Growth via Self-Imposed Discomfort

The following events occurred from September 2nd to 7th in the year 2020, during a global pandemic and the worst summer for forest fires in California history. I left San Francisco after finishing up work around 6pm on Wednesday. I stopped by Target to buy a cooler and food for the rest of the week. Iced coffee was a necessity since I didn’t plan on taking time off work. I had scoped out a few free campsites in Big Sur. I was planning on arriving around midnight to sleep. I stopped for gas and food in San Jose. As I was eating I took a moment to double check on the forest fires near Big Sur. They were really close. I knew this before I left my apartment a couple hours earlier, but per a typical life strategy of mine said, “fuck it, I’ll figure it out”. Now that I was actually on the road and had a moment to think I realized this was a terrible idea. The fires were way too close and it was just too risky. I quickly searched for alternate free camp sites farther from the fire and coast. I found one near Big Sur but farther inland. Perfect, should arrive around midnight. After picking up an iphone charger from a convenience store (because of course I forget one of the most important items for such a trip) I get back on the road. Thanks to google maps I arrive at my campsite around 11:30pm, just in time for bed. I didn’t have a tent with me. For some reason I thought it’d be fun to sleep in my car for this trip. I really was just a lunatic seeking some sort of ridiculous adventure. Anyways, I laid out my mattress topper that I had stolen from my apartment and my mountaineering sleeping pad. I have a 2006 Honda Pilot. The back seats fold down, so I could lay out fairly well parallel to the side of my car. The only issue was my head would kinda fall through the gap between my downed back seat and my drivers seat if I tried to stretch out. So, I put the back end of my surfboard on top of my cooler in the back of the car and the top end on the front passenger seat so it was suspended like a bridge. Although, instead of a river underneath, there was an idiotic 25 year old in a sleeping bag. This way I was able to sleep diagonally and stretch out. Shout out Pythagoras. There’s something a little eerie about sleeping in a car. You kinda feel like people are looking in at you. Must be something strange to do with human psychology, maybe a fear of the unknown. Regardless, I whip out my kindle and begin reading my favorite book of all time - “A Short History of Nearly Everything” by Bill Bryson. This is my desert island book, and I could not recommend it strongly enough. I could write a love letter to Mr. Bryson the length of a book - but I digress. After reading the aforementioned masterpiece for a bit I fall asleep despite my cramped unsettling environment. Thursday Morning I wake with fleeting anxiety. I sit up, careful not to bump my head on my surfboard and have a look around. It’s probably around 8am and it’s bright out. I’m on top of a beautiful ridge in a remote part of central California (<insert name of campground>). A wave of relaxation rushes over me as I’m hit with a small rush of adrenaline fueled by the ridiculous, incredible adventure I’m on. I’m doing it, I’m living like an absolute lunatic with nothing but 100% freedom and adventure ahead of me. Pumped, I climb out of my bedroom/car and pour myself a delicious iced coffee as I prepare for the workday. My plan was to use the hotspot on my iphone in combination with my unlimited data plan to work from wherever I ended up. Luckily this campsite had service and I had a productive morning. I’m a software engineer on a growth team working at a startup in San Francisco (this was during a global pandemic, so we were all working remotely). That morning I was able to set up an error alert system on a new piece of software we had deployed the day before - fairly critical and important. Before this our app could completely break for users and we would have had no idea. The point is I was able to be productive in this completely ridiculous environment - which was one of my main concerns before heading out on this trip. For my lunch break I decided to try to accomplish one of my main missions for this trip and try to see Big Sur. I head out around noon towards the coast. About 30 minutes or so into my drive I see helicopters carrying water towards the Dolan fire, an ominous omen. Shortly thereafter I hit a barricade on my route to the coast. Closed for fires. I call an audible and head towards Cambria, a small city along the coast with a wide enough berth of the Dolan fire. I find a beautiful park with views of the pacific and picnic tables where I can do my post lunch work stint. These views of the rugged California costal cliffs are what the fuck I came here for. After messing around a bit on the beach after work I head out towards Ventura, my destination for tonight (this is Thursday night). I chose Ventura simply because I had read somewhere that it was very RV/sleep in car friendly. I had no specific location where I might spend the night, but I knew I wasn’t going to spend any money. I think this was a way for me to challenge myself and push myself out of my comfort zone. After a brief stop in Santa Barbara I arrived in Ventura around 11pm. At this point I realize I have absolutely no idea where I’m going to sleep and it’s dark out. Again, yes, I’m a massive idiot but this is all part of the adventure I was seeking (I guess). I tried googling around for some ideas but ultimately decided to drive around till I found something. The first place I parked didn’t seem like the nicest part of town so I went on Zillow to try to see where the expensive houses were. I headed off in that direction and ended up sleeping on a residential street in a safe looking neighborhood. Psychologically this was way less comfortable than sleeping at a campsite (obviously physically it was the same haha). Firstly, sleeping in one’s car is obviously outside of societal norms - so simply violating that feels a little strange. Second, the feeling of people looking in at you is slightly magnified in a more population dense environment. Lastly, I honestly don’t know the laws surrounding this. I don’t think it’s illegal, but it feels borderline. Regardless, I wouldn’t want someone of authority (or anyone really) banging on my window in the middle of the night telling me to GTFO. On the bright side I had the masterpiece (A Short History of Nearly Everything) to fall asleep to. Friday Morning I woke up with less anxiety than I went to sleep with, but more than the first morning because of the increased population density. After a quick bathroom break on the side of the street I got out of there, probably around 6-7am. Earlier than yesterday for obvious reasons. I waved to dog walkers as I left. I drove down towards the pacific ocean and saw some locals parking for a surf. So, naturally, after an hour or two of surfing I got back online to begin my workday. After an uneventful workday I drove to Palm Springs to spend the weekend at my friend’s house. Spending the night in a real bed was something I was very much looking forward to after the previous night. First order of business: smoke some cigars by the pool and sip on some white claws. Quite the contrast to the previous night. Something that I seem to appreciate more and more as I get older are the people in my life. I am incredibly blessed to have such great friends. This friend for example (love you, K) didn’t hesitate to let me spend Monday night at her house and lock it up Tuesday after everyone had already flown back to the Bay Area Monday. This is such a gracious thing, and I feel very lucky to have friends in my life that are willing to put up with my ridiculousness. I think through middle school and probably into high school I didn’t have as much appreciation for my friends and family. Maybe it took the loneliness of moving to a new city (from Seattle to San Francisco about two years ago as of this writing) with very few close friends for me to develop this appreciation. It’s impossible to pinpoint exactly where this came from but I suspect it’s a product of difficult experiences I’ve been through. Maybe this has something to do with my inclination to put myself in difficult and unfamiliar situations - the inclination driving this epic road trip in the first place. It’s a life experience that I learned from and that I’ll take with me for the rest of my life because I challenged myself and put myself in an uncomfortable situation. As stupid as this road trip was, I think I’m a more formidable person having experienced it. Here’s to many more self imposed uncomfortable situations and continued growth as a human. Thanks for reading, Zach Note: I wrote this many months ago but didn't feel like posting it at the time for whatever reason... I think maybe because of how personal it got at the end. Well here it is. I'm glad I'm posting it now.