Days 223-226: Overseas vs Wedding

When I arrived in Los Angeles, I picked up my rental car and drove towards my old workplace to meet a friend for happy hour. Jimmy and I used to go to happy hour at Geezers, so we met there like old times. We had a great time catching up over some drinks.

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I was staying the night at my friend Trisha’s house, but my friend Debbie had the key to my storage unit. It was late and they were in bed, so I picked up the key from Debbie’s mailbox and drove to Trisha’s house.

I’ve picked Trisha up from her house several times, but I’d never actually been inside. She has two children in grade school and they were all in bed. Her son Hunter was letting me use his bedroom while he was in Trisha’s room. Trisha left me instructions on how to get inside, which felt like a typical Airbnb for me.

I walked inside and looked for pictures on the wall so I knew it was her apartment. I was up late that night because I had to do some updates to my blog. The next morning, I drove back to Debbie’s house because I had the wrong key. After getting the key, I drove to my storage unit to get some paperwork from the sale of my house. Once I had that, I drove to Torrance to give all the documents to my tax accountant. This all reminded me just how spread out Los Angeles really is.

Once that was complete, I went to my friend Carey’s hair salon in Long Beach to get a haircut and highlights done. Then it was off to Debbie’s house for lunch. After that, I went to the bank because they did not properly add my beneficiary to my accounts. They don’t have locations in Missouri, so I needed to do it while I was in California. Having a life in multiple states 2,000 miles apart is complicated.

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After making a quick stop at Target to get some things, I headed back to Trisha’s house. We quickly got ready and drove to El Segundo to meet my friend Toni for dinner. It was great catching up and having a “girls night out.”  After swinging by REI to get a battery pack, we went to another place for drinks.

Once Trisha and I got back to her place, Trisha tried to help me fix my duffle bag. It was a new bag and I only used it as a backup bag while traveling the last six months. The baggage handlers at the airport somehow bent one of the bars on the bottom, preventing the handle from extending. I’m too tall to hold the loop on the side and it was too heavy to carry. But no matter what we tried, we couldn’t fix it.

The next morning, Trisha and I went to a restaurant for breakfast and then I drove to the airport to drop off my rental car and catch my flight to Thailand. As I drove to the airport, I realized my ex-husband was getting married that day. I had seen a few weeks earlier that my ex-sister-in-law was tagged at his fiance’s wedding shower with a hashtag of their wedding date. It was strange seeing a picture with my ex-mother-in-law, grandmother-in-law, and two sister-in-laws in a group picture with Aaron’s soon-to-be wife. I have those same pictures with them.

It was a strange feeling knowing he was getting married less than two years after our divorce. I had ended the marriage because of his lies, but it still felt strange. It felt strange because he kept telling me he didn’t want the divorce, he loved me, and had no interest in dating. And before the divorce was final, he was on Tinder dating his first match, who he was now marrying.

I reflected on the symbolism. He was getting married on the same day that I was heading overseas. He would make the same vows to her as he made to me. They would likely be blissfully happy that day, sharing their love with their family and friends – just as he did with me. I have those same pictures with him – cutting the cake, dancing, and committing to each other.

I remember on my wedding day I felt panicked. I was in the little waiting room with my dad as we waited for the wedding party to walk down the aisle under a large tree at a golf course. My dad and I would drive up on a golf cart. I remember feeling worried – was I making the right decision? I convinced myself it was just nerves. But deep down, I remember thinking, “this is forever” and feeling slightly panicked.

After the ceremony, the best man told me he watched a large vein in my forehead pound with blood during the ceremony. Nerves, I told him. We had a great day and people told me for years that it was one of the funnest times they’ve had at a wedding. It was a great day. If only it were all true. If only I had married the person I thought I was marrying.

I don’t feel jealous or envious of Aaron getting married. I’m happy he’s moved on and that he’ll be just fine. But it still doesn’t change the fact that it’s a strange feeling. It’s hard to put into words.

I don’t mean to be cynical about marriage, but I have a hard time believing people will be together forever. Vows are said with good intentions. People intend to be with the other person until “death do us part.” But the reality is more like “I promise to be with you unless you…”

I know what you’re thinking, “You have to fully commit for it to work out.” But the truth is that you cannot control your spouse and the things they will and will not do. When I hear vows now, I have a lot of hope for couples, but I also know it wouldn’t be unheard of for them to divorce and fall in love with someone else. It all seems so fleeting.

While Aaron prepared for his big day, I headed to the airport. I was happy with where my life was going. When I filed for divorce I still loved him, but I knew he wasn’t good for me. I had stood up for myself in a marriage built on lies, confronted many of my fears, followed my heart, and was living the life I believe I’m meant to live. It was poetic that I was leaving on his wedding day.

LAX is one of the world’s worst airports, but the international terminal is slightly better with better food and shopping options. It’s also less crowded.

I was flying with Japan Airlines for the first time. The plane had two seats, an aisle, four seats, an aisle, and two more seats. I got an aisle seat to the right of the plane. The girl next to me at the window looked to be in her early 20s and seemed to be with the two people in front of us. She didn’t get up to use the restroom the entire 12-hour flight to Osaka!

During the long flight, everyone was quiet and respectful. We left around noon so I wasn’t tired. Instead, I watched free movies on the screen in front of me. I used my Bose headphones so it felt like I was in a movie theater. After a movie, I’d do some writing for my blog on my iPad mini and keyboard that I brought. Once I was tired of writing, I’d watch another movie.

When the flight attendant brought dinner, I was amazed! It was all free and delicious!

  • Chicken and mashed potatoes
  • Salad
  • Quinoa
  • Fruit
  • Noodles
  • Miso soup
  • Bread
  • Green Tea
  • Water
  • Wine
  • Ice Cream
  • Warm towel

I got up a few times to stretch and use the restroom. There were toothbrushes in there for people to take and use, which I thought was a nice touch. The flight attendants would go down the aisles from time to time selling items from a catalogue. The homemade looking signs declared, “Some unique items you can only buy here.”

I was only able to sleep for about 45 minutes on the plane. We arrived at Osaka close to 1:00 am Los Angeles time, but it was 6:00 pm there. I was astonished by the toilets! I’ve always heard that Japan has fancy, complicated toilets and they weren’t lying. I had a private stall with a whole slew of buttons. I pressed the music button and whimsical music played. I wish the U.S. would get on board with these awesome additions.

I walked around looking for a place to eat, although I wasn’t sure if I was overeating or not eating enough on the plane. It seemed like they kept serving food, but with the time change, I had no idea if I should be eating or not. A friend recommended a place there, but after searching and searching I couldn’t find it.

I had a six hour layover there and I asked the security guard about the restaurant and he told me it was located outside of security. I asked if I could just go outside of security for the shops and restaurants and come back in and he told me that I couldn’t. There were hardly any shops or restaurants in the section I was in.

I felt like I was walking around in circles as I ate some bad sushi and visited the couple of shops. Finally, I found a table ledge with computers and space for people to put a laptop. Nobody was over there. I was writing, but as the night went on, I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I was literally falling asleep at my keyboard.

Finally, it was time to board the plane to Bangkok, Thailand. It was a six-hour flight and I was looking forward to getting some sleep. When they scanned my ticket, a buzzer went off and they pulled me aside. My duffle bag was sitting there, wide open. They said somehow it was broken in transit. The entire lock and both zippers on top were completely broken off!

My items were almost falling out. The attendants told me they would wrap it in two big garbage bags and tape it all around. I asked that they please wrap it tightly so things don’t spill out. I was so frustrated as I boarded the plane.

