Truthfully, I was DREADING this road trip. It loomed over my head for months and the idea of Ruby, who hates more than two hours in a car, being trapped in a car for eight hours a day x five... you can do the math. We also had the animals-- two cats and a dog. I was already insanely exhausted. It just terrified the living shit out of me.
The night or two before we left, I couldn't sleep. So at three in the morning, I google maps-ed our journey. We would stop in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Oklahoma City and Memphis before we headed on to Asheville. We finally packed up everything, a miracle unto itself, and off we went!
The first day wasn't too bad. It was our shortest day and I was grateful. None of the animals died and Ruby, though cranky, came through as best as I could hope.
We stayed with friends in Pheonix, Jay & Vicki, dear friends of ours from when we lived in Washington. They now reside in Arizona and they were gracious enough to host us last minute. Having spent many years in the Louisiana area, Vicki had a ton of Mardi Gras beads for Ruby to play with, THANK GOD. They're awesome folks and we were crazy grateful to be their guests.
I had planned for us to drive through Flagstaff. I had driven through once before at night and thought the surrounding area was absolutely gorgeous. I was excited to have the opportunity to do it again, still thinking I was planning a trip without cats & kids... Lliam quickly shut that down because he was hauling the trailer. (Riiiiight... the trailerrrrrrr).
To me, driving through the northern part of Arizona was the best part of the trip! I remember what waited for me on the 40 of Oklahoma... tumbleweeds. I was super bummed. 'Gutted' as they say on the Great British Bake-off. But what can you do? We had a trailer! I made a mental note that this was not an 'adventure' trip. This was a 'get it done and live to tell the story trip.'
Pretty much the ONLY thing I know about Albuquerque, NM is Breaking Bad. And if I lived here, I would make meth, too. Ha! Parts of Arizona are absolutely gorgeous but hot weather is soooo not my jam!! (And no, I didn't throw a pizza on the roof). :)
Quickest stop of all time and then back on the road...
This view is so pretty for the first ten minutes...
For lunch Ruby and I stopped at The Little One in Tuscon. I thought I was being silly for stopping so quickly. I knew it would make for a longer day, parking was tricky. But I didn't eat breakfast and felt the need to dig my heels in on this point for the sake of claiming some part of this as adventure.
Ooooooooh, Momma, I am soooo glad I did.
First of all, Ruby got a free plate of food that came out immediately. I think she played with it more than she ate it but after the driving we'd been doing, MOMMA WAS GRATEFUL. I had something called 'Carnitas en Cream De Chipotle.' It seriously is one of the best things I've ever tasted in my life. Rich, creamy, huge flavors... like good Indian food except Mexican? It was a DREAM.
If it were me traveling alone, packed with a car full of camera equipment, I would have stopped all along the way, taking weeks on my journey, 'meep-ing' out of my comfort zone to talk to locals, etc. Instead, as the hours and days passed, when Ruby was having a tantrum, dropped her bottle for the 56th time or wanted the book that fell (God help me), I did my best at every stop to pay attention to my surroundings, to dream about what it must be like to live there, etc.
I hadn't expected to take any photos on my trip. I really just wanted to 'get there.' The idea of editing and having to tell this story just sounded like weight I was putting on my shoulders that didn't need to be there. But by the third day-- occasionally-- if I just needed a break, a sense of control maybe, I'd grab my Nikon.
I am always drawn to these dilapidated places that were once thriving. This defunct gas station resides on the old Route 66, whose own story is a journeyed one.
Because we weren't driving through Flagstaff, we were taking the Southern route-- it was much, much longer. It was insanity. Ruby was just... impossible. For hours a day, I fed her cheese-its by throwing them over my shoulder into her lap like a game. I'd say 60% probably landed in her lap-- that might be generous. (The rest are still being found in every part of our car). I gave her books. She hated listening to my podcasts. I tried the radio. Eventually, she was just over it. Over everything. This was Day 2 or 3-- it's all a blur now-- but she HATED.... LIFE.
This moment was the point of no return. THE moment. For probably the millionth time, I pulled the car off at an exit, full of swearing and rage. I WAS FUCKINGGGG DONEEEEE. I wanted to find a field to go run into and scream like people always seem so free to do in the movies. It was being constantly immersed in an indescribable hopelessness and fatigue-- like being waterboarded. I was at my wit's end and we still had three more days of this shit?!!!!!!
