Posted in Backyard Tourism, Lessons, People, The Barista, Vagabonding, Working Holiday

Both Ways Twice

“Just look both ways, twice,” Kahn quipped with a smirk as we discussed the practicalities of my entire driving career and most of my walking career being on the right side of the road and suddenly transporting myself to the left.

 

It’s not bad advice. Sometimes, no matter where you are, you have to look both ways twice to avoid being gobsmacked by a truck… or your own mind.

 
I’ve been living at a place called Twelve Mile Delta. New Zealand, as a Commonwealth country, is mostly fiercely metric but there’s some holdovers from the hodgepodge of imperial measurements that still plague the UK. (A hitchhiker with a posh British accent was complaining about this recently: “Speed is kilometers but distance is miles, height is in feet and inches, but weight is in stones for no reason at all!”) I think if I were to sketch the most beautiful place in the world for me to live, it would look an awful lot like this Department of Conservation campground. The mountains rise drastically from the glacially-fed and forever chilly lake, and I can see the Remarkables in the distance living up to their name and shielding the population center from my sight.

 

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Twelve Mile is about a ten-minute drive from Queenstown, and then depending on the time of day, it can take another ten minutes to get through the ten blocks that make up the CBD. (Oh, can someone tell me if this is an Oceania phrase? I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone refer to downtown as the Central Business District in Europe.) With mountains on three sides and Lake Wakatipu on the fourth, there is nowhere for the city to sprawl, so the people pile on top of each other in a place that – not so very long ago – sent its citizens to Alexandra for shopping and groceries. This small town has no place to grow: it makes perfect sense to me why they hate freedom campers and tourists.

 
It can get a little suffocating with only one road through the city. Being away from the busyness is like a breath of fresh air every night, staring up at a million stars and waking to fog rolling over the lake as the mountains slowly allow the sun downward to burn it off. But even with a much smaller DOC population, I’ve managed to find myself a bit of community. Probably 70% of the backpackers in a country teeming with them are traveling either in pairs or posses. Those of us traveling solo are much more likely to be male. I managed to find myself two other gals living in vans at my campground, and we park next to each other and invited other solo wanderers into our circle each evening. We share meals (leftovers are an impossibility without a fridge), and drink whatever free beers were handed out at work while discussing our various countries and travels in all their glories and impossibilities. They call me Grandma – the two regular girls are 19 and 20, and even though most of our adopted friends are 26-30, I’m the old soul who turns in when it’s too dark to see and drinks tea while reading books.

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It’s been delightful the last few weeks, but yesterday, I looked both ways twice.
I keep forgetting that I’m not trapped here, and I don’t have to live anyone else’s life. I don’t have to be Grandma and make pleasant conversation every evening. I don’t have to have coordinated plans about which direction to go next. I don’t have to go on long hikes or deep yoga stretches or jump in a freezing cold lake.

 
So after work, instead of going south to camp, I turned north.

 
I picked up a hitchhiker and brought him along the Cardona mountains to Wanaka, slowing my speech and enunciating my words so that this Frenchman could understand me. He offered to cook me dinner as thanks for the lift, but I needed solitude. I dropped him off and spent the next 24 hours without saying a word. I drove up a highway and a long gravel road past sheep and cows and a gray-blue river and shattered mountains until I came to a ford. The sky was darkening, so I settled in to watch the evening come. When morning broke, the dawn showed off just how brilliant Mount Aspiring National Park actually is as glacier feeding my stream reflected the golden light.

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I had a long, slow, lazy morning. I made coffee just for me, I did a little yoga while twitching away from the sandflies, I read The Little Prince. I was hidden from the road, so I watched dozens of vehicles cross the ford and go on into the parkland. Eventually, I joined them. I drove until I ran out of road, crossing half a dozen fords and reminding myself to be patient that not everyone is comfortable on gravel roads. I saw a sheep with a long tail and spent the next ten minutes trying to remember the nursery rhyme about that. And then I got to the parking lot and felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of people.

 
“I should hike this trail.” I told myself.

 
“Why?” my inner voice replied.

 
“Well… because Glenna would! Because Young Adventuress would! Because it’s a place you’ve never been before, so that’s what you always do! Because it’s Mount Aspiring and that’s a cool name!”

