90,000 Miles to Me

19,989 Miles • Oregon

I will forever associate Oregon with onions. I’ll think of other things, too, when I think of Oregon, but from now on, onions will always be among them.

Within a few miles of crossing the Oregon border from Idaho, around the town of Owyhee (how do you pronounce that?), I was greeted with fields and fields of onions. Acres of onions. As it was harvest time, there were also large trucks loaded high with onions. Onions overflowing the huge mounds in the back of the trucks and bouncing over the sides, lining the roads, fresh and ripe and begging to be picked up and eaten.

So I did.

Several times, I pulled over to pick up many huge, gorgeous yellow onions and a few red and white onions. I gathered a cloth shopping bag full of freshly picked onions, many with only a small bruise from falling off the truck, that can be easily cut off as I wash them.

I picked several more from a recently harvested field that had been left behind and were just lying there, looking so lonely. I now have more onions than I know what to do with, and the van smells like onions (but not in an eye-watering way).

In front of a church in Vale, OR, was this sign: “Jems from Jesus in just 30 mins. Sundays 10 am” —Oh, if only it were this easy.

I stayed four days at a dispersed campsite at—I kid you not—Stinkingwater Wild Horse Herd Management Site. I didn’t see any wild horses but heard some neighing my first afternoon there as I was showering. And it smelled fine.

This is becoming a routine for me, to get a long-awaited shower as soon as I get back into the open wilderness after a stint in a city.

And I’m getting much better at camp showers. I’ve got the routine down, and in Utah I found a cheap ground tarp meant for a tent that is just the right size to string up between my back doors when they are open, to create a private area behind the van, and I can hang the shower bag on the door so it’s high enough to give me reasonable water pressure out of the hose. I just alternate turning the water off to soap up, and on to rinse, each section of the body. I can get pretty clean in three gallons or less.

Oregon’s high desert has been surprising me. Complete with juniper and chamisa, it looks just like northern New Mexico. I had always associated Oregon with lush green flora, but apparently that is only on the western coastal area of the state.

This looks just like northern New Mexico to me, but it is actually eastern Oregon.

It finally makes sense, after all these years, why the Oregon Trail settlers went all the way to the coast. Reading about it as a kid, I wondered why they didn’t stop anywhere else in Oregon. Why did they feel the need to go all the way to the Pacific? Now I understand. You have to go almost to the coast to get out of the desert and reach high quality farmland.

More of the New Mexico high desert in Oregon.

Another thing that surprised me in Oregon is that all the gas stations are full service. This freaked me out the first time I tried to gas up. When I climbed out of the van to pump my gas, there was a woman standing there asking for my credit card and which grade fuel I wanted, and I think I looked so freaked out that she took pity on me and offered to wash my windshield instead. My friend explained later that it is in fact illegal to pump your own gas in Oregon, although they did recently pass a law that allows you to pump for yourself after normal business hours at 24 hour stations in rural areas when an attendant is not on duty. Apparently, it is some sort of jobs program.

I came to Oregon to spend some time with one of my college girlfriends who lives in the center of the state, near Bend. I was really looking forward to seeing her, but honestly, I wasn’t sure how long I could handle the sensory stimulation of being around three elementary aged kids. Her kids are very well behaved and interesting and fun, but they are still kids, and since even libraries get overwhelming to me, this is not in any way meant as a slight on her family. It is also not news to her; she knows me well enough.

But surprisingly—to myself perhaps even more than to anyone else—I had a really good time and handled the noise and occasional chaos of family life much better than I was expecting. Much better.

Since only one thing has changed in my life recently, and I can physically and viscerally feel it changing, I am confident in pinpointing what caused such a sudden improvement in my tolerance for sounds and multiple things going on around me at once.