I was only able to sleep for a little more than an hour. My body was completely off kilter with the time changes. I watched some movies until we arrived in Bangkok. I had a four and a half hour layover.

The airport is huge, with very long terminals. I walked for what seemed like forever to my next gate. I ate a donut and got some coffee. The time went fast and it was time to board my next flight to Chiang Mai. It would be an hour and a half flight and this is where the real adventure would begin!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 126-129: Pacific Coast Highway

Jimmy and I ate breakfast in Sierra Madre and then walked around the cute, small city. Afterwards, I made edits to my blog while Jimmy left to hang out with some friends.

I realized I was only a short 15 minute drive away from Mount Wilson, a mountain that I had hiked many times before. It’s one of the most difficult hikes in the area because it’s nonstop climbing. I enjoy the hike because it’s also mostly empty.

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The afternoon sun was beating on me. There isn’t much shade the first one and a half miles and it was 89°F with a real feel of 93°F. The dry air was mixed with smog. The hike was beautiful and offered some amazing, hard-earned views of the metro Los Angeles area.

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I finally got to a tree-covered area, but the heat didn’t let up. I was happy to enjoy the sunny day, but I was also looking forward to going north to cooler temperatures. I hiked a total of six miles and watched the sun move behind the mountain to set. The hike was difficult, but it was a good kind of difficult.

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I went back to Jimmy’s place to shower and then I drove to West Los Angeles for my friend Jessica’s birthday party. I saw some other friends there and met some new people too. There were a few women there that were interested in hearing more about the book I was writing about the John Muir Trail. I was also telling them about my travels. One woman said, “I’ve never met someone who actually did this. We all think about it, but you actually did it.”

The next day, I went to brunch with Jimmy and a mutual friend, Nguyen. We got to meet Nguyen’s boyfriend, who I had heard a lot about. We ate some delicious dim-sum and then had to part ways. I went back to Jimmy’s place to pack up my stuff and hit the road. Before I left town, I stopped at Costco in Burbank to get some water bottles and it took me 20 minutes to find a parking spot. The crowd made me happy to get away from the city.

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I started driving north, planning to drive the Pacific Coast Highway this time. Previously I had driven highway 5, which goes through farmland. It’s quicker, but very boring. The Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most beautiful roads in the U.S. It goes along the coast of California and winds its way around the mountains. It takes much longer because of the amount of turns and elevation gains, but the scenery is a fantastic payoff.

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I arrived at Morro Bay just as the sun was setting. I found my motel, Harbor House Inn. I parked my car outside of my room, brought my bags inside, and then walked down the street to grab dinner. I found a restaurant and ordered a sandwich to-go.

As I was paying for my order, the young guy around 20 years old asked, “You’re not from here?”

I replied, “No, LA.”

“Cool. Are you just on vacation?”

“Well, I’m traveling for two years.”

“Nice! It’ll be good to find a place you’ll want to live when you’re older.”

Flattered, I thought, “How old does this guy think I am?”

I ate my dinner in my motel room and went to sleep. The next morning, I was loading up my car to check out and there was a guy in his late 20s to early 30s unloading his car into the room next to mine. He asked me, “Does your directv work?” I explained that I had issues with the HDMI cable and it seemed to be a known issue with the staff. The guy said, “I just got here 30 minutes ago and it’s not working. I guess I shouldn’t be watching TV anyway, right?”

I walked to the front office to hand in my key and check out. I walked back to my car to leave and the guy was still hanging out by his car. He said, “You’re leaving? Where are you going?”

“Hearst Castle and then probably Eureka.”

“At Hearst Castle, take the movie tour. Some people say it’s cheesy, but I think it gives you a good base of the place. Are you just on vacation?”

“No, I’m traveling for two years.”

“Wow! That sounds like a conversation I’d love to have with you. Dang it. Why couldn’t this have been a couple of days ago? You can’t stay another couple of nights?”

“No, I actually have plans in Whistler. Are you on vacation?”

“No, it’s a long story, but not as fun and adventurous as yours. Dang, I wish we could have a conversation.”

“Well, I gotta go, sorry.”

I got into my car and drove over to the large, famous rock that Morro Bay is famous for. I walked around, taking pictures and enjoying the cool breeze.

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After that, I drove 45 minutes to Hearst Castle. I joined a tour and we boarded a bus that took us on a 15 minute ride up the mountain.

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The place was built between 1919 and 1947 by California’s first female architect, Julia Morgan. William Hearst was a publishing tycoon and wanted to build “something a little more comfortable,” which became the extravagant castle on the large property where he grew up camping with his family. In the 1920s and 1930s, movie stars like Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant all went there for parties.

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The tour was informative and we walked all around the property, stopping at the famous outdoor Neptune Pool. William Hearst died in 1951, and in 1958 the Hearst family gifted the property to the State of California and it became a historical monument. The family still owns most of the 82,000 acres surrounding the castle.

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Once the tour was finished, I took the bus back to the main office to get my car. I continued driving north on the Pacific Coast Highway. The views were incredible! This was the first time I had driven the highway through central California. The road forced me to make turn after turn after turn.

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I was surprised by how busy the road was considering it was the end of October and should have been off-peak season. I saw a lot of rented RV’s, especially near Big Sur.

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I stopped many times on the shoulder when I had the opportunity. The mountains against the ocean was a site to see. I was also lucky enough to watch the sunset over the ocean.

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I was on the highway for several hours before I hit San Francisco and then started to head more inland. It was dark as I drove past the city, but I didn’t want to get a hotel there because that area is the most expensive in the country. I drove to Williams, California and got a room at a Motel 6. The drive on Pacific Coast Highway is magnificent and I highly recommend you drive it at least once in your lifetime.

The next day I checked out of the motel, grabbed breakfast at McDonald’s and continued north, driving though some mountains in Oregon. I was saddened when I saw the damage from fires that that occurred a few months prior. When I spent time there in June and July, it was green and beautiful. But when I was in Canada and Alaska, several major fires blazed through the area. I could see the burnt trees along the Highway and couldn’t believe how different it looked.

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The landscape was dry and starting to flatten out as I continued north. After a full day of driving, I arrived at the Red Lion Inn & Suites in Vancouver, Washington, which is just past Portland, Oregon. It was around 9:00 pm and dark outside. The hotel wasn’t very nice, but it would do for the night.

I walked across the street to Subway and brought a sandwich back to my room. I had an Airbnb booked in Whistler starting November 1st, so I had to cover a lot of ground each day in order to make it in time. I was exhausted from so much driving and couldn’t wait until I had some downtime in my favorite mountain town.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 121-125: Cat on a Plane

I left Ryan’s house and drove to my friend’s house in Lakewood. I had a flight from Los Angeles to St. Louis, Missouri so I could take my cat to my parents’ house. I left my car at Debbie and Robin’s house and Robin took me to the airport. First, we stopped at Jen’s house in Inglewood so I could get my cat, Cali.

It was Monday morning and Los Angeles traffic is horrible. I was starting to stress about making it to the airport on time, but Robin did a fantastic job of navigating through the sea of cars. His prior experience driving an ambulance all over the city paid off. I quickly got Cali from Jen’s house before she had to leave for work. I opened the cat carrier in the car so I could pet her and she was very confused and curious as to where we were headed.

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Where are we going?

When I walked up to the counter at LAX, I asked the woman to change my last name on the ticket. I had redeemed Southwest Airlines points for the ticket, but the rewards were in my married name. While the woman worked to change the name on the ticket, I unzipped my suitcase and started to move clothes from my suitcase to my carry on because it weighed 5 pounds over the limit.