 
“But neither of them are you. And you don’t want to be around people right now. There’s always going to be something you’ve never done, and there’s always going to be cool names.”

 
It’s a very strange thing, having to give myself permission to not do something. This wasn’t because of the physical limitations of hurting my knee. This was a mental limitation of too much time around people, too much time around noise, too much time around the beaten track. I still needed silence, I needed more time to be alone.

 
I looked both ways twice, and I turned around.

 

 

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Posted in The Barista, Vagabonding, Work, Working Holiday

Unhurried

As humans, we seem to go to more effort to avoid trouble and pain than we do to make things better.

-“The Yes Man” by Danny Wallace

I’m accustomed to living by the clock and to living by the rules.

5:45 alarms, 10 o’clock meetings, drinks at 7. A calendar perpetually reminding me where I ought to be and when, a text message exchange cementing plans. GPS leads me where my mental map isn’t fleshed out, google is at my fingertips to answer any question, if there’s a problem the answer is only a phone call away. Always putting out fires, a life of control where the lack thereof is cause for panic and anxiety.

It doesn’t work that way for a working holidayer.

I’m not convinced it works that way for all of New Zealand.

When I walked into my first shift for my first international position, my preconceptions of what the head of housekeeping ought to be like were shattered. A tiny woman was beaming, welcoming all the temp staff and seemed entirely unconcerned that half of us didn’t have the foggiest idea what we were doing. I was shuffled off with an equally blasé leader to start cleaning rooms. She was more interested in telling me about her new year’s celebrations with her grandchildren and peppering me with questions about Goldie than she was with making sure I knew how to properly fold the bedsheets and which materials to use for dusting.

Instead of treading on eggshells wondering which way is up I feel as though there are no wrong turns here, no rules even exist for me to break.

For the first time in my life, absolutely nothing matters. I wake and sleep and wander as a whim strikes me. The sun greets me as it rises, or fills Goldie with a greenhouse effect to remind me to continue exploring. I examine paper maps and trace routes with my finger, still unsure how to gauge the time it would take: is this a twenty-minute drive, or two hours? I pay it no mind: no one is counting on me on the other end to arrive at a certain moment. Goldie is my turtle shell as I carry my home with me everywhere, and leave her at the fringes of the city while my feet carry me everywhere else.

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It wasn’t all that long ago that my daily goal was 8000 steps per day. I don’t even feel as though I’m walking much, but there is too much to see to stay still.

For the second time in my life, I’m not entirely sure where to put my body. When Dad died and I found myself living on the farm, I was confused how to live without a plan. What do I do with my feet? I think I ought to put me here for the moment. My mind was racing through mud, but my body was just kind of in the way. Where do I tether my flesh while my spirit absorbs the beauty around me?

 

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A tree. I can tether myself to the first tree I’ve climbed in… a decade? More?

These days, I still don’t entirely know where I ought to drag my body to catch up with my mind, but I’m in no rush. This entire world is unhurried.

I pick up hitchhikers and ferry them onward, often never learning their name as we glide back into the rhythm of the two-lane road and wind through the mountains. Instead we share where we’ve come from, where we’re going next. They tell me how they’ve only had to wait a few minutes to be picked up every time they’ve stuck out their thumb unless they’re in a pair. I tell them my hitchhiker notebook is beneath their feet and I ask them to sign it. And just like that, they’re gone again.

My heavy bills for the year are already paid, small enough to be done in advance and leave me free to wander. I just need to work enough to pay for the daily missives: a night in the campground, a gym membership (and shower!), petrol for Goldie, a bit of food. I’m not tied to any one place, any one job out of fear of not being able to pay for my survival. I can fill in temporary help wanted positions, work part-time, and spend the time so free wandering among the trees and rivers and stones and oceans. There is so much space, so much time, and so many more people seem ready to accept life as it comes rather than trying to force it to bend to their whims.

I’m in New Zealand, and the world is my oyster. Where shall the wind blow me next?

 

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The Earnslaw making her way back to Queenstown
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I’m not convinced all of these are pure New Zealand, but who am I to argue with wall art?

 

Posted in Something New, The Barista, Travel, Wishes, Work, Working Holiday

Apparently buying a car doesn’t have to be difficult

July 2016, my friends and I started dreaming about starting our own business.

Well, no, actually.

