A few weeks ago, two of my closest friends, Megan and Brian, and I packed up a mini van and headed west.

What ensued was a wide-skied adventure.

Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona.

Sometimes we drove straight through the night, listening to horror story podcasts and southwest radio stations and the one CD we had, which Megan bought in Nashville after we saw the band perform live.

We drank endless amounts of gas station coffee, which we now have a strange affection for, and stopped at thrift stores and rest stops and roadside markets. At 2am while driving through New Mexico, I asked Brian to pull over on the side of the road so we could look at the stars– it was so dark and they were so bright, so close. I saw two shoot across the sky.

We camped in 10-degree weather by a babbling brook and canyon walls and in warm Arizona desert. We huddled around fires and cooked hot dogs, hiked through Red Rocks and sat on a ledge overlooking the Grand Canyon while the sun set.

Brian wrote “Grand Canyon or Bust!” on our van’s back window, and people approached us, smiling, everywhere we went to give us recommendations. People waved to us on the interstate, came up to us at gas stations to say, “You’re almost there!” or, in the park, “You made it!”

A roadrunner RAN across the ROAD while I was driving, and I slammed on the brakes to save its life. We ate hamburgers and breakfast burritos and white cheddar popcorn, took 10,000 pictures, couldn’t shower for days but didn’t care.

Under the giant sky, I pulled out a star finder app and identified constellations, pointing them out to my friends, who sipped beers by the fire.

We walked through the Petrified Forest, the Johnny Cash Museum, and got lost in the world’s largest tree house, abandoned in Tennessee.

We woke up every morning with a very loose plan, or none at all, for where we would sleep the next night, making it up as we went, laughing all along the way.

Everywhere, beauty unfolding.

Over and over and over again, we turned toward the sky.

(picture taken in Morocco, 2013) 

Before I was instructed to inject hypodermic needles into my own tender skin, the nurse let me practice on oranges.

With my left thumb and forefinger, I pinched an inch of the fruit’s flesh, and with my right, slid the thin needle into its pulp, pressed down the plunger, and injected two units of saline. After three more rounds of practice, the nurse gently took the oranges away. She handed me a fresh, orange-capped syringe. I shifted in my hospital bed so that my gangly, pre-teen legs were straight out in front of me.

Soon, I’d learn that there are various places a person with diabetes can inject insulin: upper arm, stomach, hips. My first spot was my upper left thigh. Trembling, I pinched my flesh, like I had the fruit. Determined to do what I must to save my own life. My hospital room smelled like citrus all night.