Not even one week ago I left for New Mexico with thirteen pages of maps, a bike and a bear knife. This was meant to be the ultimate solo trip—one to top any prior travels. For the first four days, yes, I was very solo. Surviving a hail storm in Kansas, the monotony of Missouri, Denver traffic. And I loved it.
Along the way I met maybe fifteen people all egging me along my journey: a neuroscientist, a man who let me use his gas station membership card, a graduate student managing one of Colorado’s biggest modern art galleries, a guy who really liked coffee.
All of them initially said the same thing when I told them what I was doing. “that is the [darn’dest or craziest or coolest] thing I’ve ever heard.” And each of them had their input. “Do you have a gun?” “You should get a dog.” “A pretty girl like you should wear glasses to mask your face.” “Aren’t you afraid?”
It was a lot. Imagine what you would say to a kid so far from home. It is likely I heard it on my way. Along the way I developed a quick spiel for anyone asking, getting better each time I was prompted to recite it. “I am from North Carolina travelling to New Mexico as a volunteer farmhand under Worldwide Organization of Organic Farms.”
And no, “I did not bring a gun or a dog.” And “I have glasses but they are the wrong prescription and make my eyes hurt.” And, often, “I am definitely staying cautious but I have planned this trip down to the mile.” Everyone had their opinions of my trip. And that was okay.
But this was not community. And all was well, at the time, as I wasn’t looking for community in the first place. I was on my own. Passersby would pass their opinions by me; I wasn’t affected. There were words of wisdom and empty thoughts. I took them as they came.
In Union Station in Denver, there was this one guy with an insanely enormous backpack. Like overstuffed hiking pack. It looked like it was holding over 150 liters. He was sitting on a bench reading and I really wanted to ask him why his backpack was so big. Perhaps it would not be the best idea to talk to some gruff traveller. And I, being only of the best ideas, did not talk to him. I wish I had.
I wish I had talked to the guy with the enormous backpack because I arrived at the farm knowing no one. Perfect. My plan for solo adventure now commences. I am the only one I know in New Mexico. It would not have been so if I had talked to backpack guy.
Exactly one day later, I walked out the front door to my car. There were rumors of a Frenchman volunteer arriving sometime that night. I came inside from the out with my things, settling down to play cards with the other volunteers. There were pots and plates on the table from dinner. A new volunteer sat at the table next to my place (‘new’, well, they were all new) and it was backpack guy! But I didn’t recognize him at first.
I took a few minutes to catch up on his background, coming from Dunkirk prior to Quebec prior to Buffalo. He looked tired. I kept imagining I had seen him somewhere and as I was imagining I remembered Union Station and shouted at him, “I know you from Denver!” Unfortunately, he did not remember me. He was probably just tired. It would have been a better story if I had talked to him.
With nine other volunteers in separate cabins across the farm it was not hard to find alone time. My problem was that I was not seeking it out. On the road I spent hours of travel talking to myself and talking to God and stopping to talk to the cows along the road. I spent nights shivering in my car on desolate campgrounds along the way. I loved being solo, the singular person I knew in a state or among the cars travelling to the same places along the road.
It became increasingly harder to reject community when they were so inviting. “Hey, we’re going to this waterfall if you want to come.” “Hey, we’re doing yoga out in the orchard if you want to join.” “Hey, we’re going for a hike in fifteen minutes.” I spent more nights freezing in my shorts while discussing issues of abortion and overpopulation, foreign philosophies of projecting reality, marten and fisher species existing in the lower Michigan peninsula.
What I originally came for was myself, time alone to think, and more importantly, pray. I am learning it takes self-control, routine and motivation to take this time. In the car, I was isolated. Forced to talk to God or myself or the cows. Here I have to pry myself away. This is not how I planned.
But another thing I have come to learn is community can bring me closer to God, especially bringing that motivation. We have discussed God in four different countries and how God is perceive, worshipped and related to differently. This deep conversation drives me back to the Bible in search for an answer; or to my journal, to record the perspectives and encouragement of my new friends.
Maybe the most important thing I have learned on my own is that no one is going to do it for you. I have to read the Bible for myself; plan the darn’dest, craziest, coolest road trip for myself; seek God for myself. Out here, I am the only one I know. I need community to share this amazing country I am in, to worship together yet I need God more as God is always community.