Wu Wei is an ancient Chinese concept which means ‘inexertion’, ‘non-forced’, or ‘effortless action’. Often there is a false impression, that wu wei is to do nothing, to be passive and lazy, laissez faire, if you will.
As Lao Tzu says, the virtuous man is not conscious of his virtue, and the man who is inferior in virtue never loses sight of his virtuousness – so is wu wei. There is a time and place for action, action brought from an intrinsic knowledge you cannot seek, but must feel, and naturally sense. A paradox, really – it doesn’t mean not acting, and instead, means finding peace while engaged in the most chaotic of circumstances, so one can operate with competence and skill.
If you want the most basic version of wu wei I can give you, it is simply, to go with the flow. To not resist the currents of the river as you swim. To see where the water takes you, verus fighting to get somewhere else. Sailing instead of rowing. That is wu wei.
I would love to tell every one of you that my marvelously planned border to border trek down the western coast of the US commenced flawlessly, but I think you all know better by now than to believe anything ever goes as planned on the road. Within 6 hours, I hit a wall that nearly derailed my entire trip, yet instead of falling victim to my emotions and fighting against the current, I let it take me. It wasn’t easy, but it ended up being a valuable reminder that I didn’t choose this life because it was easy. I chose it because I wanted to be out here, to test myself, and to better understand the mysteries of what it means to be alive.
Thus begins part one of my maiden voyage, an expedition that without a doubt, changed me to my very core.
Welcome…to the ultimate Americana road trip. Welcome to a tour which taught me the true importance of trusting the currents of the universe, to embrace presence and impermanence in every moment, and illustrated how it takes both courage and humility to walk the path of traveler alone.
Welcome back to the adventure with your favorite highway queen. Welcome to the graceful renegade.
At about 630pm on day one, I was riding through an enormous squall on the Washington coast, fingers frozen to the bone, trembling violently, a thin layer of precipitation coating Lorraine and myself as I squinted my eyes hard in a vain attempt to see further through the absurdly dense fog, hoping to make the outskirts Ocean City before dark. Suddenly to my right, I saw a light and a small sign reading Green Lantern Pub through the concentrated haze, and quickly threw on my blinker and turned in, needing an escape from the heavy moisture and near-freezing temperature which I felt down to my bones.
A few minutes later, I wobbled into the Green Lantern Pub with all my tech gear, mumbling something no human could possibly comprehend about plugs and needing to try and fix my malfunctioning camera, because yes, on day one my brand-new Sony A7siii decided to shut down…and not turn back on. Upon seeing a frantic, wind-blown, and utterly drenched girl on the brink of tears wander into her establishment, Susan, the owner, had a pilsner and a shot of Jameson in front of me without even asking, perhaps the result of years of experience having wearied travelers seek shelter at her pub. This extra touch of hospitality made my heart swell, and once I explained to Susan my predicament, she made sure I had the wifi password and never let my beer or water glass be empty. For 3 hours, I watched every YouTube video, read every Sony, Reddit, and Tech Blogger thread I could find, called three different friends with the same camera, and the conclusion was not one I wanted to hear.
My camera body was a dud, and the only way to fix it was to get a new one.
My initial reaction was incensed frustration, and I could feel the pit grow in my stomach. This camera had been in my sight since I picked it up, no damage, no issues, and less than one hour of acutal use other than programming. What could possibly have been the problem?
Then, before I had a very public breakdown at the bar, I took a breath, and recognized, that it didn’t matter either way what had happened. The reality was that I was back tracking to Tacoma first thing in the morning so I could be at Best Buy at 10am, no matter rain, shine, cold, or storm – why? It was the only camera store within a 400-mile radius with the model I needed in stock, and I couldn’t pass it up. This camera was my livelihood, and my entire trip revolved around it functioning. Wu wei. Go with the flow. Path of least resistance. Just go get the camera, and the rest will figure itself out.
Looking back later, I can’t help but smile, because once I made that choice, everything really did shift for the better. This foil, like so many others, came to pass; the universe provided yet another quick reminder that control is an illusion, and to accept things for how they are, not how I might want them to be. Certainly, each of us struggles to keep our wits when we hit a wall at full speed; the important thing, is to always assess the damage done, stand back up, and find a way around.
