Everywhere I’ve been, even at home, I always seen hitch-hikers with “Veteran Traveling/Hitch-Hiking” cardboard signs attached to their back. While I was at Mount Rushmore waiting for the lighting ceremony to begin, I came across one of these people. I was alone while my friend Ian took a walk and decided to approach this particular man pictured above. His name is Chad Ford and his story made me overwhelmed with inspiration, so much so that I felt a strong need to share it with you.
Chad was in the army working as a chef which, qualified him to work as a chef or sous chef wherever he could find work. After he got out of the army he began working at a Casino is Las Vegas, where he is from, and was married with kids. Also, its important to state that during this time America was going through the economic downfall in 2008-2012 because it helps explain his hopping around of work. Any ways, that job eventually didn’t work out and he began in less qualified restaurants. The last restaurant he worked at shut down unexpectedly because the owner was secretly taking money from the cash register and gambling with it, and not too successfully. He showed up for work one day and there was a sign on the door that said “closed for good” (or something around those words). He was out of a job and tired of the world he was living in. He packed his bare essential needs into a backpack and just started walking.
He ended up in Texas for a few months working a construction job but decided to get up and go again. In the winters he stayed mainly south but found his was to the north a few times in the summer. He has literally walked across the country. He mentioned to me the he was in Michigan not too long ago once after I told him thats where I am from. Chad told me he was too afraid to fill up his water bottle in Michigan because of the current contaminated water issue that has been going on for years now. That really impacted me. I tried to defend my beautiful state by saying that its only in certain areas that the water is undrinkable but the truth is, he was completely in the right. How unfortunate is it that the civilians in the state with the one of the greatest amount of fresh water lakes IN THE WORLD cant drink fresh water at all. Anyways, He goes on to tell me his spiritual life saying he isn’t too spiritual but definitely listens to the universe around him. I asked him how he isn’t scared of sleeping in a tent every night and hitching a ride with random people and he said “Well the universe hasn’t done me wrong yet so I know it must be on my side” How cool is it that he has so much faith in the world and the things around him that he isn’t afraid to do things most people would be terrified to do.
Mount Rushmore was his last stop on his five year journey and he is currently headed to Sedona, Arizona where he feels the most at home. He told me about the vortex’s there and how calm at and at peace you feel as you encounter them. I hope to meet up with him again while I pass through Arizona and also to feel the sensation of a vortex myself. Sometime in the next year or so, Chad plans to make his way to Boulder, Colorado and begin a place for travelers, lost people, or anyone who is looking to take a break from real life and chill out for awhile. He plans to teach people about living off the land and to love yourself so survival becomes easier in case, god forbid, anything detrimental were to happen to the world in the upcoming future. He plans to call this place HOUSE which stands for Home of Universal Spiritual Energy. I feel so lucky to have been able to have such an amazing conversation with someone so different from myself or anyone I know. It just goes to show that no matter what a person looks like or acts like, they have a story. I would’ve never been able to hear Chads story if I didn’t approach him the way I did. I can’t wait to visit his “HOUSE” myself one day. I challenge anyone who reads this to have a conversation with a stranger. Anyone. Ask them what their favorite food is or complement their outfit. Any conversation started is a good one because you never know where it may lead.
For my 15th birthday, we celebrated by going on a camping trip in which I brought 2 of my closest friends. We left the day before my birthday and arrived just in time to enjoy our afternoon and evening. I had so much fun and was so happy my friends were there to celebrate with me. I not only wanted to make sure everything was perfect for me but also them. Every time we would eat, I made sure they were happy with what they got. Every activity we would partake in, I made sure it was what they wanted to do and were having fun. When we went to bed, I gave them the best spots in the tent and I took the very edge. I didn't even realize I was doing this until it caught up with me. I woke up from my sleep that morning at 4 am and felt like I couldn't breathe. I was crying un controllably for no reason. I didn't know how to act or how to calm down. I got out of the tent and sprinted to the beach until the sun came up. I made my way back to camp and though I was still on edge, I pulled myself together enough to look normal in front of any one I would encounter. I can remember every moment of this incident. How the cool foggy beach looked, how the cold sand and rock hurt my bare feet so bad but I just had to keep running, how my stomach felt like it was coming up my throat. I'll never forget it.
