Adventure

Journal: Alone on the Road

Woman and dog sit in the back of a car near mountains.

Words and photos by Teva Explorer Kate Rentz.

I’ve been in desperate need of rest, but not in the physical sense. With the busy holiday season, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with end-of-year work deadlines and festivities, and I have a bad habit of over-booking myself — it’s really hard to for me to say “no.” I enjoy being a social butterfly and staying busy, but once the holiday season comes around, I find myself needing to retreat to solitude in order to recharge and start the year anew.

Hand on steering wheel on the way to the mountains.

So, after the holiday, I decided to take a nice, long road trip with my dog, Maggie. She and I make a great team, and I can count on her to give me the space I need to let my mind wander; I don’t have to engage in the kind of lengthy conversation that gets in the way of experiencing true solitude. Maggie also keeps me safe when we’re alone and doesn’t expect much other than a few good hikes and late-night cuddles.

“I often find myself wrestling with feelings of strength and fear, and this trip was no different.”

 

We left Los Angeles early to head up Highway 395 with no plans of where we’d stop or what we’d do. I wanted to be free of schedules and expectations. I couldn’t wait to get back to the Eastern Sierras, a place I often retreat to when I need to recharge. It didn’t take long to get to the mountains as traffic was unusually light and I made a quick stop at the Alabama Hills to make food, stretch my legs, and figure out where I’d be staying for the night. I began searching the Public Lands app for BLM (Bureau of Land Management) land in the area and found an amazing spot on some salt flats just east of the town of Lone Pine.

Woman and dog eat dinner next to car while camping.

Camping alone can have its ups and downs. I often find myself wrestling with feelings of strength and fear, and this trip was no different. Because I wanted to stay safe and be smart about traveling alone, I slept in my car, but once the sun went down I found my mind creating worst-case scenarios every time I heard a noise outside.  It’s easy to get stuck on fearful thoughts when you’re alone, but I find that if I write about it, it slowly starts to go away. This is my journal entry from that first night alone on the salt flats:

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“As I write this, I’m trying to push past fear. My brain goes into fear mode when I’m completely alone in the wild. Thoughts that plague my mind are the usual: will I be abducted, will a mountain lion maul me, will someone be following my every move and kill me? But I am not a person who wants fear to dictate my life. I have pushed through scary things before. I am brave and I want to do the things I love to do.

 

“Being along makes me feel strong. It makes me trust who I am. I need to be afraid and uncomfortable because it forces me to learn how to overcome.”

 

Being alone makes me feel strong. It makes me trust who I am. It makes me listen to my instincts in such a powerful way. I need to be afraid and uncomfortable because it forces me to learn how to overcome. When there’s noise and distraction in my every day life, I don’t face the fears — I just act like they’re not there and they continue to pop up in my life. I choose to no longer be afraid. I will not imagine myself being abducted in the middle of the night.  I will sleep in the back of my car until the sun rises and I will start a new day surrounded by mountains and beauty. Don’t forget: FEAR = False Evidence Appearing Real.”

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The next morning, I woke up early, made myself a cup of coffee, and began meditating in the middle of the salt flat. Meditating has always been something I intend to do each day, but rarely ever do because I get too distracted. So on this trip, I made it a priority to meditate each morning with words of affirmation that I would say over and over again for fifteen minutes.

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The first five minutes proved difficult and my mind kept wanting to attach itself to thoughts of what to do next, but I committed to the practice and continued my words of affirmation — “I am loved, I am loved, I am loved.”  Truly believing that I am loved has always been difficult for me, but as I kept saying those words over and over out loud, I started to believe them.

Mountains in Death Valley National Park.

As tears freely rolled down my cheeks, I opened my eyes to see the mountains in front of me.  The mere fact that they existed was proof that I was loved even more than I could understand.  I have always found solace in nature, especially during the most difficult times of my life, and I realized then that it was not by accident.  Because of the mountains, and trees, and streams surrounding me, I had the proof I needed to know that I was profoundly loved.

“I have always found solace in nature, especially during the most difficult times of my life, and I realized then that it was not by accident.”

 

After I finished my morning meditation, we drove north towards Bishop. I found a few dirt roads that led up towards the mountains and took advantage of the open space to hike, journal, and clean myself up. The only person I ran into that day was a nice gentleman on a Harley Davidson motorcycle who had taken the day off to cruise the mountain roads before they closed for the winter season.  It was nice to see a friendly face and I felt safe as he wished me farewell and took off down the long dirt road.

Woman and dog standing on rocks.

As the sun began lowering to the west, I made my way further north and found another spot in BLM territory that was surrounded by hot springs and sagebrush.  Maggie and I explored the Owens River area as the sun painted everything around us gold. I felt more confident being alone that night and wasn’t afraid to fall asleep.

woman sits on hood of car by mountains

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When the sun rose the next morning, I crawled out of my car and curled up on the hood, shivering beneath my sleeping bag.  It was freezing and I could see my breath in front of me, but I didn’t mind. I was happy to be awake and even happier to see the sun rise.  In this moment, I felt proud of myself for having the courage to experience these things alone. That morning made me feel extremely connected to who I was and extremely connected to beauty around me.

Kate Rentz wants down boardwalk in Sierras.

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I didn’t have a bathing suit or a towel, but that didn’t stop me from taking the long dirt road leading toward the hot springs. When I arrived, there were a few people soaking, so I waited my turn and read a book to pass the time. As soon as the last person left, Maggie and I had the pool to ourselves, and I didn’t worry about not having a suit or a towel — I had all the privacy I needed out there in the middle of nowhere.

“I wasn’t afraid to fall asleep. That morning made me feel connected to who I was and the beauty around me.”

 

By noon, I could feel the winds changing and checked the weather for updates.  A winter storm was moving in and I needed to get to warmer weather. I headed to Death Valley National Park, a place known for it’s beautiful, desolate landscapes. The winds continued to blow and restricted us from exploring on foot, so I drove to the main attractions, tried my best to get some good photos (I couldn’t see much with my hair blowing in my face the whole time), and eventually decided it wasn’t worth staying in the park much longer.

Woman changes her outfit next to her car.

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 I made my way south to the Trona Pinnacles for the remainder of my trip.  When we arrived, the winds were still whipping around like a hurricane, so Maggie and I took a nap in the back of the car until they finally died down in the late afternoon.

Pinnacles National Park

The Trona Pinnacles look like a scene right out of a science-fiction movie. The landscape consists of more than five hundred tufa spires that range from 10,000-25,000 years old. There wasn’t much to do at the pinnacles, so I spent my time walking around, taking photos, and wondering when I’d see another person. I was now on my fourth day on the road and had only really talked to maybe three other people.  Part of me was excited to start my journey home the next morning, but a big part of me was sad for it to end.

Woman kisses her dog in desert.

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There’s something so very special about being alone on the road.  It’s a time to collect and observe your thoughts, a time to navigate and face uncomfortable feelings of fear and anxiety, and a time to remind yourself that deep down, you are always loved.

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