We started dreaming about buying a bus and traveling around the United States in it, and we figured we should probably have a way to support ourselves while doing that.

After a quick discussion with my insurance agent, we bought a 1976 Class C RV instead.

We didn’t start the business.

The RV now sits somewhere in Michigan, and I’m sitting in Hokitika, New Zealand instead.

Tonight I splurged on a budget hotel and have thoroughly enjoyed a hot shower and a flush toilet on a gloomy New Year’s Eve. I’m keeping an eye on the weather, hoping the rain stops and I can head down to the beach for a bonfire to ring in 2018. But even if it doesn’t clear up, in the morning I’ll climb back into my brand new old Toyota Estima named Goldie.

 

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Goldie was the name she came with. I meant to change it, but it suits her.

 

I’m not living in a bus, or in a Breaking Bad motorhome. I’m living in a backpacker minivan. The couple before me pulled out her seats and installed a bedframe and foam mats with storage room underneath for my clothes. Because it’s New Zealand, and there’s an entire culture built up around buying and selling fully-furnished campers for a year of travel, she also came stocked with a table (who knew how useful that would be?!?), cutlery and a tea kettle, a gas stove, and the most darling blue curtains to give me privacy at night. Also, can we talk about how easy it is to purchase a vehicle here? A piece of paper to the post office to put the registration in my name, a quick use of my AAA membership to buy discounted car insurance in a country that doesn’t require it, and BAM. She’s all mine!

I’m quite enjoying the magic of being a proper backpacker. I’ve picked up half a dozen hitchhikers in the last two weeks while traversing Southland and the West Coast (and today decided I really need to get a notebook for them to sign and write which country they’re from). This morning, I accidentally bought a latte that had no espresso in it, so when I pulled into Pancake Rocks I set about making myself a French Press (by the way, thanks for the camper press, Glenna! I’ve gotten so much use out of that old birthday present!). Sadly, I couldn’t find my lighter for the stove to boil the water. No worries, just pop over to the car next to me and ask the gal rolling a cigarette to borrow her lighter in exchange for some coffee. A few minutes later, we looked a bit like the start of a joke: an American girl, German girl, Kiwi guy, and French guy huddled under the back door of a van in the pouring rain while making coffee…

 

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Hardly even the first time that has happened! See here travelers in their natural habitat: huddled over maps with complete strangers, swapping stories of their discoveries. 

 

We all started laughing about the impracticality of being a 21st-century traveler in this country: there is hardly any signal! Sure, we have apps galore for finding places to freedom camp or communicating with our friends and family. But it’s completely useless when you can’t get a text message out to another New Zealand number, let alone access data beyond “H”. I think I’ve seen 3G a total of three times in two weeks, and 4G only once: mountains and tiny towns scattered throughout the countryside make physical maps and a willingness to pull off the side of the road for an attraction instead of forcing a plan the way to go.

And it’s not as though I have much choice at the moment. While I do have a perfectly valid visa, the Christmas holiday means that my tax number is a smidgen slower than usual. I could technically work if some employer were willing to either withhold pay or take out double the amount of taxes. But why? Everyone and their neighbor is hiring as soon as I’m legally able. For now, this island is mine to explore. I drink in her beauty with every breath and listen to the stories of Maui building Aotearoa.

 

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Punakaiki (Pancake Rocks) on the, er, Wet Coast. The sun tries so hard, but the greenery does come at a price just off the Tasman Sea.

 

Besides, Goldie and I are just getting to know each other. She has side doors that occasionally refuse to unlock, and I have to keep reminding myself that around every mountain curve there could be another one-lane bridge where I need to give way. She’s a kind old soul, teaching me to drive on the left side of the road and giving me shelter at night. We find places to freedom camp, or as needed pay $20 for a place to park with a shower and proper kitchen. Much cheaper than a hostel, and in the long run cheaper than renting a room by the week. She chugs along merrily as we zip along the only road on the west coast (seriously: not even the scenic route. The MAIN road winds through mountains and along the Tasman Sea). The speed limit is 100km, but we rarely are on a stretch of road straight enough or long enough to even get to 80km. So we wander, taking in the scenery that belongs more in a fantasy novel than real life.

Slowly, slowly, me and Goldie.

 

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Morning comes bright and early with Goldie’s curtains

 

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Fox Glacier… the black to the left of center is ice. More of the glacier is hidden behind the cloud cover.