I was only going to St. Louis for five days, but I didn’t feel like rearranging my clothes. As a result, my bag had a lot of jeans. As I was repacking, a very tall, large man put his bag on the scale. It weighed 95 pounds! His girlfriend’s tiny bag only weighed 29 pounds. The woman at Southwest Airlines told him he would be better off getting a duffle bag for $24 because we can take two bags weighing under 50 pounds for free. The fee for his overweight bag was $75, which he paid.

I joked with the man about how unfair it is for us taller, bigger people. It’s science – my clothes and shoes will obviously weigh much more than an average-sized person, and especially a petite person. When I look at the size and weight of my friend’s clothes, I can see they’re about half the size. It always looks like I overpack, when the reality is that my clothes and shoes take up much more space than most people’s do.

I paid the $95 fee to take my cat on the airplane and headed to the security line. I was very worried because they told me I would have to take Cali out of her carrier and hold her through the metal detector so the carrier could go through the machine. Cali is a true scaredy cat and I was afraid she’d run away. When I got to security, I took her out of the carrier and thankfully she was so scared, she grabbed onto my shoulder tightly. It looked like she was hugging me and as I waited for the carrier on the other side, a guy passed me saying, “Awe, so cute!”

A TSA agent helped me unzip the bag so I could get Cali back inside. I used the restroom and had to put Cali’s carrier on the floor. She meowed and I heard someone at the sink say, “Whoa, there’s a cat in here.” While I waited to board my flight, a boy around seven years old kept staring at Cali so I opened the top and let him pet her. I was surprised by how good she was doing. People were complimenting me on how well behaved and quiet she was.

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Cali peacefully slept through the flight, as did her mother. We arrived in St. Louis in the evening and my mom picked us up. After making a stop by my sister’s new chiropractic office and the pet store, we arrived at my parents’ house.

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The St. Louis Skyline

I was able to stay with Cali in the guest bedroom and it was so great to be with her again. It had been about four months since I was able to spend time with her. She snuggled with me all night and I was glad she was doing better than I expected.

My sister, her family, and three dogs were currently living in my parents’ basement while building a new home. My parents also have a dog and a cat, so I kept Cali in my bedroom so she didn’t have to be around all of the animals. Unfortunately, the next morning my sister opened the door looking for her son’s homework and my parent’s cat ran under the bed. Cali was also under the bed and a cat hissing fight began. I frantically got the other cat out, but Cali was not happy.

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The four dogs waiting for a treat
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My parent’s cat, Missy

I lounged around during the day and started to consider buying a small house in the area. I was currently paying $240 a month for storage of my household items in Los Angeles. Getting a small house would allow me to put my stuff there. I searched for houses, but didn’t have enough time to actually do anything about it.

That evening, my friend Ryan Shuck was playing a show in St. Louis with his band Julien-K. He got me a couple of passes and I took my brother, Brian, and his 22-year-old son, Anthony. The show was in downtown St. Louis at The Ready Room, which isn’t a very good neighborhood. We parked and quickly walked to the club.

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The show was amazing as usual. Brian and Anthony were impressed with Julien-K and Ryan’s voice. It was such a good time hanging out with them because we don’t get many opportunities for that. I had missed Anthony’s 21st birthday so I used the night to celebrate and bought him some drinks.

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After Julian-K played, Jonathan Davis from Korn was playing. The place was packed, but in between shows, I met Ryan at the bar. We were hanging out talking when a fan came over to buy Ryan a drink. The fan was star stuck and said, “Do you realize who this is?” I laughed and said, “Yes, he’s pretty amazing.”

Ryan joined us in the back of the crowd to listen to Jonathan Davis, which was also a great show. Once it was over and the club was kicking people out, Ryan came from backstage to say goodbye. He was so sweet and talked with my nephew, giving him some encouraging words. We hugged goodbye and I headed back to St. Charles.

Brian, Anthony, and I went back to Anthony’s house to hang out with Anthony’s wife, Jessica. I had them all take the Myers Brigg personality test and it was so great getting to know them better. They lived 2,000 miles away from me during the last 15 years, so most of our visits were during the holidays. This was an opportunity to just hang out as friends.

Over the next few days, I had a chance to hang out with family and a few friends. I saw my sister, Amy’s, new property where she was going to build a house. I got a massage and Amy did some chiropractic work on me.

It was strange being at my parents house when it wasn’t a holiday. I moved from Missouri when I was 23 years old and a lot had changed since then. It felt good to get Cali situated and I felt confident that she’d be ok there for the longer-term while I continued to travel.

After a few days, it was time to fly back to California to get my car. I flew into Long Beach airport, which is so much nicer than LAX because it’s small. My friend Debbie picked me up and took me back to her house to get my car. After hanging out for a bit, I drove to Arcadia to stay at my friend Jimmy’s house. He had a spare room and I needed somewhere to stay for a couple of nights.

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When I arrived at Jimmy’s place, I set my bags down and we went out for drinks and appetizers. His fiancé was in Japan for work. Jimmy and I used to work together and we’d sometimes go to happy hour after work. It was like old times – except we were in  a different city. We had dinner a couple weeks prior when I first arrived in California. It was nice that we could have more of an in-depth conversation since we had already talked about my travel highlights. Jimmy is a great friend and I was happy to have moments that made me feel like not too much had changed after all.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 107-120: Life Back in Los Angeles

Over the next two weeks, I spent time in the Los Angeles area visiting friends over lunches and dinners, going to several doctor appointments, and running errands.

My Cat

Jen had been taking care of my cat, Cali, since I left and I missed her very much. Jen was such an angel and would send me videos of Cali while I was on the road so I knew how she was doing. Jen had somewhere to be, so I was only able to see Cali for about ten minutes. She was not doing the best because she’s very attached to me. I got her from the shelter when she was just three months old and she is now 14.

Jen has a few other cats and also fosters cats from a kitty bungalow nearby. Cali is a pretty particular cat and kept hissing at other cats if they started to approach her. She had been living in Jen’s bathroom so she would have her own space. It was a very large bathroom and she had her cat stand and a window to look out of, but I worried about a long-term solution. I also couldn’t keep imposing on Jen. I told Jen I would come up with a plan and take her to my parent’s house in Missouri soon.

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Doctor Appointments

Ophthalmology

I went to my ophthalmologist’s office for a follow-up appointment. Right before I left California, I got a hole in one of my retinas. The doctor was able to laser around the hole to prevent my retina from detaching, but he wanted to follow up to make sure things were ok.

I had only met the doctor once. He’s a retina specialist and most of his patients are several decades older than me. The doctor is about my age and while he was examining my eyes, he asked, “How is work going?” I paused, “Well, I actually quit my job, sold my house, and I drove to Alaska. I just got back a couple of days ago.”

The doctor pulled back astonished and started asking questions. I told him I was trying to finish a book about hiking the John Muir Trail. He was very interested in that and kept asking questions. I found myself getting excited, telling him about my coldest night on the trail and sending myself resupplies. It was so fun to talk to him about my adventures and his excitement got me pumped up.

Restorative Medicine

When I was leaving my appointment with a restorative medicine doctor, the office manager and I chatted while she ordered some supplements for me. Brittany is 32-years-old and we have a lot in common. We both grew up without a lot money and in order to fit in with our friends and buy clothes, we started working at a young age. She continued working and was now in school as well. She talked about how hard it is to work full-time and go to school.

I sympathized with her because I did that right after high school and I couldn’t wait until I was only doing school or work. Doing both full time is draining. Brittany was so fun to talk with. She had known me for a few years and I’ll never forgot the big smile on her face when she said, “You seem so happy.”