I mentioned in the last post that I was starting a sensory therapy technique called the Wilbarger Protocol, and I had been doing it for about a week when I arrived. It involves brushing every bit of skin that I can reach with a soft brush and then compressing my joints by jumping, pushing against the wall, squeezing my hands and feet, and pushing down on the top of my head. That’s it. It takes about a minute or two, and I am doing this in about 90 minute intervals for as long as I am awake during the day. The plan is to keep up that schedule for at least three weeks and then, if it is helpful—and wow, has it has been helpful—to do this every morning and whenever I feel like I need it from then on.

The first two weeks of my daily “I did it” tally of Wilbarger brushing and compressions.

The book I got this from, Too Loud, Too Bright, Too Fast, Too Tight by Dr. Sharon Heller, did acknowledge that some people get no benefit from it, though many people do, and for some it is revolutionary.

For me, so far, it has been huge. I still get overwhelmed and go out to my van to be by myself and calm down, but it takes much more before I get overwhelmed. More compared to my standards. What overwhelms me now would still be a low tolerance for most people, but hey, this is a huge improvement for me and I’m counting this as a win. It also gives me hope that there are other therapies that can help more of my sensory issues.

This has directly contributed to my being able to go out a few times to do things and try experiences that I would otherwise have made excuses to avoid or hide from.

One night, my friend took me into Bend to see a performance of the New Chinese Acrobats, featuring acrobatic gymnastics, plate balancing, spinning and tossing large drums, jumping through hoops, juggling, aereal skills, and tricks with that diablo giant yo-yo thing. It was an awesome performance. The music was very loud and although I wore my new purple headphones, it was still too loud through them. My friend and others around us also commented about the volume of the music, so this wasn’t just my sensory issues. I still loved the performance!

We also got away for a half day and went to Sparks Lake, hiking about two miles. The views were beautiful and I found the rock formations fascinating (including the one at the top of this page), plus it was good to get some alone time to talk with my friend.

Awesome, right?
Sparks Lake with the Three Sisters mountain group in the background.

Another afternoon, we packed up dinner and took the kids to Smith Park after school, hiking down to the bottom of the canyon to have our picnic dinner and enjoy the scenery. The sun was setting as we walked back up to the car, a lovely end to a nice evening.

The more I reflect on my sensory issues, the more I have been realizing how much they have been holding me back and influencing my choices throughout my life, often without my being aware of it, yet obvious now that I have that missing piece of the puzzle to explain things that mystified me at the time. I want to tell you about one of these, but it’ll be its own post; probably the next one.

Anyway, I’ve spent days crying and grieving and alternately days feeling hopeful for the future. It has been very confusing, and I am grateful to be here with my friend to talk to, so that I don’t spiral into wallowing.

Nevertheless, something I have been learning on this Journey is that not all crying and grieving is wallowing or depression. Genuine grieving is necessary. It is also temporary. But it needs to happen and to be acknowledged in order to move through the grief and come to a place of genuine healing.

Before, I would have pushed down the pain, done something else to distract myself, told myself I was being self-indulgent, told myself some pseudo-comforting explanation, complained at length, or used a variety of other strategies to not have to actually deal with the hurt itself. But that very avoidance is what has mostly led to the depression and the downward spiral that I am afraid of.

I am learning that acknowledging the hurt and dealing with it openly doesn’t lead to that downward spiral. It leads upward, to healing and freedom. So I am trying to let myself feel the hurt at last so that it can transform into something beautiful.

So far this new (admittedly scary) strategy has worked with many other old wounds, and so I am learning, too, that it is not as risky as it seemed at first. The more I do it with another trusted person to talk to about it at key times, the more I am learning that it is reliably temporary and powerfully transformative.

Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t still uncomfortable, but I am becoming comfortable with my discomfort.

I ended up spending three weeks at my friend’s house, with her gracious husband and three interesting and curious kids—and much onion soup! Their family is awesome and I really enjoyed just watching them with each other and being a part of their family for a short time. Thank you guys for welcoming me so readily into your home.

1 thought on “19,989 Miles • Oregon

  1. Love this. I can relate to so much–especially discovering that sitting with/through pain/discomfort helps to process these to be able to move forward toward acceptance (of self) and peace.

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