 

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Hunt’s Beach – sometimes the sun does shine! Tasman Sea to the left and probably Aoraki National Park mountains on the right.

 

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If only they would stay behind the gate at Gunn’s camp… Sandflies: mosquito’s evil twin.

 

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A Backpacker Birthday: My 27th year came into being with champagne in my finest plasticware and advanced ramen noodles.

 

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Kiwi bird prints? Maybe maybe maybe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Changes, grief, Lessons, People, The Barista

living canvas

Bleary-eyed in the predawn darkness as I got ready for work, I caught sight of my new tattoo and shuddered into wakefulness. This piece, long anticipated, was now stuck on my body forever. The vivid ink taunted me, the black strokes glistening from my formerly unblemished skin. I was exposed, permanently opening myself up to lines of questioning I might not be willing to answer. I had tattooed my soul onto a living canvas and given permission to the world to ask probing questions.

 

Less than a year later, I got my second one.

 

Very few people have ever commented on my marked skin. Some look at the cyclic structure of the caffeine molecule on my arm and think I’m a scientist. Some wonder what the funny numbers on my leg are supposed to be. Most nod approvingly after hearing the elevator pitch and the conversation shifts, my small markings a mere aside in the greater world.

 

I sought after the ink, but watched it sit on my skin as though resting there. Absorbing it into part of me was a much longer, much more detached process. I know they are a part of me and I instantly rub sunscreen on them when I’m exposed, but nowadays I mostly let them be. I don’t stroke them absentmindedly during a movie, I don’t admire them in a mirror when I catch my reflection in a store. They simply are.

 

On rare occasions, someone will dig deeper. Probe just a bit further.

 

“Those coordinates – is that Denver?”

Surprised, I described how a little village in Europe which started my travels a decade prior was the actual location mapped on my calf.

“Ah, I was thinking west, not east…”

And then it moves on again, but this conversation is just a fraction more beautiful. Do you truly speak my language? Does this mean something to you, too?

 

I’m starting to realize grief is an awful lot like a tattoo.

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Oh, yes, you know intellectually that you will lose someone important at some point in your life. But when it does happen, you wear it with anxiety and see your grief with every glance in the wrong direction. You feel as though it is the only thing others notice when they look your way: how can they not see this message written permanently in your eyes? Your shoulders must reflect the colors of loss, it must be impossible to ignore it!

 

But like the tattoo, it becomes a part of you. It never truly goes away. It just becomes a part of your reflection, as noticeable as the freckle by your eye or the bumps of your collar bone.

 

Oh, with time it will fade a bit. But you’ll still catch sight of it when you’re making dinner and the lump will gather in your throat. Some mornings it will seem so bright against your coffee that you can’t imagine how you didn’t notice it the day before. Sometimes weeks will pass before it pricks in your eyes and reminds you that it is still alive and well.

 

I wear my grief like my tattoos: easy to hide, but also easy to display. Not on purpose, like I did with the ink, but because that is where it chooses to lie. It chooses to wait for me to turn my wrist and remember how little sense it all makes. I am a living canvas, and I can’t hide from myself forever.

 

And oh, the conversations it generates. As with your tattoo, your grief will be reduced to pat answers. “Yes, he died. Thank you for your condolences, let’s move on, shall we?” 

 

Because you don’t know the stories. You’ve never heard of a riverbend in Poland, nor do you care. You don’t understand the marriage of art and science, nor do you care. You never knew the sparkle in his eyes of my renaissance man, nor do you care. You comment to fill the silence, and then it is over. There’s nothing wrong with that: they are my stories, after all.

 

But there are those rare moments where the conversation doesn’t stutter over my scars. Where instead you hear the message I’m trying to convey, and your eyes reflect the grief in my own. Your understanding helps me absorb it a little more into me: to accept it as something real rather than a nightmare someone else is living. 

 

You see my tattoos, both of ink and spirit. You understand me just a little bit more, in this permanent state of flux. You speak my language and understand me. And then we move on together.

 

Posted in Changes, Lessons, Love, Snapshot, The Barista, Time, Travel, Wishes, Work

Life out of season

I loved Denver – she was just my type.

