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!

therapy

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

~

Photo by Katie Moum on Unsplash

 

An Ode to my Hometown: Happy Again

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.

Parklands Two Suns

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.

Parklands Bridge

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.

Parklands TreeBut 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.

Parklands Me

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.

An Ode to my Hometown: Healing

If you’re from Louisville and haven’t been to Jefferson Memorial Forest, you’re missing out. It’s just outside the city in Fairdale, and it’s absolutely stunning. There are parts where you can see downtown from the trail, but it’s still far enough out that you can get lost in the natural silence.

JMF Sun

It was also my healing place. Shortly after my rock bottom night, I was searching for something, anything to make sense. I struggled for a bit, but it was actually a podcast that opened my eyes a lot.

My boss at the time was a runner. Specifically, trail running. This was intriguing to me, namely because I hadn’t done any sort of sports since I was in high school. I was out of shape and had heard of all the health benefits, both physically and mentally, of running.

But I’m an over-planner. I needed more information, and podcasts were something that I had gotten into as an excellent way to digest information and keep up with current events. I went to the running section, and it was, to say the least, limited. It was 2011, after all. But one stuck out. The Rich Roll Podcast.

Rich Roll is an ultrarunner. He runs distances longer than a marathon, which at the time was an insane thought. But the running was last on his background that drew me to listen. Rich is a recovering alcoholic. He was overweight, struggling to get upstairs in his own home. He changed his life, including going to a plant-based diet. If Rich could do it, I could do it.

And in a lot of ways, I copied his blueprint. I learned more about plant-based diets and eventually adopted one. I started training, putting in the slow miles and short distances, building myself up. I learned about meditation and delved into that. I wanted to do everything I could to stop a backslide. I also acknowledge that it was my addictive personality manifesting itself in another outlet.

I was getting better. But I still had lessons to learn. I have been, and I would argue, still am to a lesser extent, a control freak. I didn’t like the feeling that I don’t at least have a say in what’s happening with my life. And being that we are literally specks on a giant orb hurtling through space, I suppose I was going to have to learn how to be comfortable in that existence. And that’s what the trail taught me.

By this point, I was running pretty strong. Not in any sort of race shape, but I could get up the hills without stopping. And there are a lot of them at Jefferson. I digress.

JMF Trail

I was nearing the end of a ten-mile run, and I honestly felt great. But my legs were heavy.  I’ve always been bad at picking my feet up, but that quickly changed. I knew the trails pretty well at this point, where all the awkward dips and steps were. But I wasn’t ready for the root that I stubbed the front of my shoe on.

Usually, when I trip, I’m able to catch myself and carry on. But this was a full-on front tumble, face in the dirt spill. I literally had dirt in my mouth. And once it was determined that I was ok, I felt something else, something that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I felt alive.

That momentary loss of control, when I was at my most vulnerable, I was finally able to feel the weight of everything in my life. Every terrible and good thing, flooding into my senses. It’s probably not unlike having your life flash before your eyes.

I was energized. I felt like I could get up and run another ten miles. It’s such a tiny moment in a life to have that sort of impact, but I remember it vividly. I know there were other contributing factors, but the shift I experienced from before and after this moment was so clear and defined. It was the first time that I felt I had repaired some of myself.

I started living my life in search of these moments. I’ve been slowly relinquishing control ever since, empowering the universe to guide me where I am supposed to be, rather than where I want to be.

This upcoming trip will be my big jump. My freefall into the abyss. I have a general idea of where I’m going, but there is no plan. No hard set date on when and where I’m stopping. No ties to anywhere. Just me, the road, and the universe.

JMF Trees

 

ice tunnel

the trail ahead narrows

funneling into a hall

the snow crunches below me

echoing off the walls

the chamber is lined with ice

branches looming inward 

steps bounce toward the exit

the cold inhale to my innards

emerging from the other side

the beauty having ceased

I will remember the elegance of the ice

to rival any Gatsby feast

~

Photo by Davide Cantelli on Unsplash