11 min read

I left for one month and came back a different person

I left for one month and came back a different person

It started with the call.

I'd close my eyes and find myself out there, in the trees, shoes covered in red dirt. In my sleep I hiked up where the marmots sang and wandered through desert canyons where the slightest shift in the breeze would tell of a storm on its way. I was not just in nature, I was part of it, was meant for it, was all of it.

And then my eyes would snap open, morning light streaming in through my city windows. This repeated every night for weeks, until finally I booked a month in small town Colorado to shut it up. It worked.

The dreams cease and the call fades from my memory altogether as I dance at nightclubs and snuggle in cuddle puddles and flirt with dozens of smart strangers who all kind of blur into each other in a pretty, palatable way. I always come home alone- I want my experiences to be worlds that belong entirely to me.

Austin is vivid and fun and unending. Each night, give me the same, only different. Put on makeup, plan my outfit, go out, laugh with friends, lay awake for hours without knowing why, wake up, go to work, put on makeup, plan my outfit, laugh with friends, lay awake for hours without knowing why…

I’ve never been a great sleeper, but now it's really showing. So I stop leaving the house bare faced. I wake, see my face in the mirror, and wonder what went wrong. Everyone else is so beautiful and soft and pretty. No tired eyes. Not a pound out of place. Just perfection. I should get an oura ring like my friends. Maybe go vegan? Something’s gotta give eventually. I must not work hard enough at my health.

Ha, I definitely don’t work hard enough. My Austin friends have private planes, they’ve launched multi-million dollar businesses, they’ve made marks on the world, people know them, people ask for their autographs when we’re out in public.

And then there’s me.

I tell people I’m gonna be someone too. That someday, you’ll see my name on the NYT bestsellers list. But I haven’t done shit. So I start doing what they do, waking up at ungodly hours to be at crossfit by the time the sun rises. I take those hours before my job to write… but nothing comes out. It's like every morning I take a blade to my skin and instead of blood, there's only dust.

But no matter, I'm happy here in this dizzying and dazzling city, being in this world of important people and endless opportunity. I never know who I’m going to meet or what I’ll learn every time I leave my house. And my friends are just as loud and colorful as this town, taking me dancing and playing and having water gun fights and painting our faces with sparkles. We hold hands and whisper secrets in dimly lit rooms and drape our arms over each other, and I love it so much.

And the world is made of glitter and fire and shades of pink and blue, and by the time August comes, I'm looking up ways to cancel my Colorado Airbnb and stay in Austin.

Turns out one-month stays aren't refundable. So I tell my friends I'll come back early, pack up my car, and leave, fully expecting to be home again in like a week.

After a long two day drive, I arrive to a bare-bones guest house off a noisy highway, in a small middle-of-nowhere town consisting of ugly brown buttes and a Walmart.

Whyyyyyyy did I think this was a good idea?? I miss my gorgeous, curated Austin house with velvet couches and wool rugs and fiddle leaf figs. I barely make it through the first night without requesting a refund and bolting, but that night's sleep gives me just enough strength to stay.

Even though it took two days of driving to get to Colorado, I spend the third day entirely in my car... anywhere but my Airbnb.

I go in a direction I've never been and find myself in red dirt country.

Even through the exhausted, stressed haze, something within me starts to stir. I spend the entire day with my jaw on the floor, taking way too many breathtaking photos to fit in this post, and deciding to stay in Colorado for at least a week.

That week flies by and I hike almost every day. I'm not used to the altitude and my muscles are dying, but I can't get enough. I see herds of wild elk and flocks of turkeys, get stopped in the road by stray cows, dance in the rain under double rainbows... I can't believe this place is actually real. I buy candles and light them all over my Airbnb, I play jazz music and make tea, and it's starting to feel less harsh.

Friday night my best friend Maren arrives, a Coloradoan who has known me forever and probably understands me better than I do. We chat over some lamb curry and I tell her about my life in Austin.

“I still haven’t launched anything. I'm no further to my goals, I'm a nobody. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I made a system and everything... I have a schedule. Maybe I’m not trying hard enough,” I said.

“I feel like this is your life’s work, Madi. You’ve always been really driven, and you’ve always had your authenticity, and the two have run parallel. It’ll be interesting to see how you finally combine them, and what that’ll look like.”

“Hmm. Or maybe I’m not working hard enough,” I laugh. I ask her about her life; she's engaged to a great guy, is finally in a career that fits her, and happiness radiates from. She says,

"You know, we live our lives in boxes and we don’t honor our needs. And when we get to that place where we live the life that feels true to us, it’s such a thankful feeling."

She leaves at the end of the weekend, and later that day I find a DM from her.

Not gonna lie, her message kind of pisses me off.

The next week I keep hiking with the goal of hiking my first 14er .

(A mountain taller than 14,000 feet or 4200 meters). I'd need to camp at the base of the hike the night before, which scares the shit out of me, but Maren says camping alone as a woman is super empowering, so, okay, fuck it, let's do this.

I drive deep into the San Juans and make camp. Immediately it starts thundering and hailing so I shelter in my car, reading Jack London's Call of the Wild, and about I gaze through my sunroof at the raging storm. It feels good being away from civilization and civilized people, away from my custom-framed artwork or the social events I used to attend most nights of the week.