In appearances, the mountains glistened, the city sprawled, the old became new. In personality, there were a thousand places to go, craft scenes to explore, people to meet. In soul, she was vibrant and alive and six hours from everywhere.

No wonder it was so easy to fall in love – Denver was just my type.

But something was never quite right. Long timers warned me. She’s changed, they said. I didn’t care.

But Denver didn’t love me back. Oh, we were friends, certainly. She took me along for the ride. But the lust was never reciprocated. I was one of many to court her, but in the end she chose another.

She was the heartbeat of Europe with the familiar shoes of Iowa and an exotic note all her own.

She fought me. Threw housing problems, ill-fitting jobs, broken relationships, car theft and exorbitant prices my way. I ignored these signs. I had friends! I had adventures! Surely, we were meant to be, Denver and me.

I loved Denver. She was just my type.

But then, one day, as dreams began to form again, I looked at the dart I’d thrown on a map. I looked at Denver. And I realized with sadness that she didn’t love me back. She’d never given herself to me as I had to her.

The suffocation of the unrequited love affair began. I felt our connection crumbling. I was a barnacle clinging to her rather than a lobster paired for life with this beloved city. Trapped, I felt the urge to flee. What now? Where do I go from here?

I loved Denver. She was just my type.

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Career, Current Events, Dating, feminism, Love, Snapshot, The Barista, Travel

The Serenity of Singlehood

Although statistically the median age of marriage has skyrocketed since the early 90s after remaining static for a hundred years, there’s still a stigma associated with being without a partner.

Don’t believe me, city dwellers?

When was the last time that you read an article that genuinely celebrated the author’s singleness, instead of making-do until the next relationship came along?

I’ve struggled with this mindset.

I have always warned potential mates, “I’m really good at being single,” as a way to prepare them for the fact that I’m going to continue to live my own life with my friends, dreams, and aspirations. If I’m choosing to include you as a significant other, it’s because I want you around as a part of it, not because I’m going to replace everything else in my day with you.

Unsurprisingly, most guys aren’t a huge fan of this.

No worries for me. Like I told them, I’m really good at being single.

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I’m currently reading the book All The Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation. I was on the waiting list at my local library for six months, and it is well worth waiting for. Allow me to share a couple of excepts that resonated with me.

On life after a breakup:

Suddenly, my life was so much richer and so much more full of people to depend on and relate to and connect with. I never felt more fundamentally lonely…than when I was in a relationship. And I’ve never felt more supported and connected and fully appreciated than when I was single!

And on marrying later in life after living in a big city:

It’s not such a bad thing to always have something to do, someone to meet, work to complete, trains to catch, beers to drink, marathons to run, classes to attend. By the time some women find someone to whom they’d like to commit and who’d like to commit to them, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing that they will have, if they were lucky, soaked in their cities and been wrung dry by them, that those who marry later, after a life lived single, may experience it as the relief of slipping between cool sheets after having been out all night. These same women might have greeted entry into the same institution, had they been pressured to enter it earlier, with the indignation of a child being made to go to bed early as the party raged on downstairs.

Many of my small town friends are married. I danced at their weddings and coo over their children. They tell me of their domestic lives, and I cheer for them while inwardly shrinking back in horror from the entrapment of even a long term relationship. There are so many mountains to climb, cities to get lost in, men to flirt with, wines to sample, nights to wane with conversation. For me, singlehood offers the best of all there is. With some recent developments, I’ve realized I’ll be single for at least the next two years, and that concept doesn’t frighten me at all. Oops, I might not date until I’m 27? Meaning at the absolute earliest I’ll be married at 29, if then? Ah, well. Did you hear about that new taco place on Tennyson?

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Last night, I borrowed a sleeping bag from a friend (as mine was lent out to someone else), and headed out into the mountains. With the fire ban in effect, I decided to just car camp near the base of Mt. Bierstadt. I’d hoped to hike it in the morning, but as I rolled by the parking lot, the cars overflowed onto the roadside even at 6:30 in the morning. Anxiety welled up in me, and I realized that I needed solitude. I kept driving down winding roads, occasionally turning and barely keeping track of how to get home. Eventually I found a place to walk around. I spent a good hour strolling, encountering only one other soul as I listened to the river beside me and rejoiced in the gray skies relieving Colorado from the relentless heat.

