The Wisdom Gleaned from Losing things, Losing one's mind, and Getting Lost.
I've been getting lost for as long as I can remember.
When I was five I wandered over to my backyard neighbors house. They served me cookies and promptly contacted my mother. This quality of wanderlust is something my parents have had to reckon with since I was little. As to losing things, I remember when I was young I constantly lost my hair brush. I had these frenzied searches around the house in a panic to find that tool. Which is funny cause now I've got curly hair and I don't even use a brush. But back then I had to learn at some point to let it go. Its sort of like trying to recall a name or bit of information; when I focus on it I can't remember, when I forget about it, suddenly the word pops into my head.
Where to Begin.
On December 18th I left on a journey to help my sister move from Long Beach, CA to South Carolina via St. Louis.
My sister Mary, a serious athlete and business woman, is 7yrs younger than me. She has been working for a swim line for the past three years. In June they moved her to CA for a better position, by November the company had undergone a series of internal restructuring that meant my sister would have to become A. a collection agent or B. a computer telephone marketer. My sister has had an internal search for self purpose for the past couple of years and so I believe she saw this an out to try something new or to follow her gut and leave business America.
My parents asked if I would be interested in helping her move and it fit perfectly with my teaching schedule. I flew out to Long Beach exhausted from a week of teaching and the previous weekend's CAT program. When I arrived I immediately noticed that I had lost my video camera. I attempted to contact the Dallas airport terminal as I remembered setting it next to me as I wrote at the gate. I've been trying to telepathically will my camera back to me since then. No Luck.
True, its a three year old consumer camera and I should invest in a pro-sumer one anyways because its limitations at some effected the color and zoom qualities in my animation, but I definitely felt remorse. This was one of the most expensive things I have owned/bought and as my first video camera, I'm a bit sentimental about it. In that moment I had to let go of my loss so that I could enjoy my sister's presence and our pending adventure.
My visit to CA looked something like this---->
Play around Southern California including a few I'll blog on later;
-Shops in Long Beach
-Parade of Boats
-eating oranges from a tree in the courtyard
-Museum of Jurassic Technology
-Hammer Museum Charles Burchfield
-Mexican Market/ Art Market
The Harrowing Journey Home
Monday morning we began packing my sister's car until it was so stuffed and we had to pitch extra stuff.
Before leaving we considered a surfing lesson, but decided not to because of the cost and time. Instead we headed down towards Newport Beach and went hiking around an area called Crystal Cove. As we were watching the surfers and looking for whales, my sister exclaimed, "Let's go swimming!"
Thinking that this was her closure ritual for the end of the CA chapter of her life, I agreed. My sister went in first as she has a wet suit to test out. After she got flipped around by the waves I decided to join her, in my swimsuit, mind you in freezing December ocean water. We ran in and screamed and laughed about the coldness of the water and our failed attempts to ride the waves while swimming. As we ran back up the stairs of the cliff, a man watching the water said "You must feel like you can do anything in the world." Not a bad way to begin a journey.
Fresh from a swim and outdoor shower we headed towards Kingman, only to get caught in 2hrs of traffic heading out of L.A.. Despite the traffic, the initial ride was optimistic. At about 8pm we arrived in Barstow and ate at a McDonald's shaped like a train station. This McDonald's was like the bar in Star Wars; a random assortment of people in various routes of travel.
We stopped in Needles to sleep and it was then that I discovered my phone was missing. The next morning Cam called my sister's phone and said that a kid had found my phone on the ground in Barstow and she had been texting him all night to let him know they were waiting for someone to return for the phone. My theory is the phone fell out of the jam packed car. Did I mention that I had to fit all my bags in the passenger seat?
I was upset about my phone and more anxious about why I kept losing things, but I figured that at least my sister still had her phone and it sounded like the family who found my phone were going to mail it back to me. Forward with the trip, our goal that day was to drive to Alberquerque to stay with cousins. We should have seen it as a bad omen when we saw snow in the Mojave Dessert.
By the time we were close to Flagstaff we came to a stand still on the Highway.
