make us richer
though in very different ways
do not change us
but expose who we are
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.
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.
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.
Today is a bit different, for several reasons. Mostly, this place isn’t in my hometown. This is also where things peaked for me for about a decade. It’s only been recent that, with the benefit of hindsight, I understand I had let my life spiral for those ten years. But we’ll get there.
Northern Kentucky University was the first college I went to after high school. It was the first time I was living away from home for longer than a week, and it continued to build on the lessons learned in high school. Lessons of growth, acceptance of others, and independence. It also bred new insecurities, feelings of lack of control, and new levels of chaos in my life.
My roommate freshman year was one of those super popular kids from high school. He also happened to have two strikes on his criminal record. I don’t remember his name now. He was a really nice guy that seemed to have a knack for finding trouble and allowing trouble to find him.
I remember one night he snuck in through our window, got in bed, and said he had been there the whole time. And that’s precisely what we told the cop that showed up at our door about thirty minutes later. I still have no idea where he had been.
That first semester went well. I had good grades, was actually enjoying my classes, and had made new friends. Being that I knew basically no one there, those of us from Louisville quickly found each other and bonded. But there was definitely a core group that I hung out with consistently.
Reggie and his roommate Roger were my two closest friends. We hung out pretty much when we all had free time, and they taught me a lot about opening myself up to new experiences. Roger and Reggie were both much more outgoing than I was, so I tagged along on a lot of experiences that I otherwise wouldn’t have.
I opened up so much so that I was starting conversations with people that I had classes with, which was virtually unheard of for my introverted self. In particular, there was one girl in one class. And eventually, to make a long story short, I started dating the first woman I would love.
She was beautiful, intelligent, funny. Basically any good quality you could want in a partner, she had. Even her family was great. But I did everything a young man in love could think to do to mess things up. I stopped hanging out as much with my friends. I threw myself into the relationship while simultaneously becoming less trusting of her and, eventually, we split up sometime after the second semester started.
I spent a lot of time talking to mutual friends, and eventually, we started talking again. I don’t remember all the details now, but we ended up back together. A second chance.
The end of the semester came, and I had decided to move back to Louisville. My friends had found new friends due to my absence, my roommate never came back from winter break, and I thought that we could make a long-distance relationship work. And at another time, a more mature version of myself might have been able to.
In our break, she had started dating someone else. And it wrecked my psyche with jealousy. I brought that jealousy and paranoia into the exact situation where those kinds of thoughts and feelings would be the death knell. And the executioner was sharpening his blade.
When we broke up the second time, I was arrogant. I had talked her into giving me a second chance once, why couldn’t I do it again. And somehow, she was ready to give me another. It’s clear to me now that, as much as I loved her, she loved me more. And I took advantage of that until the people in her life wouldn’t let her anymore.
She had asked me to come to her dance recital. I say “asked” as if there was any chance of a future with her if I didn’t go. She stressed over and over how important this was, especially as someone who was trying to get back in the good graces of her family. And I was committed to going. Until I wasn’t.
I balked at the last minute and flaked. I don’t remember the shit excuse I gave myself, but trust me, it wasn’t worth remembering. I tried and tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t have it, and for great reason. I asked and asked, why? I knew I had messed up, but can’t you give me one more chance? No. I was, and I quote, a dick. And it only stung as bad as it did because I knew she was right.
I spiraled. Hard. I knew I was to blame, but I refused to admit it, even to myself. I deflected and pretended, all while my mind was beginning its first descent into the dark world of depression. I got put on an anti-depressant, by my own request. And it helped for a while.
But my 21st birthday was quickly approaching, and the thing with anti-depressants is that drinking alcohol while on them is a terrible idea. I did it anyway. The night of my 21st birthday party, I wanted to be anywhere else. I wasn’t suicidal, and I never have been. But I didn’t want to be on this planet that night. It’s one of the worst nights of my life when it should have been one of the best.
At the time, I believed I was heartbroken. And to an extent, I was. But now I think I was punishing myself. I knew all the wrong things I had done. I knew drinking alcohol with the medication was dangerous. I did it anyway. I wanted to feel the consequences of my actions. Or to feel anything.
NKU shaped me differently than the other places have. Not only because I had, until recently, associated more negative feelings toward it than positive, but also because the story, my story, isn’t tied as much to the physical location. When I went up a few weeks back to take the pictures, I definitely had a rush of memories associated with the school. But those aren’t what shaped me.
The feeling of connection with another person on that level was something I had been searching for. I was always the kid that believed in high school sweethearts. And that dream, that I had put on a pedestal, came crashing down around me, because of me. I wasn’t ready for love at the time. But even more than love, I wasn’t prepared to look myself in the mirror for who I was and hold myself accountable for the behaviors.
Especially in writing this, I see how much I’ve grown since college. Some of the people I’ve met more recently may not even think this story is about me. And honestly, I don’t think about it much anymore, because I know I’m a different person. But it is a part of my story, warts and all. Besides, I still hadn’t hit rock bottom.
Thank you again for those of you following along with this series. It’s been very therapeutic.
With my road trip fast approaching (three weeks!), I wanted to reflect on the places and events that shaped me into who I am today. My family and friends are obviously my biggest influences, but I love them. I haven’t always loved my hometown.
From a very early age, I wanted to leave Louisville. It was never so much an issue with the city, but more the allure of other places. When I was a teen, it was Boston. In hindsight, Boston is an interesting choice for me to have wanted to live. I can say now that my teenage years were perfectly suited for the edge and angst in Boston. I would have been a perfect fit in Boston as a teenager.
