My life goal had always been to drive solo across the United States for some postcollege soul-searching. Then my two sisters and a friend jumped on board. When camping, hiking, and roughing it overrode my itinerary of breezy sightseeing, I realized with an uneasy pang: this was not going to be the trip my pampered self had in mind. The resulting thirty-one days were a clash of interests, personalities, and abilities - and some of the best days of my life.

There were the moments of excitement, like the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean, put my toes in its cold water and realized we made it! The moment I caught my first glimpse of Montana mountains, how something about seeing them made me sit on the edge of my seat like a little child.

There were the moments of accomplishment, like relishing the way my legs shook after the nerve-rattling ascent called Angel's Landing in Zion National Park. The satisfied sigh we shared as we sprawled out atop Observation Point and took in the whole park below us.

There were moments of lonesomeness, like how I felt looking out over the Kansas prairie. The way the wind hissed and hummed in the long grass, lulling and ominous. The vastness, the silence, and the solitude of Canyonlands National Park at sunset.

There were the humbling moments of looking up at stars in the South Dakota sky, feeling nothing but immense gratitude to whatever force gifted me with even the smallest space in its incomprehensible universe. Feeling thankful to my parents who fostered my love of travel, and for the appreciation of home you only gain from leaving it.

In hindsight, I didn't get the clean-cut road-trip montage that Hollywood depicts in films, the one I so badly wanted. Between the profound moments, there was a lot of silliness, fighting, and roughing it mixed in.

For all my complaining and misgivings, however, I look back on that trip and miss falling asleep in my tent. I miss my sister's awful campfire coffee in the morning, and our thrifty meals of ramen and kippers. I miss living life in the elements, completely out of my own: a little cold, a little homesick, a little underfed. In discomfort, with everything harder to come by and more dearly earned, I had never felt so alive.

I had gotten more than I bargained for. I had had an adventure.

Sarah Ballentine writes from South Jersey.

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