Breast Center

I was on a six month follow-up program to monitor dense tissue in my left breast. This would be the two-year mark and if the dense tissue hadn’t grown, I could go back to annual evaluations. I arrived at the Breast Center and a nurse, Carrie, took me back and did the mammogram. She was in her 50s, had shoulder length dark blonde hair, red glasses, and spunky tennis shoes.

Carrie asked me all sorts of questions about my travels and then she told me about her desire to retire in Hawaii. She said she found mother-in-law suites that she could rent for $2,000-$2,500 a month. She wanted to volunteer at the Botanical Gardens pulling weeds. She said, “My kids and family are here, but they’ll probably come visit me since it’s Hawaii.”

The doctor came in after evaluating the results and said the dense tissue did not change so I could go back to annual exams (YAY!). As Carrie walked me back to the dressing room, she gave me a hat for breast cancer awareness and said, “I’m glad I met you. You’re so brave and gutsy.” I was feeling fantastic!

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Dentist

I see my dentist every six months for a check-up and cleaning. One of the hygienists, Cherry, has worked there the entire time I’ve been seeing the doctor (about 13 years). When I first started going, she was working at the front desk and always had the biggest smile on her face, which instantly put me in a good mood. She always recognized my voice on the phone and always remembered the things going on in my personal life. When I got engaged, she congratulated me. Then Aaron started going there too. Then the questions about babies started, but eventually stopped as the years passed. The last time I was in there, I had to tell her about the divorce. At that time, it was still difficult to say that word, so we didn’t talk much about it.

This time, I felt great! I checked in with the new receptionist and Cherry, now a hygienist, came out to say hello. I told them about my travels and recent changes in my life. With tears welling up in her eyes, Cherry told the new receptionist, “I’ve never seen her this happy. Usually, she’s pretty quiet and doesn’t talk too much.” It warmed my heart to hear her say that.

When I got into the dentist chair, I had a different hygienist and my dentist came in. I updated her on my new life. She longingly said she would love to do what I’m doing, but she’s still five to seven years away from retirement. She thinks she’s too old now and I assured her you’re never too old.

Primary Care

I also had an appointment with my primary care doctor for an annual follow-up. She asked me how work was going and I told her about quitting. She paused, and chatted with me for the next 30 minutes. She asked “How are you doing? I ask because jobs create a lot of stress. The thing in life is that you are always learning about yourself. I’ve learned that I overdue things. There is no such thing as doing things half-way for me, or mediocre. So I need to learn to say no sometimes.”

My doctor went on to describe that she was always jumping at her pager when it went off. Until one day, she stepped away from dinner with her family and the page ended up being for Tylenol. She realized she can’t live like that and maybe it’s ok if her job waits for 10-15 minutes.

She’s a good doctor and told me about how her perfectionism goes overboard, creating stress for her and her family. One time it was her turn to bring the snack to soccer practice and what she started as a healthy fruit snack turned into strawberry shortcake sundaes with all of the toppings. It was so overboard that her son told her, “Mom, don’t take this the wrong way, but some parents can’t go all out like that and they might feel bad now.” My doctor told me, “You’ve always got to look into the mirror, see yourself, and be willing to make changes.” As I left the office, my doctor said, “If you get published, I want a signed copy. I’ll buy the book, but I want you to sign it.”

I was having such a good time at each appointment. Normally, I was there before or after work, or even on my lunch break – always rushing and stressed out about the time. This time, I was relaxed and not stressed out at all. At each appointment, I was able to have meaningful conversations with people. It was eye-opening. My whole aura felt different and people noticed. It made me feel like I’m on the right path.

Friends

I missed my friends, so I was grateful to everyone who made time to see me, even if it was a quick lunch. Each time I’d meet up with a friend, I’d talk about my adventures and what it was like being back. They always wanted to know my plan, so I told them I was going to spend a month in Whistler so I could focus on my writing. There is no way I would make progress in the Los Angeles area – there’s too many distractions and too many people to see. I also wanted to hear all about their lives and it was just the fuel I needed. Almost everyday I met up with one or two friends.

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One night, Ryan, (who’s house I was staying at) was playing an added show in Pomona with his band, Julien-K. His girlfriend Caitlyn, roommate Max, and I all went to see his show. We were able to see him backstage and meet the other band members. On the way, I got to know more about Caitlyn and Max.

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Caitlyn grew up in Utah, but has spent most of her adult life in the Los Angeles area. She had such a kind heart, but was also a badass. She was in one of band’s music videos (she could easily be a model), and used to rock out on stage with them. Max was from Santa Barbara, but spent the last six years on the east coast. His partner was in New York, so once his internship was complete, he would be moving there to be with him.

We grabbed beers, talked with the band backstage, and then got to see Ryan in action. He has an amazing voice and owns the stage. I enjoyed every song and they even finished their set with playing Blue Monday. Since Ryan was a founding member of Orgy, he is able to still play the song. I highly recommend you check out Julien-K’s album, California Noir – Chapter two: Nightlife in Neon.

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During my two weeks in Long Beach, I was able to have some relaxing days with friends too. One rainy Saturday, my friend Trisha and I spent the day doing retail therapy, having dinner, and seeing a movie. It was just the sort of day I needed. Another day, the weather was great – warm and sunny. My friend Debbie and her husband Robin were going to the beach with their 10-month-old son. I tagged along and enjoyed a relaxing day at the beach under their canopy and eating delicious, fresh-made sandwiches.

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The weather had been so warm most of the trip that I went standup-paddle boarding with my friend Lori. It was my first time and I gripped the board tightly with my feet. After about 20 minutes, I had to pull over in the bay to stretch my feet because they were cramping. We continued, but boats were coming in and creating waves. One wave was too much for me to control and I flipped into the water. Lori helped me get back on and we were both impressed that I had managed to grab my sunglasses as they fell. However, about five minutes later, I fell again and this time didn’t grab my sunglasses. It was a great day on the water, but it was much harder than I anticipated.

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I spent a night out in Manhattan Beach with my friends Toni and Jessica. We had been wanting to have a night at the Strand House, which is a luxury hotel, restaurant, and bar. We ate a high quality dinner and then had drinks and danced at the bar. It was an awesome girls’ night out. That is until I realized the bar accidentally charged my credit card an extra $1,000 for bottle service that a different group ordered.

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On the Uber ride back to Long Beach that night, I talked with my driver, who was in her 20s. I told her all about my time in Canada and Alaska during the 30 minute drive. When I got out of the car, she told me that I inspired her. It felt so good to hear that. Those kinds of comments help me to understand what I want to do with my life. I want to inspire.

Work

One morning, I woke up to a text from a friend telling me that a former coworker had passed away. Phil was my age and died in his sleep. They didn’t know why and were going to do an autopsy. It really affected me. Phil had been my final interview when I was hired in 2007. I didn’t work for him directly much, but he was someone who made a huge impact. He was a fun and wild guy, but he was also incredibly intelligent. He graduated from Yale University and made a lot of wonderful contributions to the company. A few years ago, he left to become a Vice President at another company. He had a wife and two young children.

It was less than a week from when I had found out one of my doctors had passed away suddenly. You always hear about these things, but when it’s people you know, it strikes you differently. These were both highly intelligent, successful, and kind people who made incredible contributions to the world. It just made me realize how quickly it can all end. It was yet another reminder to me that I need to do what I’m passionate about before my time is over.

I stopped into my old work one afternoon. I thought I’d be there saying hello to people for a couple of hours, but it turned into six hours. I had lunch with a friend like old times and then went inside the office. During my time there, I worked in several departments and hired hundreds of people, so I know a lot of folks.

