Perhaps what we call depression isn’t really a disorder at all but, like physical pain, an alarm of sorts, alerting us that something is undoubtedly wrong; that perhaps it is time to stop, take a time-out, take as long as it takes, and attend to the unaddressed business of filling our souls.

- Lee Stringer

lake kaweah

There was a time when I considered myself to be a city girl. I've always found pleasure in the rush of sharing space with millions of other busy people, especially in a city like Los Angeles, where people are chasing their dreams and making big things happen. When I first got here, I couldn't get enough of the traffic, the gorgeous houses built into the hillsides, and the giant movie advertisements pasted on the walls of skyscrapers. I thought I'd never get tired of it. And then I got tired of it. Never say never. 

sierra nevada sunset

Every time I think I understand myself, I prove myself wrong. I am incredibly self-aware, but even my own awareness has its limits. The things about the city that used to fill me with excitement now grate on my soul. Where I used to see people chasing their dreams, I now see exhaust fumes. The relief that should come from falling into bed at night is dampened by the constant sound of tires on the pavement outside my window; honking, sirens, and drunk people shouting are my lullaby, but instead of putting me to sleep, they've turned me into an insomniac. 

So I escape. 

road trip

In lieu of moving away, which has been a serious contemplation of mine lately and still hasn't been crossed off my list of possibilities, I take the next best course of action: flee to nature. Two weeks ago, Kalen and I decided semi-spontaneously that a couple of days in Sequoia National Park sounded like exactly what we needed to soothe our current shared case of the city blues. We tossed my tent, some sleeping bags, and Toby's travel-sized propane stove into Kalen's car and hit the road, planning on buying provisions later and focusing first and foremost on getting the hell outta dodge. She picked me up from work and we blasted tunes as we navigated our way through the late weekend traffic, which eventually thinned and gave way to rolling hills and relatively open roads, followed by miles of desert and, finally, mountains.

As we drove, the transformation of my mental landscape matched that of the physical landscape I was looking at through the passenger seat window. I could feel my brain reforming itself from mushy goo to solid mass, synapses sparking and juices flowing. I woke up. We rolled the windows down until the desert heat became too much to bear, and then cranked the air conditioning and watched the wheat-colored hills whiz by, interspersed with oil fields, which we both agreed made us sad. 

When we were nearing Three Rivers, the town located at the base of the mountains that make up Sequoia National Park, I noted a large mass of water was coming up on our left. The map said it was Lake Kaweah, which neither of us knew how to pronounce. At first it looked like a deserted mountain lake, but then the road curved and opened up to show us that it was actually the place to be; colorful umbrellas dotted the shoreline while trucks backed boats into the water, jet skis whizzed around in circles, and kids splashed in the shallow waves. The sun was already hanging low in the sky and we had at least a couple more hours to travel, but we opted to make a pit stop so Kalen could take a quick dip while I took some photos. 

With that out of the way, we continued on our journey, stopping in town to pick up necessities like peanut butter and jelly, apples, and tea, before getting only slightly lost and finding the road to Mineral King, the southernmost area of Sequoia where our destination, Atwell Mill Campground, was located. 

Once we had our bearings, we again found ourselves racing the sun as we wound our way along the narrow, twisty road, slowly gaining elevation until we left the desert heat behind and rolled the windows down to run our fingers through the cool mountain air. With every switchback, we exclaimed with glee at the ridiculous views of tree-covered slopes soaked in shadows and sunset oranges and yellows. We encountered very few other vehicles on the road, and I pretended that we were explorers. 

Eventually the bright oranges faded to murky pinks and purples, and by the time we pulled into the campground we had lost most of our light. We pitched our tent amidst the vague shapes of tall trees, convinced that a bear was going to mosey on into our campsite at any moment. We made sure that every possible scented object was stuffed into the metal bear box, and crawled into our sleeping bags, using our headlamps to peruse a map and plan out the next day, excited to see what our surroundings would look like in the morning. The silence tucked in around me and I fell asleep in the pitch black darkness, the sounds and lights of the city far away and long forgotten.