I am writing this at 10:09 PM on a Thursday night in a Walmart parking lot. My car smells overwhelmingly of curry. My car does not normally smell of curry.
When I committed myself to a solo road trip—a mini foray into the shallows of vanlife—I was ready for the Big Stuff. Mountaintop vistas. Sunsets on beaches. Sitting in the woods with my feet propped up, beer in one hand, book of Rilke’s poetry in the other. I thought everything I Instagrammed would also be the most profound, enjoyable moments, as if the physical grandeur of the landscapes around me would reverberate at the same internal frequency of awe.
And they do.
But sometimes I hike 10 miles, look around, shrug my shoulders, and head back down. Sometimes I don’t leave my car to take a picture and it remains only that—a photograph with no backing behind the veneer. Empty.
What I didn’t prepare myself for was the Small Moments. Like when I forgot my garbage outside my car for a couple of hours and then discovered at four in the morning when I felt something scurrying across my sleeping bag that I’d accidentally brought a mouse in along with my empty Pringles’ cans. It wouldn’t leave, despite me opening all the doors and asking nicely and waving a spatula about. My tent smelled of onions and peanut butter the next night as I curled up in the woods with all of my groceries, hoping the mouse traps in my car worked. (RIP Bernard. In the words of Fall Out Boy, thanks for the memories even though they weren’t so great.)
Similarly, I was under prepared for the curry disaster of September 21, 2017. Knowing the tupperware was prone to leaks, I’d wrapped my flannel around the curry container and had stabilized it with my pillow. And then, because I’m an idiot, I forgot about it, only to suddenly remember it when I came back to my car after brushing my teeth in Walmart and wondering why my car smelled so weird.
It wasn’t even good curry, mind you. I’d made it myself on the bank of the Sol Duc River in the Olympics with coconut milk, spices, and Walmart-purchased vegetables. So it was very mediocre curry. And it smelled not great.
It had seeped into my flannel, drenched my pillow, and pooled onto my air mattress. It had been a long day of driving, and all I wanted to do was sleep. My body tightened in frustration at the mess before me.
But I had soap and a sponge. I had a towel. I cleaned up the mess, rolled down the windows, and ate an entire bag of gummies in the driver’s seat to make myself feel better.
My car regained its normal smell about three days later.
When you go out into the world things will happen to you. Yes, there will be beautiful mountaintops and sunsets, but there will also be field mice and mediocre curry in your sleeping area. And the mountaintops will give you better pictures, but the mice will give you better stories. And that feeling of overcoming an unexpected crisis—even if it’s mouse-sized, even if it’s in the Walmart parking lot—may feel more rewarding than that 10 mile slog.
So say yes, go out into the world, see what’s there, cry a little, feel inspired, feel proud, wash your hair in rivers, sleep in your car, say hi to strangers, see what the world hands you when your eyes are closed.
Curry-tinged dreams are better than no dreams at all. Even if they involve mice.