Some ask for permission, and some beg for forgiveness. I’m in the former category.
Some prefer the excitement of the unknown, and there are those who find comfort in planning. I am in the latter category.
We don’t live in a perfect world, and there is no such thing as an ideal person. With that said, most of us are happy in relationships driven by cooperation rather than conflict.
I have this “thing” when I travel, I like to have a reasonable amount of gas in my car. This is especially true when I’m traveling out west, where gas stations are few and far between. My worry kicks in at a quarter of a tank of fuel and builds until I find a gas station. At around an eighth of a tank, I can feel my heart race, and as the indicator needle drops further, I start to panic.
In July, my friend Tom told me that he planned on traveling out west with his son for a vacation. Tom was working on several big projects, but the summer was drawing to a close, and he wanted to give his boy an adventure. “The hiking paths at Glacier are closed, and so I was thinking about camping in Wyoming and western Colorado. Do you want to come along?” He asked. “Yes, absolutely,” I replied. Violet, my campervan, had been sitting idle all summer due to the pandemic. I was more than happy to get back into her driver’s seat.
I tried to pin Tom down for some details, but he shrugged me off. Remember my “planner” comment from above? Tom tends to be in the “more spontaneous” camp. Eventually, he let me know that he was planning on going the first week of August.
As the departure date approached, I pressed for more information, but it seemed to aggravate him. I knew that Tom was stressed, but I still needed the necessary data. “When are we leaving?” I asked. “I think around 4 AM. We can meet on the road.” He replied.
We live minutes from each other, so the “meet on the road” comment was confusing. I started to get Violet ready for the journey. I made a trip to Walmart to buy camp food. I packed a duffle bag full of clothes. The day before we were scheduled to leave, I texted him and asked him where we were going to meet. “On the road,” he replied. “Are you serious?” I responded. “What’s the big deal?” was his comeback.
I was about to drive 1000 miles with no other information than a destination. My mind started to move into high gear. Had I somehow coerced Tom into inviting me to go on this trip? No, I didn’t. Was he upset with me for some reason? I see Tom most days, and we get along well. It was clear that he didn’t want to drive in tandem with me, but it was unclear why.
My behavior in such a situation is very predictable and dates back to my childhood. My reaction is a multi-step process, most of which happens very quickly. First, I feel very hurt. Then I wonder if I did something wrong. If I did do something wrong, I try to correct it. If I didn’t do anything wrong, I move on to the next stage, anger. I’m not a very angry person, so this stage rapidly transitions to the final stage… I call that stage, “Kuna pride.”
When I was a young child, I would try to engage my dad. For instance, when I was in fourth grade, I found an old radio in the alley. I brought it to my dad and asked him if he would help me remove the radio’s speaker, so I could use it in another project. I recall him sitting in an upholstered rocker that we had in our living room. “Dad, could you help me get this speaker. I want to use it for something else, but I don’t know how to remove it from the chassis.” He seemed to hover 10 feet above me. He moved the edge of the “Sun-Times” that he was reading and looked down at me. “It’s impossible to remove those speakers,” he said and went back to reading the paper. I knew that it was possible to remove the speaker because I had already figured out how to do it. I was asking him for help because I wanted to spend time with him. I wanted him to value me, and I wanted him to be proud of me.
I felt hurt, then I blamed myself for not being a good enough son, then I got angry, and then I moved into Kuna pride. I took the old radio down into the basement and pulled the speaker. I brought it back upstairs and showed him that I had solved the problem without his help. I knew at that point that he would be more annoyed with me than proud. I wanted him to see that I didn’t need him. That I didn’t need anyone. I wanted him to know that if he didn’t believe in me, then I would believe in myself. I would not let him or anyone determine if I was good enough. I would figure out life on my own. I would find my own path. That, dear reader, is Kuna pride.
I know that it is considered wrong to be proud, but I felt that I had little choice. If my own father didn’t want to spend 15 minutes with me, who would? I could become the reject that I assumed that he thought I was, or I could adopt the idea that I wasn’t a reject, I was just different. Different is neither good nor bad. Being different would allow me to form my own thoughts. I didn’t need to sacrifice who I was on the fickle altar of popularity.
I could cite other examples of Kuna pride in my life, but you get the idea. In some ways, Kuna pride has made me a stronger and more independent person. I can think on my feet, and I don’t need a lot of external validation to do those things that I feel are correct. Naturally, there is also a downside to such a trait; I’ll let you ponder that.