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My heart was filled with joy as I was able to catch up with each of them. I told someone that now that I was in the building again, it felt like I had only been gone a week. The person said, “Then how about you sit back at your desk and do some work.” The thought of doing actual work was unappealing. I prefered to just hang out and talk. I was surprised by how many people told me that I looked the happiest they’ve seen me. I kept hearing, “You’re glowing.” To me, that is a sign that you know you’re doing what you were created to do. Many people told me they were following along through my blog and I am extremely appreciative for each and every person who reads it. So thank you, dear reader.

My Mind Adjusting

I had a wild dream one night that was so vivid, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for hours. I dreamt that I was outside in front of a Target store, leaning against a half-wall. I used to be a manager there many years ago in real life and I can’t remember if I was an employee in my dream.

All of a sudden, a giant wave was crashing into the parking lot. But then it just started to slowly rise above everyone, going over the top of the building. It was slow motion and then it froze over instantly, leaving all us trapped underneath. Everyone was running around screaming and panicking. I was calm, fascinated by the whales and other sea creatures that swam above us – dinosaur-like creatures that nobody knew existed.  

Then a male friend of mine walked over to me and asked, “So, do you think you’ll make it out alive?” I confidentially answered, “Well, in my stories, I’m always the hero. And hero’s always find a way to survive.” The male friend kissed my cheek softly and I continued talking because I was nervous and trying to avoid acknowledging the kiss. It was such a crazy dream and I think my mind was trying to wrestle with all of the changes in my life.

While I was in California, I had a chance to get some writing done, go to the gym, get my hair cut, my car washed, attend church, and go to the store to buy some needed items. I also went to my chiropractor to help with my back and neck pain. It’s a husband and wife team who also attend my church. They were so encouraging and prayed for me while I was there to give me words of encouragement.

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It was the first time being back in my old stomping grounds after making a huge life change. It was incredible to receive so much support from friends, doctors, and acquaintances. At the end of my time there, I would fly my cat to Missouri to be with my parents, and then fly back to Los Angeles to get my car and head back to Whistler, Canada. The first leg of my travels was complete and this was my new life. Did I regret my decision? Absolutely not! I felt like for the first time in my life, I was on the track I was destined to be on.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 104-106: A Typical Los Angeles Adventure

I arrived at Ryan Shuck’s house around 8:00 pm. I met him through a mutual friend and he lives there with his girlfriend, Caitlyn. Ryan is a well-known musician (currently the lead singer and guitarist in Julien-K) and he was about to leave for a six week tour, so he wanted to review things in the house with me before he left so I could keep an eye on it. His girlfriend and a roommate would be there too, but they worked a lot and weren’t around very much. The timing worked out perfectly.

I texted Ryan that I was there and he met me out front to help me with my luggage. I was embarrassed that my suitcase had just broken and was missing a wheel. We walked through the front gate, passed the pool, and went inside the house. The house had a beautiful 1950s design and Ryan did an amazing job decorating. He did such a good job, that his house has been featured in magazines.

After I set my bags down, Ryan showed me around the house because it was my first time staying there. He had a soundproof recording studio with a lot of guitars and a rack full of black leather jackets. I asked, “What all do you record in here?” He laughed, “Lots.” Other musicians record there too.

Ryan and I chatted over some wine in the kitchen. Ryan is tall, about 6’3”, and has a thin, athletic build. He has dark hair that was styled like a rockstar – shaved on the sides and long on top. He is in his 40s and exudes charisma. I felt embarrassed by my bland shirt and jeans.

Ryan and I talked about relationships, my recent travels, and his business endeavors. As Ryan told me more about his career, I was blown away. I only knew of him as a regular guy when I was first introduced to him, but he has platinum records on the wall, his music has been in movies, he has had top positions on the Billboard Charts, has been on Total Request Live, and has sold over three million albums.

According to Wikipedia, he is an “American singer, songwriter, guitarist, composer, producer, and entrepreneur. He has been a founding member of the industrial rock band Orgy. As of now, he is the leader of the Electronic rock / indietronica / dance project Julien-K and the guitarist and backing vocalist of Dead By Sunrise, the alternative rock side project of Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. Growing up, Shuck played in the Bakersfield-based rock band Sexart, alongside Korn frontman Jonathan Davis, Adema bassist Dave DeRoo, and Videodrone frontman Ty Elam. Aside from his musical career, Shuck also owns four popular restaurants in the Orange County, CA area and a recording studio in Long Beach, CA.”

Ryan is such a nice guy and it was awesome to have a normal conversation with him, even though he’s famous. We took our wine outside and sat by the pool, where we continued to talk. He made me feel welcome and he was easy to talk with.

After a couple of hours, Ryan’s girlfriend, Caitlyn, arrived after being in New York for work. She is tall (5’10”), thin, beautiful, 29-years-old, and super fashionable. She joined us at the pool and told us about her recent business trip. She works for a custom blinds store, but she used to sing in their band at times. It was getting late, so we all headed to bed. It didn’t feel like I was back in Long Beach because I wasn’t at my own place. As I was lying in the comfortable bed, I kept thinking about what a crazy adventure this has been.

The next morning, I went for a run around the neighborhood. It was surreal being back in California. It was October and very hot outside (in the 90s F). I was missing my cool fall temperatures in the north. I ended up running right by the golf course where Aaron and I got married. I hadn’t actually been that close to it since our wedding. I ran right by the fence that separated the outdoor pavilion and I paused to look at it. I guess it was closure for me. I know I take longer than most people to grieve and move on, but it’s necessary for me.

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Halfway through my run, my knee got a sharp pain. I couldn’t get it to go away so I had to walk back. It was probably because I hadn’t gone for a run in a long time – just a couple of times while on the road. After my run, I drove to Target to get some items that I was low on, like shampoo. Walking around there made it feel like I never left.

I picked up some food on the way back and ate it at Ryan’s place. As I ate lunch, Ryan was cutting the hair of his band mate so it was fresh for their tour. I had purchased one his albums on iTunes and had been listening to it during the day. I couldn’t believe how good it was! Ryan has an amazing voice and the beats were so unique, they put me a good mood.

Afterwards, I met Max. He was staying in the room next to mine. He was there for four months while he was doing a physical therapy internship. Max was in his late 20s, in great shape, had dark blonde hair, and was really friendly.

I had to shower and get ready for a friend’s birthday party. As I did my makeup, Ryan was running around the house packing for his tour. My friend’s birthday party was on a boat that he rented in the harbor in Marina Del Rey. I had to be there before the boat left and it was a 45 minute drive so I quickly left.

I arrived on time, but the birthday boy, Rohan, was running late with his pre-party crew. There were about five of us already there and they let us board the boat. It was beautiful as the sun was setting on the water. Rohan and the rest of the party showed up and we took off to the ocean. There was around 40 people packed on this boat.

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It was so much fun and I was able to catch up with some old coworkers. As we sailed around the harbor, it reminded me of why Los Angeles can be a pretty spectacular place to be. Several of Rohan’s friends from MIT flew in just to celebrate his birthday. I had a blast talking about my time in Alaska and Canada.

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Once the boat arrived back to the dock, we went to an Airbnb that Rohan and some of his friends had booked in the Hollywood Hills. It was a giant mansion on the side of the mountain – something you’d see in the movies. We hung out there for awhile and then took Ubers to West Hollywood. The clubs were ridiculous with mostly-naked people swinging around the place.

Once all of the clubs closed, we headed back to the Airbnb. We were partying and it was starting to die down around 3:00 am. I fell asleep while sitting on the couch, only slightly leaning back. I woke up at 6:30 am because I was very cold and shivering. There were other people passed out on the couch and I decided I needed to go back to Ryan’s place to get a good rest. Before I left, I walked outside to the back yard where the sun was rising over the Los Angeles skyline. It was beautiful and reminded me that it can be a pretty magical place.

