Seizing The Freedom Of Men A Road Trip Alone – The Awl

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byMaya?

Rao

DrivingMario’sboatonFlatheadLakein?

Montana。

AdayandahalfaftermeetingatMoose’sSaloon,JudeandIboardedaraftwithhispitbullandbeganfloatingdownthenorthforkoftheFlathead?

River。

Hecalledhimselfamountainman,andwaseagertoguideacitygirlonlifeintheoutdoors。

“We’regoingdowntheriver,goingtohaveaMontanaadventuretoday…becausewe’recraaaZAY!

”hesangloudly,asotherpeoplesailed?

by。

Ihadn’tshoweredinthreedaysbecauseIwassleepinginthecartosavemoney,butJudedidn’tseemtocare。

Neitherdidhisdog,whokeptleapingintomylap。

Judegrinned,turnedupsomereggaemusic,andbrokeouthisstashofmarijuana。

Wewerejustsouthof?

Canada。

Threeweeksand5,000milesearlier,ItookamonthofffrommyjobasanewspaperreporterinPhiladelphiatoroamaroundthecountrybymyselfinmyblueToyotaYaris。

DayafterdayIbrokeeveryruleonhowtotravelaloneasayoung?

woman:

Sketchoutaschedule。

Reservehotelsaheadoftime。

Don’ttalktostrangers。

Instead,Iwokeupinmycaratsometruckstoporsidestreet?

—?

insidea$20-a-bedhostelontheluxuriousmornings?

—?

withonlyahazyideaoftheday’sschedule,allsubjecttochangeifsomeinterestingpersonoropportunitycrossedmyway。

Ididnotwanttospendthousandsofdollarsonhotels,andinanycase,continentalbreakfastsattheHolidayInnarenotwhatproperroad-trippingis?

about。

Takingsuchajourneyisadeclarationofindependenceandself-reliance,traitsthatwomenareexpectedtohavebutnothavetoomuchof。

ItissociallyacceptableforawomantoflyalonetoParisorBuenosAiresandpaygoodmoneyforgoodaccommodations。

ButramblingaroundtheWestwithrandos,hangingoutinboatsandbarswithstrangers,andshoweringintruckstops?

Thatisthedomainofthemaleexplorer。

Womenareconditionednottotakeasmanyrisksasmeninthisregard。

Wearedelugedwithmessagesthatwearevulnerablebyourselves,thatmencanpreyonus。

IstillhavememoriesofmymotherdiscouragingmysisterandIfromwanderingaroundmuchaschildreninourvirtuallycrime-freesuburb,warningthatsomebodycouldkidnapus。

Shereadilyadmittedthatshewouldhaveletusdomuchmoreifweweresons。

Thesearemoredangeroustimes,sheandmanyotherwomeninsistedtomeovertheyears:Lookatallthescarystoriesonthe?

news!

SoIgrewupenvyingthefreedomboyshadtocharttheirowncourse。

Yearslater,andlivingonmyown,Istruggledtoidentifywithmymanyfemalepeerswhowereturninginward,settlingintothecomfortsofhomeandrelationships。

IwashauntedbythevastnessofeverythingIhadnotseenandexperiencedandfeltapushtowardtheunknown。

Weeksbeforemy27thbirthday,theroadopeneduplikean?

answer。

Idrove。

Idrovewest。

Ikeptdriving,acrossinterstates,downfadedmainstreets,pastmountainsandforests,beyondmyownfears,untilsomewhereincentralArizona,assignsloomedonRoute66forLosAngeles,Iwastoofarawaytoturnback。

Mydefensesbeganto?

sink。

ImetacollegebasketballcoachinFlagstaff,Arizona,thelittletownsouthoftheGrandCanyonwheretheplanetPlutowasdiscoveredin1930。

HeintroducedmetoTuesdaynightkaraokeatthelandmarkHotelMonteVista,wherealoudsingernamedAviannaAcidwashoggingthespotlightandanoldmanjuttedhishipsto“FoxyLady。

”InSaltLakeCity,abarreferredtomebyahikeratZionNationalParkturnedouttobelousy,butIencounteredaformerAustralianexpattherewhoshowedmearoundUtahonhisHarleywhilethelocalsgearedupfortheDaysof’47,thecommemorationofMormonpioneers’arrivalinthestate。

WeknockedbackPolygamyPorterstocelebrate。

Afterexchangingpleasantriesinthepark,IwentraftingdowntheBoiseRiverinIdaho,thewesternmostpointinmyjourney,withabusinessstudentandhismiddleschool?

brother。

Astheirfriendsgaveusarideinapickupbacktomycardownsomewindingroadintheboondocks,justfourwordsranthroughmyhead:What。

Am。

I?

