20 Jun 2017 Going Stag in the USA
GOING STAG in the USA
When I hit the brakes, the open packet of Kettle chips slid forward off the passenger seat of my rental Rav4 and scattered onto the floor… What a waste. I gripped the steering wheel and watched the illuminated spectacle that would become my first ever hit and run when I saw a deer artfully leap between two moving cars on the other side of the road and right in front of mine. Between hitting the brakes and then the deer I was probably only doing 20 miles per hour. The doe rolled twice, away from the car as though I’d just thrown it off balance. All the other cars in the heavy peak-hour traffic had stopped and in the few seconds of frozen time I begged the animal lying on the ground to please, please get up. And it did. After its brief rest, it leapt up, and ran back in the direction it came from. I hit, you run. That was fine by me. I continued my drive to the Jackson Hole hostel where I was due to check in, happy to not have to reckon with the fact I’d become a murderer, and that my rental was still in one piece. Sure it had a few tufts of deer hair in the cracked bumper, but I wore those tufts of hair on my car like a hood ornament, as proof you can get knocked down but it’s not always the end.
I’m turning 30 in October. I realised it one day when I was working on some remedial task at my 9-5 job in Sydney back when I was 28. There’s only 18 months left of my twenties. The fear set in by this realisation twisted at my stomach. Fear had prevented me from pursuing so many of the things I wanted my entire life: volunteering for the lead part in a ballet recital; saying yes to Jim when he asked me to dance at the fifth grade disco; being a camp counsellor for the summer in my early twenties because I didn’t think my boyfriend would like me leaving for eight weeks. I waited so long for an adventure buddy, thinking I was too shy to travel alone. I thought I could wait for a travelling companion, but 30 was looming, and I’d done my time thinking patience was my virtue.
I’d like to say that it was courage that pushed me to travel alone. I’d like to say it was because I was brave and that I believed I’m one of those women you read about who step fearlessly into the unknown with a backpack and sturdy pair of shoes. Courage wasn’t what pushed me out the door though; it was fear. I used the fear I had of becoming a life-long commuter, stuck at my desk, forever editing poorly-written travel stories and never getting to write any of my own. So I said goodbye to my job, my prospects and my security. I arranged a six-month visa for the US and I left. I had no plans or direction except one: to see and do cool shit. I was as free as a leaf on the breeze and kept that image at the forefront of my mind. If an opportunity presented itself, it was my duty to take it. If I asked the waiter for their opinion on what was the best thing on the menu, I’d order it. It was time to be bold.
So I carry my fear with me everywhere I go. That fear of being boring, of missing out, of living with regret. It pushes me to be bold, to act courageously when I feel like doing the opposite. And this is living. Even when I hit that deer – and watched it jump up and run away – I thought, this is living. White-knuckling my way through a blizzard over Grand Teton Pass, three days after picking up my rental car: that was living, and living dangerously. Standing alone at the top of Horsetooth Mountain in Colorado, after I was told I wouldn’t be able to make it up there: that’s living. I go stag to bars knowing if nothing else, I can talk to the bartender and I’m not afraid to eat alone at restaurants anymore. I travel alone, but I’m never lonely. What was I so afraid of?
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