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After a crazy and fun night celebrating Rohan’s birthday, I slept in until the late morning. I cooked myself some food while summarizing my trip so far. I enjoy data, so here you go:

Leaving Long Beach – arriving back in Long Beach:

  • 104 days (just under 15 weeks)
  • 10,400 miles driven
  • Approximately $1,350 spent on gas
  • 45 overnight locationsMotel: 11
    • Hotel: 3
    • Airbnb (room): 9
    • Airbnb (private space): 3
    • Airbnb (bed and breakfast): 2
    • Airbnb (house/condo): 2
    • Airbnb (guesthouse/lodge): 2
    • Hostel: 3
    • Friends/family house: 4
    • Cabin: 2
    • Lodge: 1
    • Deck on a ferry: 1
    • Structured Tent: 1
    • Backpacking Tent: 1
  • Total spent on accommodation: $7,539.64 (average per night $81.07)
  • 2 countries; 7 states/territories; 34 cities
  • Met up with 6 friends
  • Met over 65 people new people
  • 15 hiking trails; 5 bike tours; 5 ferry rides

I loved looking at the data. It put into perspective just how far I had driven, and how many different places I had spent the night. I still had a lot ahead of me, but I think it’s important to pause and reflect on your journey from time to time.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 103-104: Feeling Strange

Tracey was in the middle of remodeling her kitchen and the construction guys showed up in the morning. Since she did not have a working kitchen, Tracey and I went to town to eat a delicious breakfast. Hood River is a cute town in a gorge about 45 minutes east of Portland. We took our time enjoying breakfast and then I loaded my car and hit the road.

The first part of the drive was scenic as it climbed up and down the mountains in Oregon. However, once I was past the mountains, the drive was flat and boring. I was trying to make it to Redding, California because my friend who I was staying with in Long Beach asked that I make it there by the following day. It was seven hours of drive time to make it to Redding and I didn’t arrive until late evening.

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I had a hard time not falling asleep during the long drive. It was strange considering I had just driven thousands of miles and didn’t get tired more than once or twice. But driving to Alaska was exciting and new things were in store everyday. Now, I was going back to what was familiar.

I pulled into my Motel 6 in the dark and when I jerked my hard, plastic suitcase out of the trunk, one of the wheels broke off. The suitcase had been irritating me for months because I had to completely open both sides to get into my suitcase (the zipper was split right in the middle of the case). That made it difficult or impossible to fully open it when I was in small rooms.

I had to carry my suitcase up a flight of stairs and then drag it across the floor to my room. I showered and went to bed. I figured I would get a new bag when I went to Long Beach.

The next morning, I left early because I needed to make it to Long Beach and it would be just over eight hours of drive time. The drive was occasionally beautiful during the first hour or so. But then I hit central California – flat, dry farmland. I saw a lot of billboards displaying information about the water crisis. Most of the signs talked about how the farmers need the water to grow the food, food the entire U.S. eats. According to the OC Register, “California produces 13% of the total cash agricultural receipts for the U.S., it is the sole producer (99% or more) for the following crops: Almonds, Figs, Olives, Peaches, Artichokes, Kiwifruit, Dates, Pomegranates, Raisins, Sweet Rice, Pistachios, Plums, and Walnuts.”

California produces a lot of food. There are a lot of problems with the California water supply. Like laws that go back to the 1800s when things were very different. I remember seeing a documentary about the water rights years ago and they talked with a farmer. He said if he chooses to plant a more drought tolerant food and doesn’t use that much water, the state will limit his water usage going forward, preventing him from growing different crops that might require more water. Because of this, farmers waste water so they won’t be restricted in the future.

There is a great article describing the problems with the California water crisis and the debate over the use for farmers (who use 80% of the water) and environmentalists who want to save the salmon.

In the article, the author, Jeff Pawlak states, “The river diversion debate symbolizes the coastal-rural tension of California politics; highly represented urban liberals versus disenfranchised inland conservatives (I’m generalizing, but it is mostly accurate). This is largely visible when you drive between San Francisco and Los Angeles down Route 5. Once you leave the progressive bubble of San Francisco — dotted by rainbow LBGT flags and Bernie or Hillary bumper stickers — the entire highway is filled with billboards protesting the state government’s “water grabs” or warning of an artificially created dust bowl (or during the 2016 election — Trump-Pence campaign signs). Reduced water diversions may in fact damage their livelihoods, and they are angry about it.”

I appreciate the article because he talks about other ways to help solve the problem: “Unacceptable levels of treated water leak out of California pipes every year (known as non-revenue water) — as much as 10–25% annually. While the farmers and the environmentalists fight about the river water use, this is a problem that is rarely discussed. If we addressed our leak issues, there would be considerably more freshwater available for all uses.”

He concludes the article with, “We cannot simply regulate our way out of a water crisis. California’s water situation demands technological innovation that makes life possible for both the farmers and the fish.”

As I continued driving through the flat, windy central part of the state, I thought about going back to Long Beach. I planned to be there for just over two weeks to take care of doctor appointments and see some friends. Going back made me think about my ex-husband.

Aaron was in denial that our marriage was falling apart, even when we were separated for six months. When I told him I was going to file for divorce, he finally realized the severity of the situation. He cried for the first time in all of the separation. It wasn’t until he was leaving the house, knowing the next time he’d be back would be to sort out who got what, that he broke down. We hugged and I felt so much pain and cried with him. I worried that he wouldn’t be okay and that it was all my fault because I was ending it.

The guilt plagued me. I tried hard to remind myself that the marriage ended because of his lies and ambivalence. Over the next few months, we met over dinners to discuss how things would be divided, how we would file taxes, etc. We were still getting along and in April 2017, I asked him if he planned on dating. The papers were signed and we were just waiting for it to be legal (it takes six months in California). He adamantly told me he had no desire to date – he’d have a puppy before he had a girlfriend. I asked if he planned on going on dating apps and he said no, but he was happy we could talk openly about it.

A month later, Aaron joined Tinder and started dating the first girl he matched with. He lied to me about it, reminding me that it was a good decision to end the marriage. Within two months of dating (three weeks after our divorce was final), he moved in with her. On their one year anniversary, he proposed to her in Spain. It was a strange feeling knowing that he could be so good at convincing me that I was destroying him, making me feel so guilty that he’d never be okay without me, only to be perfectly fine within a few short weeks.

I learned how cruel and deceptive people can be. Everyone told me, “Men just move on quicker.” I disagree with that statement and I hate when people normalize it. It’s not healthy to leave a 12-year relationship, one that you say you don’t want to lose because that person is the love of your life, and within such a short amount of time, fall in love with someone else. To me, that means he doesn’t understand what love is. I know people move on at different speeds, but every expert would agree that you need to heal and grieve when a long-term relationship ends.

Aaron and his new fiancé lived one mile away from me in Lakewood and days before I left, I ran into them at the grocery store. There was hardly anybody there, but Aaron quickly walked away and pretended not to see me. I was in shock and kept walking. We hadn’t talked in a year. It’s such a weird feeling knowing that I spent more than a decade with this person who now pretends not to see me. I don’t mean to sound cynical, but it makes it very hard to trust people or to believe things are more than just temporary.

I worried about how I’d feel staying only a few miles away from where I used to live. I had been traveling for more than three and a half months. I felt different and things in my life were different. I no longer had a place to live or a job. Staying with a friend made me feel like I was still on the road, but going to familiar doctor appointments and seeing friends made things feel like old times.

