Thursday, July 28, 2011

Travel Day Updates (Posted two weeks late...)

The moment I sent off my post from Oakland, I zoomed (as much as one can in a van that size through the highways of the Bay Area) to the San Francisco airport to retrieve my darling Alecia. Alecia has been my best friend for nineteen years and, more than that, has always been a source of inspiration, support and excellent times. And her role in this new chapter is no exception, as she not only joined me for a part of my adventure but also recently bought a one-way ticket to Thailand in October to continue her own explorations and life education.

Me and Alecia:

Our first stop was to spend a lovely afternoon and evening with my uncle in San Francisco, after which we connected with old formerly Boulder-based friends. This, too, was incredible and incredibly fun. From dessert tarts in San Francisco to mojitos by the pool, catching up with dear friends while both rekindling and growing old friendships was more fun and more illuminating that I could have hoped. But, as I'm finding to be my new norm, the wilderness called us away after a few short days.

From there, we drove up through Mendocino, seeing both the amazing California coast and the redwoods that seem to dwarf not only your thoughts but even the sky itself. After an evening drive North through the Avenue of the Giants and some adventures in urban van camping, we spent the next afternoon at a swimming hole (complete with rock jump) that we spotted from the road as we drove along the Smith River in Northern California. Unfortunately, the jump into the water ruptured my ear drum, which ended up being a trivial injury after a doctor's appointment and round of antibiotics following our arrival on Whidbey Island. From the swimming hole, we drove up to Crater Lake, OR, arriving to see a beautiful dusk, a bright shining moon and countless stars that were almost as plentiful as the mosquitoes. We camped along side the lake, where we then woke to watch the sun rise. Words can not possibly express the splendor of that view, but I am certain I shall never forget it.

Mendocino Coastal Views:

The joys of driving the CA coast:

The rock jump/swimming hole:

Crater Lake at sunrise:

After a day of hiking just West of the lake and an afternoon in a beautiful natural hot springs, we then watched the sun set on the Oregon Coast outside of the Rogue Brewery, where we did a fabulous beer tasting. We spent the next day on the beach on the Oregon Coast, meeting up with another dear friend from Boulder who is on a road-trip odyssey of her own. We ate dinner and then brunch in Portland, and Alecia and I spent the day exploring the city. After some more supplying (and a rather humorously mediocre rooftop happy hour), we hit the road for my dad and step-mom's place on Whidbey Island, where I had originally picked up the van.

Taps Abound at the Rogue Brewery:

Oregon Beach Day Views:

Whidbey is one of the most peaceful and beautiful places I've ever been, which means even more now that it did a few weeks ago. The house stands sentinel on the edge of a bluff overlooking the Puget Sound and, across the water, the Olympic Mountains. The beach below inspires long walks, where the conversant mind flourishes and the passing of time continues unnoticed. The living spaces my step-mom, Susie, created feel open and inviting, homey and warm but still conducive to independence and reflection. The whole landscape breeds contentment and relaxation. Even Alecia, who (as my foil) is somewhat difficult to impress, openly declared her love for it and the sense that she could see building a life there. It was a beautiful place to end to an incredible trip.

The view at Whidbey:

From the picture window in the main house (aka Sue's masterpiece):

Alecia on the bluff at sunset:

All along our way from San Francisco to Whidbey, we hiked, explored, ate deliciously well (with Alecia introducing me to her raw theory of eating), talked, laughed, connected, and, most uniquely for me, sat in comfortable silence. With the van as our home, we parked wherever we could find (which awarded many stories worth telling) and went wherever we felt moved to go. The freedom and simplicity of this rambling lifestyle is incredibly appealing to me. It gives me the chance to nurture these places in my heart that sometimes get overlooked by goal-oriented and progress-driven pursuits, but bring me a deep sense of contentment.

I found myself sitting at the Seattle airport, where I wrote almost all of this post two weeks ago, waiting for the first of two flights that took me back across the country to my erstwhile home in Boston. The time in the West Coast still feels too short and, while the adventure is certainly not done, I felt some sadness about closing this chapter of it. I may not be done with van life (van-ity, van-itude, what can I say - I'm a van fan) and I certainly feel unprepared to make decisions about my next longer-term steps.


In fact, I'm starting to see my decisions in ever smaller packages - instead of planning my entire life, I started my trip trying to plan the next year. And now, instead of planning a whole year, I'm thinking in even shorter terms. Right now, that looks like a few months in Berkeley to start with an open schedule that allows me to explore a new place in more depth while still being open to seek new opportunities.

In some ways, this feels like delaying, a stalling tactic to give myself a reprieve from the overwhelming number of choices that represent my possible future paths. But so what if it is? Whether I am merely a passenger or force myself to act as conductor, time continues to pass, and with each moment comes experience and growth. Now is the time for me to allow my life to simply unfold, and I have to believe that clarity will emerge. In this moment, at this time in my life, my clarity is that I'm not ready or prepared to choose, and, instead, I need to continue to allow myself to be open to experience, to go where I'm drawn, to learn all I can and to make the most of this incredible journey.

An fittingly beautiful sunset I caught from the airplane to Boston:


  1. I love that at some point during this trip, you were literally "living in a van down by the river."

  2. I enjoy reading these Mara and admit to some envy. I would truly enjoy traveling this way and the freedom to live life with a bit of abandonment if only for a few months or a year. It is a wonderful way to learn about yourself and even about life itself. As you gain responsibilities and commitments, it becomes more difficult to do so. Enjoy it now and you'll have such wonderful memories to refresh your soul later in life.