2017: “A Journey of a Thousand Miles” Into the Unknown

I’m hurtling down WY-220, my knuckles white from my death-grip on the steering wheel, though I’m still managing about 80 MPH. The melamine plates are rattling in the cupboard, and I’m fairly certain that the butter is stuck to the inside of the door above my little sink. Up ahead I see a mile-long line of stopped cars snaking up the hill. I brake early to account for my load before coming to a stop behind a truck hauling a huge water tank on the back of a trailer.

The road snake doesn’t slither. Not even an inch. After about fifteen minutes, I turn off the engine and get Chloé and So-Kr8z out of their car seats to take them outside. As soon as I pull the latch, the Wyoming wind pulls wildly on my RV door and slams it open. I coax Chloé down the stairs and see that the line has grown at least a mile behind us too. She won’t go. Too many eyes, I imagine. I put her back inside and grab So-Kr8z, who goes on every single, solitary weed, his leg lifting so high I worry he’s going to tip over and get covered in sticker burs.

Back inside, I watch the guy in the water truck ahead of me. He gets out to stretch his legs, pulls a fly pole out of the bed of his truck, and practices his cast over the shimmering blacktop. Because he looks like Yukon Cornelius of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer fame, and not a serial killer, I get out to talk to him. I pelt him with questions: What does he think is going on? Where’s he headed? Does he think we’ll be there long?

He tells me there was an accident up ahead the week before that took over five hours to clear. He says his buddy is a few cars behind us and they’re heading to work on an oil rig. He says he’ll give it a bit. He flips the fly line into the wind, unfazed, and a guy skateboards up the hill toward us. I feel like I’m on a road trip ala Hunter S. Thompson, sans acid. It’s his coworker. He tells us he’s going to ride to the top of the hill and see what we’re dealing with. I watch him pump up the steep grade of the road, his right leg working hard. Before long, he’s sailing back down. Fast. His arms are outstretched and his long black hair is flowing sideways. He says the line is miles and miles long, he can’t even see how far. He suggests that they turn back toward Casper and cut through Medicine Bow.

I ask how far Medicine Bow is. I admit that I’m new to RV life and I don’t know how long my gas will last. I wish out loud that I’d filled up in Casper. And I’m worried about the dogs. It’s so hot that it’s hazy in the distance, even with the wind. The skateboarder tells me I can follow them. It’s only about an hour out of the way and will lead us straight to I-80 near Rawlins. I can get gas there. I feel vulnerable, scared, and completely unsure of what to do. I’ve traveled the roads of Wyoming my entire life, but I’ve never heard of the road they’re talking about. I try to picture where it might be, but I have no idea. And, Yukon Cornelius aside, I don’t want to end up dead. Plus, the skateboarder is covered in tattoos.

Oh wait, I’m covered in tattoos.

I get in my RV, back up so the water truck can make the turn, and I follow him. As I bump over the bar ditch, I know the butter is toast, and the bungee cord that’s keeping my bathroom door closed stretches so that the door opens and then slams shut. His buddy pulls out in front of us and we form a convoy, barreling past the miles of cars and semis previously parked behind us.

As I travel into the Unknown, it strikes me…the whole of 2017, from the beginning of January to this hot and windy day on August 28th (a day after my forty-seventh birthday,) has been a venture into the unknown; an exercise in white-knuckled, hurtling, rattling, 80 MPH, butter-smearing bravery. Trips in trust. From Pennsylvania to Atlanta to Washington, D.C. to Wyoming, back to Pennsylvania to Boston to Cape Cod and back again to Wyoming, with hundreds more miles logged across the expanse of Utah.

I’d stormed to the bedside of a beloved man in my life to hold his hand while he took his last breath. I’d gone to D.C. with my best friend and hundreds of thousands of women to march until I thought I would buckle from the pain of it. I’d journeyed to defend my thesis after a process that nearly broke me as a writer. On the day I returned home with my M.F.A., I got a call that my dad was going in for emergency surgery. I swapped suitcases and went to him, and for six weeks I lived in my RV and drove to his place to take care of him. Daily he told me that he was “ready for the reaper.” Only when I’d secured his care did I return home. I walked in the front door with a bag full of dirty clothes only to end my five-year relationship with my partner. He moved out the same night.

