses for me to skip this stretch, jump over there, quit for a few months, or just Forrest-Gump-It.
This walk is like a marriage. When things get tough I'm not going to quit or choose something more comfortable and beautiful.
I may reach the end of my walk and still wonder what this walk is about.
I may never have a concrete answer and I still fumble with my response when I'm asked, but I know deep in my heart and bones that I was born to walk this earth. I am doing exactly what I want to be doing, exactly where I am meant to be.
Now, for a geographical update.
I understand that where I'm at and where I've walked so far might be a little confusing. I've walked north then south, and now filling in the gap. I will make a little map outlining my route for you.
I have just arrived in Port Hedland and have another five weeks till I complete my first continent. I am dreaming of bathtubs, champagne, a soft bed and a classic Thanksgiving meal.
Ok, I have to pause for a note on my absolute favorite pie in the world- pumpkin pie.
It is unheard of here in Aussie town. When I ask people if they've had it before (which I do ask many because I'm convinced someone will have tried it) I commonly hear, "Why in the world would you put a vegetable in a pie and then add sugar?"
Since I can't buy pumpkin pie mix anywhere I am determined to make a homemade pumpkin pie for myself when I've finished this walk. Mom- grab your fork, we're eating this pie in one-go (you know, like we usually do!)
I have thoroughly enjoyed being vulnerable and creative in sharing my journey with you through my short stories. With a desire to keep the integrity of my writing creative and original, I don't want to rush them out to you. These stories are very personal to me and I want to take the time to put my heart and full focus into them. I also find it difficult to write while in the bush. The heat zaps almost all creative energy as well as most of my mental wherewithal just to walk.
I will be spending the month of December in Australia before heading to Asia to update my website, add photos, write, and connect with you.
I hope to have easily available internet and will be able to get back to all of you who have personally emailed, donated or contributed your love and support to my journey. I couldn't have made it this far without your faith and help along the way.
I'll be sending you stories and more shortly!
Lots of love and appreciation,
I am currently looking for some help with the project. Because I am constantly walking and usually without Internet access it is challenging for me to reach out to the communities I’ll be walking though and engage in social media. This is a project about collaboration so I am inviting someone who wants to bring their creative insight as well as research and outreach to help bring stories alive and share this journey with me.
The right person would be available to donate one to two hours at the most per week to connect with me over the phone using Skype and do some outreach, research and social media updating.
My desire is to have a relationship with someone who wants to help share women's voices, stories and culture.
If you’re interested please contact Ryan McGladrey (email@example.com or 541-788-2001 if in the U.S.) , he will be able to give you some more details and get you in touch with me.
I am currently in Broome (July 31, 2014). It seems I was about three months late in getting up North to walk the Kimberley’s. By September the heat can get up to 100-120 degrees with up to 100% humidity. Then rain sets in around November, creating mud that will cause tires to be ditched and I can't afford to lose Athena. I have been committed to doing Gibb River Rd, a dirt road that cuts directly across the Kimberleys. It is some of the most beautiful landscape in a scared land to the Aboriginals.
My most doable option was to stop at Carnarvon and take a bus up to Broome.
Once I make it to Darwin, I will go back to Broome to finish the stretch from Broome to Carnarvon, completing my Western Australia route.
I'm well aware the weather can easily deter the best laid plans and this is the beginning of my experience of letting Mother Nature guide me.
It’s my chance to get off the highway and into more desert isolation. The challenges are the heat, it’s not at it’s greatest but it’s already 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Water and food is extremely limited. On a 660 kilometer (410 mile) rd there is only one petrol station for me to get supplies. I will be dependent on filtering water at rivers and asking for water along the way.
It will take me about 2.5- 3 months to make it to Darwin.
I'll try to update stories and email then but feel free to contact me via email.
If you need to get a hold of me there are two contacts.
In the U.S.- Ryan McGladrey 541-788-2001
In Australia- Darren Italiano- 0437780533
The first time it came, I was waiting for it. It was time for my body to engage in its monthly release that would cause me to slow down, waaayyy down. The first day of my period has always been a dramatic event, creating a need for deep cocooning. The first time I understood that the feminine body truly needs support and rest during this phase was after reading The Red Tent. I began to reshape my rhythm around my moon cycle. I scheduled my clients and social events around it and allowed one to three days for my body to do as it needed. Sometimes it was to stay in bed all day or take a gentle walk in the forest. I had built a business that allowed me to arrange my schedule in tune with my cycle but most women don't. Most women are thrusted into an unnatural masculine rhythm of steadiness and consistency. The feminine is wild, chaotic and ever changing. When there is no structure to support our rhythm that happens 12 times every year, we must start creating it for ourselves, taking a stand for our bodies natural processes.
