I am not well-traveled. Growing up, I can remember a handful of vacations.
One was to Disney World with my mom and great aunt. All I can recall is a red, white and blue hair wrap and multiple jaunts on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.
My mom and I visited her old friends in Kentucky once. I remember a plate of fried eggs, slugs pasted to siding, and cleaning rocks with a scrub brush.
My mom, aunt, cousin and I took a twenty-four hour road trip to visit my other aunt in Maine twice. I remember books on tape, country music, and resting my arm on the cooler seated between my cousin and me. On the way home we drove through a tornado in Ohio. We couldn’t see out any of the windows. My aunt drove slowly, and when the storm passed all I can remember is having to take a shit.
When I was eighteen I went out of the country for the first time. I flew to Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico with my then boyfriend, his boss, and his boss’ wife. We stayed in a five star hotel, ventured out of the touristy compound for an ATV ride through the mountains. I remember feeling guilty, ashamed for the other tourists taking photos of villagers in one of the poorest towns I’ve ever seen. We rode a bus up a dirt street and taste-tested tequilas. The bus driver had to stop on the way back to the hotel so I could pee on the side of the road. I fell bare-assed into my own piss and laughed so hard I cried.
And that was about it until a couple of years ago, when Sean and I took our first trip together to The Great Smokey Mountains. I had never seen anything so beautiful in my life. I remember driving past these enormous, amazing things, trees covered in kudzu vines, fog tickling the peaks, the air crisp and so deliciously fresh. The song coming from the car speakers perfectly fit my mood and so I started to cry—not a wailing, snot-filled cry, just a gentle stream of tears caused by my first real taste of natural beauty.
That’s not to say I’d never encountered beauty in nature before. The rolling rocks in Kentucky are quite magical, and the mountains in Maine and Mexico are nothing short of amazing. But my reverence for nature was something that came over time. The love I have for the outdoors manifested and was kindled by my boyfriend. He nurtured my love for nature, and that is something I will always be grateful for.
Sean and I are closing in on our biggest trip to date—to both Zion and Bryce National Parks. I’ve had a picture of the stars at Bryce as my background for a few months, a reminder of what’s to come every time I open up my laptop. Unfortunately, my excitement is punctuated by extreme anxiety. My not so well-traveled self is not prepared, and we’re running out of time.
Just a week ago we found out our furry companion isn’t allowed in national parks, something neither of us checked ahead of time based on our inexperienced assumption that dogs would be allowed outside. We tossed around a few ideas trying to make it work, like bypassing the National Parks altogether and hitting up the more dog-friendly state parks. However, we’re not getting any younger, and if we wish to fulfill our dream of visiting all the national parks before we die we have to get moving. I searched for doggy daycare near the parks so we could pick him up after hiking, but none were close enough to make it manageable. So we’re leaving him behind, regrettably, a realization that brought tears to both our eyes. This will be the first time Bubba’s been without either of us for more than six hours.
Aside from that major disappointment, it’s becoming more and more apparent that we didn’t plan things out far enough in advance to make this a low-stress trip. Camping spots at Bryce were all reserved, so we settled for a campground fifteen minutes away. I’m fine with this, since there are guaranteed showers available. Despite my love for nature, I also have an affinity for running water and the ability to bathe myself when I want to. During our September trip to the Shawnee National Forest I went a couple days cleaning myself only with baby wipes and managed just fine, but it’s nice to know the salt of my efforts can easily be washed away by plumbing’s most wonderful luxury.
If I were more well-traveled, I might also have known that we’re going during peak season, which means that not only are regular campsites guaranteed to be jam-packed, but backcountry camping reservations are also gone, gone, gone. Not that I would know how to backcountry camp in the first place. All I know is it entails pooping in a self-dug hole, something I’d like to try someday. Poor Sean has been bombarded by Facebook messages wherein I basically call us dumbasses for not doing all of this sooner.
I have been paralyzed by my vacation anxiety. I can’t think about anything else. I’m terrified of all the things that could go wrong and afraid there are scenarios I haven’t even thought of yet. Mountain lions. Snake bites. Flash floods. Falling rocks. And those Wrong Turn movies. Who the hell knows what could happen? I’m not well-traveled enough to know what to expect.
But. Yes, there’s a but. Underneath all this anxiety I know it will be okay. I know this will be, by far, the most amazing and fulfilling trip of my life, whether or not I’m ready for it. Things have gone wrong on both our vacations. In the Smokies, higher in the air than all the birds, hiking through fog over uneven rocks in the most deafening silence I’ve encountered to date, I got elevation sickness. That shit sucks, but because I experienced it I know how to better handle it and prevent it in the future. On our way back from Shawnee the car almost fell apart, and even though it was a pain in the ass and wallet to get it fixed, we met a father and son, both named Mike, who fed Bubba hometown doughnuts while we waited for our repairs. I look back and realize the two of them were by far the most interesting part of the trip.
So, despite what’s to come, the good and the bad, at the very least I know I’ll learn from it. We very well may end up sleeping in the car at some point. We might not have everything we need, but we’ll make do. Us humans have made it this far to manage for a couple of nights in the wilderness ill-prepared, am I right? One day I hope to be well-traveled and full of experience. But I’ll only get there by being the opposite.
If I get to poop in a self-dug hole it will all be worth it.