I selected a chapter from the the middle of my book for a sneak peek. Throughout Willful, I weave my past into the present story that builds from chapter to chapter. I love the outdoor nature of this chapter and it requires less background to ease into the it than others.
This is draft direct from the complete manuscript, so there will be changes to come. Many thanks to all who donated money on Kickstarter to allow me the time to write this book. I loved writing this story. (For those who do not know, Wilson is the name of my car. He became one of the most important parts of my life in my year across the United States. He is a character, among so many, throughout the book.)
I hope you enjoy this little taste of Willful…
FIFTEEN – WYOMING
Arrive: October 21, 2013
Destinations: Cheyenne, Hartville, Jackson Hole, Laramie
Forecast: 48°F Sunny
On the radio: “Jackie Blue” by Ozark Mountain Devils
I’m peeing in the woods.
I knock two thick wooden sticks together mid-squat, a few feet off a trail in Teton National Park. At the start of the trailhead, there were signs with bear spottings and warnings.
Danger! Bears on the trails!
I hunted two pieces of sturdy tree limbs to use as a noise warning of my approach for the bears. I clipped bear spray on the front of my water pack and ducked into the woods looking for a place to do my business. It was a long drive from Jackson Hole to get to this spot. I can’t believe how happy I am, peeing in nature. I’m not sure any of my friends in New York would recognize me.
When I lived in the city, I didn’t own a single pair of pants, besides yoga pants. I didn’t own shorts. I wore dresses every day of my life, for work or play, even for walking around on the weekends. I was never underdressed, but dressed right for me, a gossip columnist climbing the ladder. I struggled to find pants long enough for a size 18, so dresses made life easier, flattered my body and gave me a calling card. I didn’t look like a model, but most days and nights, I was dressed better than any of them.
I pull up my athletic shorts and shuffle, sticks whacking, out of the brush and make my way back to the main trailhead. My right hiking boot catches on an old root and I stumble forward a few steps before I regain my balance. I’m headed into the forest, looking for a lake. The Grand Teton mountain range dominates my views, with snow already capping the highest peaks. I focus back in on the trail in front of me, keeping my eyes peeled for bears. The trail is dry and my hiking boots and wool socks are covered in dusty dirt. I don’t mind. It’s so much better than the mud I encountered in a rainstorm in Olympia, Washington. Dust is easy enough to shake out before I pack them back into the car in an old grocery bag. I now know that thick, wet trail mud takes days to dry and scrape off my boots and leaves deposits all over my clothes in splatters. It’s a mess. I increase my speed as I begin to climb.
It was in South Carolina that I decided to get fit, eat better and invest in my physical health. I bought a lot of fitness gear and became an indoor cycling instructor and group fitness teacher at the local YMCA in the evenings. I bought jeans and shorts when I broke two hundred pounds, thanks to teaching so many classes. I fit easily into a size 10 in regularly-sized women’s clothing. For the first time in my life, I shopped in stores for average-sized women. My life was getting more casual, but I still chose to wear dresses in my work as a wedding planner, enjoying my new, svelte, feminine figure. Those dresses that looked good on me in New York, looked downright sexy on me, all belted at the waist or taken in by the local seamstress.
My uniform has taken on a different, wilderness dimension that matches this experience on the road and in nature. I’ve had to pick up new clothes along the way as I realized I needed a sensible wardrobe for movement and comfort. I bought a light sweater, a heavy sweater, many pairs of black cotton biking shorts, flat knee-high boots, hiking boots, a sub-zero ski jacket, leggings, fleece, flannel, wool socks and denim. Denim shorts, skinny jeans, denim shirt and the only dress I want to wear…a denim dress. Every outfit is emphasized with one of my scarves knotted loosely around my neck. I packed two pairs of high heels for the road. I can’t imagine having to put them on. Last week, I moved them into the compartment under the cargo area in the car, never to be seen again.
As the trail opens up on a small lake, I climb onto a fallen tree stump and walk the length of it as it takes me closer to the perfectly still water. I haven’t had a need to dress up since my birthday this summer, and I don’t miss it. I jump down off the log and walk to the edge of the water at the shore. Behind me is the trail to the parking lot and in front of me and surrounding me are the Grand Tetons. Their reflection is perfectly mirrored on the glassy surface of the water. I pick up rocks and hook them, shooting towards the water, trying to skip them. They sink fast, but make gentle ripples in the image of the mountains. I sit down on the old, fallen tree and wipe my hands on my black shorts. Dirt and sweat leave brown streaks across my thighs.