I daydreamed about a warm bath that filled the tub up to my collarbones as I attempted to insert my brand new silicone cup. My friend Ane had shared her love for the Sckoon Cup, which is healthier than a tampon, which tends to block the natural flow and most women leave it in way too long- I was always guilty of that as I seemed to think my tampons were the superhero’s of feminine products. I wanted to try something that would leave no trace behind because I couldn't imagine carrying soiled tampons with me through the desert.
I had practiced twice before beginning my walk and thought I had the whole process of insert, twist, and tug for suction down pat. It was 90 degrees Fahrenheit and the sun bright that afternoon. I was in a hurry with little coverage to block me from passing traffic. I waited till I heard no cars approaching in either direction and performed a quick and efficient insertion. I stepped back on to the tarmac feeling quite proud of my accomplishment in the bush and carried on.
My legs moved increasingly slower and grew heavier. My lower abdomen ached and I had to take my waist belt off and push Athena which slowly turned into me leaning on her with all my upper body weight. I was mainly throwing my leg forward and managing to balance on one foot while waiting for the next to take over.
I was headed for a station that on my map indicated had showers, the greatest delight after water and warm food.
The thought of just setting up camp and resting for the day had crossed my mind and caused me to stop and look at the landscape for possible camp spots. With no trees for shade I decided to just go slow and steady. Shower was my mantra.
I felt a familiar feeling of leakage between the legs that normally would have me shrieking to the bathroom quicker than Cat Woman. But stopping was not an option and I had convinced myself that it was probably just sweat between my thighs; after all, I'm sure I had inserted the cup correctly.
I rolled into the station just as the sun retreated behind the red hills. The exhaustion on my face must have been loud and obvious as they kindly offered me a free nights camp. I ordered a cheeseburger and went to set up my tent. The lady working the counter called after me as I headed out the door, "Are you ok?" and she points to my ankle, which is just slightly exposed due to tying up my pant legs to keep dust off them. There's a stain of dripped burgundy that made me question if I had cut myself and not felt it. I pull up my pant leg and followed the drip right up to my knee. Having had more embarrassing encounters with period stains I didn't get shy as I replied with a shrug and giggle, "Yes, still learning how to be on the road, it's like going through puberty all over again."
I postponed tent set-up till after the showers. Getting undressed I noticed that my inner legs were stained from thigh to ankle reminding me of a Pollock painting. I hadn't inserted it correctly (I know, Ane, I should have practiced more!). I said my appreciation for black pants and quickly hopped into the shower. I couldn't stand anymore and opted to sit on the floor and let the hot water pour over my crouched body. I ate my burger like a starving child and passed out with it half eaten next to me.
The next morning I was determined to try my cup one more time and I had a private bathroom to take my time and get more acquainted with my long-term relationship with this silicone device. I took a closer look at her, shaped like a small espresso cup with thick but malleable edges and a little rubbery tail that, unfortunately, I learned the hard way, is not to be pulled on as it will snap back like a taught rubber-band.
Legs steady and ready, a deep breath to relax all my muscles and I could already see my successful exit from this endeavor right before losing grip and it flew towards the sink, bounced off the wall and landed in a bucket of dirty mopping liquid. With my pants around my ankles I just stared at the bucket for a few moments before waddling over to peer over the thick brown water.
With a sigh that carried a vocal hum, I went fishing for it. I washed it and with grim determination tried again. With an air of pride that I wasn't defeated by an inanimate object, I stepped out, tossed my hair and proclaimed to the Grey Gallah's perched on the clothes line "Oh yeah- I sure did!"
Then I bought some tampons, just in case!
He cradled his chin in his hand and when he smiled his whole face lifted the darkness he had been swimming in for the last six months.
He owned the General Store in a small coastal village I passed through. I had been camping in the sand dunes and came looking for water. He was looking for light.
I asked for directions at the local store in town. Maggie, an elder woman who met her cigarette with her tongue before consuming the entire filter into her mouth asked me to have a seat on the porch. I never made it to my destination. I spent the day visiting with Darryl.
"I didn't realize I was addicted. My wife and I used to do it together, then she quit before I was ready." He began sharing his story with me when I joined him for a cup of coffee.
"When did you quit?" I asked.
"The day she left."
He sat back in his chair and his jaw began to move about as if searching for something to grip to hold back his emotion. His fingers softly rubbed through his short beard, a strong dimple in his chin still visible.
He spoke softly with wide and hungry eyes, a hunger to be seen. He carried strong shoulders, the kind of shoulders that have thrown punches in protection and supported children climbing and wrestling as they test their body’s strength and agility. These shoulders were his own support when he began going through withdrawal.
