I’m leaving for the summer.
This day has been a long time coming, and now that it is here, I could not be happier.
I’ve sublet my room and put unnecessary belongings into storage. I’ve said goodbye to my cat and my roommate, and I’ve bid a fond farewell to Little Cottonwood Canyon with an all-day climb on the best granite in the state. I’ve moved out of my apartment and crashed in a family friends’ spare bedroom for the past three nights.
Of course, I’ve extended my stay in Utah by one day so that my best friend and I could see Fun Home, a musical performed by the fine and talented Salt Lake Acting Company, but it’s alright.
I can definitely drive 1,976 miles in two and a half days, in my 2006 Toyota RAV4.
As I pull onto Wasatch Boulevard, in the shadow of the majestic Mt. Olympus, I think of the summer ahead.
I think of the climbs I will lead on the runout slabs and eyebrows of Looking Glass Rock, deep in the Pisgah Forest. I think of all of the belay techniques I will teach, I think of ziplines and Pitcher Days and long approach hikes with all of the climbing gear in my pack. I think of my favorite hiking stick, tucked safely between the drivers’ seat and the door.
I think of what I will learn, and how I will learn it.
Last summer was first summer as a Keystone counselor, and my first summer teaching rock climbing in an institutional setting. As such, I learned a great deal every day, with every activity period, every trip, with every triumph, and every mistake.
Especially every mistake.
The good times and adventures of the summer are exciting for sure, but what missteps and misadventures might be coming my way? The summits and swimming holes are excellent to be certain, but what about the those parts of the adventure that will later turn into hilarious stories? What will help me practice keeping a cool head under pressure?
What on Earth will this summer bring?
I ease Becky onto the exit to I-80, which will take me all the way to the East end of Nebraska. My Wilderness Ventures playlist keeps the atmosphere of the car warm and promising with the hopes of wilderness, of forests and dirt paths and sweat and laughter.
I am so ready for summer to start.
I’m almost at my planned destination for tonight, a boat put-in tucked into a state park just off the Interstate.
I’ve exhausted my pre-set playlists, K’NAAN’s 2009 album Troubador has played four times, and I’m saving Janelle Monae for tomorrow. I’m ready to stop.
The sun is setting behind me, somewhere out West in the land I’ve left behind. The oceans of scrubby grass and farmland glow a burnt red and hazy orange, with a slight dusting of purple at the corners. Nebraska is a surprisingly beautiful state.
I pull Becky onto Exit 309 for Twin Lakes, and as I ease onto the brake, I see the red symbol flicker to life.
Over the past eight months and four thousand miles of owning Becky with the Good Spare, I have gotten her oil changed four times, gotten two filter replacements, and one full synthetic engine flush.
The car has habits.
Luckily, I’ve prepared for this.
I make a quick dinner of pesto pasta at the boat dock to fortify myself. There are a few other cars around, but I’m far too tired to be self-conscious about using a Whisperlite stove in a gravel pullout in Twin Lakes, Nebraska, two feet in front of a RAV4 that I clearly live in.
The lake is beautiful at least. The pink sunset reminds of the sun going down over the forest at camp, casting a warm evening glow as we sing Taps to bid the day goodnight. I hum the melody to myself as I stir the pasta, and it helps me to feel a little less anxious about spending the night surrounded by Ford F350s.
It’s dark by the time I get around to popping Becky’s hood.
This is embarrassing to admit, but up to this point, I had never put oil in the car with my own hands. But I saw my mechanic do it, so how hard can it be?
I stocked up at Autozone in Salt Lake City yesterday, so I have a gallon of 15W-30 and a funnel at the ready. Headlamp donned, I open the oil cap with some assistance from my handy-dandy bike wrench and start pouring.
It’s 9:30 pm, I’ve been driving for twelve hours, and I’ve never done this before, so what happens next is par for the course.
I overfill the engine.
This is what the oil widget tells me, and I check it three times.
With a quick Google search, I am informed unequivocally that This Is Bad.