When it was clear that Tom didn’t want to travel with me, I moved through my “stages.” “I don’t need anyone to travel. I can do it on my own. I’m not going to let anyone determine who I am. If he doesn’t want to spend time with me, so be it. I will make this trip my own adventure” Kuna pride was now in command.
I turned on the Violet’s 12-volt Dometic fridge and stocked it with perishables. I loaded her pantry with dry goods. I filled a snack bag with some fruit and salty treats and placed it on the console next to the driver’s seat. I shoved my duffle bag in a storage compartment under the bed. I filled my thermos with coffee, my Hydro Flask with ice water, and placed both in the center console cupholders. I punched in Curt Gowdy State Park, Wyoming on my iPhone’s GPS, started Violet’s engine, and backed out of the driveway.
With Kuna pride, there is always some residual hurt and anger. Still, I quickly buried those feelings as I was not about to allow anyone to take anything more away from me. I was going to make the most of the drive.
I filled the driving hours thinking about random things, listening to podcasts and music, and making phone calls. As I approached Omaha, I realized that my phone wasn’t charging. I had just replaced the charging cord, and jiggling the connection confirmed the fear that my iPhones lightning port was defective. I moved into problem-solving mode and started to search for a T-mobile or Best Buy store in Omaha. Just then, I got a text message from Tom. “Where are you?” I replied that I was approaching Omaha, and I had to make a stop there. “We are about 25 minutes ahead of you and are stopping in Omaha, too,” came his text. I replied, “OK.” I was not about to ask him if he wanted to meet up in Omaha. One of the aspects of Kuna pride is that once I’m hurt, I establish a 20-foot high emotional barrier to prevent being hurt again. I spied a Love’s Travel Stop and pulled in. I filled up on gas and found an overpriced wireless charger for my phone and continued my journey.
More text messages from Tom started to come in, and he was acting normal. I told you that I’m not a person who stays angry, and this is especially true when it comes to people that I care about. My barrier wall was intact, but it was crumbling a bit.
I continued to drive with an eye on the fuel gauge and made sure that I found a gas station when the tank was at the quarter level. On past trips with Tom, my need to fill up has been a stress point between us. He likes to drive as far as possible on a single tank of gas; I have had to bring him a jerry can when he has run out of fuel in the past. Now I could stop for gas as frequently as needed. There was a relief in this.
The further west that I traveled, the worse my T-mobile signal fared. I dug around and found my prepaid Verizon hotspot. I had added a month of service to it just before my departure as a safety net. As I said before, I am a planner.
With the hotspot connected to the Verizon network and my T-mobile iPhone connected to the hotspot, I was able to regain some connection. However, I was still getting a lot of dropouts. The communications with Tom continued via Facetime and voice calls. Tom asked me why I had ignored his calls before the text that I responded to near Omaha. Apparently, my iPhone was malfunctioning on many levels. I made a note to myself to buy an iPhone 12 in the fall.
As we got closer to the exit for Curt Gowdy, Tom told me not to follow the directions from my GPS. “There is a better exit, I don’t remember what number it is, but I’ll recognize it when I see it. I’ll let you know what it is once I find it.” I told him, “OK.” He eventually relayed the exit information to me, and I started to scan the Interstate for the sign. To make the situation more confusing, I had to drive through what seemed like a million road construction cones. Suddenly, my Verizon hotspot disconnected from my phone. I reached down to power it up, and at that exact time, I drove past the exit. A wave of panic rushed over me. I was in the middle of nowhere, and I had no idea if the next exit was 1 mile or 100 miles away. I had been driving 14 hours, I was exhausted, and now I was sick to my stomach.
Luckily, Laramie’s exit was only about 10 miles west, and I pulled off the Interstate. By then, Tom informed me that all of the campsites at Curt Gowdy were filled, and he was leaving the park. “Stay at the visitor’s center,” I texted. “I’ll find you there.” I pulled into a small church parking lot and tried to figure out where I was. Tom called and told me to meet him at the intersection of Happy Jack road and the Interstate. He might have told me to meet him on the second moon of Jupiter, as I would have had an equally good chance of figuring out how to get there. “Wait, wait, wait! Let’s meet at the visitor’s center. I can put that into the GPS,” I said. Tom continued to push for the Happy Jack destination, and then it came out of my mouth. You can imagine the types of words that emanated from my piehole; however, it would be impossible to convey the level of anger and rage that accompanied them. I had had it.
