Journeys start somewhere. Where is actually a bit of a fuzzy area. Does your personal journey start at your conception? Your birth? Your first step? Does a trip start and end at you door? Your driveway? The highway? The city limits?
Of course, most journeys never start at all.
This blog, for example, was supposed to start a year ago. It didn’t. It didn’t because life got in the way, time got short, and the challenges were piling up. One more project dividing my attention was exactly what I didn’t need in my life. I was trapped in the middle of Phoenix, poor, and overworked.
This summer, though, things really came together. I’d managed to increase my hours for my largest client, an Arizona State agency, sufficiently to support the rent for a place on the edge of Phoenix, right next to South Mountain Park, plus utilities, food, gas, etc.
This was a huge deal, because it meant I could spend the rest of the week writing things I want to write. Books, projects . . . my long-neglected travel blog. This past Friday was going to the be the big launch, and I was over the moon. I had a project for the ADE up in Chinle, at the mouth of Canyon de Chelly. It seemed perfect: What better place to start a travel blog based in Arizona than the longest continually inhabited location in the entire state?
On the way there I got a text from a coworker informing me that, were they to raise my hours, they would have to open the position up to bidding, and so it wasn’t happening.
A lot of things went through my head in that moment, foremost being annoyance that, because they waited until the very end of July to file the paperwork, I had now had two weeks warning to scramble for a new way to pay my rent. This was followed by the extra annoyance of realizing that since the purchase order had been kicked back, they weren’t going to be paying me on time for the work I’d already done in July.
So, suddenly, here I am: In danger of not getting paid on time for the work I’ve done to make my first rent payment, making 30% less than I had budgeted for the rest of the year, and obligated to pay for gas and lodging out of the money I don’t necessarily have, because they won’t be paying me what they told me, or on time. Two weeks before I moved to a more expensive part of town. Hell, the promise that I could potentially get more hours, provided I wanted them, was one of the primary reasons I took the job to being with.
Now, I don’t want to be overly critical of the people who goofed at this point. For starters, it’s whining, which isn’t me, and it’s unprofessional, which isn’t really something I want to project. The mistake itself was understandable; it’s difficult for anyone to keep track of the rules in such a massive bureaucracy. Mistakes happen.
Besides, the cardinal rule of the freelancer is, “Never count your money ’til it’s sitting on the table.” Think of me as the anti-Kenny Rogers, I guess.
Anyway, this leaves me in a position where, once more, my expenses exceed my guaranteed monthly income, so each month will be me scrambling for more work, at least for a couple months, until I bring some new repeat clients on board. I don’t think I can adequately describe how deeply I was looking forward to a break from that, how proud I was to have moved past that, or how disappointing it is to have failed, after all. I spent an entire year working hard to get to this point, driving towards a position where I could really push to do what I want to do for a living, and suddenly, because a few people didn’t adequately understand an aspect of their jobs, it’s a year of wasted time. This job I took to put me in that position can’t get me there, and my plans are all so much nothing.
It’s the sort of thing that sucks the spirit right out of you, if you let it.
So you don’t.
I put on my game face and nice shirt, went, did the job in Chinle, met and talked to some great members of the community . . . and called it an early night. I was waiting at the door when checkout time arrived, and in my car before my need-for-travel-reimbursement receipt was cold. When dawn arrived, I was sitting on the edge of Canyon de Chelly (pronounced Canyon deh Shay), feet dangling over a seven hundred foot sheet drop, and it was pretty tough to be angry with the world in that moment, at that place.
For five thousand years, people lived in the sandy bottom of this canyon. Through massive climate changes, centuries long droughts, through warfare, through the coming of invading tribes, then the Spanish, then the Americans, this place has held its own, and people have made their homes, through every flood and fire, since the building of the Egyptian pyramids.
I’d managed to crack the screen first thing in the morning, by apparently wiping it too hard while cleaning the camera lens, because sometimes life just wants you to remember it owns you. Could have been worse. Could have dropped it off the 700 foot cliff. So I put the phone away and I watched, legs hanging over the edge, back against the stone and mortar safety wall of the lookout, alone in the peace and silence, the sun peek over the far edge of the canyon.