Passing the time with knitting and needlepoint, we tried to make the best of our wait. I tried to walk up the road to see where the traffic jam started but could see end. Snow and wind burning my face, I turned around to walk back to our car. Along the way people rolled down there windows to ask what I saw, "nothing" I said. But these conversations formed a short narrative; this road did see a lot of snow, but if we were stuck too long the trucks wouldn't make it up the pass and would have to change tires, everyone seemed to have a little food, a few let their dogs run around or had snowball fights. One man even suggested an ingenious way for women to pee in a traffic jam while snowing. Form an enclosure by stretching a blanket between the door of the car and the car body. Pee inside this enclosure. My sister and I did this twice each. This traffic jam dialogue was the closest sense of community I had ever made on the highway. Four hours later we began to inch along the road, by this time there was a great deal of snow. As we headed towards flagstaff we saw cars and trucks that had run of the road. Discouraged by the time (7pm), road conditions, and lack of light, we decided to stay in Flagstaff. That night we tried to run to a yoga class-that we missed, bought wool socks, and ate soup.
The next morning we work up early to work out and to get a head start. My sister navigated us through the rest of Arizona. We stopped at an Indian Jewelry store where I bought a few gifts and a good luck Kachina doll. I started driving through New Mexico only to be stopped in another traffic jam outside of Alberquerque. Two hours later, we finally escaped and pulled over into a McDonald's. My sister took over the drive and we found ourselves in an intense snow storm. This was the sort of snow storm where you just had to focus on the yellow lines on the road and try and drive in the wheel path from the trucks ahead. The most difficult quality about highway driving in this sort of storm was the mesmerizing trance inspiring movement of snow. It began to look like a matrix or Cam aptly described it later as a sort of Warpspeed visual effect. I noticed Mary driving all over the highway lane. She could no longer see the lane, so I volunteered to take over. By this time the cars were just driving in a slow straight line. This path was further enforced by several miles of highway road work. Mary and I had decided there was no way to get to our goal destination, Oklahoma City, so we found a hotel in Tucumari. Furthermore after several discussions with our father, who had been looking at the radar, there was no clear route for us to take to avoid storms. As we approached the town of Tucumari I began to freak out. I could not see the road, people were driving all willy nilly, and I had almost followed a truck off an exit while trying to stay on the road. My sister counted down the miles with the help of her Garmin. I wanted to exit as soon as possible.
"Let me out of this car I can't drive anymore!" I yelled.
She insisted I stay on the road till our exit, we narrowly missed it and I drove through the grass to get of the highway. Arriving at our hotel we were uncertain if we would be home for Christmas. We began to joke about putting gas station items in each other's shoes and a Christmas dinner at Denny's.
The next morning we woke at 6 to begin the drive. My sister got on the phone with my dad who told her that we could not go South because its forecast was terrible and we could not go North because that forecast was horrible. We just had to stay on 40. Getting back on the highway we noticed several more crashed, flipped, or abandoned vehicles along the icy road. As we passed Amarillo we were encouraged that there appeared to be less snow. We began to experience huge gusts of wind. The wind would pick up the snow swirl it around and create a 10-20ft blanket of invisibility on the highway. This "white out" completely freaked out my sister and she began to slow down. I began to panic that we might get hit from behind and encouraged her to keep a steady pace. Suddenly we reached another highway stand still.
After sitting for an hour we began to consider off roading our vehicle to the route 66 which appeared to be next to us beyond a ditch. We saw a few cars behind us drive this path. An hour later, after contacting our father and boyfriends, we decided to try to cross the ditch. With Cam on the phone, I asked him to talk us through the process. My sister was nervous as she began the diagonal descent and thought initially the car might tip over on my side. As we headed up the other side she was certain it would tip on her and she started to slow down,
"just accelerate" I yelled. As we reached the road we began screaming with joy.
Cam panicked yelled, "What's going on?" (he thought we had tipped and were dying). "Never do that again to me." he said.
We drove further only to reach another standstill. I began to panick I could not be in this car any longer and I could not wait along the highway. Suddenly the women who had been behind us appeared alongside our car.
"I'm going to find out what's going on", she said.
"I've got to get to Illinois and I'm not waiting on this road."
She reported back to us that we were stalled by a 10 car pileup no doubt caused by the white outs. We could wait here for at least another 2 hours or we could head up north by country roads to a town called Pampas. We decided to go to Pampas.