You just keep going.
But before we get too far into this story, let’s recap day one.
As I hit the on ramp for the highway 101 out of Tumwater, Washington, my entire body broke out into chills of excitement and anticipation. It was a cool morning, and the sun was only just starting to peek her head up over the tall surrounding trees of the roadway, with a thin layer of fog lingering near the water. As Lorraine and I rode out of the forest and alongside the stunning Hood Canal, I had multiple instances of screaming into my helmet with joy, because at long last, I was finally doing it – I was on my first solo filming trip, in the elements, being the wild child I am, and exploring the wide-range of splendor mother nature gives us. I belong out here, more than anywhere else – this…is my home. I was home.
Before the unfortunate death of my camera, I did manage to capture some exquisite scenery of Lake Crescent at the northwestern corner of Olympic National Park, a fjord-like body of water 11 miles long which lies directly beside the highway 101 just outside of Port Angeles. I rode down a small gravel road to the water’s edge and was stunned at how the beautiful and serene surface reflected the sky, clouds, and surrounding peaks with such precision it might as well have been a looking glass. Once I parked Lorraine and carefully put the kickstand down, I dismounted and took my helmet off, immediately hit with the scent of bark, moss, and rain. I peered around, and couldn’t help but gape at the surrounding rainforest, the rising peaks and bluffs, amazed at the undeveloped piece of heaven I stumbled across.
Moving to the water’s edge, I paused to stare out, surprised there weren’t any other humans in sight, and took a moment to let it sink in. The quiet. The calm. The overall sensation of reverence. The glacially carved lake was crystal clear, and the neighboring mountains brought a stark contrast of green, giving a vivid yet tranquil ambiance.
It really did take my breath away.
Another hour down the 101, I discovered the unique and mesmerizing Hoh Rainforest, one of the few temperate rainforests left in the United States, and home to massive conifers, herds of elk, and over 130 species of mosses, lichens, and ferns. Hoh gets about 12 feet of rain a year (yes, 12 feet), with trees that are generally more than 300 years old, and an assortment of wildlife including tree frogs, spotted owls, bobcats, cougars, and black bears. I didn’t get the chance to stick around long due to my camera and the imposing Stephen King level squall rolling in, but for a half hour I rode around utterly captivated by this anomaly of tropical forest in the Pacific Northwest.
The next day, following my previously discussed night at the Green Lantern, I woke up at my campsite in Ocean City with fire burning in my chest. Because come hell or high water, I was getting that new camera body, and I was ready to destroy worlds, lives, and souls to make that a happen. Fury knows no bounds when a woman is determined.
As soon as the sky began to lighten, I shot out of my sleeping bag, made coffee, and packed the bike – in a record time of thirty minutes flat, I was ready to rock, and took off from Ocean City like a bat out of hell. About an hour into my ride, with my numb fingers wrapped tight around the handlebars and Rammstein blasting on my Sena, I suddenly started laughing aloud. Sure, this was the last thing I expected to happen less than 6 hours after I left Tumwater, but at the same time, I wasn’t that shocked either.
You don’t get to have extraordinary successes in life without having extraordinary failures. You just figure it out, and keep going.
The good news? I got to Best Buy and, thanks to their amazing manager and head of IT, I was able to receive a new camera body with zero issues – taking the path of least resistance allowed me to get back on track. Wu Wei at it’s finest.
Granted, I had one hell of a long day ahead of me riding down to Newport, Oregon along the coast, but with that section being quite familiar to me, I chose to cut filming in Astoria and Cannon Beach like I had originally mapped out. Both places are beautiful, yet overwrought with tourists on a sunny October weekend, and rather than waste time and force myself to ride through hours of dark to my final destination, I eliminated all stops other than gas.
I am so glad I did.
