A Summer Road Trip Through The American West
This summer, I am driving through Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana with my Subaru, Jodie Forester. In the back of Jodie Forester is camping gear, a compound bow, and a stack of books on how to pursue writing as a career. I'm basically Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love, but instead of eating linguine, meditating, and sobbing I am fly fishing, hunting, and working out—while occasionally sobbing. I am actually reading Eat, Pray, Love. God, I'm cliche! I was planning to use the book as reconnaissance to better understand the elusive and cunning creature that has flummoxed men since the stone age: women. Gilbert's prose quickly hypnotized me, though, and by the end of the first day I was wet-eyed (because of the pollen) journaling the same questions Gilbert asked herself as she set off on her year-long trip:
Who am I?
Who does my life belong to?
What is my relationship to divinity?
What have I come here to do?
Do I have the right to change my own path?
With whom do I want to share my path—if anyone?
Do I have the right to experience pleasure and peace?
If so, what would bring me pleasure and peace?
So far, I am coming up short on answers, but I plan to have all of life's questions cornered by the end of summer. Stay tuned. I have felt brief glimmers of clarity, though. One morning I woke up in Vedauwoo, Wyoming, a rock climbing destination known for the immense boulders that perfectly rest on top of each other. I like to imagine that the gods got bored while creating Earth, so they took the day off and played a game of rock-stack in Vedauwoo. I hadn't showered in days and was beginning to smell like Christopher McCandless from Into The Wild, so I ran through the Pine trees, stripped off my clothes, and plunged into the icy river. "Yes," I thought, "this is exactly where I am supposed to be."
Sleeping with Jodie Forester has deepened our relationship tremendously. While cocooned in my sleeping bag I open her sunroof and look at the stars. I cook Annie's mac-n-cheese out of her trunk. The other day while driving on the freeway, an 18-wheeler flung a pebble at her front windshield, resulting in a spiderweb crack. I felt an absurd amount of rage, like someone had sucker-punched my girl and the only logical response involved a sniper rifle. Alas, my exit was next.
I was en route to Salida, Colorado, where I am writing from now. Salida is a small mountain town adjacent to the Arkansas river, which has re-opened since COVID-19, but most people still hide behind masks. Salida has a standing wave at the river where surfers and kayakers line up, then scurry into multi-minute rides. If I’m being honest, I can only describe the pursuit of river surfing and kayaking as achingly dorky. The freshwater fanatics adorn helmets, life jackets, and nose-clips to brave two-foot whitewater. I am aware that certain river waves allow for major maneuvers, but these waves only offer straight-handed butt-wiggles. But the surfers wiggle with such glee, I can't help but hoot and fist pump as I wait for my turn. I am borrowing a surfboard and wearing only black board shorts. Although, I own a pair of rainbow-colored Chacos and a wide-brimmed hat typically reserved for someone who spends their weekends identifying Downy woodpeckers and Black-capped chickadees, if you ever catch me wearing a nose-clip, please stage an intervention. "Kyle, we're here because we love you … "
When it's my turn, I paddle hard into the corner of the wave and catch it. Although the wave is small, water rushes beneath me much faster than it would on an ocean wave, and popping-up requires more focus than I anticipated. I'm up. I wiggle back and forth for a minute or so, then catch an edge and go head over heels like an airborne trout. A super-soaker of freshwater is promptly injected into my nostrils, and the river carries me underwater for an impressively long time, as if to say, “Welcome to Colorado." As I sit on the side of the river, trying not to catch my breath too noticeably, it occurs to me that it's not the size of the wave that determines the intensity of a wipeout, but the speed at which you move underwater. Despite my now waterlogged brain, I still can’t bring myself to wear a nose clip.
On this trip, I have vacillated between intense feelings of freedom and loneliness. These emotions smack into me at random, like a pebble flying off of an 18-wheeler. As I sit on the side of the river, shivering in the afternoon light, a masked couple walks by, and I am hit with the familiar feeling of isolation. Our culture fetishizes the individual pursuit. The howling lone wolf backdropped by a full moon, or, better yet, an American flag. But a wolf only howls to be heard by others, and right now I miss my friends. When Christopher McCandless' journal was found in Alaska along with his body, he had written, "Beauty is only real when shared." As I sit on the river's edge, a lump firmly lodged in my throat, wondering what the hell I’m doing in Colorado, I think of my spectacular wipeout, and how I will definitely write about it. Folly is one of my favorite subjects. Although I am alone on this adventure, questions unanswered and at times rudderless, when I write I don’t feel so lonely. You, the reader, are sitting beside me at the river's edge, sharing in the beauty, grinning with me at those goofy nose clips.
By Kyle Thiermann