In Search Of…: An Old Friend

Well, I made it. Sort of. Made it to the coast at least.

I was in Vancouver, Washington Sunday morning, sat in a coffee shop, planning my next moves. And the longer I sat there, the less I wanted to stay where I was. Which is a bit ironic.

I first got the itch for the west coast in college, when I visited Corvallis, Oregon. So, specifically, the Pacific Northwest. I love rainstorms, I love the mountains and trees, it’s perfect.

I know that I’ve grown and changed a lot over the last ten years, but I didn’t expect it to be this drastic in terms of things that I enjoyed. But it makes sense when I can pull myself back from it. When I visited the PNW last, I was a kid. I hadn’t been through any of my mental health issues (though it had started). And I loved to be miserable.

It sounds counterintuitive, but I was only happy when I was unhappy because misery was what I was comfortable in. I didn’t want to change, because change was scary. Fast forward ten years, and I’m just different.

I don’t want constant rainy days. I need the sun because it truly does help pull me out of those bad moods. The scenery, while gorgeous, became repetitive and by the time I got to California, I was over it.

But first, I had to get through Oregon. I drove straight through Portland. My experience in Seattle shook me, and honestly, I wasn’t ready for another big city. I made a stop in Salem for lunch, then headed west, through Corvallis and ended up in a town called Newport. It’s situated on the Pacific Ocean and was my first time seeing that ocean in person.

Oregon Coast Beach

I parked, made my way down to the sand and started for the water. I never had a plan, indicated by the fact that I still had my boots on, I just walked. As I got to the high tide line, I started taking my boots off. Again, no plan, just doing what felt right. I rolled my jeans up and walked straight into the tide. And I broke down.

I don’t know if it was just the symbolism of being on the opposite coast, experiencing something up close for the first time, or the fact that the ocean made my water-signed heart so happy, but it was a moment.

I’ve never associated with the ocean much. We went once when I was a kid, in Jacksonville, Florida. It was really overcast, I was afraid of basically all ocean life, and there was just nothing remarkable about it. It should be noted that it was the middle of winter when I went.

Oregon Coast Coral

But this experience made me question a lot. Why am I on this journey? What happens at the end of it? Do I just go back to living my normal, ho-hum existence, or do I find my next adventure? And how do I start making these experiences happen more regularly?

I’ve never doubted the trip. I’ve never been nervous. I’ve never been in awe of the trip or myself. All of this is because I’ve known from the beginning that this is where I’m supposed to be and when I’m supposed to be doing it.

Before this trip, the only thing that worried me was that I might get to the end of this and then there was just….nothing. Now, it doesn’t worry me because I believe I’ll know what my next adventure is at the end of it.

I headed down the 101 toward Redwoods National Park, and the drive further sank in my looming fit of depression. And the last, unanswered question came to me. What if I get to the end and there isn’t some enlightened sense of purpose? That there is just…nothing.

But I’ve found on this trip that when I interact with people, it pulls me out of the funk. And it’s really starting to sink in how much I value human connection. It’s hard for me to find people that I resonate with, but when I find those people, I need to maintain those connections and keep them healthy and strong.

I spent that night alone, at a blocked off rest stop. There were a ton of other people parked there, already tucked away for the night, and no WiFi signal to speak of.

When I woke up, I headed to Redwoods. And it was beautiful and amazing, though with the film of unease draped over it. I was blown away by the size of the trees. You truly can’t understand it completely until you see it in person. It was remarkable.

I didn’t stay long, though. I wanted to get to Sacramento at a reasonable time, and I was starting to feel that dis-ease permeating every bit of my body. The drive didn’t help a lot, but I feel myself pulling out of it a bit.

Generally, I am feeling a bit of apathy toward the trip. I’m not sure if it’s just a phase or a permanent feeling, but I’m emotionally and mentally exhausted. My sleep and body have held up much better than I thought they would, but with all the new experiences and exciting places, I thought I’d be happier. Hoping sometime in the sun will fix a lot of this. Lucky for me, I’m in the perfect place for it.

In Search Of…: The PNW?

I’ve made it to the Pacific Northwest. Vancouver, Washington more specifically.

I left Boise on Friday and headed for Seattle. And once I got through all the smoke (?) in Oregon, Washington proved to be the most beautiful state I’ve ever been to. There was some sort of mountain range, lush forest or hop farm every step of the way. The farms almost reminded me of pictures I’ve seen of the Italian hillsides where they grow grapes for wine.