On my way back to Wilson, I take a different trailhead. After fifteen minutes, I sense I am going deeper into the forest, a little lost. With sticks cracking, I reverse direction and end up right back at the log, on the tiny shore of the lake. I take another minute along the water to feel the power of the mountains around me. I love this full transformation. In my wildest childhood notions of what my life might be like, I never saw this tall, blonde, adventuress of nature, coming to change my life.
In Yellowstone, I spend two cycles of eruptions at Old Faithful, talking to Mom and Dad on the phone. The park is quiet and much is closed as the high season has ended. I eat my lunch of apple, nuts, granola bar and lemonade, left over from the provisions of my Idaho hosts, Donna and Bob. I stay for a third round of the geyser display before I head back to Wilson to make my way around the southern loop of the park.
Halfway around the loop, the sun comes out and I’m reminded of the Grand Canyon. Again, I feel ill-prepared for the enormity of a national park. It will require at least a week of camping, deep in the park, upon my return, one day. As I round a curve to head east, I coast above a great valley, full of wild bison. I pull to the side of the road and climb over the guard rail looking for signs saying I should not be doing this. There are none. I pick my way down the hillside among large boulders and tall grass for a closer look. Halfway down, I stop and squat low, to watch them graze and drink water from a stream. There are hundreds of them and I sit down on one of the rocks, as my mind imagines them just like this, hundreds of years ago. I slip into a half reality, half daydream, as if I lived then, out here exploring alone, away from my tribe, my people. My days are spent waking with the sun and exploring the lands, observing the wildlife and providing myself food, water and shelter.
I can’t go back in time, but I think about what I can do to live more like the ultimate early explorer. As I climb back up the hill, I see Wilson waiting for me. At the top, I turn around to look at the bison one more time, locking this feeling of freedom and connection to the land, in my heart. I rub the hood to greet my hard-working horse as I walk around to my door.
The road around Yellowstone leads me on to see eagles, elk and fish. Thinking about the many spirit animals I have encountered so far, I keep my eyes peeled for new friends, new guardian angels. Each run-in leaves me with a feeling of comfort and peace. I am as much connected to these animals as I am to the people I meet.
My spirit guide is the moose. I met him as he crossed two feet in front of me, along a river bank in Idaho last week. I was stopped for a break and a stretch and I walked to the water’s edge. After I had been standing there a few minutes, he walked out of the thick brush to my right. I dared not move, knowing the danger that I would face if he turned his head and saw me so close with his poor eye sight. I held my breath and he slowly walked past me, his antlers inches from my nose. As he entered the thick brush to my left, he turned his head to stare, looking right into my eyes. I met his look and he held my gaze. I knew he had known I was there all along. He had chosen to pass in front of me because he was not afraid. He slowly turned and walked away from me as I fumbled for my camera in my pocket, snapping a blurry photo of him with trembling hands.
In the mountains of northeastern Arizona, there were two road-weary compatriots, waiting for me on a dark, deserted highway. I was flying along, late in the night, with a full moon and headlights lighting my path. I noticed something large and strange in the middle of the road. My speed slowed as I rolled to a stop in front of two enormous elk with full antlers. I watched them, standing face to face, as if in conversation, blocking both sides of the road. Wilson and I were held there, patiently waiting and watching, for minutes, until they finished their silent conversation and walked off together towards the mountains.
As the sun is almost gone, I take a right to exit Yellowstone. There, one hundred feet off the main road, is a gorgeous brown bear in the long shadows of the mountains. She is hunting up berries. Other cars pull up behind me and we get out but do not walk toward her. We gather together, huddled behind our cars, whispering to each other about her organized, meticulous search for food. She occasionally looks up, giving us long moments to stare at her beautiful brown face. I imagine the bear is female; scrounging up food for her babies who are safely tucked into a warm cave, awaiting her return.
Kelly travels across the country sharing her One Person, One Community, One Nation Movement. She is changing the face of the nation one connection, one adventure and one inspirational story at a time. Kelly delivers a front row seat to the best of the United States of America.