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Shifting Gears: Part One

The first night out on the road pummeled my bohemian wanderlust like a sledgehammer. Monsoon-like rain drowned out the flashing hazards of surrounding cars as the wind battered and shoved me at will over the rumble strip. I persisted for an hour before surrendering my pride, and one hundred dollars, to the only “budget” motel within miles in a town called Bethlehem (an irony I would only appreciate in hindsight). I attempted to stay positive, hoarding all of the toiletries and resolving that I would fill my backpack with the contents of next morning’s continental breakfast. Too tired and defeated to even enjoy the hundreds of brain-rotting channels, I drifted to sleep with only one thought in my head: What was I doing?

With any semblance of an agenda gone I devoted my time to covering ground, and lots of it. Clueless to the fact that this directionless drive would eventually take me across the country, I first headed north. Through a festival of toll booths I made my way from weathered waterfront towns of Connecticut, across saturated green hills into the bluest skies of Vermont. I didn’t know what I was searching for, but I knew that I had time on my hands, and would maybe figure it out along the way. I dissected my first lobster in Maine and biked through the streets of Salem at night, the wind carrying souls of the wrongfully accused underneath the glow of street lamps. I inhaled familiar scents and sights in places foreign to me: bedraggled mannequins in stale thrift store windows, dusty book shops crammed with wisdom aching to be uncovered, dimly lit bars packed with fishermen slugging beers and talking in loud, salty voices. I was enchanted by what I saw and who I could so suddenly become some few hundred miles from home: a stranger; a visitor; a student of new realities. I wandered into unfamiliar towns knowing no one, crumpled maps and visitor center pamphlets my reliable tour guides. As I talked to people there was little foundation of shared experience, and no supposed goal of building a friendship; it was likely that we would never meet again, and the moments felt authentic if fleeting. When asked what I was doing on this trip, my answer varied slightly each time. The only answer that seemed to resonate with what I was actually feeling was, “I don’t really know.”

The initial loss of purpose was palpable and seeped into my decision making whether I wanted it to or not. I had never enjoyed following a schedule but it was somehow ingrained in me. “What did you DO today?” and even more troubling, “What will you do when this is all over?” The nagging questions waded around in my subconscious. I made unspoken to-do lists: See the Grand Canyon. Have coffee at Café Allegro. Hike the Tetons. My baffling sense of direction ensured that I got hopelessly lost with some regularity, only it didn’t matter. After all, when you have nowhere to be, you’re never late. A few weeks in, one of my couchsurfing hosts in a tiny Massachusetts town gifted me an old GPS. It was slow, and often wrong, but as my direction up until then had consisted of google maps routes scrawled on the backs of old receipts, this marked a crucial moment in my trip.

...To be continued...

Abby Fitzgibbon is an artist, writer and musician based in Baltimore, Maryland. After her graduation from James Madison University in 2007, Abby moved to China, where she lived for seven years as a teacher and local artist. Now having returned to Baltimore, you can follow her band, GingerWitch, or see her paintings showcased throughout the city. Visit to read more about her adventures. Artwork for sale at

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