But that transitioned pretty quickly in college. I was a part of the equipment staff at the University of Louisville, and we got to travel to road games. One of those road games was to Corvallis, Oregon to play Oregon State University. And it left a necessary impression.
We flew into Eugene, then drove the hour or so to Corvallis. I had never been on a plane before, but once we got into the air, I felt a lot better about the experience. The drive to Corvallis was beautiful. Tall evergreens surrounding the road; the hotel we stayed at designed like a log cabin. It was the first time I had really gotten away from the deciduous hills of the midwest. And I fell in love.
The west suits my developed laid back style better than my teenage dreams, and I knew I needed to, at the very least, make it a habit of venturing out there with some regularity.
But this post is not about why I need to go on this road trip. It’s the beginning of a short series displaying my appreciation for where I grew up because it was only recently that I began to feel that appreciation. And what better way to kick this off than with the beginning: my childhood home.
We moved there when I was maybe 5 or 6. It was the house that my grandfather built, that my mom and uncles grew up in, and it was where my brother and I spent all of our formative years. It’s where I had my first kiss, met some lifelong friends in our neighborhood, and wrote my first poem.
The location of the house is very intentional in my story. If we hadn’t moved there, I would have gone to a different grade school for sure and probably high school as well. I would have never met the friend from the neighborhood that died just this year from cancer. Hell, I might not have gotten my first job, which I stayed at for ten years. I had a terrible interview, as most 16-year-olds probably do, and until the manager mentioned that he had grown up around the corner from where I lived, I was definitely not getting that job.
All of this is why I wanted to start here. With this location. It truly was the beginning for me. It unknowingly set me on this path toward this trip, and while I’m grateful and privileged to be taking this trip, I will always have that love and appreciation for the places that got me here.
Thank you for reading. I know these posts won’t mean much to most, but every moment that someone takes to read anything I write means the world to me.
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
a busy street
rush hour, nature lurking nearby
a family of deer emerge
a father and two children
unbothered by the modern technology
flying past, life-threatening
father approached, an unusual distance away
frozen, I waited, breath suspended
for the inevitable frightened flee
he draws near, almost within arms reach
I thaw long enough
to reach a hand out to greet him
and though he flinched
he didn’t run
as if he knew
I’m moving! Seriously, I’m moving across the country. I want to share my story not just because I’m excited, but because I want to connect with more people across the country. I wanted to give details about my exploration but wanted to do so in an easy, quick way. I also wanted to cover as many aspects of the trip as possible, so I naturally turned to journalism. The 5 W’s and H are my compass: Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How.
Me! And only me. I’ve gone through a lot and I would be lying if I said that part of my journey wasn’t to spend some time alone and ruminate on things. I’m being very intentional about this being a solo road trip, and I can’t wait to spend a few weeks just…being.
A road trip! I want to travel on the road because its the greatest way to see the beauty all around us. One of my favorite parts of my last road trip to Colorado was how awestruck I was by Kansas. Most people associate Kansas (and much of the “flyover” states) with being boring fields and nothing to see. They were some of the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I’ve ever seen. The soft, rolling hills and beautiful ambers, golds, and beiges were a perfect, warm way to enjoy the drive.
By the end of the year. My current goal is to leave my job by October 22nd and be on the road the next day. I’m getting a lot of work done on my car as we sit here, so I’m being flexible on when I leave for financial reasons. That is my target, but 100% by the end of the year. Side note: my job knows I’m leaving and is being super flexible with me, which is great and a privilege.
West! I say that generally because I genuinely don’t know where I want to live. I have IDEAS, I’ve never visited, let alone lived in most of these places. I know I like a ton of things about the state of Washington, but maybe I get there and hate it. That’s another reason I’m doing a road trip. I want to be able to stay in or leave any place at any time. If I arrive in a city and can instantly tell the vibe is off, I’m out. I have great intuition and know when something isn’t for me.
I worked with someone about four years ago at a running store named Todd. Todd was one of the most eccentric, interesting people I’ve ever met. Part of that was a story that he told me about his experiences. He was from Indiana but traveled with some friends to Colorado. They were headed to Steamboat Springs. Todd described riding into the valley Steamboat sits in and getting that feeling. The feeling of home. Goosebumps on the arms and legs, almost nauseous gut. That’s what I’m after.
I’m ready to start the next chapter of my life. For years, I’ve viewed my life in three parts: my learning stage, my execution stage, and my prime. It’s not to say that I’ll stop learning, but I’ve learned a lot of necessary skills to help me execute on ideas and plans that I have. I’m single, have no kids, and almost no debt. I’m grateful for every opportunity those privileges allow for me, and I intend to use my flexibility to my advantage. There’s a lot of people who would look at someone like me and think me a failure. No college degree, not married, no house. I look at myself and see someone who is full of life experience, thirsty for more, and just entering my prime.
So, how can you follow along? I want to do a pseudo travel blog for my journey, so follow along here for sure. Additionally, I want to do videos and post pictures on my Instagram and Twitter, so follow me @sunkencircle for those as well.
Lastly, I want to thank anyone who has been in my life up to this point. Every good and bad interaction, friendship, relationship, heartbreak, bits of support, and criticism has lead me here. My family and friends have been nothing but supportive of my decision to move, and I couldn’t ask for a greater support system.
Does anyone have some stories about places in the west that they’ve really enjoyed? Really couldn’t stand? Let me know!