Friday, December 8, 2017

Fear Factor

The number one comment I received from people, once they learned I was driving alone around America, came in three parts. In eight weeks, I must have heard it a dozen times or more. And it was always the same:

              1 - Oh, my God!
              2 - I could never do that!
              3 - I’d be too afraid.
In hindsight, I wish I’d asked myself a few questions before embarking on my journey, starting with, “What reaction do you think you’ll get from people?” If I had, I probably would have answered that particular question with something like, “I’ve always wanted to do that, but haven’t had time.” In the end, THAT response was a distant second.

Specific reasons varied: never been out of state; can’t travel alone; don’t like to drive; aversion to heights, bridges, strangers, trains, bears, pigeons…; don’t know enough people (as in places to stay); don’t have enough money; wouldn’t know what to do if something went wrong; and so on, and yatta yatta. Ultimately, the number one thing holding people back was fear. Simple. Primal. Fear.

So much for “home of the brave,” huh?

Somewhere on Pike’s Peak, on one of the towering rock piles alongside the perilous, switchback-riddled highway to the top, I secured a foot-hold in a crevice, pulled myself up to the next tier, and thought with surprising curiosity and wonder, “Wow, this is the perfect habitat for rattlesnakes!” Only the thought didn’t materialize all at once, like it did just now when you read it. Instead, and instantly after thinking the word for, my body and mind froze. Several seconds went by before I allowed the words rattle and snake to clearly form and combine in my head. I shivered and looked around. Then, I took a deep breath, chuckled, and muttered to myself, “What a dumbass.”

Had I attempted that Pike’s Peak climb on the first leg of my drive around America, I believe my reaction would have been different. As a matter of fact, I think I might have reacted pretty much like so many others did after they learned what I was doing. When I took off from Florida on July 1, I didn’t like snakes. Still don’t, if you want to know the truth. Thing is, something happened to me in the seven weeks that led up to Denver. Somehow, I wasn’t afraid of them, anymore. Granted, I still considered myself a dumbass for climbing to the top of a cliff inhabited by – at least – rattlesnakes and mountain goats. But, after my brain did some quick figuring, the worst possible things that could (really, statistically) happen simply didn’t outweigh the rewards for besting that pile of rocks.

(by L. Barringer)
I'm that little green dot in the middle (by L. Barringer)

I have back trouble, a bad knee, weak ankle, and sinus problems. The joints in both hands are full of arthritis, I’ve got a nasty case of carpal tunnel (or some damn thing I’m busily pretending isn’t there) creeping into my left arm, and menopausal hot flashes regularly kick my ass. Most seriously, if I’m not careful with my diet, I can set off a colitis attack, and those are neither pretty nor fun. Believe me when I say: I have my share of reasons to NOT drive 15,000 miles alone. But, I saw the Grand Canyon. And Yosemite. And Yellowstone and Gettysburg and Mt. Rainier. I stood inside the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. Plucked an apple from a Johnny Appleseed tree! (With permission, of course.)

I also literally climbed Pike’s Peak. Sure, it was a relatively small, nearly inconsequential portion, and I can’t in good faith recommend you do it, too, given my later discovery. But, I’m totally not sorry I did it.

"the climb"
"the view"

People without guns are afraid of them. People with guns are afraid of losing them. Single people are afraid they’ll never get married. Married people are afraid of being single again. Conservatives are afraid of gays. Gays are afraid of Christians. Christians are afraid of black people. Black people are afraid of the police. And so it goes. In a nutshell, Americans play a never-ending game of avoidance and denial with pain, loss, and discomfort, all while – ironically – being simultaneously awash in pain, loss, and discomfort. Why we don’t break up with denial is a matter of debate, but what I find most disconcerting about the whole business is the possibility that we no longer have enough souls brave enough to step forward and defend our interests as a Republic comprised of UNITED states. Now, THAT is some scary shit right there.

So, what are YOU afraid of? And what are you doing about it?


The things that keep us away from the things we want are mostly within us, and our reasons (or excuses) are largely rooted in fear. Some of that fear is, of course, logical and worthy of attention. But, fear can also be a helpful motivator. For example, I had all sorts of concerns and apprehensions about my trip. Stories abound of hard to imagine consequences happening to women traveling alone. So, I brought a road atlas, a cooler, and a phone charger, and I prepared to the best of my ability for whatever contingencies might arise. At the end of the day, I chose to have faith in my instincts and skills, and I placed my fate in the hands of the road gods. The end.

Fear didn’t stop me.

Don’t let it stop you.

~ Dawn

#AmericanTrip #MLCRoadTrip © 2017 Dawn Scovill

Friday, November 10, 2017

The Indignity of Death

It all happened in a matter of seconds: I turned onto the highway on-ramp, sped up as I rolled into the curve, caught a glimpse of an animated critter on the shoulder, grinned when I recognized it was a prairie dog, then realized there were actually two, and one wasn’t moving.

By the time I merged into the center lane, I was in tears. Okay, full disclosure: I was sobbing uncontrollably. Behind me, there was a living creature trying desperately to revive another living creature. Had they been siblings or mates, I wondered? Friends or foes? How long would the little guy shake his/her companion before giving up and carrying on? Do prairie dogs mourn? Does any animal, for that matter? It’s not like they can tug on an uncle’s shirttail and get the ol’ “They’re with the angels, now” speech. How do animals handle death? And can we learn anything from them?

