I’m pleased to introduce Cara Lopez Lee, author of the memoir They Only Eat Their Husbands. Caught in a love triangle in Alaska, Cara sought escape in the form of a year-long solo trip around the world. Adventures–whether sought in the world’s wild places or in our own communities–connect us with our best selves. We must, as climber Willi Unsoeld said best, go into nature to experience the sacred. But it is what we do when we return to the world of people that matters.
WHAT ADVENTURE HAS TAUGHT ME
By Cara Lopez Lee
A radio host recently asked me why, after the adventure of living in Alaska, I decided to go a step farther and travel the world alone? Although I’ve written a book about both experiences, They Only Eat Their Husbands: A Memoir of Alaskan Love, World Travel, and the Power of Running Away, I still found the question difficult. Not because I didn’t know the answer, but because there were so many reasons. When I hit my thirties, three things happened:
1) I ended up in a love-triangle with two alcoholics in Alaska, which ultimately left me alone and afraid I might spend the rest of my life that way. Instead of giving up, I chose to see this as an opportunity: without a husband or child, mortgage or car payment, I was free to reinvent myself as an independent woman.
2) The Anchorage TV station were I’d spent seven years working as a news anchor, reporter, and producer underwent major changes in management and was showing signs of imminent bankruptcy. I’d spent years applying for jobs at bigger markets in the Lower 48, with no decent offers. I decided to see this seeming dead-end as an opportunity to ignore my ego and ambition in favor of my passion for travel and writing.
3) My stepmother died of cancer at 46. If you’ve ever known someone who died of something other than old age, you’ll likely understand my reaction: it struck me that death could come at any time, and I didn’t want it to catch me waiting for my life to happen.
I’d spent four years saving for a trip around the world, and my grandmother also gifted
me some money. I’d tried to find a travel partner, but no one I knew wanted to risk putting a career on hold. I decided not to let my solitary state dictate the pursuit of my dreams. I sold my furniture and most of my belongings, and hit the road. I drove from Anchorage to Los Angeles, taking a ferry through Alaska’s mystical Inside Passage, where the Northern Lights waved goodbye to me in a crackling, angel-footed dance.
Before that, the longest I’d ever traveled was two weeks. My Pacific coast road-trip took six weeks. I began to feel lighter. I stayed at hostels, which introduced me to my tribe: other people also seeking a deeper experience of the world, and of themselves.
I then spent three months at my father’s house, while I planned the rest of my trek. I devoured guidebooks and purchased an around-the-world plane fare. I sold my car and, with that, I didn’t own a single key: that was exhilarating. I loaded everything I’d need for
the next six months into a 35-pound backpack: that was a revelation. Little did I know that my overseas trip would stretch to eight months, as I lingered in each country.
I visited China, Thailand, Nepal, India, Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Ireland, and England. In Kunming, China, I discovered the risks of not knowing the language – when an old woman dragged me to authorities for taking a photo in the Yuantong Buddhist temple. In Cuenca, Spain, a grandfatherly caballero showed me the Torcas y Lagunas de Palancares – a series of craters and lagoons in the forest – and told me about a young woman who threw herself into a crater to avoid an arranged marriage. It’s a story I wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t know Spanish. He also told me, “I think it would be a better world if everyone spent some time visiting another culture… If everyone did this, maybe we would all understand each other more and not fight so much.” In Nepal, I hiked the
Annapurna Circuit in the Himalayas, and was shocked one day by my dirty face in the mirror: I’d never felt more beautiful.
If you’ve ever experienced deep peace during meditation, prayer, or intense exercise – you have a sense of the way my journey transformed me. What have I received from my adventures? Quite simply: self-confidence. This doesn’t meant I’m never afraid or never fail – only that I know I’m enough, so long as I’m true to myself.
Beyond that, I’ve learned I don’t have to travel far for adventure. Visiting other places reminds me that everyplace is someone’s home. If I can find adventures in their towns, I can find it in mine. I’m not promoting stay-cations – I’m just saying you don’t have to wait for a holiday to find adventure. My husband and I enjoy beautiful hikes in the mountains near Denver, and today I said, “If someone blindfolded us, gave us a simulated plane ride, and said, ‘You’re in Croatia,’” we would come back telling everyone, ‘You wouldn’t believe how gorgeous Croatia is!” (I’ll admit, I still want to go to Croatia.)
I’m no longer completely satisfied with traveling as an observer. I want to participate. I admire travelers dedicated to service: like Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, who climbed K2, happened on a Pakistani village where children were writing in the dirt, and began a life mission of building schools; like Chris Guillebeau, author of The Art of Nonconformity, whose goal is to visit every country in the world, and who has also decided to help dig wells in thirsty Ethiopia.
My first trip was about me, and I think that’s OK. As the saying goes: “Put on your own oxygen mask first.” But now that my mask is on, who can I help with theirs? I recently worked on a film project with a homeless woman of 20. I mentored her through writing her own script. Afterward, she returned to the streets – but not before inspiring me. Soon I’ll be working with Lighthouse Writers Workshop to teach an afterschool writing program for middle school kids.
Another Spaniard once told me,“Cada Persona es un mundo.” Every person is a world. If we remember that, we can all be travelers who reap the benefits of adventure.