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Once I hit the northern part of Los Angeles, the insane traffic began. It reminded me of one of the reasons I never wanted to live there again. I sat in stop-and-go traffic for two hours to get to Long Beach. I missed my open roads. It was bizarre to be excited to be “home,” but also sad to be back.

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider
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Day 2: Driving to Klamath Falls, Oregon

I left Merced, CA and headed to Sacramento, CA. I’ve only driven through Sacramento once before and never stopped. I wanted to see a little bit of the city so I decided to stop for lunch. I found a place on Yelp that had good reviews in the downtown area. When I walked in, it was like walking into a familiar place – a place that has quality food, is a little pricey, and cares about customer satisfaction. It felt like my previous life, the life before crappy 2-star hotels.

I sat at the bar, a few bar stools away from a guy who was around my age. Across the bar was another guy, but he was about 15 years older. Why is it that every time there is a someone eating alone, it’s a male? I purposely sat somewhat close to the guy around my age because I thought maybe we would strike up conversation. We glanced at each other but then returned to doing our own thing. When people first glance at me, I get the sense that they think “Is she alone? WHY is she alone?”. They look at me with this peculiar look. The bartender did it too. But after her peculiar look, she looked happy to see me alone. I get this from women fairly often. It’s like a “Yeah, you’re doing this alone! Go you!”. I always appreciate those looks.

It was close to 2:00pm so it wasn’t very crowded, but I could tell this was a place that was a popping during peak hours. I ordered a pizza that had shrimp on it, and a glass of white wine. It was so delicious and made me feel more comfortable, like my old self because I was used to eating in nicer places with quality ingredients. It’s funny, in general, I’m a very frugal person. When I make an expensive purchase, I do a lot of research to make sure I’m getting a good deal. I’m not afraid of asking for a discount or using coupons. I don’t spend money on things I think are frivolous. But there are certain things, like quality food, that I’ve become accustomed to. Sure, my bill was $28 for lunch (with tip), but I justified it because it was quality food and wine, filled me up, and in that moment, I needed it for my sanity – to feel like me again.

After lunch, I continued to head towards Klamath Falls, OR. When I had installed the roof-top cargo to my car days before, the guy who helped me told me about Klamath Falls and said it had great hiking. I didn’t know anything else about it. I had never been north of Sacramento before (on the west coast).

As I drove through northern California, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! There are mountains, giant green trees, and crystal blue lakes! The drive was so breathtaking, I forgot how long I had been driving.

I came across a small town called Weed. As I passed through Weed, I saw a little souvenir shop that was capitalizing on their town’s name. Smart.

Just as I passed through Weed at the base of Mt. Shasta, I saw a sign for a Living Memorial Sculpture park. The sign came out of nowhere as I was started to climb up a large mountain. There were virtually no cars around and it was 6:30pm. I pulled my car over and decided to go check it out so I flipped a U-turn. After all, isn’t that what random road-tripping is all about? Stopping spontaneously at places you see signs for?

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and there weren’t any cars around. Well, there was one empty car, under a tree off to the side. I parked my car and walked over to a monument. It had an American flag on top with lots of names of veterans. Then I saw a little wooden sign post with some fliers near the entrance to the large parking lot so I drove over to grab one. This sculpture garden is “A place to remember. A place to Mend” and said “Dedicated to Veterans of all conflicts”.

To get to the sculptures, you drive your car down a one-lane gravel road. I parked my car when I got to a circle, which had 6 different little trails you walk down to see each sculpture. I was literally the only person around and the sun was brightly shining down, starting to set. There was a postcard perfect snow-capped mountain in the background.

I walked to each sculpture and there was a beauty in the emotions that each one displayed. This artist has a way of invoking emotion through tall, sharp, metal. The tragedy of war is seen through the sculptures, and it made me feel for the soul of the solider and their families.

The artist is Dennis Smith, a Vietnam War Marine Corps sergeant. He has said, “Each sculpture has personal meaning for me in terms of life experience and personal incidents. Through the arts we have the means to peacefully consider violence and to ask questions as well as to offer possible solutions.”

Here are a few of my favorites.

“The Greatest Generation”

“Those Left Behind”

“The Why Group”

“Korean War Veteran”

“All Wounded Warriors”

“Coming Home”

After spending some time gazing at these beautiful, emotional sculptures, I continued driving to Klammath Falls, OR. I crossed over to the Oregon border and arrived to the Days Inn around 8:00pm. I checked in for 2 nights and it felt good to rest for a bit and to plan for my next few days.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Day 1: Merced, California

After driving for about 5 hours, I decided I needed to stop for the night in Merced, CA. Merced has a population of about 81,000 people. It’s very dry, flat, and has a small-town feel. It’s most known for being close to the entrance into Yosemite National Park (it’s only a 2-hour drive from there).

I didn’t have anywhere to stay that night so I pulled into a parking lot and looked on Orbitz because I had a coupon code. I needed something cheap since I was now unemployed and it was just one night. I was relieved to find the Merced Inn and Suites for around $60. Orbitz had it rated as 2-1/2 stars and I thought that should be fine.

While fitting the standard of “fine,” the gloomy, old, strange smelling lobby definitely lacked appeal. The woman at the desk was chatting with a male friend who seemed to be hanging out.

The motel was 2 stories and my room as on the first floor. I parked just outside my room to unload my stuff, which turned out to be 3-4 trips because my stuff was all spread out in different bags, and I didn’t want to leave my electronics in the car. There were 2 middle-aged men drinking beer, just standing outside their room door…2 doors away from mine. They just stared at me as I unloaded my car and gave me the creeps.

Once I unloaded my car, I noticed the room was very large and was furnished with a couch, refrigerator, TV, and a large bed. The yellow lighting made it appear very dreary. The bathroom was old, the fixtures in major need of repair (or replaced, really). You know, the kind of bathroom you say to yourself, “Ew, don’t touch anything”.

Before I left Los Angeles, I ordered this device on Amazon which was supposed to tell you if there is a hidden recording device around. I had recently seen some news story about how easy it is to hide cameras and microphones but this device beeps or lights up to tell you if there is a device transmitting radio waves. You just have to wave it close to each area. I hadn’t opened it before this moment but thought, “THIS is the place to use it.” I turned it on and it started beeping. I noticed there was a scrolling wheel to adjust the sensitivity so I adjusted it and tested it against my phone. Sure enough, the lights and beeping started. Then, I started to go across the room, the coffee table, the dresser, and the TV stand. It started beeping near the coffee pot on the dresser. Confused, I looked all around it because there shouldn’t have been any radio waves. I moved to other areas and it went off again near the fire alarm. I continued this for about 15 minutes and finally gave up. I couldn’t determine if there was a hidden device or if this thing was even working. Later, I read reviews on Amazon (which had a great rating) and saw reviews that said all the other reviews and ratings were added at once, likely from the manufacturer. Ugh, probably doesn’t even work.

I took a shower in the old, musty bathroom and reluctantly got into bed and went to sleep (hoping there weren’t any bedbugs). In the morning, I choked down a waffle in the continental breakfast area, as it was the only food that appealed to me.

When I got back to my room to pack up, I felt sad. At first I couldn’t pinpoint it, but then it hit me. Over the last several years, I had been staying in 4-star hotels. They’re modern, clean, and they go out of their way to ensure you’re comfortable. Now, I was at a 2-star hotel that was old, dirty, and the staff didn’t seem to care at all. It’s weird. I did not grow up with much money. When we traveled, it was to visit family. When we stayed in hotels/motels across the Midwest, it was in 2-star motels. Ever since I was a kid, I loved staying in motels/hotels. I think it was because our whole family was in one room. That one room was the living space, bedroom, and bathroom. It felt like it forced us all to be closer. It always felt like an adventure.

