Accepting you're a dirty mess

Vincent, with fruit

I woke up in the middle of the night on Saturday to the chaotic pitter-patter of rain drops on Vincent's back. In the evening I'd had the thought that perhaps I ought to pack away my camp furniture since it might rain, but paid it no mind and snoozed away. When I emerged from slumber, I squarely regretted my neglect and found my yoga mat waterlogged like a sponge.

The rain stopped for a few hours, during which I managed to drive Vincent out of the mud to a dead suburban mall several miles north to seek refuge and do my daily writing. I find a strange sense of solace in the bowels of suburban shopping malls—relics of what felt to me like a simpler time. This mall, nestled in the middle of Applachia, was particularly dead; I think there were more mall walkers circumscribing the mall's dark tiles than there were stores open for business.

I sat in the food court for a few hours writing and watching the people walk by. I made small talk with the security guard and asked him if there was wifi. And I took a break to make a cup of coffee on my camp stove in the parking lot, since the mall was so dead there wasn't even a place to get a cup of coffee.

It's funny, but sometimes the most benign and uneventful days are the most memorable. I'll never forget stumbling upon that shopping mall in the middle of suburban Pittsburgh and seeing it not as a blight on the landscape, but as a brilliant climate controlled oasis.

When I returned to the campground, I noticed it had thinned out considerably. Being that most of the campers were probably local residents, I imagine they decided sitting in the rain wasn't how they wanted to spend their weekend. I, however, was stuck, unless I wanted to get a hotel room, which, I didn't. So I made the best of a muddy situation. I went for a short hike. I made ramen noodles for dinner. I watched online videos about living in vans.

And then, the rains came again. This time, worse than the night before. I checked the weather report and there was an advisory that there could be 55-mile-per-hour winds and nickel-sized hail. Luckily, neither of these came to fruition, but I weighed my options and decided I could always seek shelter in the lavatory building if things got dicey.

I called my brother and we talked at length about life and my trip and his upcoming trip and I was at a bit more peace. As I went to sleep, the rains started again and I knew when I woke up I would be greeted by more mud puddles and damp clothes.

There comes a point when you're on the road where you stop trying to keep yourself up and just accept that you're a filthy mess. As I sit here awaiting my next rented room in Pittsburgh, my skin is oily, my head unshaven, my feet filthy, my clothes dirty, and my body aching. But it is what it is. Tomorrow I'll undoubtedly be elated to have woken up in a real bed in a room with ceilings suitable for standing. But now, I'm the dirty vagabond, going here, there, and nowhere in particular.

It's moments like this that make me wonder why I'm so persistent in my pursuit of adventure when I could very well have the kind of stable, secure life that many people forced into a life of nomadism would kill for. Is this sort of pursuit merely one of selfish indulgence?

I left on this trip, like all my road trips before it, to find America. It's hiding here somewhere, whether in the row houses of Lawrenceville or the steel mills of Appalachia. Maybe it's in the grateful spirit of an immigrant for whom Walmart does not represent a sort of American overindulgence, but instead represents their newfound land of plenty in a world of poverty. I am constantly in awe at the wonder and glory of this land in spite of its horrors, its inequities, and its wastefulness.

America, I love you, but it's not easy.