The Open Road: An Introduction

Live in the Sun, Swim in the Sea, Drink the Wild Air –Ralph Waldo Emerson

This post comes from our new contributor, Camille Collett.

Have you ever longed for The Open Road? For complete freedom to do whatever you wanted, wherever you wanted and for however long? To explore, adventure and unleash your soul in the natural world, unrestricted by time, work or obligations? For the past 2+ years that’s all I’ve dreamt of, and now I finally have the opportunity to do it.

I’m embarking on a series of road trips, adventures and blog posts I’m calling The Open Road. Before I begin sharing my stories, I’d like for you to have a better idea of my intention and motivation…to know who I am.

My name is Camille. I’m 25 and just finished my Masters in Geology at the University of Washington, Seattle. The past 2+ years in graduate school were some of the most challenging of my life and were accompanied by some of my lowest lows. I left my home, friends, family, boyfriend, surfing, sunshine and southern CA lifestyle to follow my academic passion, only to be somewhat disappointed in the experience I had expected. I stuck it out (after switching from a PhD to Masters program), taking advice and encouragement from my family and friends, and finished my degree in December of 2015. There were good parts too, I learned a lot (as much if not more personally than academically), got to do some incredible field work — hiking, backpacking, camping, rafting, and helicoptering in New Zealand. I was introduced rock climbing and the breathtakingly beautiful Pacific Northwest, and I met some incredible new friends.

But the whole time I longed for freedom. I wanted to be able to do what quenched the thirst of my soul. To unleash my inner earthly woman and experience life in exactly the way I wanted. I’ve finally gotten that freedom and that’s what these next few (or more) months are all about to me. It’s about doing things that make me feel good as a human being on this planet, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, knowing that I only have one shot at a life on earth. It’s about being one with and getting to know the beautiful natural world that’s right in our backyard without rushing through it.

For me freedom is an open road. I’ll be living out of my new car (by new I really mean a used 2001 Toyota 4Runner with 127k miles on it that I’ve dubbed Pauline) and beginning by adventuring around the Southwest US (starting with Red Rocks, NV, then Salt Lake City, UT, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon, to name a few).


I’ll be meeting some friends along the way but I’ll be alone for parts of it too. I’m excited for both. By adventuring I mean rock climbing, skiing and snowboarding, canyoneering, hiking, backpacking, meeting and getting to know beautiful new people, and being a vagabond. I’m bringing things to keep me focused and relaxed: watercolors, a guitar, books, an open mind. I’ll have everything I need in my car.

What I hope to do with The Open Road, aside from documenting my journey in an honest, transparent way, is to inspire you to experience your own open road someday. To show you that it’s entirely possible and how good it feels to do something that makes your soul light up.

For now, here is a taste of The Open Road on my drive and move from Seattle back to my folks’ place in southern California.

I gave myself four flexible days to make the one-way trip from Seattle to Santa Barbara. If I drove straight it’d take ~18 hours. I’ve done this drive a few times now and I’ve discovered that driving more than 8 hours a day, for multiple days in a row, is essentially hell. So instead I gave myself time and flexibility to stop where and when I wanted. This way I could take pictures when I wanted, turn around if I needed to, stretch my legs and breathe the mountain air, while drinking all the coffee I pleased. I was by myself and in no rush. I listened to the album Here by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros which seemed to perfectly mimic the light in my heart and new-found freedom in my soul.

As I approached Bend, Oregon I came upon a place called Smith Rocks. This is a notorious climbing spot I’d heard about from many friends but never laid eyes on myself. I pulled off the highway and drove 5 minutes to a trail. And then my jaw dropped. The Crooked River cuts through Smith Rocks, making a steep-walled canyon begging to be explored, climbed and admired. I promised myself I’d be back knowing I’d keep that promise.

Smith Rocks Oregon

After leaving Smith I passed by an alpaca farm. I contemplated continuing past it but then thought “why? I’m in no rush.” I made a U-turn and pet and fed these goofy animals and was so pleased with the experience I bought myself a new hat made from their soft fur.

Yes those are a baby and mamma llama kissing and yes these guys are wearing jackets. It was chilly!

From Bend I drove to San Francisco. On the way, Mt. Shasta greeted me for the first time ever. I’d driven past her 3 other times and had never actually seen her enormous presence.

Mt. Shasta reveals from her place amongst the clouds

Shasta’s beauty and the crisp, sunny winter day inspired me to get outside and be amongst the natural world. I asked a friend who’d grown up nearby if he knew of a short hike I could take to stretch my legs and breathe some winter air. He pointed me to Lake Siskiyou and a short trail down to the head of the Sacramento River. It was a proper canyon that he uses as a starting place to go whitewater kayaking. The hike was lovely and playful with ropes and ladders to assist the icy traverse down to the river.

