deceased leaves crunching below me
a year of growth
plunged to the earth
only to be turned to dust
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
smile, then a frown
up, then I’m down
the only thing I’ve found
is you, still in my head
Thanks to @abi147ae for making this photo available freely on @unsplash
the oak doors loom heavy
large gateways to clarity
the therapist will see me now
my turn to lay prone
and stare through the perforated ceiling,
into the light, I begin
a babbling stream of consciousness
the trees providing counsel
when I stop, the wind starts
the leaves rattle but hold on
for every roadblock, a route around
every obstacle, a solution
and when my mind is at ease
and my debt paid
I leave, to experience more
for our next session
I’m back from a short break of preparing to leave. It was a great weekend with friends and family, and it was much needed.
To wrap up my series on my hometown, I’m jumping ahead a half-decade. The healing process was so crucial, but it was also slow, plodding, and frankly, not that interesting. It was a lot of painful days, nights, weeks, and even months. Dips back into depression and learning how to cope and pull myself back out of it.
And this is in no way to minimize it. I still go through these spells and struggle with my past. But I handle it differently and know myself better. It doesn’t get easier, you just get stronger.
So, I’m jumping to the last few months. In hindsight, I can say that I didn’t smile for nearly a decade. Not truly. It was always a fake smile or a smile drawn out by the pain of another. A mask meant to portray a feeling of wellness when all I felt was unease.
Society, generally, doesn’t handle unease well. We want everyone around us to be ok because it makes us feel ok. We are all more empathic than we realize, and when someone is sad or angry around us, we reflect that. Hide those feelings, because you don’t want to make someone else uncomfortable.
And its all bullshit. The saying growing up was, “Don’t talk to people about sex, money, politics, and religion.” The four taboos. The irony, now that I’m an adult, is that I see people, particularly those older than me, struggle with those topics. We were never taught how to handle talking about them, and now we’re too embarrassed to admit we don’t know enough about them. It’s a vicious cycle.
Regardless, after years of putting on the front, it took my being completely broken again to bounce back to a new level.
About six weeks ago, I had my heart broken for the third time. And this one hurt in particular because, for the first time, I hadn’t felt like I had done something wrong. In the past, even as I was deflecting, I knew I was in the wrong. So, I handled this one differently.
I didn’t eat for two days. I cried, sometimes for overthinking things, sometimes for no reason at all. I couldn’t do anything as part of my regular routine. That was on a Thursday. By Monday, I had to rejoin society. I wasn’t ready, but we rarely are. And all week at work, it was fake smiles. I could barely focus.
But then came the weekend. I needed to clear my head, and being in nature has always been the easiest way for me to do that. One of my favorite places to do that is a place just outside the city called The Parklands. Eventually, it will be a 100-mile loop around the city of walking and biking paths. I mostly go there because Jefferson Memorial has always been much farther away.
I started walking. And walking. Poem ideas sprung to mind, I was able to take in some of the amazing views, and my heart rate got going. But no vision, no epiphanies, no final puzzle piece. I walked about four miles, feeling ok, but not having the moment that I so desperately needed. And then, I felt happy. None of the fake feelings I had over years of struggle. I was genuinely happy.
I thought it was because I was in nature. It was the only thing that made sense in that first moment. But the longer I walked, the more I realized that I had been in nature many times. That wasn’t it. It was the awareness that I was going to be ok. An assurance I hadn’t had for a long time.
Since my early twenties, I had always felt on the edge of disaster. Always on the edge of backsliding or blowing up completely. But I don’t feel that anymore. I went through something painful, felt it fully, processed it, and came out of the other side largely within a week. There were additional feelings I had to process after the fact, but if that first week had been the end of my experience with those emotions, I would have been ok. It’s more than I can say for myself at any point in my past.
I’m not sure how much of this revelation and elevation of myself I chalk up to The Parklands themselves. But I know that that was the place where I finally accepted myself. Where I was able to grow my worth beyond other people and where I decided that I deserved a life that I was capable of living.
Thank you for reading this series. I really enjoyed writing it, and while I feel like this was a new beginning for myself, I also feel like I can finally close the book on this stretch of my life.