As an adult, I’ve continued to love hotels. Seeing the different amenities, the things they do to set themselves apart, and the comforts they provide (like little bottles of shampoo, so cute!). When I traveled for work, I was able to stay in very nice hotels and I didn’t realize just how accustomed I had become to this standard of hotel. In that moment of loading up my car at this crappy 2-star hotel, I thought, “Is this what my life has become? Is this my new normal? Oh no.”

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek

Leaving Los Angeles (Part 1)

I had been anticipating leaving Los Angeles for several months so I thought I’d be ready to say goodbye. Once I gave my resignation at work and it was Facebook official that I was leaving, I went through many “goodbye” lunches, dinners, and conversations. I was so preoccupied with getting ready for a going away party I was throwing, going through the process of selling my house (inspections, repairs, appraisal, etc), and finishing up projects at work that I couldn’t really process anything.

Everything was going according to plan with the sale of my house and we were on track. My realtor (and friend) Jenny, was extremely helpful letting a plumber in my house to do repairs while I was at work and reminding me of even more papers I needed to sign.

For my going away party, I hired a taco cart, a bar tender, and rented some cocktail tables. I wanted to have one last celebration in my house and go out in style. I put in a lot of effort to design the back yard of my dreams and it was a perfect spot for entertaining. But throwing a party is work. The party was a blast and I couldn’t have been happier to see my friends. I even made a DIY photo booth, which was great fun! The party flew by so fast, I felt like I didn’t even get a chance to talk to people. It was a lot of “hellos” and then “goodbyes”. I didn’t feel sad to be saying goodbye. I felt incredibly blessed to have all these wonderful, smart, kind people in my life. I had been in California for 15 years and I was proud of the life I made there. Not to brag, but I really do have amazingly talented friends that are a blast to be around. It was a night I’ll remember forever.

My last week at work was full of events. On Wednesday, I had the traditional “goodbye happy hour” at a local restaurant called Geezers. I had attended too many to count for people leaving the company and it was strange having one for me. I felt so honored that people took the time out of their night to stop by and say goodbye and have a drink. On Thursday, the Vice President at my company was retiring after 33 years of service. I had worked with her on several projects so I was very happy to be celebrating with her. There was a huge celebration that day with catered food in the courtyard. Then Friday came, my last day. My department had decorated my desk and brought in goodies to celebrate and wish me well. I still had to finish some projects at work but by that afternoon, I finally told my boss that I wouldn’t be able to finish some of it and it was unreasonable to think I’d actually do work on my last day (others who had a last day that day came in for a couple of hours to say goodbye and left). I was very stressed out trying to send out my goodbye email, saying goodbyes in person, eating delicious snacks, and trying to move electronic files over.

I still couldn’t process anything. It’s a weird feeling knowing you should be feeling something, but you just can’t. I was so busy trying to finish stuff and had dinner plans that evening. Plus I had less than a week to be out of my house and hadn’t even packed. I was happy at the thought of adventure and felt confident that’d I’d see these people again one day. Plus technology helps to stay in touch. It wasn’t until I had a conversation with the branch manager, Andy, that I started to feel it. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him for his intelligence and his character. He asked about my plans and we chatted about it. But then at the end he said, “Christy, you made such an impact here, not just in terms of your work, but you became part of this place. You became part of the people. Not many people do that. It will be noticeable when you leave.” I got chocked up and knew if I talked much, I’d start to cry. Those words meant so much to me and I will never forget them. I knew it was all starting to hit me.

I left work at 6pm (and had to go in the next morning for a few hours to clean out my desk). That evening I went out with some friends to the Standard in Los Angeles. We had a great time and I loved seeing the sun set on the city high-rises. The next few days were hectic to say the least. I had to be out of the house on Wednesday at 5:00pm. I had finally scheduled movers to come that morning but still didn’t even have a storage unit rented. Thankfully, I no longer had work so I spent the next few days renting a unit, dropping stuff off at Goodwill, and selling items on Facebook Marketplace. I barely slept for a few days. I kept waking up early, even though I would go to bed very late (around 2-3am). This was not like me (I normally struggle to wake up in the morning) so I knew I must be under more stress than I realized. In the process of doing all of this over a few days, I met a friend for tacos, had two friends over for dinner, had lunch with another friend, and had multiple doctor appointments.

Then the day came, moving day. I was up early to finish packing. The movers came and started to load up. The stressful thing about moving into storage is every item I picked up I had to ask myself, “Is this worth paying for storage? Do I need to bring it with me? Should I sell it? Should I donate it? Should I give it to a friend? Should I throw it away?” I plan on traveling for around a year so I needed winter and summer clothes. I didn’t want to buy these items again later (especially since I was now unemployed) but I was trying to travel light. For items I was planning to take with me, I just sort of throw it all together in various bags and suitcases. The movers didn’t finish unloading into storage (thankfully it all fit!) until around 3:30pm.

I was exhausted, sweaty, and dirty. I still had to clean my house so I asked my realtor if I could have until 7:00pm. The buyers only gave me until 6:30pm. I raced home and frantically cleaned the bathroom, vacuumed, and cleaned the counters. You know the end scene of Adventures in Babysitting where they have to clean the house and pretend nothing happened? That’s the scene at my house as I attempted to make the house presentable. I had the items I planned on taking with me in my car but too many items that I needed to sort through and either add to storage (like my vacuum) or simply empty, like all the food in two refrigerators. My realtor came over and loaded her car since my car was too full. As I finished cleaning up and emptying the refrigerators, I only had about two minutes to stop and say goodbye to my house.

At 6:25pm, a car pulled up and I was afraid it was the buyers and I didn’t want to see them. I got in my car and then saw their realtor walking up the driveway. I got out and he asked where the keys were so I showed him in the backyard. I was standing on the side of the house in between my car and the back gate. The realtor told me how exciting it was that I was going to travel. And all of a sudden, it hit me. I always knew it would hit me suddenly but I honestly thought it would be in a couple of weeks once everything had changed in my life. It didn’t just hit me, it punched me. My throat immediately had a knot in it and I was on the verge of crying. I didn’t want this realtor that I had just met to see me cry so I barely spoke. I told the realtor that I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye to my house. I touched the side of my house with my palm and said “Goodbye house”.

I hurried off to my car because I could feel the tears coming. As I backed my car out of the driveway, tears starting flooding down my face. The pain in my chest was overwhelming. I looked at the front of my house as I backed up and instantly a flood of memories come flashing back to me. Happy memories of when my ex-husband and I bought the house and how happy he was to have a house to call our own. I saw the time he planted all the plants, cut the grass, put up the backsplash in the kitchen, and installed the bathroom fan. I had asked him to move out 2 years prior and I filed for divorce 6 months later. What surprised me is that I hadn’t thought about him very much over the last year. The first year apart (after 9.5 years of marriage) was an almost unbearable amount of pain, sadness, and grief. I thought I was finally doing better. When I did think about him, it was more about what lessons I could learn so I don’t repeat the same mistakes. But in that moment of pulling away from the house, it was nothing but happy memories. Memories of the life we had built together. Memories of having a partner. I thought I had come to terms with the fact that a house is just a house, it’s just a material thing. But the memories that were still tied to the house surprised me and hit me to my core. As I drove to my friend Valerie’s apartment to stay for a few days, the tears wouldn’t stop. That’s when I knew this was going to be a lot harder than I thought.

Posted Edited by: Misty Kosek