Before sunset in Oregon
Sometimes the most scenic roads in life are the detours you didn’t mean to take.
— Angela N. Blount, Once Upon an Ever After

We thought Mother Nature would give us a break after the first night. The storm raged on over the next several days. When we reached the next visitor center at Mono Lake, the park ranger refused to even give us backpacking permits due to the weather. We pushed on towards Lake Tahoe only to be welcomed by a torrential downpour. We stayed overnight at a hotel that night and check the weather forecast. The forecast wasn’t looking favorable in the near term, so we flipped our itinerary and headed straight to Portland. We would spend a few days in Portland and camp our way back to San Francisco. 

This was not a short drive. It took around ten hours to drive from Lake Tahoe to Portland. We split the drive and made our way up north through I-395 and I-97. When we crossed the border into Oregon, the landscapes shifted to dense evergreen forests. The misty roads bend every which way as they carved into the Cascades. It was difficult to pay attention to the road as we were taking in the breathtaking scenery. 

We finally made it to Portland. I’ve only seen a few episodes of Portlandia (to Jean’s horror), but the TV show only scratched the surface of the city’s unique culture. Its residents reflected the liberal political values as the bastion of counterculture. In addition to the plaid shirts and college football paraphernalia, the city residents mixed and matched layers and textures with appropriate technical outerwear to match. All the men sported facial hair with stylish sunglasses or glasses to match. We walked through the neighborhoods and parks while basking in the fall foliage of the Pacific Northwest. Food stalls were everywhere, and we sampled many of the city’s famous establishments like Blue Star Donuts, Pok Pok, Screen Door Cafe and Deschutes Brewery. We even found a video game arcade serving beers on tap.

Portland was charming, but we were feeling restless. Out of the last 4 nights, only one was spent in the outdoors. One of Jean’s friends lived near Bend, Oregon, a couple hours south of Portland. We decided to take a quick detour to say hello. Along the way, we stopped by Bagby Hot Springs, an outdoor thermal hot spring.

Before we started the trip, Jean asked if I was a AAA member. I responded that I did, and I joked how I used its benefits on a few occasions. We arrived in Sisters, a small town in Central Oregon about thirty minute drive away from Bend. We stopped by a gas station to fill up and to call Jean’s friend that we’re nearby. Jean met me inside the station store, while I was grabbing a hot chocolate inside. As we walked out, we heard a conspicuous hissing sound coming from the car. Upon closer inspection, we figured out that one tire was losing air at an alarming rate. 

As much as he tried to hide it, Jean was definitely not thrilled. Before the car’s tire went totally flat, we moved to car to the outer section of the gas station. While I was on the line with AAA, Jean was messaging his friend on the latest predicament. The tow truck arrived thirty minutes later. The driver suggested we drop the car at the tire center around corner from the station instead of taking the car all the way to Bend. Jean’s friend kindly picked us up and let us stay overnight while we wait for the tire to be replaced.

Thus began the flat tire chronicles. Jean drove an M3. We went back to the tire center the next morning, and we found out that they didn’t have the tire in stock. In fact, there was no dealer within a 100 miles including Portland that had the tire in the right size. Fortunately, we had mobile phones and Amazon, and we found an online retailer with the right tire with “next-day delivery.” Never trust On-Trac with their shipping estimates. We actually ended up staying an additional FOUR days.

We were now stuck in a town with a population of 2,000 people and a main street that spans three blocks. It meant more nights not sleeping under the stars, but we made the best out of the situation. We rented a car and explored the trails and state parks in the area. We hiked along McKenzie River and viewed Sahalie and Koosah Falls. We hiked to the top of Black Butte and explored the trails of Smith Rock State Park. 

By this point, about 80% of the trip did not have camping. Jean became increasingly distant and often retreated to his smartphone. When things don’t go according to plan, being frustrated or annoyed was completely understandable. I still maintained my optimism and joked that things could’ve been a lot worse. (Imagine if we didn’t have an Internet connection in the middle of the highway!) To lighten the mood, I asked  only to be met with short, curt answers. I told stories from my childhood to fill the void. Eventually, there were some long silent periods where we wouldn’t say much to each other unless we were singing along to Michael Jackson or classic rock. 

When 100% of his jokes became self-deprecating, I should’ve known something was amiss. Jean continued to withdraw and retreat into himself. I wondered if I did anything wrong. I asked him directly on multiple occasions, and he dodged the question every time and pulled away further. After a few tries with no success nor progress, I backed off. At first, I was a little uncomfortable, but I recalled instances when my younger brothers were stressed. They always retreated to a place where they could recharge whether it was playing video games or watching TV. Once they regained their energy, they always came back. 

Have I become an emotional burden? 
No, I am not, and I don't want to be either.

I didn’t question him again. I let him be. Do I feel hurt? Sure I do. Am I going to punish him for withdrawing? No, because I understood he needed time alone to work through the issues and regroup. When he decided to come back, I would try to receive him openly with a warm smile. If he wanted to talk about it, I would listen.

What did I do in the meantime? My original game plan. I focused on loving myself and living a fiercely fun life. We explored a side of Oregon where only the locals go. During the day hikes, I shot some of my best photography to date, and I taught Jean how to do long exposure photography. In Bend, we met an older local who restored vintage BMW motorcycles and even found some cool Star Trek coasters at an arts gallery. 

Despite the comedy of errors, he never outwardly displayed his frustration or annoyance. He was very polite to all the locals we’ve interacted and conversed with. He always asked for (and often deferred to) my opinion on where to go and eat. When I had a less-than-stellar drink, he swapped it with his even though I knew he didn’t like it either. We met with my friend in Portland, and he turned on his charm and contributed to our conversations. When I was shopping for warmer clothes, he let me stop at every store and readily offered his opinion when asked. For almost every dessert we ordered, he always left me the last bite. I recognized and appreciated how he tried to be positive with his actions even if everything was going wrong.

The tire finally arrived. It took the technicians no more than thirty minutes to replace the tire. We made our way towards Crater Lake, the highlight of our trip. Jean’s spirits lifted a bit, but they were immediately dampened once we found out the roads surrounding the lake were closed for the season. I knew our camping days were likely numbered, but I secretly hopedd for at least one night where we could gaze at the stars.  

When friends or family pull away, a woman’s natural instinct is to pull back harder. When they push you away or abandon you altogether, it hurts. You always wonder if there was anything else that could be done differently, but thinking about the past is an enormous waste of time and energy. Every woman wants to be the powerfully sexy version of herself that people gravitate towards. What makes a woman powerfully sexy? A sense of humor. A taste for adventure. A healthy glow. Hips to grab onto. A warm heart. Openness. Confidence. Humility. Appetite. Intuition. Presence. Smart-ass comebacks. Dirty jokes told by an innocent-looking girl. A woman who realizes how beautiful she is without need for anyone to tell her what she already knows. That’s why if someone you care about pulls away, you should always let him or her go. If they want you in their life, they will come back, and you should openly receive him or her with a smile. Focus on loving yourself now. Live a rich, fierce life that makes the person admire you for the beautiful person you know you are.