I am aware of the fact that it is 10:00 pm and dark, I am in Twin Lakes, Nebraska, and the people in the truck next to me have been in the cab for far too long to be at this pullout for boating purposes.
But Becky’s engine is already fussy and delicate, so I have to do this.
I watch a Youtube video, drink some water, eat a few maltballs, and console myself with the fact that at the very least, it will be an entertaining story to tell the kids.
Interestingly enough, the moment I crawl between Becky’s front wheels is the moment my anxiety eases. Maybe it’s the ridiculousness of what is happening, maybe it’s because I’ve already done the stupid thing, maybe it’s the fact that I have a tool in my hand and grease on my forehead, but I feel right.
I have my bike wrench to unscrew the oil drain plug, and my food bowl to catch the oil. I got this.
The oil plug is…really, really difficult to unscrew with an adjustable wrench, but eventually it goes. I send thanks to the universe, and make a mental note to get a 3/8 wrench once I get to Brevard.
With a blackened hand, I unscrew the nut slowly, slowly, and oil comes out in a trickle, then a gush, black and viscous, caught by the transparent Tupperware.
I get up to check the oil level once, twice, three times, before I’m finally satisfied. The plug goes back on, the Tupperware goes into two thick Zip-lock bags that I stash on the ground in front of the front door, and Becky gets a heartfelt apology from me for what I continuously put her through.
I feel a little silly doing all of this.
But Becky’s engine is already compromised, I can’t let it get any worse than it is.
Even if that means draining a liter of oil out of her at 10:00 pm in Twin Lakes, Nebraska, with a bike wrench and a pesto-smeared Tupperware.
I brush my teeth, drink some more water, and tuck myself into my sleeping bag in the back of the car that night with the knowledge that this will be the last time I ever make this particular mistake. My beautiful Tribe bike is wedged between my crates of belongings and the right-side door of the car, seat post collapsed, handlebars spun parallel. I have two sleeping pads beneath me, two pillows, and a twenty-degree down sleeping bag for warmth. I’ll be fine.
And Becky will be fine as well.
It was a silly mistake, not my first and certainly not my last. But what have I gained from this experience?
Knowledge of how to drain an oil pan, certainly. What size wrench I need, how to unscrew the plug, how to efficiently check an oil widget, how often I should check while pouring. How lucky I am, that I will never need to divert my day to take Becky to a mechanic now that I can do all of this myself.
What have I gained from this experience?
Awareness that 15W-30 oil is not precisely the right kind for an ’06 RAV4, but there will be an Autozone in Lincoln tomorrow where I can rectify my error.
What have I gained?
New appreciation for Becky’s limits. When one’s passion for the outdoors is not only a passion but a career as well, a good car is vital, and I am fortunate enough to have a good car. I cannot take her for granted.
This experience has been inconvenient and embarrassing, but just look at what I have gained from it!
What my car, my drive East, my summers, my entire post-college life has taught me, more than anything else, is this:
Mistakes are good.
Mistakes make us grow. Mistakes teach us, mistakes guide us, mistakes shape our lives and they shape the people we become.
This is a lesson that I hope to impart to the kids this summer. These kids are growing up in an increasingly demanding world, one that expects excellence and demeans failure. They are pushing themselves hard to get good grades to get into a good college, to get a good career, to get a good life.
No room for error.
No room for failure.
What a terrifying life to live.
I hope that Keystone Camp will give our girls a safe place to push themselves not only to succeed, but to fail as well. We cannot be afraid to fail. We cannot push our mistakes away into some dark corner of our mind where we never have to look at them. Because even when we don’t succeed, even when we make a mistake or two, even when we trip up and are stranded in Twin Lakes, Nebraska with a thirsty ’06 Toyota RAV4, we have learned from our attempt, and we are better for it.
Though I am road-weary, sweating, and covered in engine oil, I smile into the darkness of Becky’s cavernous interior. I am less than twenty-four hours into my four-month adventure, and I already know so much more than I did when I started out.
I am lucky indeed.