I’m afraid of the dark. I’ve recently admitted this to friends and they’ve all had a good chuckle. But it’s true. I, Linnea Bullion, age 24, am afraid of the dark. I fear the unknown; those mental monsters that we all seem to concoct––backseat ax murderers and under-axle werewolves. Yes, I’m afraid of the dark. But that’s precisely why I drive through deep, black forests alone at night. I’m not certain that repeated exposure will ever help me overcome this fear, but I travel to address it, to acknowledge it. To sleep next to it, and wake up the morning after and laugh off my irrationality. On the road, every sunrise is a reminder that my fears were ill-conceived.
Road trips present conquerable unknowns. Unlike my ever-uncertain “real life”, the road presents daily, solvable challenges.
“Where’s the next gas station?” is a lot easier to answer than “Was I right in moving halfway across the country with no job or prospects?”
“Where am I camping tonight” easier than “How will I pay rent next month?”
“Oh god, what was that noise in my backseat?” easier than “If I confront him about his alcoholism, will he finally acknowledge his addiction?”
Since driving 20,000 miles around the United States in 2014 with a friend, I have taken to the road alone. Abandoning my usual plan-centric nature for one based upon “winging it,” I plot a destination and drive, with few rules other than “no major freeways (unless absolutely necessary).”
On one such trip, I pulled my car off to an unmarked vista atop Mt. Laguna near San Diego. I’ve discovered that a wonderful side-effect of being 5’3” is that I can fit length-wise in my sedan by flipping the backseats forward and laying with my legs in the trunk. This makes car-camping quite literal, and (minutely) aids me in feeling safer on those nights alone. So there I was one freezing November night, parked on a dead-end road, unable to see anything beyond the confines of my car-tent due to the snow whirling past my windows. This night was no different than the others––I was anxious. With my pocketknife at my side, I searched for sleep that wouldn’t come. My phone was dead, my headlamp spent; it was just me and the unknown. In that moment I was quite and completely alone.
At some point, I found rest. I awoke in the middle of the night to see that the dense fog had lifted and there was a town in the valley below me. Perhaps because they were so unexpected, I was awed by those friendly city lights. I had been completely unaware of them before, lost amidst snow and disquiet. I fell back asleep, slightly calmer than before.
I rose with the sun in a golden world. Having reached the mountaintop past dark, I had no idea what to expect of my surroundings. The night’s snowfall had topped the trees, but I was barely above the snow line, and the landscape beyond rolled with desert hills. That morning, I actually did laugh away my fears aloud. The night before now seemed so silly. Here was a world full of light and potential. My anxiety of the previous night melted away with the rising sun, as did my “real-world” problems. Waking on amber, mountaintop mornings really puts your life in perspective. The world has no care for your worries, it will plod on whether or not you lose yourself in your fears. I set off back towards the city, yet again armed with this knowledge.
Waking on amber, mountaintop mornings really puts your life in perspective. The world has no care for your worries, it will plod on whether or not you lose yourself in your fears.
We fear the unknown. Anyone who denies that is a either sadist or a gifted liar. So I’m doing something about it, in my own way––one which, to many, must seem like running away. I drive on pitch-black roads and sleep alone on the road to face the conquerable unknown so that when I return, I can face the uncertainty of real life. So that every sunrise at home is a reminder that my fears are ill-conceived. I drive to remember this. We all need some reminding.
Photos by Linnea Bullion
Linnea Bullion is a photographer living in Los Angeles. In 2014, she successfully raised funds to kickstart a 20,000 mile road trip around the US. Her photo book is for sale here. You can find her on Instagram, Tumblr, and her portfolio site.