There was silence. There was solitude. There was no one to call and check in with, no one to text that I’d changed my mind. It was simply the delight of following the open road, following what my body and soul so desperately needed.

Certainly, there are moments of loneliness. But at the end of the day, I crave freedom more than warm arms. I prefer to forge a family out of the friends and city around me than to create one by law. Thanks to the generations of women before me, I’m able to be wild and nomadic and make my own rules. I’m able to be alone or surrounded by people on a whim. It is here, in this self-made world, that I am truly able to find serenity in singlehood.

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Posted in Backyard Tourism, Growing Up, Languages, People, Snapshot, Stories, The Barista, Time, Travel, Wishes, Work

Soul Wide Awake

I know you don’t mean to insult me when you call it a vacation. But I don’t think you realize how wrong that word is.

A vacation is an escape from reality – relaxation, scheduled time to recharge. A vacation has hotels booked, tours planned, beaches chosen.

This is not a vacation.

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I am not escaping from reality – I’m finding it. My soul, at rest in the world of money and responsibilities, stretches and swells here. It fits my body perfectly instead of wearing my skin like a hand-me-down coat: not uncomfortable, but ill-fitting and not my style.

My plans are but a vague outline, often changing on a whim as a passerby says, “We’re going here, want to come?” I stay in a 12-bunk dorm, forgoing privacy and pray the locks hold on the cabinet where I’ve stashed my passport. I dine on street food and cook pasta leftover from a long departed traveler – that is, if the whirlwind of the day reminds me to eat at all.

I wear blisters on my feet with pride as my legs ache from getting lost all day in an unfamiliar city. I sneak into quiet streets to consult my map and compass as to not draw attention to my foreigner status, and curse my body’s need for sleep.

I listen to the cadence of a new language swirl around me and stare at signs, struggling to decipher their meaning. I cringe in shame when a hostel worker or airline employee glances at my American passport and immediately switches to English for my benefit.

You think this is a vacation?

No.

 

 

This is travel.

For now, I become she who has been hidden since my last journey into the unknown.

I become she who feels more intensely, sees in brighter colors, and smells the universe each morning. I live with abandon and belong exactly where I am.

I am she who is confident, beautiful, fearless, strong, and fierce. I am she who is curious, radiant, defiant, wild, laughing, and free. I am she who holds her arms open to the world and says, “Here I am! Give me the best you have!”

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My soul is wide awake, and every moment is a precious gift.

And then I return.

Back to the world of routine. Of bills and schedules and putting gas in my car. Of small talk and appointments and wearing a path in the sidewalk I tread each day.

In the traditional world, a groove becomes a rut, and I soon look up from the bottom with fear and trepidation building.

“I can’t leave this,” I tell myself. “I’m too afraid. This isn’t fun, but it’s comfortable. This isn’t right, but at least I know where I’m sleeping and how to get around. I’m afraid to go again. I should stay where it’s safe.”

But that tiny spark that can’t be put out whispers to me, “You must go.”

You think I’m going on vacation?

No.

This is breathing.

This is living the best version of me.

This is seeing my soul wide awake.

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Published on Thought Catalog on October 26, 2017

Posted in Changes, Lessons, People, Stories, The Barista, Travel, Wishes, Work

the worst of both worlds

Yesterday, I met the person I want to be when I grow up.

Travelers and nine-to-fivers both, you make me feel guilty.

To the travelers, I am too stable. I own a car, have Netflix, don’t work a miserable job that pays through the roof. I have a lease and insurance and own a few pieces of furniture. It is difficult for me to drop everything in a heartbeat and leave for months at a time.

To the the more traditional, I am too reckless. I have no desire to own my own business or own a house. I’d rather spend money on plane tickets than a bigger apartment, on weekend getaways to another state than an all-inclusive resort.

But yesterday, I met the one that falls halfway between the two worlds. She works a high-paying job that she really likes. She travels all over the globe 2-3 weeks out of the year and takes weekend getaways. And she’s planning her life so that she can retire young and spend her fifties and beyond exploring.

I want to be like her. I want to see the world on my terms, and not because it’s a methodology someone else decided was the “right” way to do things.

And in the meantime, my soul is getting awfully tired of meeting travelers.

