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!

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

 

An Ode to my Hometown: What Now?

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.

NKU Dorm

 

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.

NKU Lake Pier

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.

NKU Courtyard

 

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 Lake Pulled Back

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.

NKU Campus Green

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.

An Ode to my Hometown: The Beginning

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.

 

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