When we arrived at a Pampas gas station we were surprised to meet many other travelers on this same detour. In the gas station we compared routes as my sister talked on the phone with my dad, "weather center". My dad wanted us to continue North and head towards Wichita because he thought we just might miss the bulk of the storm. The others at the station thought we should head back towards a later exit on 40. My sister and I had actually preferred the North facing roads because they did not have white outs because of the direction of the wind. We decided to head towards Wichita.
I started to enjoy the drive, rolling hills, expansive plain, snow covered landscapes that made me think of the moon. As discussed in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance there is something preferable about roads over highways. Roads allow a person to really get a sense of a place where as highways are just about getting from point A to point B.
I was surprised too that we were able to travel faster on the roads then we had been traveling on the highway most of our trip.
Nearly in Kansas by night, my sister took over driving, the last 30 miles into Wichita we once again experienced less severe white outs. We could at least see people's brake lights. Arriving at our friend Travis' house on Christmas Eve, I felt great relief to be around people that I cared about. I was also moved by the notion that like the Christmas story we were welcomed into someone else's home and for a short time could take refuge from the road. Filled with food, wine, and the celebratory spirit of the Russell house, we fast fell asleep.
Up at 6am, we began to prepare for hopefully our last journey. My sister laughed when she saw the McDonald's toy, glow bracelet, and route 66 postcard I left for her in her shoe. With luggage in tow, she headed down to warm up the car. Travis and I checked out the weather news. It seemed like Oklahoma City had been slammed by snow and hwy 40 was shut down after a 20 car pileup. I hoped that our friend"Illinois" had made it out of there safely. Our route seemed ok, KC was slammed with snow but we could at least make it there.
Following my sister a little later to the car, I heard a strange clicking sound as I approached. It was the clicking of the engine not starting! Our car had died Christmas morning. I went back into Travis's house and called Triple A. The woman on the phone told me,
"Well I can place this request but I have no idea how long it will take for them to get to you, there are accidents all over the place, I would encourage you not to drive."
Luckily a half hour later someone showed up started our car.
"How's the weather we asked?"
"Check out what I'm towing."
My sister and I walked around to the back of his truck to see a completely mangled car.
Climbing into our car we hesitantly began our last stretch of the trip. At this point we were past making destinations or goals. We felt defeated and exhausted. Sick of driving with such anxiety somehow, Mary pulled it together and managed to drive us to Kansas City. We figured if KC was too hard to cross we would just stop and see a movie. As she approached 70 she seemed exhausted from driving and slightly traumatized by all the cars we saw along the KC stretch of highways.
"Just pull into a gas station and I'll start. I know this road well."
(from many trips between KC, Columbia, and St. Louis)
In the gas station, before I began, I drank coffee, stretched, and tried to psyke myself up. Back in the car, I put on music that I could sing to and tried to stay attentive to the road. The snow and ice was in unpredictable patches. The wind flurries were not as bad as Oklahoma so I began to feel confident about getting home that day.
As we came closer to St. Louis, we tried to make sense of this unexpected dramatic journey.
Mary said, "I have been feeling really discouraged and not confident about my job. And this whole not knowing what to do...Maybe this trip is a reminder that I can overcome many difficult things even ones that are completely out of my hands".
For me , I had been wanting to connect with my sister and needed head space to think and re-prioritize. Being forced off the grid by lack of phone, internet access, and traumatic weather was one way to have that space.
We made it home for Christmas dinner at 5pm. I was overjoyed to see Cam and my family and to stop driving.
At the heart of my favorite cross-country travels
I experience expansive landscapes
Quirky roadside stores and gas stations.
Nostalgia for the history of the highway and car culture.
Taste testing of the world.
Opportunity for synchronicity with strangers.
Chance to find out new music via car companions and cross-country radio stations.
Losing things is really about letting go. Allowing life to be bumpy and awkward. Trusting that if you can’t find something now it may turn up later. Following the directions of others. Sticking with the road long enough to stumble upon something unexpected and extraordinary. It’s a giving up of control because of extraneous situations and an acceptance of whatever outcomes may arrive. Sure when I was at the fourth traffic jam I lost it but in that breakdown I acknowledged at the very least I was alive and not in an accident. To be lost is to get temporarily off the grid removing the daily patterns and notions of self until what remains is the meanderings of the mind, the body a vessel within a vessel, and a location in motion. When I get physically lost; inside all that confusion, anxiety, and searching, I find myself.