By Elz Cuya
Cheryl Friedman can’t hold the same job for more than three years. This isn’t because she’s irresponsible, or untalented, it’s because she can’t let three years go by without taking a long trip. Cheryl has visited 26 different countries, drove from Canada down the entire East Coast to Key West Florida, drove across the United States, and most recently, visited the National Parks of the West. But unlike most vacationers, she travels alone.
“It was a Tuesday night around this time last year,” Cheryl says, “And it had been raining, I was stressed at work and I was so unhappy, and I asked myself, ‘What is it that makes me truly happy?’ And I realized that it was travel and photography.”
So she pulled out her journal from her last trip down the east coast and read it from cover to cover. “I was laughing and laughing as I read about all of the crazy adventures I had on my last trip and I thought to myself, ‘This is me. The girl in this journal is who I am. And this life that I’m living right now, is not me.’ So I knew what I had to do. Quit my job and travel. I had to reconnect with my soul.”
A friend who had just published a travel guide suggested that Cheryl visit the national parks of the West. She then did some research online, bought some maps, and with all the camping equipment and photography gear that she could fit in a little Miata, she was off.
Always driven by curiosity, Cheryl “wandered” through her trip. “I look at a map to make sure I’m not taking a main highway — that it’s either a two-lane road, or a limited highway. I purposely take the road less traveled. And I’m always fascinated with what I find there. I take my best shots at the most unexpected places. And if it takes 5 to 10 times longer to get somewhere, that’s fine because my purpose is not to get to the destination, my purpose is to capture the journey.”
And her 8,000-mile journey was an enriching one. She recalls meeting a 70-year old man named Omar, who owned an antique store in Wickenburg, Arizona. His father opened the shop in the thirties, so Omar spent his entire life there. “He made the store sign himself, and smiled a lot, even though he had no teeth. His philosophy was to simply enjoy life, and I found it so amazing that someone could live here and do the same thing day in and day out, and still love life so much. I learned from him that it’s important to enjoy the simplicity of life.”
And locals and travelers alike were equally fascinated with Cheryl. “I would always be writing in my journal, dining alone anywhere from a dive bar to a fancy restaurant, and people would be staring at me.” She remembers one woman in particular, who approached her and asked if she was a famous writer. “That would be ‘NO,'” she laughed.
Most people were surprised to meet a young woman traveling alone. “Aren’t you afraid?” “Why are you alone?” “Isn’t it dangerous?” people would ask.
But Cheryl was never afraid. “I believe in the law of attraction. If I emanate positive, I get positive, if I emanate negative, I get negative. And there’s a big difference between being afraid and being street smart. I take all of the necessary precautions, and so far, I’ve never had any problems.”
It was this positive and adventurous spirit that took her to some spectacular places. She camped at Joshua tree, woke up before dawn to capture a shot of Utah’s Delicate Arch at sunrise, hiked the Indian Gardens of the Grand Canyon, visited a ghost town, hiked to Angel’s Landing in Zion, caught Telluride’s Mountain Film Festival and took a ride on America’s last steam engine in Durango.
“I really have no expectations or agendas when I go to a new town. I usually park my car and just talk to people. I find out where the locals hang out, or I just talk to a cashier at a diner, and that’s how I get a real feel for the place.”
And the people she met along the way made a huge impact on her passion for travel. She recalls meeting the Bodin’s on a mining tour in Bisbee, Arizona. “They were a family from Waco, Texas who took an entire year to travel through the United States. The couple and their three kids would stay in one city for a month, then move on to the next city. The children were being home-schooled while absorbing a whole new city every month.”
Like many of the people she met on her adventures, the Bodin’s instantly befriended Cheryl and invited her to dinner the following evening. “We shared travel stories, talked about travel movies, the kids did magic tricks at the table. We totally bonded. And it was such a great experience for me. All this time, I thought my extended trips would have to stop if ever I wanted to get married and have kids, but now I know that traveling with a family can work.”
But for now, Cheryl is back in San Francisco dreaming about her next extended trip, either an excursion to Vietnam or a Canadian cross-country drive. And of course, she can hardly wait. “I find that when I’m doing what I love, traveling, taking pictures, and all the while having great conversations with people, what I’m really doing is honoring my soul.”
*Watch for Cheryl Friedman’s photo pictorial in next month’s issue of The Argonauts!!!*