It’s 2:00 a.m. A small white car containing two, twenty-something girls and their camping gear has seizured to an untimely death in the Precise Middle of Nowhere, North America. This point is in northern Montana, and Google maps will find it for you if you search for War Horse Wildlife Refuge. Five miles north of a road that vaguely resembles a highway, and 47 miles east of what might be described as a microscopic town, is a poor place and time for a car to malfunction—particularly when it houses two girls whose cellphones are dead or otherwise out of service. The two girls are left in a position to walk roughly 52 miles to town—a town they found so terrifying and eerie that they fled to the Precise Middle of Nowhere to get away in the first place. In youthful distrust, in hopes of finding better fortune, they now find themselves in what seems to be the embodiment of an early grave for their unrefined sense of feminist independence.
One member of the doomed duo is mathematically rationing out their available food and water for the 52-mile journey. Hitchhiking is not an option—not in these parts—the chances of running into another car are none.
The other is in a trance. She is unraveling a reel of memories in her mind, seeking to understand how on Earth she managed to arrive at this precise point in her life. Technically, a recent encounter with a “camp ground” manager was the catalyst behind these events. Her swollen face, bluish smile, miniscule pupils, and sly suggestions drove the ladies in mad terror as far as they could get from the “camp ground.” Should you ever find yourself feeling as though you’re on the edge of possible extinction, technological comforts sucked from you, with a long road trip ahead, you’ll find such simple answers unsatisfactory.
This had nothing to do with the “camp ground” manager; this was about a much larger journey.
Perhaps you find this telling of events a bit too dramatic—I envy your take on life. You may have already guessed that I am the second traveler in the duo. I’m the conceited one who gets tangled up in her mind while my partner focuses on practical solutions for survival. In the next few hours I would become comfortable explaining myself by saying, “Poor choices. I’m here because I made some very poor choices.”
Now that I’ve got your attention—or your curiosity—or perhaps it’s pity—allow me to introduce myself. I’m a young writer in my mid-twenties. I like to compare myself to a turtle because I like retreating within myself when frightened, provoked, shy, paid too much attention, or in any large number of other cases. The only time I’m not retreating back into my shell is when I’m trying to travel. I love to be in motion, which might seem strange, considering the metaphorical shell on my back. I suppose that’s the paradox of turtles.
In 2012, I moved from Michigan, to Los Angeles, and back to Michigan in the course of a year. If you and I followed the reel of memory I was so busy unraveling on that eerie night by the War Horse Refuge, we’d see a flashback montage of…
- Above cloud level, sandwiched between two densely forested mega mountains, sits a flannel-clad, wild-haired brunette. Her legs are knotted in front of her, and her weight is propped up on two spindly arms. She looks vaguely like she belongs in an indie film–a dreamy eyed, intense and odd little soul, staring at a hidden lake roughly 1,000 feet below. Her muscles are tense; her face steeled against some hidden train of thought she has entertained for too long.
- A small white car elegantly careening up and down mountain trails.
- A tearful goodbye between the adventuring young woman and a group of young men, each distinctly unique from the other. Together they carry on much like Peter Pan’s Lost Boys.
- Flashing lights of Sunset Blvd.; L.A. rooftop soirees heavy on the Champagne and big names; a living room filled with the Lost Boys, and unnaturally bright sunlight.
- Point Dume, Malibu. The same wild hair, spindly arms, and odd little soul sits in the same position as when she observed the hidden lake, but, this time she watches dolphins. There’s a drop of madness in one corner of her smile.
- A lemon tree, laid bare.
- A coffee shop in Pasadena filled with hipsters, and the young woman quietly writing in a notebook in the corner.
- The Midwest, a small town, a beautiful house filled with natural lighting and natural people who laugh and sing and dance, who hug the familiar-looking young woman goodbye.
- Apartment bedroom belonging to two girls. Outside the bedroom window there is a view of the parking lot, where the small white car is parked. Inside are two beds, pushed end to end, lined up next to a wall, and pictures. Lots of pictures.
Turns out, it all started in an apartment in a town named in honor of the quantity of trees it contains. That’s when you know you’re in the Midwest.
This series, “Turtle Tries to Travel,” will be about the experiences gained and things lost as this small-town turtle embarked into the West and back again, and it will be based on real people and stories. For the sake of protection, names will be changed. For the sake of the narrative, some events may be retold with a literary flare.
Meet me here next month for Take Two.
Rina Caldwell was born and raised in Ypsilanti, Michigan, where she likes to dream big and make small waves. She’s a writer, a coffee artist, and a perpetual analyst of her environment, and she knows the street-smart ins and outs of small city life. She spends her time making sure the stories and voices of individuals and groups in her community are heard. Connect with Rina on Twitter @rcaldwem to read her favorite quotes about literature and life.