I’ve got that feeling in my stomach again. Tomorrow: I am leaving. Hitting the road is something I don’t often experience, because I have been on the road. And after spending seven weeks in Colorado, that familiar sensation returns as I prepare to embark. This place has become a part of me, and in a way, I want to stay. Actually, my desire to stay is strong. But my desire to leave is stronger. It is time for me to move on; this is what I feel. I always used to get a strange feeling the day before setting out on any journey—to the other side of the world, to the mountains, to or from school—a sort of reluctance, the residue of heaviness or homesickness: am I really ready to leave? Yet today that feeling hasn’t come. Maybe turning to the road feels less like a departure and more like a return.
This time has contained so much. I have stayed in Colorado for longer than I have anywhere else in the past year. Arriving here with the intention of staying for a little while resulted in a rough first few days. Intending to stay meant that I was (temporarily) no longer able to consider myself a traveler, which in turn served only to illuminate the ways in which this place was not my home. I spent the first week fighting intense loneliness. At night I parked on the side of a street, taking refuge in the words of Rilke and the poetry of Maya Angelou before falling into a troubled sleep in my car. And I began to put the pieces together, gradually, over the ensuing weeks. I have traveled into the mountains half a dozen times. I’ve explored the coffee shops of Boulder and Denver and continued to develop my relationship with the craft of writing. I have met some beautiful human beings. I’ve worked as an administrative assistant, warehouse laborer, house painter, mover, music research assistant, freelance writer, audio transcriber, and most recently, at a mop factory, which I will write about one day not too long from now. I’ve played music. I’ve found some secret spots in Boulder: the roof of a parking garage, a spot next to the creek, a particular alleyway, an outcropping of rocks where I can overlook the city.
On my second to last night in town, I walk barefoot to Pearl Street with Marie and Ashley. With two guitars and a flute, we play music for hours. When our voices hurt, we use the money we’ve made to buy a bottle of red wine. At Chautauqua, we walk up the trail and sit down cross legged in the dust, in the presence of the darkened mountains, watching the sky for shooting stars and talking about everything and nothing. We pass the bottle around as a cool wind pours through the trees and tugs clouds overhead. We think maybe we see the galaxy. Thanks to the altitude, which I suppose I still haven’t adapted to, a third of a bottle of wine is enough to go to my head, and that makes me giggle.
Today is my last day in Boulder. In The Art of Pilgrimage, Phil Cousineau describes a departure ritual practiced by one of his friends: whenever the guy goes on a trip, just before heading out the door, he stops and sits on his bags for 30 minutes. This eliminates any early stress and anxiety that might arise; if he has forgotten to pack anything, he will remember it. And if he hasn’t forgotten anything, he gets half an hour to relax and focus.
I was ready to leave this morning, but I now take 24 hours for myself. Today, I wander through Boulder visiting the places where I’ve spent time over these past weeks. This is a day to relax and reflect. In the morning, the girl at Panera gives me a free bagel because it’s my last day. I head to Ozo Coffee on Pearl, where I get my ritual iced coffee and sit in the sun on that row of chairs along the outside wall. Lunch is from the pizza place with $1.99 slices. At Laughing Goat, with a glass bottle of Root Beer, I flip through the notebook I’ve been keeping since arriving in Colorado (this notebook is not numbered but titled “Reconciliation”).
I am startled by both the amount and content of my writing. I’ve filled most of a spiral notebook chronicling my despairs and triumphs, conversations, hugs received, books read, new music found. My handwriting documents a scattered but strangely coherent collection of thoughts on home, relationships, past and future, travel, wonder, questioning, humanity, the sacred, the mundane, meaning, writing, hope, mountains. So many days feel so unproductive, just sitting in too many different cafes and smoking too many cigarettes, yet rereading my own words, I am blown away. I have gotten more done in these seven weeks than I ever could have hoped for. Not having a tangible thing to show for it beyond these pages is totally irrelevant. I have actually become a full-time seeker.
In the afternoon Marie buys me a beer and then I head to Barnes and Noble, where Bon Iver falls from the overhead speakers. Dinner at VG Burger, and then I watch my final Colorado sunset over the Flatirons. I write this from my final café of the night; when I get kicked out at 9, I’ll head to the spot near downtown where a table sits outside an office building under moth-battered lanterns. I will read a chapter of The Art of Travel. Then I will drive to my sleeping spot at the base of Chautauqua and curl up under the gaze of the mountains one final time.
In the morning, I head north.