After making my way through the state, I came upon my first stop: Snoqualmie Falls in Snoqualmie, WA. After a fitful sleep, I woke up Saturday morning ready to check out the falls, the first waterfall I’ve seen in person to my recollection.

Snoqualmie is a small town about 45 minutes outside Seattle, and it’s gorgeous. One of my favorite stops on the trip so far. The falls were easily accessible and covered in fog. But it didn’t hurt the aesthetic at all.

Washington Falls

After the falls, I had plans of visiting the Washington Park Arboretum, the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Space Needle. I didn’t get as far as I had intended.

The Arboretum was beautiful, but the experience was marred by the people of the city. I’ve tried to make a concerted effort to keep my head up, headphones out, and engage in some way with as many people as possible. In Boise, it was the easiest thing in the world. Everyone seemed to be friendly and at least nod their heads at you as you walked past. Not in Seattle.

I found the active avoidance in human contact unnerving actually. Even in Chicago, people were plenty polite. And I should acknowledge, not everyone was so isolating. There were a few people that I had small moments with, but in Boise, I literally got into full-blown conversations with random people. Even in Snoqualmie, there was a bit of interaction. I might be overvaluing these moments, but it was enough to sour me on Seattle.

I tried my best to shake off the isolating feeling by heading down to the sculpture park, but by the time I got there, I was in a full-blown bad mood. The experience in the park, combined with getting into another hectic, construction-laden downtown setting was enough to run me off.

I got out of the city as fast as possible and haven’t thought twice. I know the whole point of the trip was to experience as many places as possible, do things I’ve never done, and generally just enjoy. But that’s the thing. My gut usually will clue me in pretty early if I let it. But it was also about potentially moving, and if I’m not going to enjoy a city in the short term, I definitely won’t enjoy it long term.

I’m starting to feel that sense of isolation and loneliness though. It could just be because of this experience (I am feeling better in Vancouver), or it could be because of my time on the road. I’ll see how the next few days go, but there are a lot of potential factors to this mental hurdle.

The big cities seem to be my undoing, though. They seem so cramped and chaotic. And I may not know exactly what I’m looking for, or what I’ll find. But I know I want freedom and open spaces. The big cities typically don’t provide either. As noted before, it’s so cramped, and because the cost of living is generally higher, you’re working just to pay the bills. It’s no way to live. Not for me anyway.

In Search Of…: Gut Feelings

So last time I updated, I was in Salt Lake City, fresh off a trip through Arches National Park. And while I’d love to have loved SLC, I just didn’t. I tried going out to Antelope Island State Park, an island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake. And while it was vast, and beautiful in its own right, it was empty, barren. And that’s how I was feeling as I was leaving.

I had intended to head back into the city for dinner and make plans from there. But at the last minute, changed course and headed for Boise, Idaho. I will say, that is one of the things I’ve loved the most thus far. At any given moment, I can, and have, change my mind and do something out of order.

Boise Landscape

So, around one o’clock, I headed for Boise and left SLC in my rearview mirror. I can’t necessarily point to what felt off in Salt Lake. Maybe it was the permeation of the Ladder Day Saints throughout the city that made things feel weird. Perhaps it just was an off day for me personally. But it didn’t resonate with me in the slightest. And that’s what this whole trip has been about. Finding those places that resonate with me and that I find to be interesting. Salt Lake City was neither of those things.

As the sun was starting to set, I was nearing Boise. I wanted to get there before dark so that I could actually see the city on the way in and get my bearings for what was around me. And it didn’t disappoint.

Boise Tree

People who know me, or have read some of my other writings, may know one of the stories that have followed me for a while is a story I was told while working for a running shoe store. It was there that I met Todd, an Iron Man athlete, and one of my favorite people to work with. He was from Indiana but recounted a story about his time spent living in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

He was in search of something, but unsure of what. And when he traveled to Steamboat, which sits in a valley, he recalled cresting the road to head down into the valley and immediately knew he was someplace special. That was Boise for me.

Boise Fall

Similarly, as the sun was at its most red and warm, setting on the horizon, I crested the road into Boise and felt that special feeling. Does this mean I want to move here and live forever? Not necessarily. But I can acknowledge that it is a unique place for me and someplace I have, will and could enjoy being. I still have a lot of miles ahead of me, and a lot of things to consider.

