The school day ended and I whipped myself back home, taking a quick shower and shoving a pair of wool socks, and extra sweater, my trusty hammock, a sleeping bag, an avocado and a beer in my backpack. I snagged a peanut butter and honey sandwich for the road and bid adieu to the comforts of standard living for a night.
My drive to Milford Lake was sunny and quiet and layered with U2 and Iron & Wine, and I dangled my arm out the window and swam it up and down like a dolphin in the warm Friday afternoon. After 40 minutes, I pulled into the long drive and gave my $5 park entrance fee to the woman with clacky purple nails.
“Today’s the first day we’re open,” she drawled, handing me the pass and a park map. “You’re the only one here. You’ve got your pick of the campsites.”
Brilliant, I smiled at her, not wanting to disrupt this silence pulsing inside of me.
It had been a long week riddled with 16-hour days of parent-teacher conferences and final exam proctoring and essay demanding. It was also my last week of teaching the sophomores and seniors English stuff they more or less care about.
I had come to be very fond of my squirrelly students, amused and inspired by their dreams and ambitions and disgruntled by some of their work habits.
But I needed a day and a night to myself. Completely to myself. No one to talk to but the trees and the breeze and no one to whom I must convince “your child is actually just an average writer”.
“I would recommend camping along here,” the purple fingernails pointed. “These are the only restroom facilities we’ve got open.”
I snorted to myself. All of nature is my restroom facility, especially when I’m the only person in the park.
Peeing in the woods is one of my favorite hobbies. Perhaps that’s why I love trail running so much, the liberation of dropping drawers behind any old tree.
I peeled out from the tiny wooden shed entrance at the roaring park speed of 15 mph. I took whichever turns I wanted, aiming for a nice spot along the lake somewhere.
It didn’t take long to find the perfect little outcropping; the nest of grass ideal for tent staking and picnics funneled into a trail lazing down to the rocky beach of Milford Lake. Huge cottonwoods and fir trees lined the trail, and I found two that were perfect to swing a hammock between.
The wind was incredible, more incredible than when I left Manhattan. It swirled my damp hair around my face and flapped the hammock up and down when I unleashed it from its little hammock sheath. It roared against the lake below me and I could feel tiny bits of cool water dance up my arms.
It took me about three minutes of staring confused at my hammock whipping around before I realized that I had forgot to bring the straps which secure the material to the trees. I chuckled. I guess this really was a “minimal” sort of adventure.
I ran back to the car, chucked the hammock in the back seat, grabbed my sleeping bag, and took off down the trail to find another spot to nest for the night.
It was 6:00 p.m. and the sun was two hands away from the horizon on the water. I offered a silent prayer of gratitude to daylight’s savings and the extra hour of sunlight.
I danced around the rocks and stones for about 15 minutes until I came to a little cave, an ideal depth—devoid of creatures and other residents—and a perfect stone throw away from the edge of the lapping water. The wind was stronger at the edge of the lake, but when I snuggled myself against the folds of my sleeping bag securely in my cave, I felt blessed relief from the chill wind.
I busted out my avocado and beer and feasted with the setting sun. When it became dark, I snagged my headlamp from my backpack and spent a few hours reading The Cool School; Writings from America’s Hip Underground until my lids began to slink on their own accord.
It was remarkably comfortable in my little cave, the sleeping bag the perfect cushion against the rocky floor. I felt safe and secure and at one with the world.
A few hours later, however, I woke up to a stronger roaring wind. This time coming more at me than parallel to my sanctuary.
I was becoming a bit nauseous with the pounding force, so I bundled up my sleeping bag and zipped closed my backpack and hobbled back the 15 minutes to the trailhead. Sleepily stumbling back up the trail to my car, I lowered the backseats and spread my sleeping bag out, climbing in after and nestling down for round 2 of the night’s sleep.
I had wild dreams. Mostly featuring Beyonce and me alternating between her male lover and female best friend.
I awoke the next morning to a misty, hazy dawn and went for a stroll along the horse trails, spending some time in amateur psychoanalysis over the dreams. I came to naught but a strong wind and a Friday night sense of adventure.
