Voices from the Road

How a road trip helped me find a new sense of self after dealing with illness and pain

I was nervous reversing out of my driveway in a black Nissan Versa rental car headed for Mount Shasta on an overcast mid-May Monday. My body was unrecognizable to me at this point and my home in Oakland, California, was also new. The constants I had relied on were falling away and I was just trying to catch my breath from the shock of major change.

I had abruptly relocated to the Bay Area from New York to be with my sister, after learning that I had mono about a month prior. And I was in denial about the severity of this health condition and the pain I was carrying from a year of living solo in New York during the COVID-19 pandemic. My body was begging me to get out of there and reset. 

A person wearing a mask taking a selfie in a gas station bathroom mirror

I had been recuperating in Oakland for a short time and was slowly becoming distressed at the reality of mono. I couldn’t do basic things like sit up in a chair, walk very far, or make food for myself. Successfully getting on the airplane to Oakland was a miracle. Not knowing moment to moment what I could or couldn’t do was destabilizing. It was hard for me to accept this and find the best way to integrate my new reality with my understanding of self. 

I was introduced to Mount Shasta in Northern California for the first time when I heard of a job opening at a 10-acre sanctuary of land called the Hestia Retreat Center. I applied and was invited to visit and get acquainted with the land and see if the opportunity would be a good fit. Despite my condition, something in my heart was drawn to go. I went back and forth, knowing that my unpredictable capacity would make travel challenging, especially solo. But despite my hesitations I decided to go. 

A new way of being

This journey required a new way of being—one where my body’s capacity could no longer act as a pillar for my self worth, security, or confidence. I didn’t know what this new version of me would look like, but I was willing to find out. 

The trip was different from ones I had taken previously because of my lack of destination highlights to share. One of the milestones for me was just making it to In-N-Out Burger about an hour away. My drive up north looked mostly like stopping at countless gas stations—I can’t recall the final tally—for rest, eating often, and taking an impromptu hour-long nap in the parking lot of a wildlife refuge that I passed along I-5. I was slowly mourning the harsh way I had once operated that ignored well-being in the name of achievement.

A field of grazing horses with Mount Shasta in the background

I moved forward by listening to my body and adjusting moment to moment. This was a steep learning curve for me as someone used to being certain about what and how I can do things. What Google Maps said would be a 4.5-hour drive to Weed, California, ended up taking 10.5 hours. I did my best to not see this as a failure. I came to a long, straight road with horses grazing across open land in front of a full view of Mount Shasta at sunset before reaching a red mailbox that let me know I had finally arrived. I turned onto a bridge above a rushing river and stayed parked there for a moment before crossing over into what felt like another world. 

A catalyst to let go

I was relieved at making it to the Hestia Retreat Center, but at the same time, mono kept reminding me that nothing is permanent. I went at my own pace until I felt ready to return home 5 days later. I lived in a campervan, immersed in tall trees and enveloped by the smell of dirt and the sound of rushing water from the nearby river. 

Every day when I woke up, I asked myself what my body wanted to do or what would feel good—even if I didn’t always know what the answer would be. The first and second days I sat by the river and lay on a rock in the sun. 

POV of two socked feet in a hammock surrounded by forest

By the third day it became very cool and I started to feel completely lost. All my reference points were gone as I saw how disconnected from nature and myself I was. There weren’t many people on the property, so I was confronted with myself in solitude. I drove back to the horses I had passed on my way in and got out of my car, walked up to the wooden fence for some source of connection, and was comforted by horses coming up to say hello. 

I drove to Mount Shasta (the volcanic mountain) at one point just to check off that I had visited this special site. By the fourth day, it was freezing and snowing. I was tired. I found a hammock and slept for the majority of the day. I was finding my pace amid nature and felt like my internal compass was being recalibrated. I had nothing to hold onto. There was only constant change, change, and more change. 

This journey was a catalyst to let go. Being plunged into the unknown woke me up to what was no longer necessary and needed to be transformed—a process that was deeply uncomfortable. My road trip to Mount Shasta felt like an activation of the need to listen to and sync with my inner rhythm and in kind, with nature and the land we come from.

Alyson’s trip

Meet the Roadtripper

Alyson Wong