A Trip to the Stars

 (Photo from 2014 trip to Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

(Photo from 2014 trip to Palm Canyon in Anza Borrego Desert State Park)

Shortly after I began reading Nicholas Christopher’s, A Trip to the Stars, I moved to Encinitas, California — a sleepy beach town known for its surf and abundance of yoga. Having moved from Chicago, I was mesmerized by the countless bright spots in the Encinitas’ night sky.

Encinitas is the perfect backdrop for reading Christopher’s intricate tale of Enzo and Mala’s connection to the stars. Completely engrossed in the novel, I found myself constantly talking about the hours right after twilight. On one occasion, my friend CiCi told me Encinitas seemed dim in comparison to the desert and a trip to the desert stars immediately made my bucket list.

A year later, the thought of desert stars continued to float into my stream of consciousness and at the beginning of October, I put a Trip to the Stars on my calendar. The moment I wrote it down, I knew I would drive to Borrego Springs, California. I had hiked the Palm Desert Trail in the Anza Borrego Desert State Park several times and I feel a connection to that area. 

On the evening of October 17, small butterflies floated into my tummy an hour or so before we were set to leave. My thoughts have not been the same since I marathon-watched Criminal Minds on Netflix a few months ago. Visions of a roadside attack flooded my mind — images of myself running breathlessly through the dark night. Mark Twain was so right when he said, “some of the worst things in my life never even happened.” 

The drive East of San Diego was more challenging than I had expected. Having previously struggled with the drive during the daylight, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I did not anticipate the struggle I experienced though— the psychedelic, tunnel-vision effect of the lane markers streaming alongside my peripheral vision. The prominence of the lane makers became staggeringly apparent when I attempted to turn my fog lights on and accidentally turned off my headlights —the depth of the darkness literally made my stomach drop.

With my bare-toes on the gas pedal, the thoughts in my head sounded like The Little Engine That Could… “it will be worth it”… they said. At the perfect moment, a turn in the road slowed me down enough to catch a glimpse of the stars. A rush of fulfillment and excitement flooded my body and it gave me energy to make it to the pull-off overlooking the Anza Borrego State Park from above. 

Slowly rolling into the valley, my ears crackled and the temperature steadily rose. Reaching the pull-off was exhilarating,  partially because I was so proud of myself for finding it. I turned off my car headlights and the night sky popped — my eyes widened in an attempt to take it all in. Viewing the Milky Way for the first time was breathtaking; a gaseous-swirl encompassed in darkness with millions of tiny lights shining.

It’s moments like those that keep me searching for more. 

The etherial vibes I experienced quickly diminished as a car approached and pulled-off. My heart raced as I watched the two men in the back seat duck down and cover their heads. Then, just as quickly as they pulled-in, they immediately circled around and continued in the direction they came from, I was bewildered and terrified. 

I raced to get back in the car. I’m brave, but the darkness was suffocating and I felt vulnerable. Flooded with feelings of defeat, I was eager to drive down into Borrego Springs — the tiny town situated at the foothills of the valley. It was shortly after 9PM and we found an open restaurant, Big Horn Bar and Grill, that served Julian apple pie, a major win — the warm apple pie and ice cream slowly made up for what I thought to be the start of my life manifesting into a Criminal Minds episode.

After pie, we walked down the small main street until it ended at the modernly misplaced Borrego Springs Library. It almost felt as if we were invisible as we watched several people walk into the only two places open — a lively bar and taco shop — I wondered if they were locals or visitors, like us. 

As planned, we walked back to our car to return to San Diego. Once we made it out of the valley,  we pulled over again. This time, since we could see the stars from inside the car, we did not have the courage to get out.

The darkness was indescribably frightening, it probably had something to do with the mountains lurking over us on both sides of the road. And, while I know the adage “better safe than sorry” easily applies to pulling over on a dark, abandoned highway in the desert mountains in the middle of the night, I regret not getting out of the car. 

The view from the car was incredible, but it was nothing like the experience of being outdoors. I swear, you can feel the light from the stars, just like the sun. Fear robbed me from experiencing that sensation again and that’s something I’ve journaled about throughout the week.

How often do I let fear hold me back from fully experiencing life?

What other cars am I metaphorically sitting in right now? I was there and I worked hard to get there, but I stayed in the car... Why? 

I’m obviously going back to the desert and next time, I will frolic — if anything, 10/17/15 reiterated the importance of the Japanese proverb: fall seven times, stand up eight.