If there is one thing I do know as an Oregonian for the last 7 years, it is that fall, particularly on the coast, can show you four seasons in one day. As I passed through Astoria, it felt like a mild spring afternoon, with a gentle sea breeze and clear blue sky overhead. By Tillamook, the temperature hit 85 degrees, and I was sweating through my gear, so much so that I stripped down to nothing other than a swimsuit underneath. Then, after Pacific City, the weather resembled a very true depiction of Oregon fall, with changing leaves, cooler temperatures, and a beautiful, warm sun sinking down to the horizon.
It was a great ride, until I saw an array of clouds fast approaching near Otis. Dark, ominous, and quickly boxing out the sun, I felt the temperature rapidly fall, and easily ascertained that the last hour to Newport was going to be brutal at best.
I was wrong. It was worse.
By the time I arrived in Newport after dark, the 85 degree heat of Tillamook became a damp 36 degrees of freezing rain and fog, and the condensation on my jacket, pants, and helmet froze over, to such a degree I couldn’t get my helmet off upon arrival – I had to sit indoors for about 15 minutes before it melted enough and my hands thawed out to remove it. Once I got out of my wet clothes and threw them into the laundry, I proceeded to stand in the shower for almost an hour before my body was no longer cold.
When I got out of the shower, finally warm and following a nice long stress cry, I marched to the kitchen, poured myself a bourbon, and put my headphones in to listen to some classical music and decompress – tomorrow was a new day, and I wholly abide by the notion that in tough times, what you imagine is working against you, is actually working for you. My mantra: the universe gives you want you need, not what you want.
And for day three, those tribulations became insignificant obstacles in the rearview mirrors, because my trek from Newport, OR to Crescent City, CA, was without question, one of the best days of riding, filming, and enjoying nature’s marvels, that I have ever had.
Not only does the 101 take you directly along the stunning twists and turns of the coastline beside the Pacific Ocean, but it also provides a unique combination of mountainous sea cliffs and endless beach dunes. The spruce trees become enormous, majestic redwoods, with moody skies, a balance of ocean gusts and breezes, lighthouses littering the bluffs, the smell of salt in the air, and ascents and descents which provide views photographs will never be able to do justice. It made me remember why I fell in love with Oregon years ago – the scenery is enchanting to such a degree you cannot help but want to pull over at every scenic outlook or investigate each seaside state park.
Cape Perpetua was my first stop, then Strawberry Hills Wayside, followed by Dunes City, Bandon, Seal Point, and Brookings for sunset. It grew increasingly difficult not to make stops every ten or fifteen minutes, and when I made it to my beautiful campsite in the redwoods just outside Crescent City, I had a grin stuck on my face from ear to ear. It is, of course, far easier to see that once I stopped fighting the current, the river took me just where I needed to go, and as I fell asleep listening to the wind in the trees, I felt immensely grateful.
Everything happens at the exact right time, at the only possible time it can happen. We all walk our own paths, designed only for us, and our journey to enlightenment is ours and ours alone. Those instances when we feel things are at their worst, ultimately benefit us at far greater depths than we imagine. You cannot appreciate the light without the darkness, nor the flowers without the rain. We go with the flow, the path of least resistance, and trust that wherever we are going is what is meant for us.
Still, that doesn’t mean it’s all enlightenment and epiphanies out here. Example. My night in the redwoods after my epic day on the southern Oregon coast was NUTS. A pack of coyotes invading my camp, a Big Horned Owl that ate not one but two different animals throughout the early morning hours, both of which I had to listen to scream and slowly die, and then, of course, a lovely visit from a family of trash pandas at 5am trying to raid my site. I maybe slept an hour, and was mildly haunted by the sounds of small animals being murdered in the night.
Balance, am I right? And particularly, being at one, with ourselves and with what we are doing, in a profound and concentrated harmony, regardless of contiguous pandemonium.
The reality is, you have to learn to let things happen. It doesn’t make you passive, indolent, or oblivious – instead, it teaches us to improve in our actions, which consequently, lead to better outcomes. It is a lesson I am still learning, but I will tell you this. The more I accept it, and the more I am aware of it, the more at peace I am. Pick your battles wisely, and remember to be patient with yourself. We are only human, and we are all searching for our own sense of harmony.
Until next time. Live wild. Ride free.
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