Boise has been great. I tried a Pho restaurant the first night that was ridiculously good, I walked through the parks yesterday, and now I’m sitting in a really cool coffee shop, planning where to go next. I was going to go north, but the weather doesn’t look like it’s going to cooperate for me. So now, I’m looking at Seattle, Portland, or someplace in between. Let me know what you think!

 

In Search Of…: Arches National Park

An update from the road!

I started yesterday morning in Moab, Utah, about 3 miles outside of Arches National Park. Moab is perfectly situated near the park, so I was able to get in early and beat some of the crowd. Prior to starting this journey, I had discovered a deal the National Parks Service had on its website. A year-long pass that will give you access to any National Park for a one-time cost of $80. Basically, if you’re going to visit more than two National Park’s in a year, it’s worth it to get the pass.

The pass gave me not only a much less expensive experience, but I was also able to essentially skip the line into the park. The entrances to the parks have several gates to pay at, and one to the side for pass holders. At Rocky Mountain National Park, it was just a swipe station with no attendant.

Arches Walkway

Once I was inside the park, I started the steep climb toward the main part of the park. And honestly, it was hard to focus on the road ahead of me. Even the beginning of my journey was unlike anything I had ever experienced. I had never been to the southwest, so it was a totally new experience.

I got farther into the park and couldn’t stop turning and staring at everything around me. I was in awe. In all of the planning of this trip, I knew I wanted to visit a lot of National Parks. I couldn’t anticipate how beautiful these places would be. I feel like I’ve said this many times over already, but pictures truly don’t do them justice.

After a few short stops in between, I made my way to the Delicate Arch Viewpoint. The trail was long and steep, which lead to a few nice conversations with fellow park goers. Most of us (myself included) were struggling up the path, which turned into discussions about what brought us there and where we were from. It was nice to have a group to share in the misery of climbing, and the beautiful views at the top.

Arches Arch

After, I was headed for the arches deeper in the park. I hiked the half-mile to the Broken Arch, and this was the part of my day that I resonated with the most. The arch was beautiful, but it was also here where I found a new bit of confidence, and a new mantra.

All through this journey, I’ve noticed a pattern of negative self-talk. If something goes wrong, I’m blaming myself. And while it’s not terrible or overt, it is toxic.

I’m learning to accept every part of me. Continuously beating myself up because I took a wrong turn or didn’t plan something right only leads to the negativity I’ve been trying so desperately to get away from. I’ve spent a lot of time cutting away the negativity in the forms of other people and experiences, but haven’t spent the same time removing it from myself. 

The more aware I become of these things, the more work I can put into correcting those negative patterns and grow. And important to that growth is understanding that if I do fail, it’s ok. Which is where my mantra came from.

“In all things, I did my best.”

I don’t think I’m the first person to have that thought, but it was the phrase that came to me while having this moment in the arch.

Following this moment, I was ready to exit the park. I had originally passed up The Windows on my way in but decided to make one last stop on my way out. It was clear that it’s proximity to the entrance, combined with it being later in the day, made this a popular part of the park. It was also the place with the highest congestion of arches.

Arches Selfie

A lot of visitors, including a school field trip, made for a lot of people to work around. And it was clear how impressive this part of the park was. Everyone was head in the clouds, in awe of how these magnificent bits of architecture could be naturally made. It was a very humbling experience.

After the Arches, I drove myself to Salt Lake City, roughly four hours away. Going to spend a couple days here, so I’m looking forward to slowing it down for a bit.

In Search Of…: Week 1

It’s been one week on the road, and I’m really settling in. The beginning of this trip was inherently going to be less experiential. While it included places that I wanted to see, they weren’t places that I had planned the trip for. Every place I’ve been thus far has had its good and bad qualities, but no one place has stood out to me either. I’m a big believer in my gut feeling, and it hasn’t spoken up yet. But I’d like to share my experiences, both for people looking to follow along, and as a more in-depth recounting than my daily journal provides.

DAY 1

I left Louisville last Tuesday morning. It was mostly a relaxing trip to Chicago, and I was able to let it sink in a bit that I was actually beginning this journey. But when I got to Chicago, I made my way downtown and got overwhelmed pretty quickly. I hadn’t really been in a city like that for much of my life, and I got turned around a few times. Eventually, I headed for the suburbs, frustrated and flustered.

