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It’s 75 degrees outside as I say goodbye to an old friend. We’ve spent the summer morning strolling the hills of her hometown. My skin is flushed from all the sun, but I brush away the burn, turning my attention instead to the adventures planned ahead.

I roll over the top of another sunny hill heading west in my beat up old VW. I am kept warm by the sun and cool by my AC, a polar balance that both exhilarates and grounds me. Directly ahead, a ridge with emerald trees stretches as far as I can see, and bright, afternoon clouds are just beginning to peek over the tops of the highest pines. A thrilling sight, and the promise of what’s to come pushes me forward. I am brought to the thought of  photographer and writer, Stephen Trimble’s words:

“To cross this valley to the peninsula is to leave modern California and enter an island of wilderness, forgotten by progress, a quiet land misplaced in a noisy world.”

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This is what I need to bounce back. A drive to remind me how to work hard to get to all the places I want to go. A day with breathtaking scenery to remind me how perfect the world is, and an open ocean to remind me that there are endless possibilities and ways to reach my aspirations. I’m a fan of inspirational quotes, and one driving me today is by Christopher Columbus. On his adventures to America he said,

You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

A metaphor. To traverse my way through the expansive ridge, through valleys, across the mighty peninsula, to the ocean–the wide open ocean where I can set sail, and lose sight of the shore; achieve my dreams and become the person I’ve always wanted to be. Twenty-something and I’ll be a prodigy. That’s what I’ve been told, and that’s what I’ve been promised.

But back behind the steering wheel of my old silver Jetta, I find that these 20 miles to the seashore are oddly long and tiresome. My GPS forgot to mention that it’s 20 miles of winding roads, 35mph limits, potholes and cattle guards. I’ve never backed down from a challenge, and this journey of unknowns seems full of promise. I know I’m at least heading in the right direction. 

2016 -08- BH - BACKTRACK-1737392016 -08- BH - BACKTRACK-174851With each turn I am excited by the new landscapes. A marsh. A marina. Even a friendly cow munching on some grass. I swerve between the potholes and take the one lane road cautiously. I’m intrigued by the lush hills and wait patiently to see the ocean.

But as I near the peninsula, I begin to realize those fluffy bright clouds I saw earlier rolling over the hills were smokescreens. I’ve been so caught up in what’s right in front my me, I couldn’t see that it was in fact fog. Engulfing everything in its path, everything in front of me. Even the cows were trotting home.

The fog, mixed with the chestnut and copper of my surroundings oddly started to look eerily familiar to a unpleasing Instagram filter. This place is a concoction of Mordor and Iceland. Stress kicks in. I want to turn around. Maybe these feelings and changes are illusory, and I need to progress beyond the bleak to find the utopian.

I see glimpses of the ocean, beating on the rocks. The alabaster cliffs to the south are full of menace, and everyone is leaving. I am the only one headed west. Car after car passes me. Why? What don’t I know? Should I continue toward the swirling darkness in search of the light?

I’ve made it this far. I’d heard of the magnificent lighthouse at the end of the cliffs and I’m so close. So I push on. One tight turn at a time.

I finally creep up the peninsula to a parking lot. I get out, and continue my trek on foot. While walking to the end of the pier, the clothes I am wearing now feel paper thin. This morning, while hiking, they felt heavy and thick, like wool. Now, I’m chilled to the bone and the tree over head, bowed by the relentless wind, drenches me in water.

 

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This what I wanted, apparently. That sunny ridge was so inviting. Calling to me. Promising me everything. The ocean. My dreams. The edge of the world. I can do anything there right?  And here I am, standing on the edge of world. The lighthouse is barely detectable. The buildings are rotting, cracked and abused by the weather.  I see nothing else and I am frigid and miserable. The wind beats against my face. I am a punching bag. The fog swirls around me, taunting me, reminding me of how beautiful it is from afar.

2016 -08- BH - BACKTRACK-163236My options seem limited. Forward is where I was taught to go. Columbus went forward. He got lost, but found America. He did it and so can I. Don’t look back and just go. I convince myself that I am full of courage.

But all that’s in front of me is a steep edge and an angry ocean. Do I find a paddle boat and head out into the unknown? Go forward into the mist?

And that’s when my sunburn from this morning begins to sting from the salty air and heavy fog through my jacket. The sunburn left by the warmth and comfort of our giant star. Where is she now? Why can’t I see her? This isn’t right.

 

I think to turn around and backtrack. My father always said there is more than one way to get anywhere – including reaching your dreams. Go back to what you know. Start back at the top of that hill. Embrace the sunshine. Rise above the fog, the clouds and be closer to the sun. You’ll see better there.

Christopher Columbus may have stumbled upon America but he didn’t discover it. He got quite lost in the mist actually. Ironically he was wrongly credited with the quote,

You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.”

The real accreditation belongs to André Gide, in his 1925 novel, The Counterfeiters. In French he writes,  On ne découvre pas de terre nouvelle sans consentir à perdre de vue, d’abord et longtemps, tout rivage,” which translates to, “One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”

So perhaps I’ve been misguided. Maybe I’d been lost in the mist already. 

From my understanding, Gide is saying you cannot advance until you accept that you do not know what is ahead.  And so I am here – at the edge the unknown. I cannot see what’s beyond the fog, beyond the cliffs, beyond the lighthouse. What I know of the unknown in front of me is that, it took a lot of work to get there and now that I am here, it’s dangerous, and most importantly my gut is telling me it’s not worth it. So maybe I do know, and it’s not the unknown anymore. I made the effort to get here, and it’s just not what I expected. I wasn’t afraid to make the trek out to this dismal point, to let go of the metaphorical shore. I was bright eyed and full of awe.

At least I know what’s on the road behind me to the east, and once I’ve backtracked enough, I can choose a new path. A new unknown, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Saint Augustine, a Christian theologian, philosopher and influencer of much Western thought, complains that,

People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.

Perhaps what I need to do is wander far and wide, but remember where I started. Return often so I never lose myself and can wonder while I am home.

Here I am freezing my butt off staring out into nothingness that is Point Reyes. The tourists have all since left and now it’s my turn. I snap the few decent photos I can and turn to find the sunshine.  I’m headed back to the biggest, sunniest hill I can find and that’s where I’ll be until I pick out my next unknown. I’ve left without embarrassment of my retreat but with the knowledge of what’s down that twisty, winding, windy road.

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This day actually did occur. Two days after I quit my a brand new job. The job was to be my dream job. My everything. My restart. I had traveled through many challenges and unknowns to get there, just to say goodbye and backtrack very quickly. My journey to this choice is long, and the journey after even longer. This series, won’t be nearly as metaphorical as this day, but will shed light onto the journey of a young woman traveling down different paths in search of herself and hopefully help you find your own unknowns and decide if they are worth crossing.

Feature image: Steinberg Nicholas