Sonora Theresa Mindling-Werling just stepped off the path, a path that has been well-ridden. She longed for something new, something touched by only a few. She wore boots, a camera and a backpack. This path connected two things: high school and college. Many are told to follow this path, and dare not leave it, but for some this path is the wrong way.
After Sonora stepped off the path, a new road opened up. A road that would teach her more than the years of college she could attend. This road led to more than just one place, one campus, it led to places all over the world, up mountains, across oceans, down streams, through valleys. It led her to the reality of living dreams.
Sonora was born on September 17, 1996, in Phoenix, Arizona. She attended high school at Ashland High in Ashland, Oregon. In 2015 she graduated and received a great scholarship to a great school. She decided to take a gap year before college to give her a break from studying, and take time to think of what she really wanted. There would be no teachers, no students, no one asking her where she was going to attend college or what she was majoring in, or how much money she received from scholarships. It would be a year for Sonora to think for herself and find things out on her own.
Sonora has spent the past two months backpacking and hitchhiking all over the world. She has seen England, Scotland, Ireland, The Czech Republic, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Belgium and Iceland. Each destination brought new views and new teachings to Sonora’s developing mindset of who she was meant to become. She learned that being alone gives her the privilege of being her own advisor. She learned that being only nineteen and female is not a disadvantage.
She has experienced what many females have witnessed- catcalls, rude comments, unwanted approaches and unwelcoming gawking eyes. Before these trips, Sonora held a fear for traveling solo, thinking it was scary but most certainly doable. She traveled thousands of miles from home, family and friends, but she found that they were not far. She knew how to react and handle these situations of fear and doubt because of what she had learned from her parents. Stranger danger, look both ways before crossing, it was the simple yet effective teachings of childhood that kept Sonora safe. An instinct kicked in, and with her own will on her side, fears disappeared and opportunity became present, she could face any man of wrong intentions, any trail of arduous levels, any obstacle that came her way was resolved with smart thinking.
In simplest term what Sonora learned from her travels was to, “Trust. Your. Gut.”
This learning also took her to unplanned destinations. She followed not a map, but where she felt she should go. In doing this she met world renown hitchhiker Pamela Konjevod, discovered hidden trails which led to stunning views and drove many roads of unpronounceable names. She learned to let go, and in doing so she discovered places and things that she would not have seen otherwise.
Her most recent trip to Iceland was where most of her learning happened. Sonora and Andrew Kearns, her travel companion, spent two weeks along the main route of the island’s borders and the West Fjords. Their Land Rover Defender, known as “Gary” to the traveling duo, served as their transportation and bed for many nights. She learned at a very young age something that most are fortunate to learn in a lifetime, and that is her place on Earth.
While standing on a rock outlook in front of Dynjandi Waterfall, she could barely breathe. With every breath came a mouthful of water. Within moments she was soaked, her eyes were flooded each time she opened them. She stood in the roar of the waterfall feeling its vast comparison to her, and laughed. Many times she was humbled by all that could crush her in seconds. The glaciers and the mountains could take her life away, yet they are still too beautiful to not approach with awe.
By her second day of the trip, she says on Andrew’s vlog, “I am speechless, ” but she gave it her greatest description, “Iceland is what would happen if Tim Burton and Wes Anderson got together and designed an Island. A combination of eerie, otherworldly magic embedded into every black sand beach or jagged cliff face paired with quaint and beautiful little towns bravely standing in a strange kind of harmony with the whole force of strange wildness that exudes from the landscape.”
Along with the nature, Andrew gave her his advice, most of their talks on their drives revolved around Sonora’s next steps. He shared that it is not worth attending college if you are only going because you have been told that it is what’s “right”, it is right for many, but not all – Not Sonora. He helped her develop an independent mindset, one that would lead her off a path of others and onto her own.
Her first step of her new life began on July 22, her official last day of work. She was working at a boutique and living with her family; now she will devote all of her time to traveling and photography. She recently began vlogging, for the purpose of sharing the reality of her life. She wants viewers and readers to know that she does not live a perfect life. Her vlog will have an in-depth look past the posts of social media.
“Social media is tricky because we have so much control over how we present ourselves, especially when all people are seeing is a single photo,” She said.
“I want to be able to tell the backstory and share the little details and mishaps that go along with every grand adventure. I want my vlogs to be a completely honest and true to life representation of everything that I experience on my upcoming travels and day to day life!”
On Sonora’s vlogs, viewers can see everyday life and things that everyone experiences from getting lost on the road, to having a broken down car, it allows viewers to connect on a more realistic and personable level. In July she hopes to meet back up with Andrew and the two will then travel to the Pacific Northwest. She plans to continue her world traveling and only get better at her photography and videography so she may inspire others with her works.
She is inspired by Andrew Kearns, Eric Mindling, Chris Burkard and James Barman, all men who have given up a traditional lifestyle to better pursue their dreams and passions. She also finds inspiration in Pamela Konjevod, the female hitchhiker, who taught her that you can be, “tiny AND a lady AND all alone AND a TOTAL BADASS at the same time.” She also told Sonora, “A wise woman once told me: travel till you’re 35, and then think about marriage. Once you’ve thought about it, keep traveling!” And lastly, she is inspired by every kid with a pack on their back and smile on their face, all living from their single bag so that they may see the world and live simpler. To her, nothing is more inspiring than that.
A Note from the Writer:
As a sixteen-year-old who shares similar passions as Sonora, I learned so much from writing this piece. I too am female, young and have a desire to be able to travel the world. Before interviewing Sonora I did not know anything about her, except what I had seen of her on her first vlog, but I could tell she had a great story and I wanted to write it.
Her story reminded me a lot of Cheryl Stray’s “Wild.” Both women set out into nature to discover more about themselves and they did. From the both of them, I have learned: “If your Nerve, deny you- Go above your Nerve,” Emily Dickinson. Fear to me is just another obstacle, it may be hard to overcome but it is possible. Don’t let fears halt your passions, let your passions halt your fears! -Lillian
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