I wonder if you, too, ever find yourself caught in late night cycles of bittersweet recollection of the months we spent together, and, after drifting through a night of sleepless longing, you wake up to a world that appears colorless and muted in comparison to the world we shared. But perhaps I am just imposing my own experience onto you. I still feel your presence stirring within me, and the truth is, I hope that you do feel the way I do, that I haven’t already become irrelevant. Those months where we roamed from farm to farm across Europe, wild adventurers with only each other to rely on, were a time of utter liberation and personal discovery for me. I felt, essentially, happy.
Thursday September 15, Austria, train from Vienna to Villach
“I am now ultimately on the road. Yesterday I stuffed the entirety of stuff I would need for the next three months into my green backpack...packing is like a ritual; with every T-shirt I pause and hold a heartfelt conversation, (“Do I really need you?”) The t-shirt remains silent. I know almost nothing about the people I will be staying with...they know a lot more about me than I know about them...this is the first time I've felt ultimately independent. In the future there will be no one to meet me at train stations. It is thrilling. It is overall a good feeling. But I feel so vulnerable...I am young and optimistic and trusting. How easily could I walk into a bad situation?”
People often told me I was brave for setting out on my own at 17 years old. I didn’t feel brave—I just felt confident that no harm would befall me, and if it did I would survive, and the risk was worth it anyhow. Besides, I wasn’t alone—I had you and my journal and an emergency bar of chocolate. What more did I need? So often people hinted that optimism was dangerous, that strangers were dangerous. But why fear people? When, after leaving our first host family in Austria, we found ourselves crammed into a budget sleeper train compartment with five others with whom we shared no common languages—all of us attempting to twist our bodies into halfway comfortable positions—what reason did I have to mistrust any of them?
Friday September 30, Austria, Villach train station
I sit at the Villach train station with my green backpack, the time is 23:26. My train to Rome departs at 00:03. Another goodbye. Such is the life of a wanderer...this existence strikes me as absolutely absurd, the idea that the reality in my head could agree with the reality I perceive seems absolutely absurd...But whether coincidental or not, I'm happy that the now of now is this now. It's not complete coincidence. I'm doing what I want to do. My dreams and plans have become a part of reality, and seen in this light this incredible reality is my own creation.
Together, creation became tangible. I’m thinking about the bread we baked by first grinding up homegrown wheat kernels. I’m thinking about the lamb that was slaughtered, and stripped of its wool, drained of it’s blood, scraped off its bones, and made into goulash. Essential creation, rooted creation, in the path of which I recreated myself as well.
Saturday October 8, Switzerland, train from Zweisimmen to Lausanne
Though it was refreshing to try on an unused name—fresh and without a past of preconceptions—the name Katharina never grew on me. Too complicated and too feminine. What name shall I take on in France?
On the road, self becomes impermanent. Outside the train window the landscape is continuously rewriting itself; old memories become irrelevant, old beliefs become malleable, old identities can morph from grassland to foothills to rocky peaks and back again.
Monday October 11, France, bus from Lausanne to Toulouse
“It's okay if things don't work out—there's not much Toulouse.”
Juniper, I must bring up the cheese. Entering Switzerland we carried but the bare essentials between the two of us. Leaving Switzerland we carried but the bare essentials and a kilo of aged Alpine Swiss cheese. For weeks we carried that cheese around, feeling ridiculous as we carved into it with a miniscule pocket knife. Not few of the travelers we encountered rejoiced in the cheese we shared.
Tuesday October 16, bus from Revel to Toulouse
“I'm so fucking exhausted. In this weary state I see little light. I want to find peace and rest and acceptance. The past two weeks I overextended myself. Too many kilometers, too many cities, too much repacking, too many people. It was exciting...until I crashed. Hopefully this next place in Vabre will bring my more respite than that demented Chateau. But I cannot know until I get there; having expectations is dangerous. Another bus ride tomorrow...once again me, my backpack, and I. Secretly I hope Chris chooses not to come. I feel the need to start over. Detach. Attain yet another identity. I cannot let go of this decision I have made, and cannot help wondering, what if I had stayed?”
What if I had stayed? Do you remember when, after an 8 hour bus ride halfway across France, we waited at the stop in the dark and no one came, and when she finally did and we arrived at the castle, jutting out of the flat landscape like a moonlit fortress, it was a haze of smoke and precariously stacked artifacts and the dogs were jumping all over us, and then she led us up three flight of steps to the attic, our bedroom, a floor made of dust and a mattress with the unwashed sheets of the last passer-through crumpled on top and little green beetles which fell from the ceiling nesting in the pillow. At that moment the beetles didn’t matter—it was a place to crash. It was another adventure, and my imagination ate it up and rolled with it...I guess imagination doesn’t always get along with reality.
Wednesday November 16, France, carpool from Vabre to Montpellier
“Montpellier. I hate this drive in me to fit in. Being in civilization and seeing everyone in proper and fashionable attire and thinking, 'maybe I should start wearing a bra again.'"
And when it doesn’t, reality stings. There are moments when it hits home that the world’s roads haven’t been paved for me, that the train tracks aren’t getting laid down as I walk. As wanderers, we were outsiders and observers. It meant that we had more perspective than those living off the tracks. But it also meant that those living off the tracks were indifferent to us. We lived on the outskirts of society, we strangers to it, and it strange to us.
Friday November 18, France, Montpellier train station
“When some guy persistently asks for a kiss and tells me I'm beautiful and calls me “'iz lover” and I feel like shit inside. Because he thinks he can get what he wants, that he deserves that kiss, and because when I say no I lose all value to him. It makes me feel like shit because I freeze up and don't know what to say, and only after he's gone think of 1000 things I could have done better. I shouldn't feel like shit because it's his problem. But I do. And he probably feels nothing but a twinge of disappointment and is now hitting up some other alone and vulnerable looking traveler. I don't always need to be nice. I don't always need to be accommodating.”
Do you recall how I told you how people considered me brave? I know why they think I would need bravery—they think that to travel alone as a young feminine-looking person inherently requires some sort of nerve. I hate this. I hate that society imposes this burden on me, and I will fight it simply by existing as I want to exist. I am not afraid of people. I am not afraid of the world. Anyone who thinks I should be can go fuck themselves.
Tuesday December 14, Italy, rideshare from Menton to Genova
“I am young and invincible. I am chaotic and unrestrained and will single-handedly deconstruct society. I am juggling with the universe. I am immortal.”
I guess I don’t really miss you, Juniper; I miss what you brought out in me. With you I was mobile, independent, and living off of only the essential. Now again sedentary, in casting you off I feel I have also cast off a part of myself. I think back to moments when I’d be overcome with a silly, verging on ridiculous, sense of joy—when I’d sit curled up in cramped bus seats, resting my head on you, and gazing out at the shifting landscape, and just exist, filled with ridiculous wonder at life—and I think, where has all that whimsy gone.
I’ve know cast you off for now, but I also know our ties haven’t been severed. One journey has come to an end, but still some essential part of me traverses the land amongst that herd of wandering spirits who call the Earth their homeland. My nomadic spark has been lit. All the world’s mountain passes, and winding alleys, and dusty attics await. I only need to open my closet, grab a change of clothes, slip my shoulders through your forest green straps, and then hop onto a train to somewhere, anywhere....
In love and ever wandering thoughts,