I love them. When we meet, my heart leaps with the instant bond of the road. We become friends within minutes, kindred spirits within hours. You’re the ones I call and say, “I’m leaving in an hour, do you want to come?” You’re the ones who draw people to yourselves, and when we all meet in some strange room we dance and sing and love. You’re a part of something bigger, and I feel as though my world expands every time we speak.

And just like that, you’re gone.

You’re a spark. A flame. You burn brightly and beautifully and you make life so much more colorful. And then you’re gone.

“It’s just a new couch to stay on!” you reassure me.

I have many couches.

“It’s an excuse to go to another city/state/country!” you remind me.

I need no excuse.

“I can’t stay here,” you sigh.

I know.

I know you can’t. I know I can’t keep you. I know the same feeling of being trapped, drowning in the sea of tradition and regulation and normalcy. I know the itch of needing to find something new, go somewhere different, do something strange. I know the agony of when a groove becomes a rut. I know the joy of the new, the delight of the change, the thrill of the chase.

I know.

But the constant fluctuation is wearing. When I stay still and you all spin around me, a kaleidoscope of conversations and adventures and traditions. And then I lose you. And my world loses just a little bit of color.

I wonder if it’s worth it.

Is it worth it to fight to find you, to enjoy the hours and days? Is it worth it to enrich each others lives, only to break apart again? Is the pain worth it?

And once again, I’m trapped in the middle. As a traveler, the answer is always yes. For a normal, functioning member of society, the answer is not so simple. I’m constantly seeking out new connections and new friends, and constantly having my heart broken as they leave to continue out in the great wide world.

Worth is a deep, personal question.

Is it worth it?

 

 

Posted in Backyard Tourism, Lessons, Musing, People, Stories, The Barista, Travel

Wolf Girl and the Traveler

Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments

And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It’s a fine romance but it’s left me so undone
It’s always darkest before the dawn

When I make new friends, I’m generally exhausted by the end of the first interaction and ready to go home to recharge myself. The more time I spend with them, the more energy I have. Eventually, the relationship develops to the point where I walk away feeling more alive than I did when I walked in.

And every once in a while, I meet a stranger that immediately belongs.

I realized that national parks had no entrance fee on MLK day and promptly started reaching out in my network to find a companion on my day-off excursion.

In recent weeks, I’ve befriended a traveler who is wandering the globe on social currency. And some of you may remember the story of Wolf Girl from my last post – it turns out that, indeed, we would meet again!

Armed with these two characters, we caffeinated ourselves and gasped at the vistas as we dove into Rocky Mountain National Park. Florence + The Machine played our soundtrack as we got ourselves lost in the park.

Those strangers who immediately belong? They sat in my car and shared their lives.

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For the first time, I felt like I could adequately express my disjointedness. We spoke of growth and failures, shared the places we’d traveled, and brushed the deepest parts of our souls. We stood in the bizarrely warm mountain air and breathed in the ancient new world. The artists spun tales of song and dance, and we spoke of the dreams we’d fulfill for others if we ever won the lottery.

As we made our way back down to Estes Park, we started realizing none of us had eaten that day. By the time we made it back to Boulder, we were punchdrunk and laughing ourselves silly. As we crossed the street aiming for lunch, we ran across a barista dropping supplies in the middle of Broadway. We scooped up her cups and followed her back to her cafe where she bestowed us with free coffee as thanks. When we finally sat down on the tea room floor for sushi, the waitress joined in our laughter – and then a waiter recognized us from earlier in the morning across town.

One of our key conversations of the day? You find what you’re looking for. Wolf Girl shared of a day in New Mexico when she was talking on the phone about needing a place to stay, and a woman handed her a key and said, “Use my guest cottage – it’s just down the street.” The Traveler reflected on arriving in Denver and the bus driver covering his lack of fare. I had stories of my own: we all search for the good in people. And even when life utterly sucks, we find the good.

Shake It Out refrains that it’s always darkest before the dawn. I always interpreted that phrase as meaning life sucks, then it gets amazing. It’s only been recently that I finally realized how ridiculous that was. If you’re lost in the forest in the middle of the night, you don’t suddenly find yourself outside the forest at dawn. But you do find yourself equipped with the tools and abilities needed to get out. It’s the same in life. People are still going to hurt you. Living situations will fall through. You’ll have to find a new job. It will be hard. That difficulty won’t go away. The dawn simply means you’ll be able to handle it. Each experience will grow you, change you, define you. Each person you meet will leave a part of themselves with you. And in the end, you’ll see more clearly than the day before. It’s always darkest before the dawn.