Doing。

WhileIhungoutwithsomeotherwomenontheroad,includingaHungarianaupairwhowasseeingthecountrybybusaloneuntilhervisaexpired,mostofthepeoplewhostruckupconversationswithmeweremen。

Theynaturallyhadfewerdefensesup,andweremoreinclinedtobeoff-the-cuff。

Ilaiddowntheboundariesofatravelerseekingonlyafriendlyguideandnotaromanticencounter,andmycompanionsacceptedthatwithoutincident。

Iusuallyliedthatmysisterwasmeetingmeatthenextstop,orwassomewherenearby。

Iwasalwaysvigilant,lookingforsignsofanythingawry;themoremilesItraveled,thestrongermyintuitiongrew。

Still,findingtherightnighttimeaccommodationscouldbedifficult。

IwashauntedfordaysafterhearingfumblingnoisesatthesideofmycarintheparkinglotoftheSt。

Louisairport?

—?

theysoundedlikeathiefwithapistol,butturnedouttobeapossum。

AfterstayingtoolateattheGrandCanyon,therewasnowheretocrashwhennightfellexcepttheisolatedparkinglotofahotelthatcharged$117foritscheapestroom?

—?

morethanIcouldjustifypaying?

—?

andIcouldbarelysleepforfearofbeingkickedout。

(Ishouldhavejustpaid。

)InSaltLakeCity,fedupwithahostelroomthatreekedofmyroommate’smustybodyodor,IpulledintoaFlyingJtruckstop,butsoondecampedforaresidentialstreetafterahandfulofmensmokingcigarettesacrosstheparkinglotoutsidestaredhardatthecarforseveral?

minutes。

Twoandahalfweeksin,IwokeupscreaminginBoiseafterseeingashadowcreepuptomyhostelbunkbedinthedark。

Ifeltatapontheshoulder。

“Sorry,Iknowthere’snothingscarierthanwakinguptoablackmanstandingoveryou,”Iheardsomeonesay。

Myeyesadjusted。

Oh。

Itwasthatguywhohadbeenhangingaroundthehostelcommonroomtheeveningbefore;hisnamesoundedsomethinglikeJaysanandheseemedtolivethere。

“It’snotbecauseyou’reblack,”Isaid,“it’sbecauseit’ssixinthemorning。

”Thencamehisinvitation:WouldIliketogoforahikeandseethecityjustafter?

sunrise?

ALLTHESINGLELADIES(ANDTHEMARRIEDONES?

TOO)

“HeyFoxy!

”InsideTheOilBoom’sAmazingBachelor?

Boom

MayaRao|April23?

2013

IwasbarelyamomentinsideWalmart,studyingthecucumbersandavocados,whenamiddle-agedmancameuptosay?

hi。

WestartedtalkingabouttheoilboomsweepingWilliston,NorthDakota。

Hesaidhiscoworkerswerelosingitouthereinthemiddleofnowhere。

Maybehewouldloseit?

too。

“Yougottareallybefocusedonyourshit,”hesaid。

“Andit’shard。

Andonthatnote,that’swhyyoushouldletmetakeyouto?

dinner。



Aswedroveouttoahillsideandbeganourtrek,hetoldmehetriedtolivelifelikeamovietoentertainhisancestorswhowerewatchingfromtheskies。

HisdreamwastostartacommuneforAfrican-AmericansinIdaho。

HeclaimedtohavewalkedacrossJapan,hadadishwashingstintinRussia,solddrugsinHarlem,andlivedwithgypsiesin?