I lay awake for hours that night. Every sound could be a bear, or worse, a stranger in the night, and to top it off, it's friggin' cold and my sleeping bag is a total joke. But I step out of my tent at 2 am to pee and forget all the fear and cold as I look up to the most immaculate sky I've ever seen.

To top it off, it's in the middle of a huge meteor shower. Super bright shooting stars light up the sky left and right and I've never seen anything like it before.

I feel wild in this moment. I am a part of nature, I am a part of myself that is many millenia older than me. I am something deep and primal and violent and beautiful and I am alive. I go back into my tent feeling secure, and sleep soundly till my 4am alarm goes off.

This is the morning of my first 14er.

I am so excited to be doing it by myself, to have this moment belong to me. But on the trail, I keep running into these two athletes from Dallas. After about two hours of this, we start waiting for each other, giving tips on sketchy areas or cool views, and sharing food and water.

"We're adopting you," Jae says. And from that moment on, they are mine and I am theirs.

Jae (in blue) and Court

There is nothing we do not share. When I have to pee, they form a human shield. When Court gets dizzy, we stop and feed him. We give each other everything we have; food, water, and care, and we make it to the top as a team.

With happy tears in my eyes, I look at some of the most stunning views of my life. I've dreamed of doing this for over 10 years, and to my surprise, the best part isn't the accomplishment, but who I accomplished it with.

As we drive away from each other after the hike, I think, You can do anything alone, you're capable, but... you're ready to share it with someone else now, aren't you?

The next day, I wake up in my Airbnb fully refreshed, see my bare face in the mirror, and think, "Damn girl, you look good!" I am glowing. I haven't worn makeup in two weeks, and I don't need it anymore. I'm sleeping well every night too.

I finish Call of the Wild and start another fiction book immediately after. These are the first 'just for fun' books I'm reading all year! I keep hiking almost daily and taking tons of photos. And I love it. I mean, you can tell in my photos here that I'm really into it! I don't have to tell you that I love something if I'm already doing that thing with love. I don't have to tell, when I can just show.

I delete all my social media for the rest of the month. It's hard at first but then it feels so freeing. I spend my time writing(!!), reading, hiking, photographing; so much of my day-to-day is spent doing things that come naturally to me, and which bring me a sense of grounded peace.

The next weekend, I'm heading to my favorite place in the world.

It's in the middle of nowhere in Southern Utah, and no one knows about it. I'll be camping alone again, and I'm scared because I don't know if anyone will be up there, and the thought of camping entirely on my own... what if something eats me? But I'm also exhilarated by having this new world that belongs only to me.

To my surprise, there are three others there, all solo-travelers. All the same age, all with similar jobs, and above all, all with the same heart.

I used to avoid doing this sort of stuff, you know, driving to the middle of nowhere, stuff like that. Even when I was nomading around the world, I mostly went to popular destinations. I thought that if I went to my places, I'd be the only one there. It turns out that yes, I will filter out almost everyone, but the ones who are left will reflect my own soul back at me.

Isabelle in her van

The four of us spend all night chatting, and I take a picture of Chris's van lit up in the night but can't get the lighting right.

"Let's collab!" he takes his own camera out and together we come up with a photo we each couldn't have taken on our own; my favorite photo.

Chris's van under the full moon, Utah.

I'd never worked on a photo with someone else before, never even thought to do that, but creating with him made it so much better.

I wake up the next morning to pee, and Max is up to pee too, and we see each other and each think, "Ugh, well they are up, I might as well get up too," haha! We watch the sunrise and soon Chris wakes up, and the three of us watch the canyon below fill with light as we drink coffee and talk.

Max and his coffee over the canyon

And I realize that again, I'm somewhere spectacular to have an experience alone, but the people are by far the best part.

That night I go to bed, naturally exhausted and ready for sleep, and I look out the window to see a sky of endless stars.

And I can feel her stirring within me, the wild part of me.

She is awake, and hearing her breath as my breath, feeling her feelings as mine, and striving for her goals as mine...  

She is awake, and I will never let her fall asleep again.

It's my last week in Colorado.

This is hella embarrassing to admit, but I start bursting into tears every time I drive back to my Airbnb away from the mountains. Because I'm ending one of the best months of my life, and because I've fallen in love, with myself. I feel more grounded and at peace than I ever have.

My final stop is my first boyfriend's Dad's funeral.

Nick is now married with two babies. I'm hanging out with his wife and she asks, "would you like hold my son?"

I say yes and look into this beautiful 8 month old's face. My heart just totally melts. In the midst of all this grief and loss are new beginnings, and I'm so friggin' happy for Nick and Kari and their new family.

And like the total asshole that only a best friend can be, my bestie leans in and says, "this could have been your life!"

I laugh, but at that moment I realize, I do want this to be my life! I want a Madi version of this for myself. I'm going to go back to Austin and get serious about finding a life partner and having kids. If this month has shown me anything, it's that the right people are better than any experience had alone. I ask Kari for marriage advice, and after a bunch of hugs all around, I'm headed back to Austin.

On the way back it hits me how scared I am of losing the woman I became here. What if I go back to not being able to leave the house without makeup again?  What if I stop sleeping again? What if I get caught in the social game and keeping up with the Joneses? There are no mountains in Texas... what if I lose myself?

I won't lose myself ever again.

This time around, I'll be wild.