Contributed by Molly Hawkins
If you’re going to take a road trip, I believe that you should try to get as much as you possibly can from every single mile. That is exactly how my road trip to Burning Man turned into a week-long venture with daily mini-adventures. I was determined to breathe in as much as I could along the way. That said, my journey really began long before I started mapping out the route. I had set out on a trip to find some peace, clear my head and get away from the monotony of “wake, caffeinate, grind, eat, repeat”. The past two years have been grueling and chocked full of lessons that I wouldn’t take back, but as a small business owner that's been recovering from a fairly traumatizing injury and dealing with intense stress, it's been a long build-up leading to the road to Burning Man.
My goal was to climb as much as I could on the way south from Seattle to Black Rock City, Nevada. The thing about rock climbing is that you need partners, and upon leaving Seattle I still didn’t have any lined up. Not to mention, we were in the midst of the most intense fire season that resulted in impenetrable smog, leaving sights and views less than appealing. Fortunately for me, I was still so wound up from work that I really hadn’t even begun to stress either of those crucial details, but I was ready to hit the road. My final day as a member of the real world would entail a hike and a dip in Crater Lake.
The plan was to spend a few days challenging my body, seeking solitude and doing some soul searching on the road, and then to drop into Black Rock City for Burning Man to challenge my spirit, and arguably my survival skills. I prepared for a couple days of hiking and rock climbing by making sure my harness, shoes, set of draws, slings, anchors, belay device, hiking shoes and trekking poles were stuffed into a bag. Then I prepared for Burning Man by packing up a few dehydrated meals, some LED lights, some themed outfits and 10 gallons of water. For both legs of the trip, I filled up my 45 QT Cascade Mountain Tech Super Cooler with some ice and popped in some beverages, alternative dairy products, yogurts, a rack of Kombucha, some sandwich supplies and some fruit along with various other essentials that I was sure that I wouldn’t find in the desert.
Shortly after departing Seattle, I found myself in the outskirts of Vancouver, Washington in the countryside at a climbing zone called Ozone Rocks, a lush and rocky hideaway across the Columbia River Gorge from Hood River. Talk about a hidden gem with plenty of opportunities to climb both sport and trad. My friend Tommy, his dog Squirt and I dropped in and found ourselves sending it in this really cool section with all the routes like “Helms Deep”, inspired by the Lord of the Rings, until our arms couldn’t take it anymore. A good meal and some wine were a perfect way to round out the evening; bedtime came early that night.
Smith Rock State Park, Oregon
At sunrise the next morning, I crossed at the hood river bridge and cruised up highway 35 as I greeted the new day. As I was serenaded by Arcade Fire’s “Reflector”, the silhouette of the mountains before me served up a glowing halo that seemed to accompany the music perfectly – talk about a movie moment. I was engulfed by such an intense rush of beauty. I was swallowed up by the moment and embraced the good omen for the trip ahead.
I rolled into Smith Rock and the parking lot was sparse, with the exception of a few die-hard dirtbags and my friend Maddy, who was there waiting for me. I dove into my stash of rations for a quick bite and we loaded up our gear and jammed down the trail to get an early start so we could make the most of the cooler weather and shade. For those less familiar with the epicness that is Smith Rock, it's one of those places that draws awe and shock at the sheer size of the rock formations, especially considering how accessible it is to major metropolitan areas. It is a mecca for rock climbing, not just in the PNW, but on a global level. Even if you don’t climb, I can guarantee that you’ll catch yourself drooling over the view as you drive down the road towards Smith Rock.
My friend Maddy was a more seasoned climber and always pushed me to climb tougher routes than I typically would. I got my ass kicked, but also ended up surprising myself. “9 gallon buckets” was a route that beat me up and made me draw deep, but I slayed “Phone Call from Satan”, which I definitely did not expect. After a solid morning of climbing, we packed up, discussed plans for future climbs and parted ways. At this point, my arms were ready for a little break, but I was still ready to take on the world and I had another couple hours on the road to reflect as I made my way to Crater Lake.
I dropped into the rim around Crater Lake as the horizon was starting to cool down and drove around the perimeter until I found a solid spot to hike down. I slithered into my swimsuit, kicked off my flip-flops, put on my hiking boots, grabbed my trekking poles and my GoPro and jammed down to the lake. I didn’t see a soul on the mile down. You might think this adventure would have been lonely, but I felt more alive and connected than I could possibly explain. The sky was clear and the moon was beaming down on me and reflected this energy and joy. It felt like all of the stresses and laundry from the past year were finally passing through me. Nothing mattered. Later on, I pitched camp next to some friendly strangers, and after some light reading, I was happy to call it a night alongside the breathtaking view from the rim.
The next morning, I woke up to the most insane sunrise at Crater Lake. It’s funny how being away from everything helps to bring clarity and appreciation of the things that you were trying to get away from in the first place. That clarity that was fueling my energy and excitement to hop back on the road was the same clarity that coerced me into starting a business and that drives me to seek mountain tops and new challenges. It also fuels the insatiable curiosity that inspired me to hit the road in the first place, to see how much I could do in between Seattle and Black Rock City as I made my way to Burning Man. After coming off a major injury and a blurry 7-year span of owning, operating and growing a small business, this trip was offering me a moment of closure through new experiences.
Though I had preconceived notions and ideas of what Burning Man was all about, and had heard so many individual stories on how it had changed people’s lives, I knew that the only way I that I was going to get something from this journey was to abandon all of these thoughts and truly surrender to the experience… so that’s what I did. The dimensions of this vast desert landscape revealed themselves to me. I mounted my bike and weaved my way through a sea of themed, interactive camps and provocative public art installations during each day. The evenings always seemed to end with these incredibly visceral interactions that combined humans, lights and music. Awe-inspiring doesn’t adequately describe the things that I saw. I was unburdened.
It has always nagged at me, but more than ever I’ve seen how the human spirit needs to feed. Neglect it, and much like our body and mind, it will starve and get stagnate. We all have different palates, but for many of us, we seek to roam. We silence the world with the hum of the road, the cadence of familiar songs and the promise of adventure. That roaming spirit is apart of me, and always will be, but in some ways, I feel like my journey to Burning Man gave me closure on what was a long and exhausting 2-year stretch of life changes and incredible challenges. I returned home with new vigor for what has yet to unfold and new contentment.