Romania。

Itwasarelieftoseekcounselaboutmyjourneyfromsuchanomadextraordinaire。

Withthisskinny,goateedmanI’dneverseeagain,Icouldrunonaboutallthosetaboothingsyoucanneversayinpolitecompany,likehowthebestplacestosleepinthecararetheparkinglotsofairportsandupscalehotelsandresidentialneighborhoodsnearcollegecampuses。

Hehadsomelessonsofhisowntoshare,likehowhescoredfreepeanutsandicecreamsamplesinBoisetosavemoneyonfood。

Hestayedafloatwithoddwaiterjobs,asecurecareer,asheputit,becauseeveninabadeconomypeoplealwayswanttobeserved。

Beforedepartingforworkthatmorning,afterwehadbreakfastatacoffeeshop,hecalledupakidatthehosteltoaccompanyusonatouroftheeccentricmuralsinanundergroundparking?

garage。

Ifthespiritsofmyancestorsreallywerewatching,likeJaysansupposed,Iwonderwhatmygreat-grandmotherwouldhavethought,bornonafarminsouthernMinnesotainthelatenineteenthcenturywhentheprospectofawomangoingoffonherowntrulymusthavebeenunthinkable。

OrevenmygrandmotherborninIndia,marriedandpregnantasateenagerwhilethecountrywasstillacolonyoftheBritishEmpire。

Intwenty-firstcenturyAmerica,womenhaveeverymeanstoexplore:wemakeourownmoney,wegettodecidewhen,andif,wewanttohaveafamily,andwehavethebenefitsofcars,smartphones,AAA,andGPS。

Thepsychologicalbarrierstobummingaroundbyourselvesaremuchlargerthanthereal?

ones。

Ileftthatsamedayforthe370-milejourneytoMissoula。

Butnightfelltooquickly。

IkeptforgettingthattheuninitiatedshouldnotdriveafterdarkintheWest,wheretheblackskyiseerilyvastandanimalsdartintotheroadlikeghosts。

Aloneinthemountains,theonlylightsnavigatingtheLoloandClearwaterNationalForestsweremyown。

Istartedtrippingonmyownanxiety。

Shadowsoftreesmorphedintosneeringgoblinsprotectingtheirterritory,chasing?

me。

IburstoutofthewildontoRoute12solatetheMcDonald’swasalreadyclosed。

Theroadwaslinedwithcasinosflashingneonsigns。

IgaveuptryingtofindsomehostelIhadreadaboutontheInternetafteraseriesofwrongturnsandinsteadwalkedintoasaloon。

SoonafterorderingaMooseDroolImetanolder,tattooedfirefighternamedMariowhowasonvacation。

IsaidIwastravelingwithmysisterandshewassickbackatthe?

hotel。

HewasmarriedwithchildrenandshowedfriendlyconcernforsuchalistlesstravelerwhoknewnothingaboutMontana。

HeinvitedustoWildHorseIslandonFlatheadLake,wherehewasvisitingextendedfamilywhohada?

cabin。

Iconfessedthattherewasnosister,buthestoodbyhisinvitation。

Hepickedmeuponaboattwodayslateroffagravelroadanhour-and-a-halfnorthofMissoulatocomemeethisfamilybackontheisland。

Hisuncleandtwentysomethingnephewtalkedtomelikeitwasn’tweirdthatsomePhiladelphiantheydidn’tknowhadshowedupattheircabintodrinktheir?

mimosas。

Thefunwasshort-lived。

Mariotookmeforawalkinthewoodsaboutanhourlater。

“Look,Ireallymessedup,”he?

said。

Hisauntwaslividbecauseitwasherlastnightofvacationandsomeoneshedidn’tknow,howeverpolite,washangingaroundtheproperty。

Heshouldhavecheckedwiththemfirst。

Aftertakingmearoundtheislandonaquickboatride,allthewhileapologizing,Mariodroppedmeoffonthemainland,andsaidIcouldfindaplacetostayanhouruptheroadinKalispell。

HetoldmetocheckoutMoose’sSaloon,ifitstillexisted?

—?

thelasttimehewastherewas15yearsago。

Mariothengaveme$50forahotelbecausehefeltsobad,whichwaslikemakingmoneysinceIneverstayedin?

hotels。

Ishouldhavebeenmortified,butmysenseofshamehaddissolvedafewthousandmiles?

ago。

Moose’sSaloonwasstillstanding,andIwentinsideandorderedapizza。

ThatishowIbegantalkingtoJude,acarpenterfromWhitefish。

Icouldbarelyhearhimabovetheraucouscrowdjammedtogetheroverafloorcoveredinsawdust,butwegotalongallright,andafterlessthananhourofchattingheinvitedmetogoraftingandcampingwithhimjustoutsideofGlacierNational?