Beneath Box Canyon Dam and Lake Siskiyou at the head of the Sacramento River

Before getting back in my car I walked down to the lake, stood still and closed my eyes while the crisp winter wind whispered through my hair and wiggled up my sleeves.

Feeling completely refreshed I continued my drive to San Francisco arriving at my friend Pat’s house just after sunset.

Sunset between Mt. Shasta and San Francisco

Pat was a new friend I’d made during a solo backpacking trip I’d taken to some hot springs on New Year’s Eve in Big Sur. We connected instantly as we discovered the similarity of our soul’s desires to travel, explore the natural world and meet new people. We exchanged information on that trip but neither of us thought we’d actually see each other again. We walked through Golden Gate Park the next day, made dinner and listened to about 20 records as we watched El Nino clouds roll in over the Pacific. I noticed a tiny vial with a note in it hanging from his window. He said he’d gotten it as a gift at Burning Man last summer and had never opened it as he’d been waiting for the right time. He decided the time felt right and we opened the note. In it was a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson…

“Live in the Sun, Swim in the Sea, Drink the Wild Air”

It resonated deeply with my new-found freedom and what I wanted to do with it. I thought it was beautiful and I found it sitting in my car as I drove toward Big Sur the next day.

Approaching Big Sur I stopped to surf at Andrew Molera State Beach, where the Big Sur River lets out into the Pacific Ocean.

Cold water of the Big Sur River flowing from the mountains to meet the sea

Unfortunately, there was no surf, but the lack thereof didn’t stop me from feeling inspired to run free and fast down the beach hollering in the ocean wind. It felt good to use my legs and make my heart beat fast.

I walked back barefoot back to my car wanting to feel the mud gush through my toes.

Walking back I noticed something orange blinking at me from the bushes. Monarch butterflies were fluttering all around me.

I walked into the eucalyptus grove nearby and looked up at the treetops to see them dancing like fairies amongst the treetops.

I kept driving onwards to Santa Barbara leaving the rugged, beautiful coast of Big Sur.

I had ~3 days at home to get organized for my next adventure: Climbing in Red Rocks, Nevada for the next two weeks with my friend Dan. Until next time…

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6 years ago

This is fantastic. I’m planning on doing part of this trip (roadtripping from Atlanta all the way out west) this summer, so it’s incredible to see part of this trip in the winter. Beautiful pictures and completely inspirational!

Your Own Queen

6 years ago

This post pulled at my heartstrings. I bought a van for traveling a few years back, and that times I’ve spent on the road in her have been the best times of my life.

I love seeing all your photos and hearing your stories. I can’t wait for your next post!

6 years ago

I loved reading this post! I am from Sacramento and over the summer. took a two week road trip up to Oregon and back. We stopped at Smith Rock also along with Lincoln City, Crater Lake, Mount Shasta, The Painted Hills and more. The Pacific Northwest is gorgeous and it looks even more gorgeous in the Winter! It looks like you are having a beautiful time!

6 years ago

So beautiful. There really is no better feeling than the feeling of freedom on the road. Last year I drove from Texas to Canada, and it was my best trip yet. I cannot wait for more adventures on the road and wish you all of the best on your journey.


6 years ago

Let us know how your solo traveling goes! I both really want to road trip on my own and am really terrified of it.
I’m not a fan of guns, but I’ve seriously thought about getting one and learning how to use it so I can travel alone and feel safe. There’s got to be an alternative that doesn’t go against almost everything I believe in.

6 years ago

What an exciting time for you! If you want to head out west this summer, check out some of the rock climbing in Wyoming and Colorado too! In Wyoming, Ten Sleep Canyon and Sinks Canyon/Wild Iris near Lander are both amazing. Of course, there’s also Grand Teton National Park. And the Rockies are incredible in Colorado. Have fun! :)

6 years ago

Amazing…your trip is so inspiring. I feel everyone should do a coast line road trip on their own to experience the true beauty of our country and how silent but noisy it can be at the same time. Good luck on your next travels. These photos are very motivating to make the same kind of trip you did.

6 years ago

Thank you all for the kind words and encouragement! It makes me even more stoked to do this trip and share my stories.

6 years ago

Hey there! I am really inspired by your post as well! I had a similar experience… left everyone for my phd and it really didn’t work out. I will be free in a month and I want to follow your lead. I am planning my road trip already. If your passing thru Reno, you have a friend. Seriously! It would be nice to chat with someone who has stepped away from graduate school and gain some wisdom. Best of luck to you on your journey!