1. USA – Maps and Markers

Hoisting myself up until hipbones met metal, any energy directed toward rational contemplation lasted no more than a moment. With a little bounce inspired by elementary gymnastics, I swung my legs out to the side, emphatically dismounting the dumpster – cardboard prize in hand. Four solemn faces met my stubborn, angry eyes.

With bare feet embracing the hot Utah asphalt, I shaded my gaze to look across the parking lot, hot vapors dancing above it. Whispering witnesses to fury, they melted into an otherwise mundane weekday afternoon. Pebbles and tar bits clung to my soles as I marched into the five-and-dime style gas station, asking the attendant if I could please borrow a sharpie.

“Colorado,” I penned. I was not getting back in that car.

Barefoot01 - Pike Place Market - Bethany Marie
August 2010 – Photo by BethanyMarie

Hi, I’m Kelsey Tungseth, a twenty-nine year old advocate for education through exposure. Whether observing new places or seeing life through a culture not your own, I believe travel to be much more than a visit or exploration of places. My learning style varies and occasionally the textbook studying/ paper writing/ test taking obligations satiate my hunger for knowledge and experience. Other times, it’s backpacking ol’ me, thumb out on the side of the road, trusty journal in hand.

Of all my tales from the U.S. of A., I felt the best kickoff for this project was describing the time I got out of the car in Utah after a fight with my brothers, ripping the highway map out of the atlas and insisting I hitchhike home to Colorado on my own. I say that because this is an intro to this blog series and a glimpse into me. Ever since that day seven years ago, I’ve kept those taped pages folded up and close to my journals – and I still take a marker to the map any time I drive on a new highway. At twenty-two, I thought I was invincible, but a lot of people would just call it senseless.

Pike Place Market - 2010 - Bethany Marie
Twenty-two – Photo by BethanyMarie

What is it that makes us feel invincible? The USA is a society greatly represented by individualism. Rather than basing our choices on how it will affect others around us, as in collectivist societies, we are encouraged to live our lives for us. For the most part, the US is even distancing itself from the belief that every person should be making the same decisions. But that is a discussion for another day. This post is an illustration of one individual’s decision.

For some reason, under many circumstances I feel more at ease in the presence of strangers than I do among those who know me. Perhaps that’s why I felt relieved to hitchhike home rather than ride with my siblings the remainder of the roadtrip. Waiting near the highway didn’t last too long, but I bet I could have learned a lot more if it did. A man named Rick picked me up, or was it Steve? Either way, I got lucky in that he was driving through Colorado from Alaska to Texas. Conversation was easy, and he even asked me to drive for a while so he could rest his eyes. I met my siblings at our Colorado home about thirty minutes after they arrived. Was I lucky? Blinded by the belief that I was invincible? Reckless?

That characteristic of recklessness could be called a common ally to many of my actions. But what is recklessness? Raised in a traditional American culture where the mindset claims recklessness is a negative quality, I have (understandably) criticized its place in my life for years. Then one day, tucked in a snug in an Irish Pub in Colorado Springs, a friend and colleague confronted my paradigm point blank.
“Why did you do that?” He asked.
“Do what?” I responded, setting my steak knife back down near my plate.
“You just licked your knife. That was pretty.. reckless.” Jack’s eyes twinkled, a smile playing at their corners. He proceeded to engage me in this concept.

Why are you criticizing this recklessness? Because in turn you are doubting yourself; but you don’t really doubt yourself – you just think you ought to. His argument? My subconscious choice to lick the knife displayed a trust in myself to guard my tongue from the angle of the blade. Intuition.

A lot of us traveling are faced with moments where we depend on our intuition. Our loved ones and networks and families and friends present questions, oppositions, and perils at hand… it’s reckless to take gap year(s) to venture abroad. Why jeopardize your future by putting off attaining that college degree? But too many of us now don’t want to wait until we’re retired to see the world, because – just like that college degree can’t guarantee an American a career today, we don’t have a way of knowing we’ll live long enough to retire from it.

Mendocino Tree Crossing01 - David Friel (2)
Adventure Crossing – Photo by David Friel

By no means am I ignoring that there are consequences to our actions. I suppose it’s just more essential to me [individualism at its finest] to take these kind of risks rather than to assume the most dire of situations and never believe I was capable to face those moments as they came. But I didn’t just learn about recklessness the day I let my stubborn heart conquer my rational thought process. I learned about forgiveness. Because, upon being reunited with my siblings in our Rocky Mountain pad, I was enveloped in hugs. What seemed like a battle worth fighting at the time could have cost me those relationships, or worse. We all have that list in our mind’s world of stupid things we can’t believe we went through with. That’s one of mine.

Beginning today, each Thursday I will be sharing stories and lessons learned whilst traveling. Before my 30th birthday on March 25, 2018, I anticipate having traveled to thirty countries. Some of what I share will be humorous, while other perspectives I offer will be informative or philosophical in nature concerning countries and cultures I have had the utmost honor of observing. In all reality, occasionally what I have to say will be solemn and shared with a heavy-heart. But anything that you can grasp and apply to your life, your journey or being, is what I hope for you.  Thank you for reading!

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