And now here I was on a two-lane back road speeding toward Medicine Bow behind a couple of oil-riggers I didn’t know, Burl Ives tunes humming in my head, praying I didn’t run out of gas, and fully trusting that I was where I needed to be, even if I didn’t know where I was.

I didn’t run out of gas. Literally or figuratively. Some three hours later we arrived at a gas station about thirty miles from Rawlins where I thanked these two chivalrous men, and we hugged and said our goodbyes.

2017: The year of perilous adventure—breathtakingly beautiful, bumpy, and back-breaking.

What can I say after having been away from my blog for a year? Only that it was a time of intake and not output; that I was logging life miles; that I was listening and not talking. Somehow, I needed those 20,000+ miles.

18 replies
  1. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Dear Melanie,
    Thanks so much for sharing!
    For me also there has been much breaking down of the old in preparation for breaking through into new possibilities.
    It took my brother cruelly threatening me over the phone to seek for answers.
    I had such a deep feeling of dread churn up from the pit of my stomach that I had to face the worst bully in my life.
    Healing dissasociation from early childhood sexual abuse has helped me to stand and face my fears of abusers and get legal help. I cried out for divine guidance and through a christian friend was introduced to a wonderful lawyer at her church who will help me and I can pay later.
    Victory is sweet and children are now coming to me for help in the crazy situations they are facing. Similar to the trauma that caused me to experience the PTSD, migraines and insomnia that I am now healing.
    People are noticing how calm, centred and peaceful I am and asking what how do I achieve this? This is the gift of having major brain surgery on the trauma centre of my brain. At 54 I’ve got an opportunity to re-build my life in a positive way from ground zero. In the future I would like to help others with what I’ve learnt.
    After #MeToo…..let the healing begin!
    I remember our talk over skype about my book idea and would love to connect when I have saved enough money to pay for my first session with you xx

    • Melanie Bates
      Melanie Bates says:

      Of course, Sarah. I’d love to reconnect when you’re ready. In the meantime, you’re doing such beautiful, deep healing work. I’m proud of you, sister.

  2. Janet
    Janet says:

    Absolute and Exquisite Beauty in the profound….profane…heart-wrenching…back-breaking realities of this Journey we/You call Life! Melanie – – You are a beautiful…courageous…strong and powerful woman! “Thank You and deep Gratitude” for your brilliant honesty and integrity, along with your willingness to share with all of us – – ALL of IT!!

    You are Love(d) Always…In All Ways…oxox

  3. Mick
    Mick says:

    To me it sounds like you lived, that’s amazing. And the way it should be. Some good, some bad, some hard, some amazing. It reminds me of a saying ‘it’s better to have lived and love and lost than to have never have loved at all.’ ( I might have made that up, not sure). I think you lived and love. When are you coming to visit?

    • Melanie Bates
      Melanie Bates says:

      Funny you should say that, Mick, because that’s exactly how it felt. As if I were really living and with that comes the whole gamut of emotions, methinks. Y’all get settled and I’m there!

  4. Monica Wilcox
    Monica Wilcox says:

    “A time of intake and not output.” Love this line because 2017 was one of my least productive years too. With all the political upheaval I spent a lot of time reflecting on the type of world I want to live in, from my career to my government.

    You know I can practically feel that WY wind blowing my laptop away. lol

    So glad to see you posting again.

    • Melanie Bates
      Melanie Bates says:

      I’ve been thinking how good it was to “fill up” with experiences and to spend a lot of time in introspection. It was good, just like your spending time in inquiry around those things. I don’t think we have to be “spewing” all the time 🙂 Though it’s nice to be back to it. Love you!

  5. Brad Watson
    Brad Watson says:

    What a wonderful post. I’m grateful you were able to squeeze me in to your 2017 craziness.

    I have a great feeling about 2018! Here’s hoping for more “breathtakingly beautiful”, with less bumpiness and fewer sore backs.

    So glad I know you,


    • Melanie Bates
      Melanie Bates says:

      Thanks, Brad. I wouldn’t have missed a second of our time together, butter catastrophes or not 🙂

      I’m ever grateful that I get to know you, too!


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