Imagine if one minute your companion was, and the next minute he wasn’t. No explanation, just…dead. What would you do? After you stopped screaming, of course. You’d likely have questions, many undoubtedly beginning with, “What the—.” If you were in a public place – say, on the shoulder of a highway on-ramp – you’d have to relocate the body. Contacting next of kin would be a priority. Calling an attorney might be a good idea, too; there’s bound to be a lawsuit in there somewhere, what with the sudden, unexplainable death and all. Remember, this is America!

Survivors would want a memorial. Some would need therapy. That prairie dog wouldn’t be getting any of that stuff. Not that it would have mattered for long, given the little guy’s proximity to the white line on a busy on-ramp in Montana. Still, was he suffering? If so, how would he go about getting on?

Here in America, a fair number of us suck at dealing with death. We take pills and opt for surgery to maintain the illusion it won’t happen to us. We whisk dying loved ones off to facilities and hire professionals, so we can pretend the messy bits aren’t real. Living in Florida, I’ve learned people suffer when they’re not prepared. So, how do we stop ignoring death and adopt better ways to prepare for it? How do we handle it more practically? Beyond thoughts and prayers (don’t get me started), how can we as a culture become more helpful to friends and family when they’re recovering from the loss of someone they love?

To me, that kind of information would be invaluable. My dad died on a Tuesday in November. Just like my mom. After the family realized Dad’s condition was rapidly deteriorating, we elected to bring him home to the farm and take care of him ourselves. He was 83, deaf, stubborn, and helpless. We did the best we could.

What we did with Mom is another story for another time.

If I shared all the romantic parts, I might be able to make it sound like a Hallmark Movie of the Week. But, death isn’t pretty and, like Dad would have said, “the sooner you come to terms with that, the better off you’ll be.” He wouldn’t have approved of the way I handled his passing. Or, rather, didn’t handle it. And I was already well into the bottle when, only a few months later, our youngest dog was hit by a car. For a while, I distanced myself from everyone around me. I also drank a lot of whiskey. A year later, I still wasn’t coping well, so I took a drive.

As I rolled by that prairie dog, I immediately thought of our remaining chocolate Labrador, Rocko. He and Roland had escaped through the gate together. It was the phone number on his collar that led the kind people who found them to me. Had he seen the accident happen? Had he hovered over his companion’s lifeless body the same way? Did he have a million questions? Did he look to me for the answers?

Tears, as I mentioned, flowed uncontrollably down my cheeks, all the way to Wyoming.

Death is such a heavy and unpleasant situation, yet it’s equally as guaranteed in life as birth. So, what the—?! We celebrate one, why not the other? And no, I’m not talking kazoos, balloons, and “jolly good fellow” tunes, I’m suggesting we redefine what it means to die with dignity. There’s nothing dignified about taking your last breath in a sterile hospital bed on D-Wing, even surrounded by weeping family members. There’s no dignity in urinals and bedpans, and none in pureed sirloin or rooms with trash cans marked SOILED.

Given that our country’s employers barely allow mothers time off for birth, it might seem a waste of time believing we might one day all be granted the privilege of accompanying our loved ones to the other side without fear of losing our jobs and means of survival. It might also seem silly to think a nation full of self-absorbed consumers could even want to get their hands that dirty, let alone survive the weight of the aftermath. But, we Americans are a hearty bunch. I have faith.

And if, by reading this, one of you is inspired to bring dignity to someone’s last days, I’ll consider the effort worthwhile.

~ Dawn

#AmericanTrip #MLCRoadTrip (c) 2017 Dawn Scovill

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The American Trip: Attempt at an Introduction

In part, The American Trip refers to the whimsical blend of societal issues unique to folks in the good ol' USA, i.e., aging and death, addiction, depression, homelessness, child hunger and entitlements, abortion, same sex marriage and the rise of the LGBT community, marijuana, political correctness, North vs. South, freedom of speech and religion, guns and law enforcement, health care and pharmaceuticals, veterans and the military, black vs. white, cowboys and indians, President Trump, rape culture, fear, farming, immigration and The Wall, highway safety, domestic terrorism, wealth and greed, environmental concerns and National Parks, education, energy, water, the apocalypse, babies and puppies, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...

Give or take.

Downtown Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The American Trip also has to do with my solo journey around the country this past summer. Staying with friends, family, and some might say strangers, I maneuvered my way from Philadelphia on the Fourth of July, through Cleveland and Flint and Yellowstone, to a snow-covered, Cascades mountain top in the heart of the state of Washington. Then I bopped down to Yosemite, through Las Vegas and Denver, then stumbled through New Orleans before returning home to south Florida. I saw tractors, fields of corn, Mt. Rushmore, the Grand Canyon, and a HUGE ball of twine. If that’s not an American trip, I don’t know what is!

San Joaquin Valley, California

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing stories here about the people and places I encountered along the way. You might have heard: there’s some funky shit goin’ down. And, trust me on this: it goes way beyond the city! People everywhere are worried about job security and getting the bills paid, concerned about their children’s education, and terrified some random event will wipe them out. But, faith is out there, too. And optimism. And breath-taking, jaw-dropping beauty. If I had to sum it up in a single word, I’d say this country is AMAZING.

View from atop Hoover Dam, outside Las Vegas, Nevada

But, one word does NOT a story make. So, I hope you’ll stay tuned for a few more. Until then, I’ll leave you to browse the water towers. ;)

~ Dawn

Mount Jackson, Virginia

Roy, Washington

Kit Carson, Colorado

Waldo, Kansas

Cawker City, Kansas - home of the World's Largest Ball of Twine

#AmericanTrip #MLCRoadTrip (c) 2017 Dawn Scovill