I write to you from Insomnia Coffee in Cannon Beach, OR. Everyone is outfitted in flannels and fleeces, sandy leather shoes and beanies or man-buns. I have definitely arrived home the Pacific Northwest, and I can’t help but smile as I look around.
This will be my last blog post as a full-time dirtbag for a few months (no, the posts won’t stop, nor will they get any less magical, they will simply shift into local wanderings and wonderings).
As you know, I am almost home to Washington state. I look forward to a Spring of log cabin hunkering and hiking, of flights to warmer states, and of mini road trips into Canada or the great the northwest — so I guess settling in for the season is a relative term for me, because clearly, I can’t go without wandering.
Nearly 7 months ago, I sat in this exact coffee shop, two days into my dirtbag journey. And today I am sitting here writing to you two days away from being home — how wild is that?! Talk about full circle.
My journey as a full-time solo female traveler began in this quirky beach town, and it is coming to a beautiful (and temporary) finale here as well.
I know this is exactly where I am meant to be, the perfect place to conclude this chapter.
I also suspect there are still a few lessons left for me to learn during this journey. And ya’ll, I see this beautiful space delivering them to me one by one. And of course, I want to share them with you!
This past week of wandering has been fraught with challenge. Although I would not categorize the challenge as insurmountable adversity, it has still thrown me for a loop.
Last Wednesday Luna, my traveling babe, broke down on the side of the highway. While she is now repaired and shining brighter than ever, in many ways her breakdown broke me.
Her breakdown reminded that while I had support from afar, that when shit goes sideways and you’re alone on the road, it’s solely up to you to fix it.
While many wanderers claim that their breakdowns and similar moments are beautiful because they reveal their true power and strength. I ultimately felt the opposite.
Yes, I proved to myself that I could handle unexpected challenges with a decent amount of grace and composure. I was reminded I could do it on my own, and negotiate and problem solve independently. But honestly (not to sound like an asshole) this powers and skill had been revealed to me long ago. Instead, the breakdown made me feel alone.
While I knew I could handle everything on my own, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to anymore. While being on my own was empowering, it was also lonely.
The next day, back on the road and bandaged up. We made our way to the California coast. Here, I wandered around a beautiful park, photographing wildlife and the ever-spanning Pacific. Still feeling lonely, but slowly regaining some peace.
And then all of a sudden a 70 year old stranger’s hand was on my ass. Okay, it didn’t happen that fast, there was a friendly conversation, a turn to walk the other way and then I was being groped. And with that, the peace beginning to seep back in was stolen.
I not only felt alone again, I felt violated and vulnerable.
I brushed off the touch, literally and emotionally. It wasn’t “that big of a deal” after all.
Later the same night I drove to four different hotel parking lots before settling on a safe place to sleep.
The next night I drove through three hotel parking lots and then onto a new city in the pitch black of night.
And then I booked a hotel room, hoping that four concrete walls would make me feel a little safer.
But instead, I sat rigid in bed with my bear spray and knife next to me, glancing frantically back and forth from the deadbolt, to the window where Luna could be seen.
I was afraid for my safety, and for Luna’s.
I’d rationalized and brushed off the fear all week, making excuses, naming the towns (and this hotel) as unsafe, and sketchy. Perhaps this was true, but it hit me all at once sitting in that hotel bed.
I felt unsafe because I had been violated.
I feared for Luna’s safety because she had broken down just days before.
The two experiences in tandem shook me, left me feeling alone and vulnerable.
And while, I often talk about time on the road as empowering, sometimes I also feel scared. And I think that’s important to write about too.
When Luna broke down, I wrote about radical acceptance, but that was only half of the story. This is the other half.
When that creepy old man grabbed my ass, I went on Instagram live and spoke about the importance of naming assault and inappropriate touch, but that was only half of the story. This is the other half.
Being a solo female wanderer has gifted me with so much. I have uncovered strength I never knew existed, I have handled difficult situations with grace, let go of massive amounts of anxiety, embraced health in a whole new way and taken the writing world by storm.
But, being a solo female wanderer has also opened up moments of fear, has given me time to navigate the difference between loneliness and being alone, and has presented some (manageably) scary moments.
And honestly, all of that is important. Often, I share less of the scary and more of the magical. But today I wanted to share both. Because both exist. Both have helped me to grow in different ways. And both have opened new doors.
You can be scared, you can be shaken, you can seek comfort and care and still be empowered. It is not a binary, you are allowed to exist in both camps all at once. I know I do.
And when I forget, when my empowerment feels fleeting, I am always met with reassurance.
And some of this reassurance came last night (I told you Cannon Beach still had lessons and magic to share with me, so here it comes).
As I walked back to Luna at dusk I saw shadows move in the distance. Instead of feeling the fear that has followed me all week, I felt excitement. I knew these shadows were harmless. Even more poignantly, I knew they were delivering a message to me.
I was the only soul in the parking lot, and without question I moved toward these shadows. And with each step I took the shadows transformed. A giant heard of Roosevelt Elk came to life in front of me.
I stood at a respectful distance away watching them. As they reached a nearby clearing they moved one by one down into the grass. They didn’t move haphazardly, they moved with intention, purpose and immense care for one another. As members of the pack moved into the clearing, two Elk stood aside letting them pass, surveying the surroundings. When the last two elk stood alone at the edge of the clearing they looked at one another and as the one on the inside stepped down into the clearing the final Elk stood watch, strong in the spirit of protection.
The whole scene struck me. I moved closer to watch them graze, and the leader looked over to me. With that I said thank you and walked back to Luna.
Last night, I slept peacefully through the night for the first time in over a week.
Last night I felt safe and held by something larger than myself.
And this morning, I hopped on my phone and read about Elk and their symbolism.
The first word that popped up? Empowerment.
In a time of fear and loneliness, in a time where my power had been brought into question, these Elk appeared to me.
They reawakened my power, they showed me what it’s like to feel protected and cared for, they reminded me of the communities that back me from a far, and they reminded me of the strength I hold within myself.
So today, sitting in this coffee shop, in the space where my journey began long ago, I feel grateful.
I feel grateful for the fear (not the actions that caused it, but for the feeling itself).
I feel grateful for the Elk and their empowerment.
And I feel grateful for everything in between — even the crazy annoying amount of people shuffling in and out these coffee shop doors haha (there’s no doubt that I feel happily alone far more than I feel lonely).
Wandering is always a bit wild. So, wherever and however you do it, I implore you to stay open. To remember you can exist in a multitude of feelings all at once, and some shadows lead to incredible light.
Sending you lots of love,