Life Lessons From The Snowy Desert

It’s been eleven years since the first and latest time I had to bypass the grapevine heading south to avoid a snowstorm.

I had to go all the way around the mountains from Bakersfield by trekking backward and by taking the coastal 101 down to Southern California. It took me about six hours, but it put everything in perspective. I was able to be on the roads that I never have seen before. However, this was before the explosion of smartphones and the Waze app, and it became an event that I will always remember.

Now, 11 years later I had to do it again. However, this time my vehicle headed due southeast facing the desert. I was stuck in an endless line of cars that would snake around the mountains in a different direction. Instead of seeing the Pacific Ocean as I cruised along the highway 101, I would have to go through the Mojave Desert past the old dry brush weighed down by piles of freshly dumped snow while driving on pitched dark and icy roads.

It was incredibly daunting the first time that I had to go the long way around. Panic was added to the panic that was already building because I was nervous that I wouldn’t make it back to school in time and would miss my first day of classes after the winter break and be dropped from all of them. Even though I would be leaving at night I wasn’t as nervous as I was 11 years before. In fact, life over the last 11 years had prepared me for almost anything. Even though I was bummed I was sitting in a long line of diverted holiday traffic, I was certain everything would either be okay or that I would have to become creative and deal with a new situation. I became adaptable, more open, accepting, patient, and I now use my ability to problem solve in order to get things done. I suppose, since then, I have grown.

If you asked me about how I was on the road 11 years ago I would tell you that I had the most terrible road rage. I spent the summer after my second year of college living part-time with my aunt and uncle in Los Angeles for an internship and constantly cussing out other drivers as I drove the city streets and highways in and around LA, until one day something clicked. I turned the music a little louder and decided to just go with the flow on the 405 (or the lack thereof) and instantly felt better. I suddenly felt free of unnecessary stress and worry.

I changed my perspective from thinking about me and when and where I needed to go and not at all about the hundreds of other drivers that also had places that they needed to go. It sounds corny, but I definitely released a lot of anger that day on the 405 exchange and let a lot of worries go. There was nothing that I could do about the traffic that I was already stuck in so, I might as well just relax and enjoy the music.

The act of letting go allowed me to learn to love driving. I began driving everywhere, from Southern California towards the north all the way to Washington state and from the west to the east and from the east to the west across the continental United States. I became comfortable enough to travel in Ubers in Europe and Canada, and drive an overpriced luxury vehicle around the streets of the Northwest. I never technically lived in my car, but my trunk grew to always be full of hiking and camping gear as its staple. I would always have my car full of outdoor gear close by in case I felt the sudden urge to drive to the woods, up through snowcapped mountains, along the shining sea, or through the beautiful desert to get away.

I also remember the first time that I ever drove on the freeway. It was when I first went off to college and moved away to the dorms. I nearly crapped my pants in that car by myself and definitely cried after my parents helped me unload all of my stuff and left. I would say that I wouldn’t get my confidence until after I faced the first snowstorm that cut off my access to the grapevine and the little mini road trip that I would take on my own months after I waved goodbye to my parents. All of it prepared me for this second drive around the grapevine and the first time that I would end up driving through a couple of feet of snow. It would lead to this very moment of me sitting in my parked car writing in my internet diary behind a driver who was outside in the middle of the snow-covered freeway 58 smoking a cigarette.

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