I was driving again and directly in front of me was the entrance to the Interstate. How the heck did I find it? I pulled onto the expressway and drove east. Suddenly, the GPS announced, “Next exit Happy Jack road.” I didn’t remember programming the GPS, but that was the exit that Tom wanted me to meet him. We connected and started looking for a place to camp. We drove into the Medicine Bow National Forest and found a campground, but it was full. We drove to another, and it was also full. We found a forest service road and drove in. We came upon a family and asked if they knew if camping was allowed along the service road. The husband said that there was dispersed camping, but we would have to drive down a bit. We pressed forward and found a clearing about a mile and a half up the dirt road.
I parked Violet and tried to settle down. I was absolutely exhausted, stressed, and shaking. At the same time, I was relieved that we had found a place to camp, and I was happy to see Tom and his son. They came over, and we started to chat. The first thing that Tom commented on was how surprised he was at my expletives. I acknowledge his statement noting that I was exhausted and frustrated. At that point, Tom’s son asked me in earnest if I really did have all of my breakfast meals planned out in advance. It was clear that they had had a discussion in the car concerning my behaviors. I don’t believe that the discussion was complementary in nature. I decided to take the high road. “People are different. Some are planners, some are more spontaneous. Neither position is right or wrong…” At that point, Tom butted in laughing, “It was such a relief not having you follow us. What a pain in the ass.” My kindness button switched off. I was furious again. However, I knew that it would be foolish to respond to him in my depleted state. I was in no position to accurately judge anything.
The evening ended, and I went to bed, but I didn’t sleep despite my exhaustion. Why was I here? Why did I go on this vacation? The questions tumbled through my mind. I decided that I would talk to Tom the next morning and tell him about my feelings. I would also say to him that I would be returning home the following day. It made no sense to drive 1000 miles and then return home without doing anything, and I wanted to hike the park, but I couldn’t see spending the next week with Tom.
The next morning Tom had noticed that I was acting more sullen and tried to use humor to lighten me up. I told him that I needed to talk to him without his son present. Having a serious conversation with Tom is possible. Still, it is not conducted in a typical fashion, as he has a tendency to interrupt.
I told him about my frustration and my plan to leave the following day. It was clear that Tom didn’t want this, and that his comment from the night before was meant to be humorous. However, there was a grain of truth in his barb. He told me that he was feeling a lot of stress and wanted to drive away his tension. He noted that it had been difficult for him to have me follow on past trips due to our different driving styles. He implied that he didn’t want that additional stress on this trip. I admitted to him that it was also stressful for me to follow him. Driving tandem was stressful for both of us, but for opposite reasons. He noted that he was only 30-40 miles ahead of me during the entire trip and that he would have come back to get me if anything had gone wrong. He said many other things, but the gist of the conversation was that no ill will was intended by him. He had asked me on the trip because he wanted me to come and not out of a sense of obligation.
On my part, I was aware that I was reading his behavior through the veil of my past experiences. With the acknowledgment of our mutual stress, my anger faded, and we were just Mike and Tom on another one of our adventures. I could feel the relief from both of us as we acknowledged how external stresses and differences in our personalities were the root causes of the friction between us.
That later fact deserves further comment. I tend to be a planner who wants all of the boxes checked before I engage in something new. Tom finds excitement in the unknown; he enjoys flying by the seat of his pants. In ordinary life, we complement each other. I have made Tom more organized, and he has made me more spontaneous. However, driving 1000 miles in a single day is not part of normal life. Tom said he was sorry if he upset me. We were both happy to move forward. There is a reason that we are best friends. We are imperfect, but neither of us is cruel. We not only like each other, but we also look out for each other.
The trip continued under the best of terms. Will I travel again with Tom? The answer is, yes. How will we travel to our next destination? Well, that is yet to be determined.
I wrote this post for several reasons, but mostly to stimulate you, dear readers, to think about points of conflict that you have had in your relational life. Our past impacts our present. It is easy to misinterpret a person’s actions and motivations. We are all different, and one person’s goal in a situation may differ from another person’s. Textbook communication and conflict resolution protocols are great when you can do them. Still, when you can’t, it is OK to imperfectly resolve a problem. The most important characteristics when moving forward are sincerity, empathy, and honesty. With these traits, a solution is possible. If you are in a relationship that is phony instead of sincere, or one where the parties can only relate to their own needs, or one that is dishonest instead of honest, then no actual resolution can ever be achieved. If these negative characteristics are present, then it may be best to move on or accept that you will be stressed continuously in a repeating pattern of disharmony.
There is more to this vacation story, but I’ll save that for another day.