Once on the outskirts of the city, things didn’t get a lot better. The traffic seemed to be bad anywhere I went, and eventually, I ended up at a Starbucks seeking refuge. I sat there, catching up on some reading and emails, trying to plan my next move. Eventually, it was well past rush hour, and I grabbed dinner and found someplace to settle in for the night. Day one did not go how I had planned, but I was ready to reset the next day.

DAY 2

I didn’t get a whole lot of sleep the first night, mostly because I wanted to give myself plenty of time to get downtown. That ended up being a great decision, as I found a parking garage close to Millennium Park that was, by comparison, a cheaper option. And as one does when you visit Chicago, I got a few pictures of The Bean.

The Bean

 

I had no idea, however, that The Bean’s proper name is Cloud Gate. It was created by Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. Despite it being a very touristy thing to do in Chicago, it was still neat to see in person.

I headed through Millennium Park and went down to the waters of Lake Michigan. It was a very overcast day, but I was really enjoying seeing so many things that were so drastically different from my regular routine.

Lake Michigan

After coming back toward to park, I headed down to the Chicago Riverwalk. Unfortunately, on a cold, overcast day, the Riverwalk merely echoed of the party that surely ensues on summer nights. After making the rounds here, I went back to the parking garage and decided I needed to be a tourist one more time. I was ready for a Chicago deep-dish pizza.

Now, being that I was on my own and it was lunchtime, I didn’t truly get the full experience. But one of the highest-rated pizza places in the city, Pequod’s, had a great lunch deal. Five bucks for a 7” cheese pizza. I was all over it. Pequod’s was a tiny dive bar-ish parlor, so I knew the pizza would be great. And it didn’t disappoint. The crust is caramelized with cheese and made for a unique way to round out my time in Chicago.

Milwaukee

After lunch, I was headed for Milwaukee. Only a couple hours away, I trekked north to see what else I could discover. I landed in a park on the shore of Lake Michigan and found one of the coolest coffee shops I’ve been in.

There were several Collectivo Coffee shops spread out through Chicago and Milwaukee, but this one was located in an older building with tons of character. The patio space was also uniquely decorated, and the coffee was great, as well. But I wasn’t done.

Coffee

My next stop was to Lakefront Brewery. Having worked at a brewery, I’m always interested in the similarities and differences between where I worked and others. Lakefront had an impressive setup, and their lager was delicious. But the sun was starting to set, and I had one more place to get to.

Minneapolis isn’t exactly close to Milwaukee, but I needed to balance out my driving to get to Denver by Friday. So, I headed west and got in late. A busy day down.

DAY 3

MIA

Thursday was fairly straightforward. I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Art that morning, which was an amazing free museum of art from all over the world. After that, I had my long day of driving, going from Minneapolis to Rapid City, South Dakota.

DAYS 4-6

Friday was mostly driving to Denver. Once I met up with my friend and his wife, we spent the weekend trying different restaurants and breweries. We also drove to Rocky Mountain National Park and spent some time in the park exploring. Pictures can’t do it justice.

RMNP

DAY 7

Yesterday, I headed out of Denver early and made my way through the mountains. I was headed for two small mountain towns in Colorado, Ouray, and Telluride. But first, I got caught in a literal winter wonderland just outside of Glenwood Springs, CO.

Glenwood Springs Snow

Telluride was interesting but very touristy. I understand, being that it’s ski season and all. But it was a big turnoff for me. I didn’t stay long.

Ouray had a particular draw for me because it was the setting for a novel I want to write. But after visiting, I decided it wasn’t the right fit. I liked the city a lot, though. I stopped in at another brewery, and while the beer was good and the people were amazing, I decided that would be my last alcoholic stop on this trip, and most likely ever. I realized I still have a lot of negative emotions associated with alcohol, and it’s going to be necessary for me to continue to grow to cut those ties to my past.

I would say that’s the biggest takeaway for me early on in this trip, really. I saw myself falling into old, submissive patterns instead of being the elevated, in-control person I have become. The past may have shaped me, but I can be grateful for the experience while also not wanting to revisit it.

I’m committing myself to continue my growth and embracing the real beginning of this trip. As much as I’ve learned about myself in the last few years, I know I have a lot more to learn, and I can only do that by moving forward and leaving the past firmly in my rearview mirror. That journey begins in Utah.

Mountains

I’ll be trying to make this a daily or every couple of days post going forward, so there won’t be so much crammed into one post. Thanks for reading!