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As I drove home alone, I felt myself energized and alive after a day with strangers-turned-friends. The gifted crystalline whose properties perfectly related to my life weighed down my pocket. My heart was still beating from dancing around a living room watching the sunset over the Flatirons. And I realized that I was growing again. I was alive again.

And life? Life is good.

Thanks, Traveler and Wolf Girl.

 

Posted in Growing Up, Lessons, Musing, People, Snapshot, The Barista, Time, Travel

impostor syndrome

At twenty-five, I’m starting to see my peers as adults.

We’re no longer floundering around, renting our first apartments, burning our first meals, ignoring the squeals on our brakes until our cars are unable to stop.

We’re looking for a place that suits us and our budget instead of one or the other.

We’re developing spice racks – and have a few key dishes we can whip out for guests.

We regularly change our oil and cheer when our insurance rates go down.

We have a logical, thoughtful exchanges that I’m far more accustomed to having with people 3-5 years older than me, and later find out my conversation partner is a few months younger.

I look around in astonishment and realize that without my consent, I’ve grown up. I have conversations about retirement accounts and the practicality of millennials being willing or able to leave the workforce. I track my expenses and have a budget. I have a shiny university degree that says I show up and do my work. I keep being put into positions of authority where I hire and train and manage people and places.

By all external manifestations, I’m an adult.

And I feel like I’m an utter impostor.

This isn’t one of those “Adults shouldn’t have to grow up! Be a child! Have fun! Enjoy life!”

I’m a traveler. I absolutely adore life.

It is the responsibility aspect.

I get surprised when someone comments that I’m doing really well at something, or call me a sweet person. I’m just floating through life, doing what I think I should be doing. I don’t feel like anything I do is exceptional – it simply is what it is.

I sometimes feel like I intentionally stopped at 19, but my body continued without me. Hence I feel like an impostor. The only time I get carded anymore is when I’m with a beardless man (which in and of itself is a little insulting – I mean, yes, I’m plenty old enough to buy this drink, but really? I don’t look 30 yet!).

I was talking to some friends about this situation the other day, and we bemoaned wishing we were still 19. Back then, we had no money but somehow everything just worked. We had all the adventures, all the magic, and being poor was more fun than stressful. We didn’t sleep but had energy, we didn’t eat well but it didn’t affect us.

Now, just a few years later… it all falls apart. We get home from work and are too tired to do anything. We manage to socialize once a week or so, but after a few hours happily escape to our beds. Money means something, and the lack of it is scary. We thank our lucky stars that we don’t have children to throw into this mess of life, being responsible for a tiny creature when we can hardly afford to clothe ourselves. (Oh, yes, living in an expensive city because we love it and want to work at something we love has its disadvantages.)

We’re impostors. We feel like we don’t belong here – and yet somehow, we’re told that we do. Others look at the beautiful final reel instead of the raw footage and think somehow we have it figured out. Somehow, someone, somewhere, decided that we deserve the title of being an adult.

I may not believe it.

I may get confused when people assign it to me.

But somehow, it’s mine. And if that’s the case, I need to claim it, redefine it, make it fit me rather than the other way around. I need to be comfortable with it, greet it like a friend rather than a person I need to impress.

It’s a dangerous thing, this impostor syndrome.

I met a delightful stranger the other day. Very rarely do people answer the question, “How are you?” genuinely. But she did. She looked at me sadly and said, “I’m wrestling with the wolves, trying to decide which one to feed. So I bought a one-way ticket to Mexico for tonight.” To my surprise, I saw her two days later. “Wait,” I exclaimed. “Why aren’t you in Mexico?!” Her eyes twinkled, and I could see the relief that had been absent before. “I moved to Boulder instead. The universe reorganized itself – I’ve never wanted to live there! But things just… worked. So I moved instead of leaving.”

I don’t know if I’ll ever run into this young woman again. But she has it figured out. She allows herself to get lost and find herself again. That genuine response to reality was confusing and beautiful all at once. She embraced the uncertainty, and in doing so, staked her claim on who she wanted to be.

So today, I sit here sipping coffee and dreaming. I may feel like an impostor, but I’m going to find me.

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