First Solo Adventure: Phoenix, AZ

 
yellow flowers in the sun next to a river

I sat perched in a booth at a taco shop in the Phoenix airport with my knees pressed into my chest, savoring a burrito the size of my face.

My first civilized meal.

Like a new parent watching their child take her first step, I proudly made note of all my “firsts” since leaving the wilderness.

First shower. First toilet. First bed. First sip of filtered water.

girl in car before first solo adventure

Leaving for Arizona

Five months earlier, I accepted the opportunity to go on a rafting trip with ten strangers from around the country.

I thought I wanted to be a raft guide for the summer. Life had become too familiar. But the night before my flight, I laid next to my boyfriend with dim excitement. The reality of traveling alone hadn’t set in until I placed my bag by the door.  

“This time tomorrow, I’ll be across the country.. Alone.”

I’d never traveled alone before. I’d never gone west of Tennessee. My boyfriend’s arms felt safe, and for the first time since booking the trip, I was scared to leave.

When I stepped off the plane, my comfort zone fell to the floor and shattered like glass.

I didn’t have time to pick up the pieces.

blurry film photo in nature

Setting Out on the Salt River

With the rest of the group, I ate my last real-world dinner in Globe, Arizona on the corner of 13th and Ash Street.

The small, brick building didn’t have a sign. Chili pepper string lights lit up the window and a sombrero hung above the door.

The next morning, we inflated our boats and pushed them into the Salt River, setting out for what the raft guides called “The Wildy”.

My diet over the next week consisted of pasta, rice and PBJs—an unprepared vegan’s survival food. Two nights in, I imagined my bowl of watery noodles full of guacamole.

girl raising arms in the mountains

Embracing the Wildy

A week on and off the water changed me.

My heart warms when I think of the desert sun that dried my skin every time the cold rapids splashed into our boats. I learned how to guide along a defiant current. My nose looked like burnt toast and I developed a serious farmer’s tan.

I can’t write this without smiling.

No one showered. My feet stayed coated in mud. Despite the grease in my hair and a growing disgust for Clif bars.. when wading through the quiet flat water, I’d tip my wet face up to the sun in gratitude.

My stomach growled and I got uncomfortably constipated (rookie mistakes), yet I was happy.

We didn’t sleep in tents. Everyone shared a “party tarp”: strangers-turned-friends sleeping next to each other under the stars.

girl running down road toward mountain

Heading Back to Civilization

We stopped at a gas station in Globe after taking out from the river a week later. Crawling over each other, we rushed out of the van. The glass entrance opened and a wave of cool air fell on our faces.

We froze.

“Whoa.”

Rows of snacks overwhelmed our senses. Other customers watched us. They probably bathed just that morning. I wondered if they could smell us.

My eyes landed on a sign across the store: RESTROOMS. Before I knew it my filthy legs carried me through the doors and into a stall.

I peed without it splattering on my ankles and flushed, rather than kicking sand over my puddle.

view of cars through windshield

Going Home 

Waiting in my terminal, I stood next to a wall of windows and stared at the desert mountains lining my view.

I resisted the urge to rest my hand on the glass, like a kid turned around in the backseat as the car drives away from his favorite place.

They called my flight. I said goodbye to beautiful Arizona, grabbed my pack and went home.

van or RV driving through desert

Regretting Nothing

I shared a tarp, boat and campfire with ten strangers during my time on the river.

We rigged rafts together and cooked meals for each other. We could’ve met anywhere or never at all, but fate sat us together on upside-down buckets and tree stumps. 

Living under the stars in a strange place with even stranger people gave me a greater appreciation for simplicity and discomfort. If I’d let fear get the best of me as I laid in an anxious heap the night before my flight, I still wouldn’t know how to correctly spell Phoenix (o before e, who knew).

I wouldn’t have felt so empowered.

I wouldn’t have driven home in tears because I now knew what a real night sky looked like, and this wasn’t it. 

Moving forward

You don’t need to wait for the right time, money or opportunity. You don’t need to wait for the right friends.

If I learned anything from this experience, it’s that I don’t need permission to have an adventure. Even if it scares me, I can still make it happen.

Make your own opportunities to say yes to.

Go far. Count your “firsts”. Come back better.