“did you make it?” my friend texted.
i was sitting in my car, seats still full with boxes leftover from my recent move. there was a paper on my lap with the numbers of different campgrounds in the area. i’d called down the list. every single plot was occupied.
“yeah,” i typed. the cold, black letters conveyed none of my anxiety, said nothing of the pit in my stomach. “i made it.”
i used to think i was a traveler, that i was bold enough, savvy enough, to get myself anywhere in the world no matter what. i took my first solo trip when i was eighteen. i used my first official paycheck to settle the plane tickets. the change in my pocket and human kindness covered the rest. i spent my time in free museums, farmers’ markets, public squares, and cemeteries. it certainly wasn’t sustainable, but, for a week, i remember thinking: this is living.
since then i’ve crossed oceans.
it never occurred to me that the borders of my home would one day grow to be insurmountable. strolling through dresden or sipping a pint in galway, the thought never crossed my mind that i would fall into a stationary life. i had no children to worry over, no lover to abandon. my family, whenever i told them i was leaving, said, “go! live!”
but somehow i stopped anyway.
being stuck is different than standing still.
“welcome to michigan,” the robot on my phone intoned as i passed a small, blue sign proclaiming some invisible line had been crossed. i smiled. come what may. this was my rubicon.
only a few days before my trip, the thought of driving my fourteen-year-old car eight hours to a place i barely even knew existed was as invigorating as it was intimidating. i’d already decided i wanted to spend my birthday in the woods, but i could have settled for an ordinary run through a park. until i merged onto the turnpike headed west, i wasn’t certain i would follow through.
“this is irresponsible,” said my brain. “it won’t be worth it. you have too much to do at home. you’re being reckless.”
i turned up the radio and rolled the windows down.
i don’t care.
love at first sight. that’s how i’d describe my crush in sixth grade, being served a waffle for breakfast, and walking up to lake michigan at sunset.
perhaps the struggle is what made the lake so memorable. the long stretch of unfamiliar road, the disappointment of not securing a campsite, the unexpected two mile trek over sand, the fear of being alone in the dark. when i crested the last hill and was greeted by silence save the gentle wash of water, my heart surged with happiness. i sat down in the sand, cracked open my journal, and i wrote.
i may never be this happy again.
i remained on the beach for an hour, enjoying the dramatic splashes of color as they spread across the sky. pinks melted into oranges and slowly turned to purple as the night rolled in. i hiked back to my car in the dark, without a flashlight. i did not want to blind myself to the full experience of the woods at night. my senses flared. every sound made me flinch. i was alive.
there are very few advantages to sleeping in the backseat of a sedan. the air is stale. your muscles stiffen. you wake up more exhausted than before. still, insomnia has its benefits.
the night i turned twenty-seven was a sleepless one. if i managed to get comfortable, my slumber was derailed by fear that a park ranger would discover me. as soon as i breathed easy, my back would demand a new position. driven to madness by this cycle, i stepped out for some fresh air.
it was two in the morning. the moon, which only hours before had washed out all the constellations, had set below the horizon. as i looked up into the sky, it seemed all the secrets of the universe were laid bare to me. i held my breath. even the sounds of my lungs working seemed too loud.
in the dark, my bare feet found the wooden planks of the dock near where i’d parked my car for the night. it was a long, narrow dock that went almost to the middle of the small, still lake. the water, which had been crystal blue when i’d arrived, was now a dark abyss, dotted with stars, seemingly without end.
i laid down on the dock, the milky way both above and below me, and felt my spirit dissolve.
i was in sleeping bear dunes national park for two and a half days, but it was exactly where i needed to be. i hiked miles over sandy, unending dunes. i chased majestic eagles and tiny piping plovers. i saw rainbows and wildflowers. i was kissed by the sun and reborn in the sparkling, clear waters of the lake.
i am twenty seven.
i am a traveler.
i do not sit still.