With a conviction that he could let go of his affair with amphetamines and rejoin his family with a clear head and committed heart, he laid in the dark of his empty house facing his inner darkness. He watched shadows grow on the ceiling that formed faces of defeat and shame. His greatest pain was the feeling of letting down his children. He spoke of them with pride and admiration.
Darryl grew up a cowboy on a dairy farm and spent most of his career working as a laborer on farms, mines and anywhere he could play in the dirt. His callused hands still showed his hard work and the sun had long caressed his face.
He slept in the living room in the back of the shop. He couldn't bare being in the empty parts of the house where his children's laughter once reverberated through the thin walls. He had everything packed up in a garage and ready to take back to the town where his kids were anxiously awaiting his return home.
That night we drove to the water, using the sand bed to chase after the sunset.
We sipped Scotch as we shared our grief and our greatest hopes.
We shared thoughts on addiction.
“My addiction is the story of abandonment.” I continue on.
"It is the story I have carried my entire life, one I have danced with in every relationship. The addiction to feeling abandoned. But nobody has judged me for my addiction the way they may have with yours.”
We carried on for hours talking about the kinds of addictions we all have that are only visible when you're willing to look deeply into another's patterns and stories. It is easy for most to judge someone for having a drug, food or alcohol addiction but we leave unnoticed the stories about ourselves that we have spent a lifetime addicted to. I have quite a few addictions I've been working with that don't have such a bad withdrawal but the pain of looking at it could be easily compared. My Not-Smart-Enough, Not-Pretty-Enough, Will-Always-Be-Abandoned, Not-Loveable and Not-Worthy stories have been my escape and have caused me suffering and make me smaller than my true potential.
Darryl’s determination to overcome his addiction and devote his energy to his family was the medicine I needed: strength of mind and heart.
When I looked into his eyes I could see the battles he’s fought with only determination by his side.
"I left such a wonderful life behind to follow this calling. My heart has become an even greater mystery to me since I started walking. I don't know why I'm here. It's exciting and frightening." I stared out into the vast blue of water like I had spotted something, or perhaps just searching. Tears were gently born and wriggled their way down to my chin. I had flashes of the faces of men I have loved and the feelings that I had let them down by not loving them more fully and openly.
Then images of people and memories exploded in my perception. My best friend tending to her garden with her son paddling behind her with a watering can. My mother eating ice cream on a hot afternoon in only her bra and underwear. Snow falling on Christmas Day and trying to slip my feet into rain boots while laughing at myself for not getting snow boots after two years in a ski town. I smelled the tomato sauce my friend made for her homemade Stromboli.
Darrly put his hand on my knee, inviting my eyes to meet his, "Would it be ok with you, if one of the reasons you're here was to find me and bring me back to life?"
A smile grew on my face as the tears turned into weeping.
He drove me back to my camp, filling my bags with bread, fruit and a cream soda.
"Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with a stranger." I said as I began piling the bags onto my back and arms. "You know, I occasionally like to walk without Athena if someone can drop me off and pick me up where I left off. I hear you have three days left before heading back South."
A sarcastic smile grew on my face as he had already offered to help me with rides and store Athena in the back of the shop while I gained momentum without pulling her behind me.
He met me with equal humor about it and simply said, "I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."
I walked with freedom and ease those three days, striding briskly along the gorgeous landscape of The Coastal Highway with wide strides and carrying only a hip pack. He would find me on the side of the road bearing fruit and a cream soda.
We spent our sunsets heading into the bush with binoculars. Darryl and I shared an affinity for bird watching. He would stop midsentence to name the bird and what the call was insinuating.
I called my God the skies and he called his the Earth.
The morning came that he was dropping me off at my last stopping point on the road so I would continue my walk up north and he'd head south to be a devoted father.
He grabbed my cheeks with both hands and with wide eyes he spoke softly, "You woke me up. I feel human again. Thank you, dune girl."
He stepped back and opened his empty palms upwards towards me as if they held something within them.
"What is it?" I asked with a youthful curiosity.
"A cup of concrete for when you need it. It is 2 cups sugar, 1 teaspoon concrete (preferably the Tough Shit Brand) and a half-teaspoon of determination. Then fill the rest of the cup full of love. Option to sprinkle kindness on top."
As gracefully as possible, I grabbed the imaginary cup, making sure not to spill any of it and took a sip.
"Wow, this tastes awful!" we both laughed as we embraced each other.
As he tipped his hat to me in a farewell, I whispered back, "Thank you, for sharing your strength with me."