I really didn't know what I was going to do. I got out of the car to breathe. Ruby was drowned out by the wind running across the great expanses of Oklahoma. It was fucking cold and drizzly. I was shaking. I looked back at my kid, screaming her head off... And something whispered in my ear, "This is a moment."
"This is a moment, Amanda."
Ummm... This is a moment? I'm going to NOT soothe my crying asshole kid and take a photo instead?
"HONOR. THE. MOMENT."
To me, this was a throwaway moment. Both of us having a temper tantrum? Who would want to remember this? What's the point? Where's the significance? I just wanted to SURVIVE, damn it. And seriously, it's a million moments like these in the day of a mother so what makes this one special? But I had no other ideas so I listened to said voice and picked up my camera.
After some initial crying, she calmed down. And we both shared this moment together. It's one of my favorite photos I've taken of my little cherub in a looooong time. Her cheeks, her eyes, her fragility... the crackers in her hair. Maybe it's just because I'm her mom but I see her little soul and she tells me everything. How much it sucks to be in this god forsaken car, how hard it is to be a baby in this god forsaken place. How much resolve she has... How this won't be our last battle. How much she needs me.
And after a little side eye...
She was finding a smile again.
And you're laughing now, you little stinker???
Looking back on these photos, I am crazy grateful to the voice that led me to pick up my camera. To not throwaway the uncomfortable, the messy, the impossible moments into another trash bag of lost hours was a thoughtful experience for me. I'm lazy in that way. "Life will be great in two months after our bedroom is done!" I throw away a lot of moments.
Not to mention, when another human is at their most vulnerable and emotional, we have a real opportunity to see them if we choose to be present.
I wish I could tell you that finding these moments with Ruby were the magic that made the rest of our trip a glorious masterpiece. I wish I could tell you it was some kind of answer. But truth be told, after we got back in the car, she was a total shithead again.
But... that's real life. All of it. The impossible moments count.
I got back in the car and we continued on...
After the endless, boring gray skies and tumbleweeds of Oklahoma, I was so excited to see some sunshine and a few mountains in the distance. It was finally sunset and I was seeing something that felt beautiful. It was needed, campers. The sky behind me turned a vibrant pink like I've never seen. I was so bummed it was behind me but I just kept driving like a bat out of hell for as long as her quiet lasted.
Until... RUBY. AGAAAAAAAIN. Rather than take the sharp right into Thelma & Louise territory (if you know what I mean), I pulled over for what felt like the millionth time and decide to give her a giant cookie (a hearty hockey puck of a cookie--lots of oats & peanut butter) because I know that will buy me a good 45 min of quiet. And at this point... WHO FRICKETY FROGGIN CARES?!! I pull over...
And this was the view.
At my shock and awe, I unceremoniously blurt out, with the grace of a bonafide truck driver, "Oh CRAP." It was like being smacked upside the head by the universe because God was literally above me. "HI!!!! I'M RIGHT HERE, SORRY FOR NOTHING, FUCKERS!!"
I got my kid a cookie and then I grabbed my camera and just sat there.
It's one of those experiences that happen that are so beautiful and so intense, it's almost too powerful. I almost felt frightened to be standing outside the car.
This I KNEW was a moment... whether or not I could capture it was a whole other story. The impressionistic brushstroke clouds kill me!
They say to 'Put yourself in the way of beauty.' Well, sometimes Beauty has its' own plans for you... like a 2x4 to the face.
In actuality, the sky was an insane pink-- much more colorful than these photos. I can't even begin to describe what this actually looked like. This is the best I could do in Lightroom with what came out in camera. But the clouds? Those are spot on. It felt like 'The Nothing' was hovering above me. It was, by far, the most gorgeous, intense sunset I've ever seen-- and I've seen A LOT of sunsets in a LOT of beautiful places.
I think this one is my favorite.
This trip was seriously bipolar: both mind-numbingly boring and magically demanding. And by some grace of The Nothing, we eventually made it to Asheville. The whole week is a total blur. It's only the moments I listened to the voice that I still remember. And I'm grateful to not have thrown them away.