Park。

Sinceheseemedtohavesomeromanticinterest,ItoldhimIwouldgoonlyaslongasheunderstoodwewouldnotbehookingup。

He?

grinned。

“IbetIcanchangeyourmind,”he?

said。

Ihesitated?

—?

campingmightbegoingtoofar?

—?

andtoldhimIwouldcallhimlaterandlethim?

know。

ButdrivingaroundGlacierNationalParkthenextdaywassadanddull。

UnliketheparksinUtah,Icouldn’thikesolohere?

—?

therewerewarningsagainstitbecauseofthebears。

Beingaloneinsucharemoteplacewasnotanadventure;itwasahandicap。

Withmyguardstiff,IdialedJude’snumberandtoldhimIwouldgo。

Asafriend,Ireiterated。

Heseemedgoofyandharmless。

Ishowedupthefollowingdaystillun-showeredsincethelasttimewehadmet,withnomakeupandwildhair,figuringrepulsivenesswasasufficientbarrier。

JudehadmemeethiminWestGlacierwithhisdog,Kona,namedforapartofHawaiiJudehadnever?

visited。

IfollowedhimalongbackroadstotheFlatheadRiver,wheretheroadranthroughremoteterrainandfinallybecamealldirt。

Itslopeddownahillandalongrocksfrontingtheriverfront,aroutethatappearedonlydesignedforthepickuptrucksthateveryoneinMontana?

drives。

Wepulledupbythewaterandhebeganunloadinghiscampinggear:axe,knivesandall。

Theplanwastotakehistruckuptothepointwherewe’dbegintheraftingtrip,floatdowntothespotwherewewereleavingmycar,andcamptherebeforeIdroveusbacktohistruckinthe?

morning。

Ittookfourhourstogettothecampspot,wherewemadestir-frywhileitgrewdark。

Asweatesittingonalog,Judetoldmeabouthiswifeleavinghimthreeyearsagoandhowhecriedandstruggledtomendhisheartagain。

Hewasnotbitter。

Montana,hesaid,fosteredanindomitablespiritin?

people。

Ibegantofearwhatwouldbeexpectedofme,soIfake-yawnedandtoldJudeIwouldgotobedearly,leavinghimtodrinkvanilla-flavoredvodkabythecampfireandsingtothemoon。

Butwewokeupataboutthesametime,andhethrewanarmaroundme。

Itwastimetogetoutofthere。

Ileaptfrommysleepingbagandclimbedoutofthetent。

“It’stoohotinhere,”I?

said。

Aswewerepackingup,hesaidthatIwastooreservedfor?

him。

“IgooffonacampingtripwithaguyIdon’tknowandyou’recallingmereserved?

”I?

asked。

Itoldhimthat,yes,Iwasholdingbackalittle,butthatwaslargelybecauseIhadtokeepmyguardupincasehewasgoingtokill?

me。

HesuggestedthatIquitmyjobandmovetoWhitefish,anofferthatIgentlydeclined。

Mylittlecarhadtransformedintoatoxicdumpstrewnwithclothes,fastfood,andemptywaterbottles,butIclearedoutjustenoughspaceforJudeandKonainthebackseat。

Theroadbacktowherewe’dlefthistruckwastheworststretchmyToyotahadever?

ridden。

ItgroanedandstruggledoverthepebblyroadastheMontanapickuptrucksblaredtheirhornsatusandflewpast。

IbeganyellingatJude。

Ididn’tthinkwe’dmakeit。

“It’sokay,”hetoldthewhimperingdog。

“We’regoinghome?

soon。



Acouplemileslater,wearrived。

ThankstoMario,IhadsomecashonmewhenJude,notinghewasbroke,askedfor30bucksforthefood,boozeandcamping?

fee。

SotheybegandrivingwestandItookoffsouth,theneastformanydaysthroughmountains,plains,andcities。

Ithadbeenalittlescary,Ithought,asInearedhomeafterfourweeksand8,000miles。

ButnotasscaryasitwasliberatingintheknowledgethatIreallycouldchartmyowncourse。

Notscaryenoughnottotryagainsometime。

MayaRaoisastaffwriterfortheMinneapolisStarTribune。

HerdreamroadtripisdrivingacrossRussia,butsheisnotcrazyenoughtoattemptthatone?


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