One day the girl freed herself from her prison and struck out into the wilderness…
Almost sounds like a fairy tale, but really the prison was my mind and lack of will to live and the wilderness was the great unknown of traveling/backpacking.
It was 2002-ish – I was failing all of my classes, primarily because I wasn’t attending them or even attempting to pass at all. I had sunk into my first memorable catch 22 trap where I don’t do something, then the guilt of not doing it makes me not want to do the next thing I’m supposed to do and so on until it spirals to the point of just hiding from everything and everyone – trying to disappear into the proverbial wallpaper.
Shane, Cat, Puck (my boyfriend at the time) and I, decide to take a Greyhound bus out to California. We are going to backpack/urban camp once we get there. My parents ‘disowned’ me for dropping out of school, but I knew there was no way I would survive continuing on as I had been. I was highly suicidal feeling I had nothing of worth happening in my life nor a future that promised anything good at all. This was the biggest ‘running away (from home)’ venture I’d ever taken!
I can remember buying the bus tickets, going to shop for the traveling gear I would need, deciding what to pack and riding the bus out there – all were euphoric! I felt so FREE and full of hope. I also knew I might die, but that was not very concerning to me given what things had been like.
As the bus reached its final destination, Oakland, CA I remember the anxiety finally setting in. Where would I sleep specifically? How would I eat with no money? How would I continue on from here with no money left for another ticket? All the questions I’d failed to ask before I’d left came tumbling down upon me. Everyone else’s attitude still held that high, they had after all done this before, but what if I couldn’t hack it?? So, all at once, I was terrified and irritated. I felt, maybe they swindled me into all of this and were just bullshitting the whole time. How is this lifestyle ACTUALLY possible?? Arriving in East Oakland wasn’t exactly the amazing place I was anticipating but the plan wasn’t to stay there, it was to go to Berkeley.
Berkeley on the other hand WAS that fantastical place they’d described. It was a homeless person’s paradise I quickly learned. I was still wary of how things would shake out, but I loved the city. Soon enough we are meeting people and I can’t decide where I fit in. AM I the silver spoon girl from Austin? Or, am I a degenerate punk rock, college dropout chick that is living on the streets, like I wanted to be in my head. I can’t figure out where I belong, and it leaves me in a funk for some time. Not fitting in with either crowd…as always.
I spent several months in Berkeley primarily focused on repairing old wounds. It took some time for me to come into my own, in my new frame of mind and in my new environment. But when it took hold, I felt reborn.
The worst thing to happen in Berkeley was that my bag was stolen, and I was left with no clothes, socks, underwear, toothbrush, sleeping bag etc. The tragedy only followed with more hope as I realized how little I really needed and learned how easily these things were to replace and how, the only true loss was the journals I’d been keeping…which was, in fact, devastating.
The only thing you need money for in Berkeley is for alcohol and/or drugs. We panhandled by day and were given more food than we could eat, enough cash for an evening of debauchery and supplies from the local social service organizations who also supplied us with food, and also underwear, socks, toothbrushes and the like. It was not unusual for me to do drugs…in fact I had been selling them back in college. I was doing a LOT less of them on the road.
There are tales of amazing experiences, places and people, love and friendship along with tales of woe, run ins with the police and drugs and alcohol over the course of a three year journey that I wouldn’t trade for the world. It was during this time of my life when I felt the freest and purest. I finally knew true freedom and possibly who I was and who I was supposed to be. Things just finally seemed clear.
One of the guys I met was named Roger…who I basically fell for. He played guitar, had an amazing voice and an all-around easy demeanor, though he could be quite the asshole when he was drunk…which was also appealing. I loved how he just didn’t care what people thought of him, he just did him, his own thing. I took that mentality with me from there on out.
I started out with hitchhiking but soon after began riding freight trains, it was exhilarating and became my preferred method of travel.
Nothing has ever made me feel more alive than the experiences I had on the road and the tracks. I was truly reborn in this journey and hope came alive. I had finally become the person I had always been meant to be – a traveler and a survivor.
It took some time, but I found a groove, still a timid groove, but a groove. The biggest development was that I found hope. Hope I hadn’t had before. Hope in the actual world – the whole world! For as many horrible things as people do, for as awful as our politics are, for as awful as growing up a misfit was, for as awful as college promoting the rat race was – this…this gives light and meaning to life!