Or, How I Dreamed of Running Away Before Finally Doing It
When I was a little girl, I begged my parents for an Easy Bake Oven. I’m pretty sure they interpreted this as a normal girl’s desire to make cakes and cookies just like mommy. What I’m certain they didn’t realize was that the oven was a critical piece of my secret plan to run away. In my fantasy, I would step through the sliding glass doors of our house in Atlanta, stride boldly across the backyard, and enter the woods, where I would live by my wits, independent and free. Being young, and somewhat unclear on the concept of electricity, I reasoned that my Easy Bake Oven would allow me to cook for myself in the wild.
I like to think Thoreau would have been proud (or at least mildly amused).
I’m sure I had other childish dreams, but this is the one that stuck. Decades later, I can still recapture that longing with ease. In a moment, I am once again sitting at the table in our darkened kitchen, pale sunlight hitting my face through the sliding glass doors, consumed with a single desire. I want to pack up my Easy Bake Oven and go.
This urge to light out for the Territories turned out to be a recurring desire as I was growing up. A few years ago, my Dad gave me a piece of my childhood in a bronze frame: a drawing I had done in crayon of a campsite, complete with apple trees, a grey square helpfully labeled “water tub,” and a bucket of berries. The drawing includes a creative assortment of camping equipment, and is accompanied by a story.
The Day I Met Smokey Bear in the Woods
One day I went camping. It was fun. I set up my red & yellow spotted tent and layed out my brite pink sleeping bag. I’m camping alowne tonight!
I’m going to pick Blue Berrys and Black Berrys all colors of berrys. I saw something strange. It was brown. I went and looked at it. It was Smokey Bear. I was very happy! The End.
My teacher, clearly not up to date on recommended procedures for bear encounters, marked my efforts “Excellent!” The dream was still alive.
Later, as a teenager in the suburbs of Long Island, the plan took a more practical turn, and acquired a destination. In this version of the dream, I would throw all of my stuff into a blue van, and drive around out West. Why blue? Why West? I could not have said. The details evolved but the essentials had not changed. I was going, and I was going alone.
It took me another twenty years, including eleven months of planning, before I finally turned my steering wheel in the direction of the Zen Buddhist Temple in Chicago, the first stop on a rough circular route that would take me from my home in Ann Arbor through the four corners states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico over the period of five weeks. The blue van turned out to be a 2-door Ford Explorer, my tent was green, and the Easy Bake Oven did not make the gear list.
To this day, I’m not sure why I felt such a need to go, and go alone. Road trip, adventure? Of course. Wanderlust, itchy feet? I confess to both. Independence, self reliance? Definitely. It was the first adventure I planned and executed myself, without parental advice or consent, and it gave me a taste of a type of freedom it is difficult to experience as a responsible, employed adult with bills to pay and a 401k to fund.
If I’m honest, the stories are the reason why I go. I love being a part of them, and I love telling them. One of my favorite parts of any trip is the time spent re-living it with my traveling companions, talking over and around each other as each contributes a scrap of memory to the tale. “… and then you … no, no, what I said was … I couldn’t believe it when he … the best part was when … ”
Were you to ask me about myself, it is one of the first stories I would tell.