After this happened, I felt myself becoming more weak. Something so little, such as not liking the food I was eating , would throw me off the edge. I'm sure that everyone just thought I was being dramatic. I'm sure I was. But I truly couldn't help it and didn't want to. I always knew deep down that I had an anxiety problem which eventually did turn into a small case of depression but like a lot of people, I ignored it because mental health isn't something people necessarily take seriously.
At this point I decided to dive head first into music and take it seriously. I would play gigs every weekend and music festivals all the time in the summer. For the first time in a while I felt like myself. I felt so free. All I ever wanted to do was sing and play guitar. I even fell in love for the first time and I really didn't think life could get bad again. Until it did. For a teenager, breakups are HARD. I knew after just a few months I didn't want to be with my first boyfriend and everything from there started to go down hill. I was really so trapped. After about 2 years of playing gigs and these past 6 months of being with a boy I didn't want to be with, I realized I was pushing myself too hard. I cared way too much about what people wanted from me and not what I wanted for myself. Mainly because I didn't know what I wanted for myself. I was starting to not enjoy playing as much as I used to. I think the fact that music wasn't helping me any more was what made me the most sad out of everything. So gigs slowed down for a bit and I finally broke up with him. At this point I mainly felt numb and I didn't know what I wanted to do other then just lay in bed and watch youtube. So I did.
Eventually I decided to start hanging out with my friends again and involving myself the best I could in my school choir since it was going to be my senior year of high school. Once again, I feel in love. But this time so perfectly. Now I was happy, probably because I decided to act like a regular teenager but I didn't care I just finally found it. During this time I also made it to the blind auditions for the voice and I made even more friends. I didn't even care that I didn't get a chair turn or about any surrounding family problems that were going on because I knew I had a good back bone of people to support me.
It wasn't until last night ,on my fourth night of tour, when I began to feel that horrible anxiety and panic the way I did on my 15th birthday. It started to hit me on stage at my second show of the tour. My dad wasn't there to play with me. My mom wasn't there to watch. My boyfriend wasn't there to give me a hug after every set or to go home to after a long night of music. Everything was changing so quickly and I realized it as I was on stage (which is literally the worst because everyone will witness it if you make a scene). I was 10 hours away from home which made everything worse. I have a friend Ian on the road with me but its not like I can just put off of my problems onto him when we are just starting to get to know each other. All I could do was cry. I broke out in hives. I knew if I ate or drank anything I would just vomit. I couldn't breathe.
All I can wonder now is if I jumped the gun on this trip. Most kids my age make a gradual adjustment into adulthood by going off to college maybe and hour or two away. All I've talked about for months is how excited I am to travel , but I never thought I would feel this alone. I feel like I've ripped all the things that made me happy away for me. I guess now the only way to cope with this anxiety is to realize I'm the only person that will always be there for me. I have to stop doing things to please others and take time to please me. I want to enjoy this trip so incredibly bad and I hope I didn't get myself into a "right place, wrong time" situation. I am trying to become stronger but once again I can feel myself getting weaker. Am I being dramatic? Yes. But are my feeling valid? YES.
Here I am, sitting in bed, with my post anxiety melt down self, wishing I could stay home forever. Most kids my age (18) go off to college maybe an hour or two away from home having the ability to come home as they please on weekends. Am I crazy to want to leave my loved ones? Am I crazy to travel the country in a shitty van that could break down any moment? Am I crazy to leave with only $1,300 in my bank account? Am I crazy to leave everything that makes me comfortable?
These questions ponder my brain constantly but I think I have come to a simple answer to all of them. NO. Sure most kids will leave for college to "learn" but, I know that for me the only way to get a true education before indulging in the treacherous world of college is to indulge myself in the world. I need see what I would look up on google photos or come across on instagram with my own eyes. I need to put myself into uncomfortable situations so I can become more comfortable with myself and my strength. I need to learn how people across my own country and possibly other live their everyday lives. I need to see the wild and be the wild. I need to share my music with people. This is my passion.
Though I know that the long hours of driving will be grueling and I will miss my family like no other, I am ready. The journey to creating new friendships and experiences will conclude in stories that I can tell my children and their children about. John Lewis once wrote "If not us then who, If not now, then when?”. Instead of my anxiety ridden questions that usually fluster my head, I will now force these two questions into my brain as my worries start to pour in. When is a better time then now?
Rock and blues singer from Detroit, Mi