header photo: Katrina Taylor
Name & Age? Valerie Brogden, 27
Where's home? Trying to find it. I grew up near Seattle and lived in Portland for the last 3 years but I don't think I'll return after this trip.
What was/is your last/current trip? I'm on a motorcycle/backpacking trip through the American west. So far I've been through Oregon, California, Utah, Nevada and Arizona. I've backpacked in The Redwoods, Tahoe, Yosemite, Zion, hiked the Grand Canyon rim to rim, and many more places. I'm headed for Montana next.
What got you started? When I graduated college, I got a job teaching physics and math at a British school in Lima, Peru. After six months I decided this wasn't the job for me and spent two months hitch-hiking through South America with a Mexican girl I had met in Lima via Couchsurfing. I swore I would do a similar trip in North America but ended up getting a great engineering job. I worked as an electron microscope engineer for three years. I had some wonderful motorcycle-loving coworkers that taught me how to ride and helped me fix up my mom's 1981 Suzuki GS. I took on some stressful projects at work and I felt myself spiraling into the life-time-career pit. I decided that I couldn't spend my entire youth behind a computer in a windowless lab and bought a new motorcycle. I used up all my vacation on a month long road trip to New Mexico and back during the fall and decided that this was how I needed to spend my time right now — that in spring of this year I was embarking on a much longer trip.
How do you pay the way? When I decided to do this trip I opened up a C.D. and put a large chunk of my paycheck into it each month for a year.
What's always on your packing list? Tools, water, snacks, hiking boots, hiking backpack, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, stove, bungee chords, motorcycle gear, journal...
What’s the last thing that blew your mind? Ribbon Falls in the inner canyon at Grand Canyon. Most beautiful waterfall I've ever seen!
By land, by sea, or by air? Land, definitely. You spend more time with it all that way.
Hotel or hostel? Camp or Couchsurf? Camp and Couchsurf pretty much exclusively. I've stayed in a couple hotels when I've been exhausted or just really needed a shower but I try to avoid it. Once you've been in one hotel you've been in them all.
What's your travel pet peeve? Mansplaining! I get a lot of dudes trying tell me how to do simple things that I know how to do like lube my chain or how to read a map. Sometimes they give me wrong or bad advice with slimy self confidence too! I'm trying to work on not being so annoyed by that and just smiling and nodding while I chose whether to listen to or ignore them. I know they usually just want to talk to me. I just wish they would find a less condescending approach.
How do people react to you as a solo female traveler? People are generally very shocked and surprised and they ask me how I got so adventurous as though it will be some simple explanation. Most people also seem to think it's cool and admirable. People seem to think it's more dangerous to travel as a woman. I think it's much safer. As a woman, people are more likely to help you out when you need, or host you.
What scares you? Long windy downhill gravel roads and grizzly bears.
How do you overcome fear / anxiety / doubt? I try to always be safe and prepared for dangerous situations. I also have no problem seeking help and support from people when I need it.
Worst memory: Riding from the Redwoods back to Portland last October during hurricane weather in the night time. My hands were freezing and my visor was too fogged up to see through. I spent six or seven hours going 40mph on the freeway completely terrified as trucks zoomed by spraying me with freezing water and throwing off my balance in the wind.
One unforgettable memory: I loved backpacking through the South West Desert in Zion. It was so beautiful and secluded. I didn't see another human for three days. Since the trailhead was right on the highway, I had ridden my motorcycle up the trail a bit to hide it behind a bush. When I returned, it was covered in ants and stuck in the dirt! I had to flag down a car to help me push it out.
Bravest memory: Not sure if this was brave or dumb but it was pretty nuts getting another person and all their backpacking stuff on my bike and riding from Vegas to Joshua Tree to LA. We were so piled high with stuff strapped on the bike: Someone compared us to the Beverly Hillbillies! In Joshua Tree, we had to ride on quite a few dirt roads and we also rode through a wind farm on the way out. I had to lean into the wind so I was sideways riding for 30 miles. The bike was top-heavy with all our stuff and gusts kept pushing me toward traffic in the adjacent lane. Having that kind of responsibility over the safety of someone else was terrifying.
Culture shock moment: I stopped for lunch in Colorado City, a fundamentalist Mormon commune town on the border of Arizona and Utah. I was curious about the town so I read the Wikipedia article while I ate at a restaurant called Three Merry Wives (the relevance of the name was lost on me until later!). As I looked around at all the women in long skirts and the people whose eyes all seemed a little too close together, I read about the polygamy and incest that is typical in this city. I read about how the one person of note was an activist against child abuse. She had escaped a horrid childhood raised by two mothers with 27 siblings. After being impregnated by her father and forced to marry her first cousin, she fled Colorado City at age 16 and lived as a vagabond for a few years before publishing her autobiography. This city gave me some major creeps and I left as soon as I could.
Best reason to talk to strangers: They often give you great advice about which roads to take, which trails to hike, or where to camp.
How are you different while traveling? I'm more open to meeting people and talking with folks. I'm more spontaneous as well.
Is it harder to leave or to stay put? Leaving friends behind is never easy. I'd say it's harder to leave a place once you've put down a few roots.
Three things you've learned on the road:
- Never leave a stream without a full water bottle unless you know exactly where the next water source is
- Never leave a city without a full gas tank (same exception)
- If the weather cooperates, sleeping outside is always better than sleeping in a tent.
What keeps you going? The beautiful landscapes and adventures that I know are coming up!
What's next? After this trip I'm thinking I'll go to grad school. I'm interested in some combination of robotics and planetary physics. My dream job would be to work on space exploration robots. However, I'll need to strike a balance with an engineering job and an active lifestyle so I don't end up in a chair in front of a computer all day every day.
What would you be doing if you’d never left home? I'd probably still be working as an electron microscope engineer in Oregon.
What advice do you have for wanna-be Wild Hearts? Just do it! It's not that hard. About a year before I left, I was deciding whether or not I wanted to do this trip. I had opened up a savings account for it and my friend Kat gave me some great advice. She told me to just make all the arrangements so that if I want to do it it's completely possible and then when the time comes, all I'll have to do is go. It's true, I was ready. All I needed to do was ride away.
Last question: What would make you stop traveling? I would stop traveling if a family member became very sick or needed my help.