I have traveled alone since I was 18. I’ve always had a burning desire to experience and explore what was unknown to me since I was a kid. I always hated the fact that I had to cram my travels into a small time frame instead of having the freedom to do and go wherever.
On my first day of my journey to the Finger Lake region of upstate New York, I thought I would feel liberated because I had no time frame and was free to go anywhere. On the contrary, it was one of the most unnerving feelings I had ever experienced.
All of a sudden I was without a safety net, no real plan, and I wasn’t certain of how I would handle being completely untethered by any place, person, or obligation. I quickly took for granted what it felt like to know you had someone or something to fall back on, and this new fear definitely reverberated in my mind for the rest of the day.
My first stop was to do a wine tasting at a winery on Seneca Lake in Geneva, NY. I went in and saw that the joint was mostly empty, only with a few people tasting wine. I bellied up to the bar and asked for a red wine flight (Ventosa Winery on Seneca Lake). A young girl poured me some dry reds and I attempted to strike up a conversation with her. She told me she’d rather count inventory than give tastings. Ha, not such a great start was it?
I checked out, bought a bottle, and the manager asked me what I was doing in the area. I told him I was on the road driving the country and we struck up a friendly conversation, and he gave me advice on what to see, and where to get some good craft beer in the Ithaca area.
Feeling refreshed with a belly full of red wine, I headed south down Seneca Lake to get to Watkins Glen. The landscape opened wide up as I headed south. Rolling hills, vineyards, and farm lands painted the landscape. The humidity, not much unlike Ohio, made my clothes stick to me like I had just jumped into a lake.
I pulled up to Watkins Glen State Park expecting to pay to get in, but it was well after 5:30 and the lot attendant let me in for free. I noticed that the light was perfect and I parked as quickly as possible and grabbed my camera and headed on the trail without thinking about what I might need.
A lot of people were leaving and I knew the opportunity to get some uncrowded images was going to be possible. The series of stairs and cave-like entrances drenched me even more as I tried to get as far on the trail as possible.
The eroded gorges of limestone, shale, and sandstone were a meandering water system that cascaded along turning into various waterfall drops and ravines. The greens moss that covers the rocks and the trees, and the streams that drop from cascade to cascade, are one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen on the East coast.
The light was perfect and I was able to get some good shots as I made it to Rainbow Falls, which unfortunately I couldn’t pass because I was too afraid to get my gear wet. Next time, I will certainly take more protective gear, water to drink, and take my time, but I had been driving all day in order to see the Glen, and I rushed in and took as many pictures as I could.
Finding Joy in the Unknown
I headed to Ithaca without a plan, and the fear of the unknown was still jabbing at my side as I went down the road. The idea of not knowing exactly where I was going to stay my first night out hit me right as I was pulling out of Watkins Glen. My plan, which I had been banking on for the last six months or so was to camp in Walmart parking lots and free campsites all over the country.
From what I read on the forums travelers said it was important to find out if the Walmart allows overnight parking or not. I called ahead about two times to the Ithaca Walmart asking to talk with a manager to see if it was ok to park overnight. The phone just rang and rang, and I started to get a little worried.
I finally pulled in to the Walmart and went inside to get some supplies. I didn’t ask if I could stay in the lot, and left with my new gear (ear plugs and a second plastic drawer). I left and scoped out Ithaca to find the gym I would work out in the next morning which would double as my daily shower.
I grabbed a burger and headed back to the parking lot at Walmart a little later. I went back in to use the bathroom and ran into the assistant manager and asked him if it would be ok for me to stay the night. He said it was fine, and suddenly my anxiety of having someone wake me up in the middle of the night asking me to leave left quickly.
I went back to the car, put up my shades, turned on my fan for circulation and popped my earplugs in. I slept like a baby. No on hassled me, and I didn’t feel strange any more. Next Morning I woke up and headed to work out, took a shower at the gym, and headed toward Boston. Along the way to get to the I-90E turnpike, I took country roads up and down the rolling hillsides surrounding the Finger Lakes.
It was here that I went from being afraid of what was going to happen to feeling a sense of serenity that made me feel happy that I was where I wanted to be. I soaked up that drive and enjoyed it more than any other time I had been on the road.
It may be one of the handful of times that I actually felt truly free. Now I’m in the Boston area for the week, and I’m already itching to get on the road. I think I may have made my wanderlust grow worse :).
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