I was due around 6:00 p.m. that evening to meet with my friend Lindsey from Arkansas. Her and her boyfriend were driving to Colorado in a two-day shift and were spending the first night in Salina, and since Salina is only an hour’s drive from my humble abode, we decided to meet each other for a bite of Italian food and good conversation. I had intended on staying around Milford Lake reading and writing near the shores in the sunlight until leaving to go meet Lindsey, but the morning was more brisk than I had anticipated and my stomach was rumbling.
I hadn’t brought any other food besides the avocado and beer–wanting to be as minimal as possible—and my growling stomach combined with stiff semi-frozen fingers enticed me to crawl back into the car and bid farewell to the beautiful park.
As I drove I listened to Death Cab for Cutie and Villagers and couldn’t help but smile because I was getting to do exactly whatever I wanted to do. Which is what I love doing. And of course I was wearing my blue fuzzy Patagonia sweater, which always makes me happy.
I drove to the Junction City McDonalds and snuggled in the back booth with two biscuits and a large coffee. I spent the next two hours reading written jazz and ignoring the rest of the world.
The sun peaked itself out from the wall of clouds around noon and I felt inspired to be on the road again. I began the drive towards Salina, thinking I would find a library or a park to spend a few hours at, when the exit for Abilene caught my eye and I took it.
I followed the main Eisenhower road until I got to a sign pointing left for Public Library.
I parked and spent an hour meandering around the tiny library, emerging with an armful of free books from the Donations Bin; Lincoln in the Bardo for me, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish for Lindsey, and a Ken Follett paperback for dad. The sun was high in the sky now and beaming, the rays lighting my skin with tingles of warmth.
There was a gas station around the corner from the library. I ducked inside and bought a bar of dark chocolate, and decided I would walk south until I found something interested or got bored of walking.
I spent an hour strolling in the sunlight, not looking for anything, not wasting time, simply being alive and untethered. I came upon the Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum.
At this point I was getting the kind of sleepy one gets on a sunny Saturday afternoon, and the grass on the far lawn looked so lovely and inviting.
I laid my backpack on the grass and folded myself down beside it, capturing the optimal amount of sunlight, and snoozed.
I was awoken by a Library security guard 30 minutes later. He was missing his left front tooth and the aviator sunglasses he wore had a loose screw so they kept flapping up and down.
“Are ya dead?” he asked, making an attempt to poke me with his foot. I sprang upright.
“No, sir!” I said, trying to make eye contact—to not show fear—and also blink away the sleep at the same time.
“Okay, good. I thought you might’ve been dead,” he said, reaching up to adjust the sunglasses. “I was thinking to myself, I thought: I’m gonna have to remember how to do that C-R-P and I don’ know how well that’s gonna go.”
I laughed nervously.
“I’m glad it didn’t come to that, then.”
“Me too, for both us.”
There was a pause.
“Is it…okay that I’m here?” I gestured to the lawn where I was seated with my backpack. He nodded, the sunglasses bobbing up and down.
“Yeah, of course! Just makin’ sure you wasn’t dead. Just doin’ my job,” he said.
He looked as if he wanted to nudge me again with his foot, just to double check I truly wasn’t dead, but decided my corpse had done enough movement to constitute the status of life. I gave him a dumb little salut, which made him beam and return in full vigor, and with that he tromped off back towards the Library.
I spent the rest of the afternoon dozing and reading and writing, giving the occasional violent shake to alert any and all watchful security guards of my non-dead status. I got a text from Lindsey saying her and Collin were about an hour away from Salina, and with that, I departed my little Library lawn haven back to the car and on to Salina.
I met them at the lobby of the Marriott Courtyard and we spent some time making fun of the standard mass-produced “modern art” which decorated the interior of their hotel room. Then we took to the Salina downtown for an evening of delicious Italian food and adventure conversation.
They told me of their Arkansan adventures over the past few weeks, and their plans for mountaineering around Colorado. I told them of my 100-mile race and the upcoming voyage to Indonesia. We shared hummus plates and tortellini dripping in pesto sauce, and toasted to a grand friendship and impending adventure.
I bid them adieu around 10:00 p.m.—both of them tuckered out from a long day of driving and a second day of driving ahead—and drove back home to Manhattan, buzzing with adventure and jazz and sunlight and good vibes.
Peace and Blessings,