Some sunrises come softly, blushing to life from gray to pink in gentle calm. Others hit like a wave on the shower, all but drowning you. This one came like a tsunami: One moment was gray twilight, and the next the world a brilliant and bloody shade of red.
The smart thing to do, really, would be to put this blog off for another year. But I’ve seen enough life to know there’s always another reason not to do something, a reason not to go.
In the end, you’re either going to go, or you’re not.
And you don’t have to go. Truly.
Travel isn’t some panacea for self-actualization, and I can’t help but roll my eyes at the people who treat it that way. I love to travel, but the truth is you can live a fantastic life without ever leaving the country, or even county, you were born in; a full life, if not one filled in the traditional fashion. For me, though, it’s peace. It’s a hard thing to describe beyond saying that there’s a peace I feel on the road, and in new places, that I simply lack in the places I’ve lingered. There’s a different sort of happiness in those places, and a certain amount of nervousness in the new, but in the end the balance tips specifically in one direction for me.
Writer’s Note: Standing alone on the edge of ridiculously tall cliffs probably isn’t the healthiest place, generally speaking, to contemplate giving up on your dreams and ambitions.
All I could think, sitting there watching the sun lift over the far cliffs was what a privilege it was to be there. My frustrations, real as they might be, were small in comparison to the privilege of being right where I was. How many people had lived an entire life without ever watching the sunrise over Canyon de Chelly, or even known what they were missing by not? I thought about whether I should give up, or postpone this blog for awhile, until I work out a more stable position for myself. There are pros and cons, either way. The truth is, this blog is just not going to be as awesome as it would if I had time and resources to pour into it. It won’t. But I remembered something I’ve had to relearn over and over in my life: There will always be a reason not to go, and there will always be unexpected challenges along the way.
The view’s worth it.
As the light grew, it revealed a small home, spare but clearly occupied, in the valley below. Little trails made by livestock and wildlife snaked around the fields, and the ruins of homes from the past century. Above them, the ruins of cliff-side homes hundreds or thousands of years old still clung stubbornly to the rocks, tiny in comparison.
I’m not sure it’s possible to stand in a place that is, collectively, a monument to human tenacity in the face of all possible challenges, and not feel hope. Not feel ready to face whatever transient difficulties life throws your way.
Sliding House Overlook wasn’t my only stop in Canyon de Chelly, and I’ll give other locations the attention they deserve in later posts, but it was the most important stop of the day, because I left there feeling . . . not that my challenges didn’t matter, and not that I was impervious to them, but simply that I was ready to try, ready to fail, and ready to try again anyway.
Taking the Metaphorical Plunge
I’m just not willing to put it off anymore, and I’m going to take it as far as I can with what I’ve got. Where does a journey begin? In my mind, a journey begins the moment you meet the first true obstacle and you keep going. Maybe that’s just an excuse for enabling my own inborn stubbornness, but, if so, I’ll take it. I’m sitting here, a couple days later, writing this, during the first real monsoon of the year, in a coffee shop (Lux on Central) where the storm’s knocked the power out. I stood in the rain for awhile (and yes, it was, pouring, just the way I like it), and it made me think of driving back to Phoenix at the end of the Chinle trip.
That’s where I really made the decision. Not on the edge of the stunning canyon, but on a nondescript section of highway halfway between one nowhere and the next.
I was thinking, trying to come up with a plan that holds everything together moving forward when I hit the forests of the Mogollon Rim. Driving though Payson, through a light summer rain, with the windows down. The scent of ponderosa burning in lightning-sparked fires mingled with smell of the rain into one of the most perfect scents I have ever experienced.
See, it’s more the than just the place, it’s the time that matters. This particular place, at this particular time, it smelled like wild adventure, and I’ve missed that scent more than I realized.
So welcome to Vagabond.Guide, thanks for visiting. I’m Connor Rickett; writer, traveler, and stubborn fool of the finest tradition. Let’s go places, and do things.
Next Week: A quick guide to the White House Ruins trail and archaeological site in Canyon de Chelly. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this week’s adorable little mascot for life’s stubborn obstacles: