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 196-222: Life in Missouri

Once my pounding spinal tap headache was gone, I tried to develop a routine with writing and working out, while figuring out where I’d travel to next. The thing is, I hadn’t been back “home” at my parents house in more than 15 years. My sister, her husband, and two children (aged 11 and 14) were temporarily living in my parents’ basement while they were building a house on some land they had purchased.

My parents have one dog and one cat. I had brought my cat from Los Angeles, who needed to be sequestered for a while because she wasn’t used to being around other animals. My sister brought her three dogs with her (two that are huge). It felt like a small animal farm.

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For my whole adult life, I’ve either lived alone or I’ve lived with one other person (roommate or husband). I’ve never owned a dog. I like to pet and play with dogs, but I do not like to take care of them and I don’t like all of the problems they can create. One day in early January, my brother-in-law’s dog Maximus (a Rottweiler) walked into my room and started to eat one of the only souvenirs I’ve purchased. It was a block of wood from Whistler (my favorite city) that was locally made and said “Wild + Free.” My sister grabbed it from his mouth, but Maximus had already ruined it.

I was extremely upset. I have always valued my personal space and I felt violated. I immediately went on my laptop and started looking at new destinations. I found a hiking and biking tour in Thailand for nine days through REI Adventures. I had gone on an REI Adventures trip to Norway in 2017 and I loved it. The tours are expensive, but they include everything you need except  airfare.

I planned on going to Thailand at some point in my travels, but I was nervous because I’ve never been to Asia and I don’t speak any of the languages. I figured starting with a tour guide would help me to learn the basics and feel more comfortable traveling on my own. I hit the purchase button and waited for confirmation.

A few days later, I received an email that my space was confirmed! I had a couple of weeks to get plane tickets, figure out what I needed to bring, and book some hotels. I spent days researching things like how to get around without a car. Sometimes it felt overwhelming. Knowing I only had a few weeks left in Missouri, I tried to spend my time wisely.

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Logistics

I made a couple of trips to REI to buy some things that would be useful for the trip, like bike shorts and bike gloves. I also had to sort through my backpacks and decide which one would be best to bring.

My California license was expiring and they were requiring me to go into the Department of Motor Vehicles(DMV), the most dreaded place. The California DMV has always taken three hours. They are also notoriously rude and unhelpful. Since I was in Missouri, I couldn’t go to the California DMV, so I decided to get a Missouri license. I’ve also been using my parent’s address since I don’t currently have an address.

I went to the Missouri DMV without an appointment and only waited 20 minutes. I was called up, took a quick eye exam, gave the woman my paperwork, and five minutes later, I was out of there. Missouri may not be as exciting as California, but they are certainly more efficient!

I also needed to switch my car insurance from California to Missouri since my car would be behind while I traveled overseas. I was extremely happy when the price for insurance was half of what I was paying in California. It was so cheap, I was even able to upgrade my coverage for a very small amount.

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Doctor Appointments

My sister Amy is a holistic chiropractor who looks for the root cause of a problem. She has a practice called The Center for Natural Health and patients have seen amazing results from her. She agreed to see me a few times a week in her office, which was very generous. I was finally there long enough for her to get some work done. Amy helped me to start feeling better, so I took her out to dinner as a “thank-you.” I also got a couple more massages from the massage therapist, which were great.

The other nice thing about Missouri is the wait times at doctors’ offices. I was able to get an 8:00 am monday morning appointment at the ophthalmologist with only a week notice. My mom sees the doctor and recommended him. I was still having blurry vision and still didn’t know if I needed to follow up with a neurologist.

The doctor was in his 60s, was friendly, and I told him all about the hole in my retina in June, the fuzzy optical nerves on the scan, and the spinal tap. He turned off the lights and stared into my eyes with a magnifying glass. He confirmed that he saw the hole and the repair that my doctor in Los Angeles had done.

The doctor backed up and said, “Well, the good news is that I don’t think you need to see a neurologist. The bad news is that your eyes are much older than your stated age.” He went on to explain that I have Vitreous Detachment. The vitreous is the gel that fills the back of the eye from the retina. As we age, the gel turns to liquid and millions of fibers break and separate from the retina. The main concern when this happens is the retina will detach.

My vitreous gel has liquified, which is why I got the hole in my retina in June. Thankfully, they caught it before the retina detached and they repaired the hole. Unfortunately, my gel has rapidly turned to fluid and the millions of fiber that have detached have caused a lot of floaters. According to this site, it “usually affects people over age 50, and is very common after age 80.” I was 38 when the doctor was telling me about this.

I was upset because this has been the story of my adulthood, getting diseases that usually affect those decades older than me. It’s also led to frustration as I’ve gone to doctor after doctor because they never suspect that I could have these diseases. For example, I had two parathyroid tumors removed in 2016 after seeing doctors for seven years. Most patients who get them are over 50, and typically over 70.

I asked the doctor what I can do about the floaters. Sometimes it’s not bad and I barely notice them. Other times, I can’t stop thinking about them because I have a hard time seeing without blinking and moving my eyes a lot. The last few months at my job, I had a hard time seeing screens in meetings. The doctor told me there isn’t anything they can do and hopefully over time, they’ll settle towards the bottom or I’ll get used to them.

I was disappointed to hear this, but I was glad that I didn’t need to see a neurologist. On my way out, the doctor said, “If your retina detaches, you need to call me immediately and come in so I can repair it.” I explained to him that I was about to leave for Thailand. He said, “Well, you’ve already had the hole and it’s already liquified so you likely won’t get a detached retina.” Great.

Investment

I had been wanting to invest some of the money from the sale of my house, but hadn’t gotten around to it. I looked at houses in downtown St. Charles, Missouri because there is a cute Main Street and a University there. I thought it would be a great place to put a house on Airbnb. Plus, I had furniture for two bedrooms in my storage unit in Los Angeles. I was paying $240 per month for a small unit because everything is expensive there. This would allow me to stop paying storage fees. Plus, I’d have somewhere to live when I needed it.

To get financing, I sent in all the needed paperwork to a finance guy and within a day, I was approved. I looked a few properties, but there was hardly anything on the market for sale. It was cold and snowy outside, which means people aren’t listing their houses as often.

Before I left, I set some things up so my parents could sign for me if a property came up that I liked. My realtor and friend Trudy, my sister, and my parents have been great at looking at properties for me while I’ve been away. Unfortunately, I haven’t found anything yet.

Family and Friends

I had some time to hang out with family and friends while I was in Missouri. My sister Amy, my mom, and I watched the entire series of Game of Thrones to get ready for the new season. I was able to get some Thailand research done while watching the series and it was great watching it with them. We could talk about things we had missed when we first watched the show and theories about what we thought would happen in the future.

One day the weather was great and we went for a hike with the dogs. Taking four dogs on a hike is a challenge, let me tell you. They battle over who is at the lead. I’ll stick to being a cat owner.

One weekend we got more than a foot of snow! We drove to my sister’s land which was an empty lot and we played around in the snow. I built a snow-woman and Amy built a snowman. My dad built a huge snow fort. I helped to make snowballs so the fort was loaded for battle. It was such a fun time!

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My second cousin Kirsten, her husband, and two young daughters were headed to Nashville from Minnesota and stopped to hang out for a couple of days. Because of the snow, we all hunkered down and relaxed. It was fun getting to know them better. We don’t get to see them a lot outside of weddings and family reunions. This was a chance to spend quality time together.

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My friends Melanie and Laurie met me twice for dinner. We went to youth group together in high school. It was great to catch up without having to rush. Normally, I have such a limited time in Missouri that I don’t get a chance to see people outside of my family. They were encouraging about my upcoming travels and made me laugh as I told them about Tinder.

I went to my brother’s house one night and watched a movie with him and my nephews. I also watched my nephews who are in high school play some video games, which was entertaining for them.

Conclusion

Overall, it was a busy time in Missouri as I worked out at the gym, went to doctor appointments, got things done with my car, and saw family and friends. It was great to unload my car and get it cleaned. I felt prepared for my trip to Thailand and I could stay for 30 days without needing a visa. I planned to go to Vietnam next and stay for 30 days there as well. I wasn’t exactly sure where I’d go after that.

I packed up my duffle bag and small carry-on bag. I also had a medium sized backpack for hiking and biking. I was disappointed that I had so much luggage, but traveling for several months and needing clothes for hot and cold temperatures meant I needed it all. My medications and daily use contacts also took up a lot of space.

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I said my goodbyes and headed to the airport. I was flying to Los Angeles first for two days. I needed to give my tax accountant my documents for the tax year so she could complete them in time for filing in April. It would also give me a chance to see a couple of friends. I spent almost six weeks in Lake Saint Louis and it flew by. It was great to see people, but I was ready for my next adventure!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 190-195: New Years in Nashville

After getting a spinal tap I was home resting. The day after I came home from the hospital, my head started to hurt while I was out with my parents. I took some Excedrin and told them I needed to go home and lay down.

Laying down made my headache go away, so I was worried that I had “the” headache that often comes after a spinal tap. If spinal fluid continues to leak from the hole that was created by the large needle, you will get a massive headache unless you go get a blood patch. To do that, doctors take your blood and put the needle back into your spine and push the blood in. The blood seals the hole and the headache goes away instantly.

It was Sunday and I convinced myself that I didn’t have “the” headache, it was just a headache. The hospital that did my spinal tap stuck my spine ten times because they couldn’t get the correct spot. They also don’t have someone working the guiding machine on weekends. I did not want to go through another stabbing fest. I thought about going to another hospital and getting the blood patch, but I just wanted my back left alone. I could sometimes stand or sit up for an hour, so I figured it was just a regular headache.

The following day was New Year’s Eve. My doctor put in an order to get a CT scan of my head to make sure there wasn’t a mass causing the pressure from behind my eyes. I went to the clinic and it went pretty quickly. Then I drove to Nashville. It’s five hours away from Lake Saint Louis and I was meeting friends to celebrate the New Year. Unfortunately, my headache continued to get worse because I had to sit up in the car to drive.

I was taking a lot of Excedrin, which I knew wasn’t good for me. But I didn’t think I had an option. The pain and pressure in my head became unbearable and I kept trying to squeeze it because that made it feel slightly better. I pulled over for some gas and grabbed a shirt from the back of my car. I tied it around my head as tight as I could so pressure would be against my head. I looked like a maniac, but I just wanted to make it to Nashville.

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I arrived in the evening and my friend Lindy and her boyfriend Rusty were already at the Airbnb. We rented a two bedroom house for two days. Lindy and her boyfriend showed up around check-in time. My cousin Misty and her boyfriend Dan also arrived shortly before I got there.

I walked into the house, met their boyfriends, and laid down on the couch. I explained to them that the Excedrin was making me shake and my head was pounding. Misty got me a wrap that she had brought for her hair and I put it on my head, which helped with the pressure. I was disappointed that I couldn’t be all peppy and excited. I laid on the couch while they sat at the table. Thankfully, it was a small house, so the kitchen table was right next to the couch. I tried my best to be engaging.

They asked if I needed to go to the hospital to get the blood patch. I said no because sometimes I could go a couple of hours without it hurting too bad, and online it said the headache will eventually go away if you don’t get the blood patch….it just takes two weeks.

We ordered pizza, took showers, and got ready to go out. After laying down for a couple of hours, I figured I would be ok to go out for a few hours. My head was hurting, but it was tolerable. We took an Uber to a brewery downtown that had a small concert in their big warehouse.

Lindy and I were best friends all through high school and college, and were college roommates. After school, she moved to Tennessee for a job and has lived in Jackson ever since. She was now a nurse working at a hospital. She had just started to date Rusty, so they were still getting to know each other.

Misty is my cousin and grew up in Pennsylvania. When I was 18 years old, she stayed with us for a while and we became best friends. For the next two decades, we stayed close, always emailing and calling when we could. We’ve pretty much never lived in the same city. She’s lived in Pennsylvania, Utah, Kansas City, and was now living in Atlanta, where she is a teacher. Her boyfriend lived in Chicago and it was my first time meeting him.

We all agreed to meet in Nashville because it was a drivable distance for each of us. I was excited to catch up with them and also to learn more about their boyfriends. However, the concert was too loud and we couldn’t talk, so we decided to go to the downtown area.

We jumped into an Uber, but the traffic was pretty bad. It was getting close to midnight and none of us wanted to celebrate the New Year in an Uber. We were dropped off in the main area with all the bars. The street was packed and each bar seemed very crowded. Some were still letting people inside, but we couldn’t decide which bar seemed the best.

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Finally, we just picked a bar that was only half full. We jumped inside and ordered drinks and grabbed a table. The clock struck midnight while we waited for drinks and everyone gave kisses to their significant other – except for me because I had no significant other.

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We ordered some food and were able to talk at the table. It was a great time laughing and catching up with each other. The bar was closing around 1:00 am, so we left and walked around the streets, people watching and enjoying all of the country music and cowboy hats. Nashville is lively, full of live music, and is a classic country city.

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After walking around for a while and not finding another place that we wanted to go inside, we requested an Uber and went back to the Airbnb. My headache was coming back full force and I was starting to feel sick to my stomach.

I tried to sleep with my feet hanging off of the hard futon in the living room. In the morning, they all came to join me. I was afraid to sit up because of the headache. I told them I needed to just lay down that day. They were so sweet and stayed with me.

Misty and Dan went out and picked up a delicious breakfast. Afterwards, we debated on how to the spend the day. I felt bad because I couldn’t do anything. But we realized we all just wanted to hang out anyway and it was cold and raining outside. Misty and Dan snuggled up on the other futon while Lindy and Rusty grabbed a foam mattress pad we found in the closet and put it on the living room floor. They snuggled up and it felt like we were having a slumber party.

We had a great time hanging out and even took naps in the afternoon. At dinner time, we decided to go out somewhere just to get out of the house. We found a small dive bar with darts and stayed there for a bit. I started to feel sick again and was burning up, so I sat outside in the back at one of the tables. There weren’t heat lamps, so nobody was out there except for me. I was so hot, the cold felt good to me. Misty and Dan joined me outside until it was too cold for us.

We picked up food and ate back at the house. The next morning, Misty and Dan took off early because they had a long drive. I went to lunch with Lindy and Rusty at Waffle House and then hit the road.

When I got back to Missouri, I laid down and stayed that way for several days. It was extremely frustrating. I felt ok when I was laying flat. But as soon as I would get up for more than 20 minutes, the headache came back. I took Excedrin and hoped that rest would cure it. I kept figuring it would go away soon. It had already been a week since the spinal tap and according to Google, it would go away in two weeks.

Once it had been a week, I went to my sister’s Chiropractor office to get a massage from a massage therapist that also does energy work. When I arrived, I told Jackie I needed to lay down because the 20 minute drive made my headache return. She said she would focus  mostly on energy work.

She barely touched me throughout the whole massage. I told myself that there was no way the headache was going to go away and I couldn’t keep living this way. I planned on going to the hospital after the massage to get the blood patch.

When I got up from the table, my headache was gone. Normally, it was much better after laying down for a while, but this time it felt completely gone. I was skeptical and was sure it would come back. My sister just finished for the day and asked if I wanted to get dinner. I told her ok, but if the headache came back, I’d have to go home.

My sister Amy and I went to a Greek restaurant and had some great sister bonding time. After dinner, I continued to be upright and didn’t get the headache! I couldn’t believe it. Whatever Jackie did worked. The headache never returned. The next day I was even able to get a light workout in.

Looking back, I wish I had just gotten the blood patch the day after the spinal tap when the headache started to appear. I was reluctant to think it was the massive headache because friends told me they’ve had it after a spinal tap and couldn’t even walk to the bathroom because it was so bad.

I think because I laid down so much the day of the spinal tap, it made the leak better, but it wasn’t healed. I also know I have a high pain tolerance and I’m stubborn. I didn’t want to ruin New Years Eve. But I was in an immense amount of pain and could barely function. I also took way too much Excedrin. A word of advice: get the blood patch right away if you get a headache after a spinal tap.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 178-182: Family and Friends Across the USA

I left Idaho Falls, Idaho just after 1:00 pm and headed towards Denver, Colorado. I knew I wouldn’t make it there that day because it was too far. I decided to drive until I was tired and then find a place to stay.

I drove through Idaho and southwest Wyoming. Idaho was beautiful and full of ranches and mountains. It was December 19th, so the snow was on the top of the mountains, but the lower elevations were clear.

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The first parts were dry desert mountains, but then it progressively became more mountainous and green. I imagined the drive must be incredible in the summer.

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I had been nervous about driving to Missouri in December, knowing I’d have to go over the mountains. I drove around lakes, stopping to take pictures. I was enjoying the drive immensely because the roads were clear.

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Suddenly, it began snowing lightly and the roads were no longer clear and dry. As I continued to climb the mountains, I tightly gripped my steering wheel, fearing I’d slide off the road. I lowered my speed because I’m not used to driving in snow. I was happy that I had my Subaru Outback and my new tires handled the road well.

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I planned on checking out Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming at some point during my travels and I was bummed I had to quickly pass through to make it to Missouri by Christmas. I knew I’d be back again one day though, hopefully when the weather is a little better.

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After driving for almost five hours, I decided to stop in Rocks Springs, Wyoming. I pulled into a parking lot and booked a place on Orbitz. However, when I pulled in, the place looked creepy, old, dark, and vacant. I found the lobby across the street and went inside. I asked the guy at the front desk why it was so dark across the street at the motel. He said someone must have forgotten to turn on the lights.

I was getting the creeps from the place and he said I needed to pay because Orbitz didn’t collect my money yet. Relieved since Orbitz usually charges me a non-refundable charge right away, I asked if I could cancel since I hadn’t paid yet. The guy told me I could cancel, so I left. I booked an okay room at a Best Western for more money, but it was better than the seemingly abandoned motel I had just escaped.

The next morning, I grabbed some breakfast down the street and hit the road. The wind gusts through Wyoming were crazy strong. There were digital displays on the highway with warnings about the gusts, 60 MPH+, so I went a little slower through some parts. I was worried about my rooftop storage unit.

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The drive was flat until I hit Colorado. It was strange because western Wyoming was beautiful and full of mountains, but the middle and driving south was flat and windy.

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Once I entered Colorado, the skies turned blue and the sun was shining. I was staying the night at my second cousin John’s house, but I wanted to meet up with my Aunt Lori and Uncle Jim who live about 20 minutes from John. I met them for a beer and it was great catching them up on my recent travels. I had stayed with them four months prior when I flew out for their son’s wedding.

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We had a great time laughing and hanging out, but I needed to get to John’s house. I arrived and we headed to dinner. John, his wife Lori, and I went to Roadhouse Grill and ate way too much for dinner. It was so delicious and I had a lot of fun with them, but my stomach started to hurt. We went back to their house and I immediately put on my PJ’s.

In the morning, I left to drive to Colorado Springs (about an hour away) to see my friend, Mandy. She wasn’t available until the afternoon, but my second cousin Susie works in Colorado Springs, so we agreed to meet for breakfast.

We had a great breakfast at a cafe and then shopped at the mall for a bit. Since it was just before Christmas, she had some time off work, but had errands to run at the mall. I had zero gifts and Christmas only a few days away.

After the mall, I stopped at Mandy’s house. Mandy and I met in the 5th grade when we both lived in Canon City, Colorado. She was my best friend for the three years that I lived there and we had some unforgettable adventures. I moved back to Missouri right before 8th grade, but we stayed in touch. Sometimes we’ve gone a few years without seeing each other, but when we see each other, it’s like no time has passed.

We stayed in touch by phone and text, but sometimes we’ve gone a year without talking. It’s so funny though, because it’s never awkward when we see or talk to each other again.

When I arrived around 2:00 pm, Mandy was getting the house ready for a Christmas party she and her husband Chris were throwing for their friends. She asked me to stay, but I told her I needed to make more progress that day and would probably stay the night somewhere in Kansas.

Mandy was painting her nails and offered to paint mine too while we drank some wine. She had started to edit my blog for me the past couple of months and I was catching her up on more recent things since my blog has been behind.

Mandy knew what she was doing with the nails and wine. She convinced me to stay for the party and stay the night at her house. I didn’t have a hotel booked and thought I could still make it to Missouri by Christmas. I was really enjoying the nomad life.  

Mandy’s friends started to arrive and it was so great to meet them. I hadn’t met any of Mandy’s friends over the years because when we’d see each other, it’s mostly been for a brief period of time. This time I was able to spend a few hours catching up with her and then the party began.

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Mandy used to be a Grant Writer for several non-profit organizations and after a decade of doing that, she’s taking a brave step by joining the police department in the hopes of eventually becoming a detective. Her husband, Chris, is a prosecutor for the District Attorney’s office. There were a lot of lawyers and some very smart people at the party. They were a blast to get to know and were all very welcoming.

People asked how I knew Mandy and I couldn’t resist telling them about our adventures growing up. We used to sneak out of her mom’s house in the middle of the night to ride our bicycles down the old Main Street and pretend we were cars. We were also entrepreneurs and created our own restaurant called “Le Fancy Feast” and turned my mom’s kitchen into a full-on restaurant in the middle of the night.

Mandy was always the daredevil and I was the worry-wart. I would caution her and another friend about the crazy shenanigans they seemed to always get themselves into – like tubing down a drainage ditch and almost getting sucked under the road. It turns out my worrying was often justified.

After everyone left the party, Mandy, Chris, and I stayed up talking about politics. We often don’t agree, but I respect their views and we were able to have good discussions. Sometimes it was a little heated because we can be honest with each other. But in the end, we had a productive conversation until 3:30 am, when we realized we needed to get to bed.

I left Mandy’s house at 11:30 am and as I loaded my car, it started to snow. I hurried so I wouldn’t get stuck in it. After a couple of hours, the snow stopped.

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I drove through eastern Colorado and into Kansas. Growing up in both Missouri and Colorado, I’ve done that drive many times. The drive through Kansas is one of the worst drives in America. It’s eight hours of a flat highway with nothing around.

I was exhausted and it was dark, so I stopped in Salina, Kansas. I booked a room at Days Inn and walked across the street to IHOP for dinner. I was exhausted from driving about six hours and still had another full day of driving ahead of me.

The next morning, I continued through Kansas. It would be another six hours of drive-time to Lake Saint Louis, where my family lives. The drive was painfully boring. I amused myself by listening to Kansas on my satellite radio while driving through Kansas.

Once I hit Kansas City, the drive was familiar. I went to college at the University of Central Missouri, which is near Kansas City. I hadn’t driven that route in more than  a decade. I was tempted to drive the extra 30 minutes to my old stomping grounds to see what’s changed, but nothing would be open.

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After making a couple of food and bathroom stops, I arrived in Lake Saint Louis at 5:00 pm on December 23rd. I made it in time for Christmas! It was a surreal feeling being back. I hadn’t driven my own car there since I moved away in 2003. I had only been back to visit on holidays or vacation. This time, I didn’t have an end date.

I went to dinner with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, and nephews. I was exhausted, but I was happy to see them. I was also happy to have a break. It had been six months of travel and I had driven more than 15,000 miles. I needed some time to figure out where I was going next. The possibilities were endless…

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 175-178: Reenergizing on the Road

After leaving Whistler, I drove to Vancouver, British Columbia to return some items I bought there that didn’t fit. They only have physical stores in Canada so I wanted to stop by on my way back to the U.S. The store hours were listed until 5:30 pm on Saturdays and I arrived at 5:32 pm because I had to fight Saturday Christmas festivity traffic.

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When I pulled up, the store was completely closed. It was clear they closed at 5:00 pm, which is supposed to be their weekday hours. I needed to keep heading south so I would have to mail my items back. I ended up learning a hard lessons about shipping to Canada; it cost me $47 to mail the package back!

I arrived at my friend Chanell’s house around 7:30 pm and she had a delicious dinner waiting for me in the crockpot. We talked about my time in Whistler and her pregnancy. We ended up staying up late talking as we tend to do.

The next morning, we went out for breakfast now that her morning sickness had improved a bit. I had a great time hanging out with her and couldn’t wait to meet her new daughter.

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After breakfast, I drove about five hours to Hood River, Oregon. It was raining and cool outside. I arrived at my friend Tracey’s house around 6:00 pm. Her newly remodeled kitchen was just about complete so she cooked up a wonderful dinner. I ate with her and her husband and stayed the night.

I felt so fortunate to have Chanell and Tracey in my life. I had stayed with both of them a few times as I drove to Canada and back twice. Each time, they cheerfully hosted me, offering me food, a bed, and friendship. I felt like they were my “Pacific Northwest family.” I am blessed to know them.

The following morning, Tracey and I went to a local cafe for breakfast and as usual, had a great conversation. I needed to continue my drive to make it to St. Louis, Missouri by Christmas. I drove three hours south to Bend, Oregon. I knew I needed to drive much further that day, but I stopped to eat a late lunch and look at places to stay.

My friend Bethany who lives there met me for an hour and we talked about her new house. Bethany, her husband, and two sons had just purchased a home a few miles outside of the city. It was on a large piece of land, so they were getting used to that and slowly moving in.

I booked a hotel in Burns, Oregon, which seemed like one of the only places to stop on my route to Idaho. The drive was dark and flat. I thought I was driving through a desert full of tumbleweeds until I stopped at a rest area. I got out of the car to use the restroom and it was freezing outside! There was snow on the grass and the wind was blowing ceaselessly. The sand and dirt I thought I was seeing was actually snow.

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I booked an old restored hotel on Airbnb – The Historic Central Hotel. The owner read my profile and saw that I had quit my job and was traveling.  She told me I was her hero and upgraded my room for free! She wanted to meet me, but when I arrived at 7:30 pm, nobody was there. I followed the instructions and used a code to get inside the lobby.

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The hotel was adorable, filled with history and remodeled with a slight modern barn feel. I carried my suitcase to the second floor and opened the door to my room. It was set up like a Bed and Breakfast. With my upgraded room, I had my own bathroom!

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I walked around the property checking out the pictures of the remodel that were hanging on the walls. I think there was only one other guest there at the time. I was exhausted from the drive and fell asleep on the bed right away. After an hour or so, I got up, took a shower, and went back to bed.

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The next day I continued driving with the goal of making it to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where my Uncle Steve and his wife Sonia live. It was a six and a half hour drive.

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I drove through Oregon, passing farms and ranches. The ranches had large signs and entrances like I’ve seen in movies. The name of the family ranch would be posted on the large, wooden post before driving down the long gravel driveway to the house.

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I had to drive through most of the state since Idaho Falls is near Wyoming. Idaho was beautiful and full of mountains, lakes, and more farms.

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I drove through Boise, Idaho, which was a little out of the way, but I wanted to see the capital. I drove around for a bit, stopped to grab some lunch, and continued on.

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As I drove, I had a lot of time to think about things. I was feeling down about relationships. As I reflected, I realized I often receive compliments from men, but it never materializes to an actual relationship. I’ve been told I’m intelligent, beautiful, fun, funny, and a great conversationalist.

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It makes me feel like I’m great….but not great enough to date. I’m either not enough or I’m too much. I am going to be me, even if I’m not enough or I’m too much for men. However, I was still feeling lonely and rejected. Maybe it was the online dating apps, but I was feeling like nobody wanted to actually date me. Nobody wanted to put in the effort. Nobody wanted to be exclusive with me.

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I talked with my friend Toni and then my friend Jimmy while I drove. I had been telling Jimmy for awhile that I didn’t want anything serious considering I was married for ten years and I just wanted to meet people to see what I wanted. However, now that it had been a year and a half, I was feeling like I actually did want a real relationship.

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Jimmy understood, but said it would be very difficult to date someone while traveling. He wanted to make sure I didn’t get my hopes up and I knew he was right. I tried the casual thing and I learned a lot about what I want and what I don’t want in a relationship. I still didn’t want the traditional relationship.

I’m afraid of getting bored. I was bored a lot in my marriage while my ex-husband was perfectly fine with the ways things were. I want an interesting relationship where we try new things and have adventures. I want to be surprised and I want to be spontaneous. I want the intimacy and the connection that comes along with an exclusive relationship. I was tired of meeting new people and I was tired of guys who weren’t interested in a relationship beyond casual dating.

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While talking with Jimmy, I got distracted in the dark and made a wrong turn. I ended up going 40 miles out of the way and had to turn around and go back another 40 miles. I didn’t arrive to my uncle’s house until 8:00 pm because of that mistake and I was in a new time zone, which was an hour ahead.

I ate some food and talked with my uncle Steve, his wife Sonia, and her mother, Effie. I had seen my uncle in Denver at the beginning of September for two cousins’ weddings, but I had never been to his house in Idaho. He’s only about 12 years older than me and he’s a funny, caring man.

My uncle Steve is a lead pastor of a small church. They told me about how the church is expanding and the impact they’ve seen God have on people there.

My uncle Steve and Sonia have such wonderful hearts. They talk about the Bible, God, and how we’re all just trying our best. It’s not about following religious principles and being legalistic in following God, it’s about having a relationship with God. They do a lot for people and are wonderful role models.

I told them about how I was feeling about relationships and I was feeling lonely and wanted a partner. They told me about their love story:

They were 32 years old and single. Steve was told by a friend that he wanted to introduce him to a fellow friend, Sonia. Sonia lived in India, where she grew up, and Steve was living in Omaha, Nebraska. They emailed each other for a year, but then it sort of fell off.

A few years later, Steve emailed her again. This time, he was more committed and she noticed something about him had changed. He was more engaged in their conversations. They emailed for a while and then in February 2007, Steve flew to India to met Sonia for the first time. While he was there, he also met a child that he had been sponsoring for years.

While in India, Steve proposed to Sonia. A few months later, Sonia flew to the U.S. to attend my wedding and meet some of our family. We all instantly fell in love with her and her mother. They were sweet, smart, and genuine. We happily welcomed them into our family.

About five months later, they married in India and a month after that, Sonia moved to the U.S. They’ve been married ever since. Steve and Sonia told me about their story because I never really knew how they met. They told me they got to know each other through email, which enabled them to get to know the others’ heart. They were able to focus on who they were.

They laughed. Sonia said, “I probably would have chosen someone shorter and he would have chosen someone taller, but God had a plan for us and his timing is perfect.” My uncle is 6’4” and towers over Sonia.

I loved hearing their story. It gave me hope that love can be unconventional and can be found in unexpected ways. Steve and Sonia are great together and compliment each other. They fell in love across the world from each one another.

I told them about my travels, the people I’d met, and how it felt like I was doing what I was supposed to be doing with my life. They agreed and said they felt I was in God’s path and that amazing things were in store for me.

They understood my desire to have a partner. Steve, Sonia, and Effie prayed with me and I could feel God’s presence. For me, God’s presence and the relationship we have with him is what is important. Not following some rule that the church put into place, created by man. Having this time with them encouraged me and lifted me up. It was just what I needed.

The next morning, Steve and Sonia went to work in their day jobs while I slept in. Effie made me some breakfast and amazing tea from India. I got to know her better as she told me about her life in India before moving to the U.S. a few years ago.

Effie grew up Catholic and converted to more of a nondenominational decades ago. She felt the call to evangelize in India because she witnessed so many people giving their lives to Jesus. She was so passionate while  talking about her calling and her desire to help the community. In the U.S., she said it’s much harder to evangelize because people are closed off and don’t want to talk about God. I felt for her because I could tell it bummed her out. She has such a heart for God and helps out so many people in the community in any way she can.

After breakfast, I drove to Target to get a case of water and continued my drive towards Denver to stay with some other family members. I was so happy to have stayed with my uncle Steve, Sonia, and Effie, even if it was for a short time. They’re the type of people who accept everyone and bring joy to those around them. They provided me with the support and encouragement I needed to keep my chin up.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 175: Leaving Whistler with a Bang!

After spending six weeks in Whistler, it was time to leave. As I packed, I reflected on my time there and all the things I did:

  • I wrote a lot, oftentimes sitting in a reading nook, peering out the window. A few times, I was able to watch the snow fall.

I settled in, bought groceries and cooked. I even joined a gym while I was there.

  • I watched fall transition to winter, and enjoyed taking in all of the changes during walks in the forest and around town.

I took the bus to town and got to know some locals. I even took advantage of locals’ only discounts!

  • I cleared more than eight inches of snow off my car a few times, drove in the snow, and scraped ice off my gas tank so I could add gas.
  • I met a few guys. Each one helped me learn what I want and don’t want in a relationship.
  • I sat at bars alone, often times listening to live music. Sometimes I felt lonely, but I made myself get out and about anyway.
  • I attended a wine festival and a film festival.
  • I went snowshoeing and snowmobiling.

I did a beer tour tour, a nightclub crawl, and went to a vodka freezer.

  • I went to game nights, pub trivia, and bar bingo.
  • I made several new friends.

I very much enjoyed my time in Whistler and could see myself living there someday. I don’t get that vibe often with places. I don’t know where I’ll end up living, but Whistler is on my list of possibilities.

Before I left Whistler, I wanted to give a letter to Josh, who I had met right after Thanksgiving. When I dropped Josh off after spending 16 hours together, I didn’t know his last name or phone number and I had hoped he would reach out to me. I was 99% sure I’d never hear from him, which made me bummed. I wrote him a letter telling him how I felt because I’m tired of living life afraid – afraid to be me, afraid of rejection, and afraid of being vulnerable. I knew he worked at a fine dining Italian restaurant, but I couldn’t remember which one so I held onto the letter until I could figure it out. Before I left town, I planned on walking into his restaurant, handing him the letter, and walking out.

When I got sushi with my new friend Brittany, she connected me to a Whistler Facebook group. I found Josh on the group and felt relieved that I at least knew his last name and had a way of contacting him. One night at bar bingo, my new friend Saya convinced me to send Josh a message on Facebook. I thought I had seen him at the bar, but the guy disappeared. After a few drinks, I decided it was a good idea.

Of course, my message was lame (what did you expect?) and I said, “Are you around?” This was after not seeing or talking to him for two weeks. I had become accustomed to guys either not responding, responding very late, or responding in a disrespectful way after online dating. I was pleasantly surprised when he wrote back within 15 minutes. We conversed about the weather and how the snow was great. He said now that it was snowing, he was waking up very early every morning to ski. He told me which restaurant he worked at, so I was happy that I could give him my letter.

It was my last day in Whistler and after snowmobiling, I showered, ate dinner, and prepared to leave my Airbnb to surprise Josh with the letter. I was extremely nervous.

“He will probably think I’m a weirdo.”

“What if I become the laughing stock of his friends?”

My friends back home all thought I was crazy. Their response was always the same – if he was interested in you, he would have contacted you. He just wanted to have a fun night and you’ll never hear from him again. That’s how men are. I could hear the tone in their messages as they told me I’m such a hopeless romantic and that this likely would end with a broken heart. I didn’t care.

I knew logically they made sense. It was likely that he never wanted to know me past the night we met. But my instinct kept telling me that he was different. He wasn’t a jerk, he was actually a caring individual. I spent many hours getting to know him, and he didn’t act like other guys. He was tender, he was real, and he had a good heart. I didn’t blame him for not contacting me. It was a strange situation. I was traveling and was only there temporarily. Nobody wants to do long distance, so I didn’t blame him for that. I just needed him to know that I cared and that our time meant something to me, even if that meant I’d be rejected.

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I had a few shots of vodka in preparation for going to the restaurant where he worked. I arrived around 10:20 pm and couldn’t get myself to walk inside. It’s a fine dining restaurant. It’s not like I could just walk in and find him in a sea of people enjoying their fancy meals. I also didn’t want to ask for him because then his coworkers would all wonder what was going on.

I saw a second door that led to a hotel that was connected and went through it. I used the restroom, trying to convince myself that I had the strength and the nerve. People always tell me I’m the bravest person they know – I can assure you that does not apply to the romance department.

Sweating, I managed to get myself into the side door that was by the bar. There was not a single person at the bar, so I asked the bartender if the bar was open. He said it was and got me a menu. The section to my left was crowded with tables full of people enjoying dinner. Behind me, there were lounge tables and some dinner tables, but they were mostly empty.

The bartenders were all from France and were so friendly that it helped to calm my nerves. That, or the vodka was settling in. I ordered a drink and texted my friends. Kristina, who was from Germany, came down within 15 minutes and sat with me at the bar. I slowly turned around, looking to see if I could find Josh. I didn’t know if he was working that night, but it was my last shot.

Kristina and I talked all about her life in Germany. She told me about how she thought Canada would be a lot like the U.K., but she found that is not at all the case. She described German people as being very straight forward, but in Canada, they consider it rude. I told her it’s because Canadians are known for being very nice.

I was enjoying Kristina’s company. At some point, I thought I saw the back of Josh walk by me twice. He was headed the other direction so he only saw my back. I was also trying to cover my face with my hair. I told Kristina about my letter and my dilemma.

At just past 11:00 pm, two servers who were running the bar after the bartenders left said they needed to close out our tabs. I panicked and told Kirstina to stall. We slowly paid and I messaged Josh, asking him to come to the bar. He wasn’t responding and after a few minutes, our bill was closed.

Kristina, being a straight-forward German, asked the servers, “Is Josh here?” The girls looked at each other and one said, “I think he just left.” The other chimed in, “Yeah, he was helping a large party and once they were done, he went home. He just left.” Kristina immediately said, “Can we give you something to give to him?”

Panicked, I said, “No, it’s ok.” The sweet servers enthusiastically said, “Yeah! We can give him something.” Kristina tried to grab the letter from my hand and I tried to shove it back into my purse as I quietly told her, “It’s fine. I’ll message him.” The servers, trying to be helpful, said, “We can tell you his schedule tomorrow.” I assured them it was fine and that I’d message him.

Kristina and I walked outside and met our friends Saya and Misato from Japan, who had just arrived after getting off of work. We brainstormed as to what I should do. I wanted to just run away. Kristina reminded me that I wanted to tell him how I felt and I came there to give him the letter, so I should do it. She told me I could give the letter to her and she’d go back the next day and give it him. I gave her the letter and we all decided to go have a drink at Brickworks bar.

They all thought the idea of writing a letter and giving it to Josh was romantic and they gave an “awe…”. I explained to them what my brother used to say many years ago, “If the person likes you back, they’re flattered. If they don’t like you back, it’s stalking.” I think he’s right. I had no idea if Josh would consider this romantic or consider me a stalker.

As we sat at Brickworks, Josh messaged me back and said he was in bed after skiing and working all day. I told him it was my last night in Whistler and there was something I wanted to give him. He said he would come back out, but he was too exhausted. He asked when I was leaving the following day and said he could meet me to say goodbye.

I was happy that he offered to meet me. I told him once I checked out of my Airbnb, I was going to the holiday market at one of the hotels, and then I needed to head south by around 2:00 pm. He said he’d keep me posted because he would be skiing early in the day and then had to work that evening, but he thought he’d have some time to meet me in the village to say goodbye.

My new friends and I had a great time talking over some wine. I played some classic American songs on the jukebox and we talked about relationships, what it was like in their home countries, and how much fun we’d had together. They are amazing people with warm hearts, and they were so encouraging. I felt lucky to have met them and figured I’d go visit their countries once they were back there. They walked me to the bus station and we hugged goodbye.

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The next day, I checked out of my Airbnb and drove to the winter market at the hotel. Misato met me there and we looked around at the locally made items. It was much smaller than we anticipated, so we walked through the village. Misato hadn’t been in Whistler very long and was working a lot, so she didn’t have a lot of time to shop around yet. It was a great time because we got to know each other better now that it wasn’t in a loud bar or while we were playing a board game.

Josh messaged me at 1:00 pm saying he was about to do his last run and he’d be done by 2:00 pm. Then at 2:00 pm, he was done and asked where to meet me. Misato and I had just finished shopping and were by the Pangea Pod hotel, which is a hostel. They have a nice restaurant on the second floor overlooking the village. We went inside and I told Josh to meet me there.

When we walked inside, Brittany, my friend from the beer tours, was there to get people to sign up for the tours. It was perfect because I hadn’t gotten a chance to say goodbye to her. We talked for a bit and then Misato and I went to the bar to order some coffee while Brittany was at her table with promotional material. I was incredibly nervous and this time didn’t have alcohol to help give me courage.

As I was looking at the menu, Josh tapped me on my left shoulder. I turned around and he had a big smile on his face. I was awkward of course and messed up giving him a hug. He was in his ski gear, took off his jacket, and sat down. I was pleasantly surprised because I wondered if he’d just message me saying he was downstairs and ask me to come outside to give him whatever I had to give him. Or maybe he’d come upstairs, but quickly leave.

I introduced him to Misato and she ordered coffee, talking with the bartender. I was turned towards Josh, talking. We talked about the ski conditions and how amazing the snow had been the last two weeks. Within about ten minutes, Misato had to go to work so she hugged me goodbye. Ten minutes later, Brittany came over and hugged me goodbye because she had to leave.

I continued to talk to Josh over the next hour. I kept thinking he was probably about to leave at any moment. After 40 minutes, the bartender asked if I wanted to order anything (I never ordered my coffee) and I said no because I thought Josh was about to leave. To my surprise, he ordered an espresso.

We continued to talk and I told him about my snowshoeing and snowmobiling experiences. As he told me about skiing, he was enthusiastic and never made me feel awkward. I enjoyed talking with him and it was reassuring that we could still have great conservations, even without any alcohol. It reminded me why I liked him in the first place. He was so easy to talk to and I was attracted to him.

After an hour, Josh said he needed to go because he had to change for work. I told him I needed to get headed south to make it to Mount Vernon, Washington that evening to stay the night with a friend. We put on our coats, walked down the stairs, and went outside. He gave me directions on how to get back to my car and then he gave me a hug.

As we hugged, I reached into my purse to grab the letter. I had printed it at the library and put it in an envelope. I was terrified about how he’d react, but he came out to say goodbye and I was reminded that I like him. I could also run away right after I gave it to him.

At the end of the hug, I pulled the folded envelope out of my purse and said, “Just don’t make fun of me.” Josh looked down, took the letter, and looked up with a huge smile on his face. He immediately gave me another hug. I felt relieved that he didn’t make me feel like a weirdo. We said goodbye and went our separate ways.

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I drove to Washington feeling amazing. I had conquered a tremendous fear. I let myself be vulnerable, even if it meant embarrassing myself. I trusted my instincts and they were right. Josh wasn’t a jerk and he didn’t make me feel like it was a pity goodbye. He seemed happy and being able to see and talk with him again confirmed what I believed about him.

I know I can’t control the future. I can’t make someone like me. I am a hopeless romantic and I desperately want life to be like the great books and movies where big gestures happen and anything is possible. They say that you should “be the change you want to see.” Well, I want to see people letting themselves be vulnerable. I want to see people taking risks in life. I want to see people express themselves to those they care about. So, I decided to start with me. I can’t expect someone else to treat me that way if I’m not willing to do the same.

I knew I probably wouldn’t hear from Josh for at least a few days. I was feeling happy and content that I was able to say goodbye in person and give him the letter.  Now it was in his hands.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 163-169: Friends in Whistler

I met Brittany during a nightclub crawl and a daytime brewery tour. We agreed to have some sushi over lunch one day. She’s 30, fit, and has long dark hair. When I arrived, Brittany was already sitting at a table so I joined her there. I couldn’t help but notice the green painting on the wall by our table. It was the same painting that Josh (a guy I had meet the week prior) had waited for two weeks to have added to his snowboard and ended up living in Whistler.

Brittany told me about the separation with her husband. They had been together for eight years and married for about three of those years. They had been separated for awhile, but hadn’t gotten around to filing. In Canada, you have to be legally separated for 12 months before you can file for divorce.

Brittany realized they were more friends than romantic partners. She is still friends with her ex, and even invited him and his new girlfriend over for dinner. She said one of the reasons it ended was because he was so into rock climbing that it became an obsession. I understand the feeling of drifting apart and feeling like you’re just friends.

While enjoying some sake and sushi, Brittany and I talked about how neither of us wanted to have kids if our marriage wasn’t strong and in a good place. I told her about the lies that my ex-husband told me over the years and she listened intently saying, “It’s like a Dr. Phil episode!” It was nice having a friend to hang out with. Brittany had to go to work so we parted ways.

A few days later, I saw there was a trivia night at a local pub and I asked Saya if she wanted to go with me. Saya is from Japan, is in her early 30s, snowboards, and was in Whistler for a one-year working visa. I had met her at game night at the library. I was able to snag a table right by the stage. The place was packed with teams.

Saya brought her friend, Boram, who was also from Japan. We had a great time attempting to answer the trivia questions and drinking some beer. There were a few categories and we struggled the most on the music category. We didn’t do very well with our answers, but I used the excuse that it was because none of us were from Canada.

The next night, a local bar was hosting Bingo. I met Saya and her friend Serena there. It was packed and we waited in line in the cold for 30 minutes before we could get inside. We were able to snag a tall table that had a couple of guys getting ready to leave. We missed the first round, but we were able to join in the second round.

A few of Saya’s friends joined us, like Misato. I had met her at game night at the library as well. She’s in her late 20s, from Japan, and was also there for a one-year work visa. I talked with her about dating apps because we had both tried Tinder. We agreed it was fun, but often times frustrating. We drank wine and had a great time hoping we’d win something. The girls even made some amazing origami out of old score cards!

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There was another game night a week later at the library, so I went there again. This would be the third and final game night I’d be able to attend before leaving Whistler. This time, I was playing with Saya, Misato, Kristina, and a new girl, Lucy.

At 6’5”, Lucy was very tall, had blonde hair, and was in her early 30s. She had visited Canada 10 years prior and loved it. This time, she had a two-year work visa. However, she said she was missing her boyfriend in France and didn’t want to stay for two years. Kristina was not happy about this and said, “It’s not fair. We can only get one year visas and you get a two a year visa and don’t even use it.”

The five of us played a train game called Ticket to Ride. We were all learning so it was slow going at first. I thought I was doing pretty well, but once it ended and we calculated points, I was not even close to winning.

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On another night, I wanted to go to Bingo night at Tapley’s bar. It would be the last one I could attend because I would be leaving in a few days. Saya and Misato met me at the entrance and we only had to wait a few minutes before we got inside. However, once we got inside, it was packed! We looked around for a table or any spot where could share a table.

As we searched around, a guy said we could use his table. He had offered it to two other guys as well and they scooted over to make room for us. The tall, rectangular table had a few bar stools and there was a ledge where two people could sit on one side of the table. Misato and Saya sat there and I stood at the corner.

The guy, Trevor, who originally offered the table to us was on the opposite side of the table and called me over. He was very tall, had an average build, had brown hair, and was 37. I was not physically attracted to him. He asked me my name and then gestured towards Misato and Saya saying, “Are you their tour guide?” Offended, I said, “Excuse me? They’re my friends.” I already didn’t like this arrogant guy who thought he owned the place, but I needed the table.

We got score cards and talked with the two other guys. They were from Vancouver, but were in Whistler for work. They were friendly to talk with and were respectful. Trevor on the other hand, was a jerk. He kept putting his arm on my back and then would slowly run it across my butt. He gave me one of the other guy’s bar stool and made that guy stand. I figured maybe the touching would be better if I was sitting down.

I was wrong – he started to rub my leg, going up my thigh. Multiple times, I pushed his hand away, made a face, and started turning my body against him. I could only turn so far and he continued to touch me on my back and leg. At one point after I moved his hand off of my leg, he asked, “Is it ok that I’m touching your leg?” I replied, “No,” but it didn’t stop him.

Over the next hour and a half, Trevor told me that he’s from Whistler and works in drywall for multimillion dollar homes. One of the guys at our table won a game and got a free pitcher of beer for our table. The place was loud and busy, and our table was close to a register with a server station. Trevor knew all of the servers and kept calling them over for different things. He was making it clear he was an important, well-connected person. Then Trevor casually mentioned that he can’t leave Canada. I asked why and he quickly said, “I was sent to prison after tying some people up in their home.”

Trevor called a waitress over and ordered some drinks as if nothing had happened. Once the server left, I said, “I’m sorry, what did you say? You tied people up?” He told the story, “Well, I was 19-years old and me and my buddy were breaking into houses in Whistler to steal stuff. When we got into one house, we saw there was a husband and a wife and we didn’t know they were home. So we tied them up. You know, what else are you going to do? Well, it turns out that they had set off their alarm and the cops caught us. I spent four years in prison and now I’m not allowed to leave Canada.”

I stared at Trevor in disbelief and disgust at his casual telling of the story. I said, “You broke into their home and tied them up?” He responded, “Yeah, whatever, I was only 19. I’m very successful now.” He went on to describe how his mother is wealthy and owns a lot of hotels in the area, but he assured me he doesn’t take her money and earns his own.

Trevor won bingo and got a ski hat that said “Whis Life” on it. He immediately gave it to me and I like hats, so I put it on. He said, “Wow, you were pretty before, but you’re even prettier with that hat on.” I cringed. Misato and Saya couldn’t hear a lot of what Trevor was saying and they were talking with the other two guys. But they could tell by my body language that I was not enjoying him. At one point when Trevor left the table, I leaned over to Saya and told her he was a creep. She agreed.

For 20 minutes, Trevor kept saying he was going to leave and go to some exclusive place. He wanted me to go with him and I kept telling him no, I was staying with my friends. He made me put his phone number in my phone and send him a text message. He said I’d have to text him so I could get inside, otherwise the line would be too long. To get rid of him, I kept telling him I’d meet up with him after bingo. He kept pressing me to leave right then and then he said he thought we should just have sex. I declined his offer and kept trying to focus on Bingo.

I kept pushing him away from me and wondered why he wasn’t picking up on my very obvious body language that I was not interested. I also wondered why I was putting up with it and not just telling him off. It’s strange. Even in the moment, I thought, “Why don’t I walk away from this guy?” But I needed his table because there was nowhere else to go. He also knew all of the servers there. He was tall, domineering, and aggressive. It’s astonishing how much power a man can hold over a woman, treat her poorly, and get away with it. But no matter what I did or said, he wouldn’t stop touching me.

Finally, Trevor left. Shortly after, the other two guys left. After the last game, Misato went home because her throat was hurting. Saya and I decided to walk to Brickworks so we could actually hear each other talk.

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We talked about relationships and she told me about her ex-boyfriend who she hiked with in New Zealand. He was Australian and they looked like a really cute couple. But they fought a lot and it didn’t work out. I could tell that she was still hurt by the breakup and I completely understood. She’s a snowboarder and an active, adventurous person. It’s hard to find someone who sets your heart on fire and who has similar interests.

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Saya and I had more drinks and had a really fun time. Then I walked through the village with her until I had to take a different path to the bus stop, and we hugged goodbye. The friends I had made in Whistler were genuine, adventurous, friendly, and open. I think Whistler attracts a certain type and I felt like “my people” were there. They had left their home country or home city to explore the world on their own. I have a lot of respect for them and felt profoundly grateful for their friendship.

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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Day 91: E-Bike Vs. Pedestrian and a Musician

I was regretting my decision to do the 9:00 am bike tour with Ash, my Airbnb host, because I was tired and it was dreary and cold outside. When I left my bedroom, Ash wasn’t around so I drove myself to the meeting place. I met one of Ash’s guides, who said he wasn’t told I was coming, but said he could add me to the tour.

While we waited for a couple to arrive for the tour, I walked over to a nearby restaurant and bought a bottle of water. When I returned, the tour guide said he received a message from Ash saying he moved the 9:00 am tour to 1:00 pm because the other couple asked for it to be pushed back.

I was frustrated because I would have preferred to sleep in and I had just paid for parking. The guide was also frustrated because he wasn’t told earlier. I went back to the Airbnb and went back to bed. My back and neck were still recovering and the extra sleep felt good.

When it was close to 1:00 pm, I walked out of my bedroom and saw Ash getting ready to leave. He asked if I wanted to share a taxi so I agreed. While we waited for the taxi, Ash asked me how my day was yesterday and if I made it to the physiotherapy place. I was confused since we talked all about it the night prior. I said I went there and then went to the spa. He responded, “Oh, great! You went to the spa too?!” He clearly did not remember talking to me when I got home…must be the mushrooms.

Ash and I arrived at the tour meeting place a little early so I grabbed a coffee and a pastry at the restaurant next door.

For the tour, we used electric bikes (e-bikes). I used an e-bike once in Vancouver, but these bikes were much more powerful. You still pedal, but there is a battery pack that assists you on hills and makes pedaling easier. We tested the bikes in the underground garage to make sure we were all comfortable on them.

There were four other people on the tour: two women in their 40s from Montreal, and a couple near retirement age from the UK. It was 47° F and raining. Whistler has a lot of paved bike paths, so we rode through the town on the paths. We were surrounded by huge green pine trees, rode by lakes, and stopped at the Valley of Dreams (a pioneer house from the early days of the town).

The rain poured on us at times, making it hard to see. Thankfully, it let up a bit for part of the ride. Ash told us stories as we arrived to each sight – like a lake where people swim naked and hang out during the summer.

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Toward the end of the tour, we were riding very fast (about 25 MPH) down the windy path. A group of five tourists was walking and taking up the entire two-lane path. Ash and the two women passed them, which scared the group, who had split into two groups. One of the girls realized her group was now on both the left and right side of the path, forcing us to drive in the middle of them. She was crossing, but decided to stop in the middle and scream…right as I was trying to pass. I slammed on my breaks right as she turned to face me. I couldn’t stop in time and I ran into her, but she was able to grab the handle bars and help stop me. Her friends apologized because they knew she jumped right in the middle at the last second, giving me nowhere to go. Thankfully, we weren’t hurt and I continued on.

The bike tour finished up and Ash offered to buy me a meal since he dropped the ball telling me the tour time changed. The couple from the UK joined us as well. We went to the restaurant where I had gotten a pastry and coffee earlier – Portobellos. We all got the chicken and mushroom pie, which was incredible!

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Susan and Tony from the UK were awesome. We talked all through the meal and ended up staying to talk afterwards for a couple of hours. Ash didn’t talk much and was on his phone once he finished eating. Then he quickly left. Susan and Tony told me they had signed up for the 9:00 am tour, but received a message that morning from Ash saying he needed to move the tour to 1:00 pm because a guide cancelled on him. Right before we started the tour, he was drinking a beer and asked them if they wanted one. I told them about my experience and we realized that Ash had fibbed because he didn’t want to do two tours.

Susan retired last year after working in home health care. Tony chimed in, “She’ll be able to take care of me when I’m old!” Susan shrugged, “It’s quite different taking care of someone when you’re not getting paid.” Tony hasn’t retired yet and works for the Department of Defense repairing submarines. They have two sons in their 30s who are married with kids.

Susan and Tony have been to Canada a few times. For this trip, they would be there for 25 days, in Vancouver, Vancouver Island, Whistler, and Alberta. They gave me some good tips about Vancouver Island and told me about all of the bears they saw.

I swapped stories with Susan and Tony about crossing borders and police. They told me when they were visiting the US, they were pulled over when driving a rental car. They were scared and didn’t know what to do. Do they get out of the car? Do they wait for the Officier to come to them? They got a speeding ticket and were embarrassed to tell their son, who is a police officer in the UK.

When they went into the US to see Niagara Falls, they were asked to pull over while their car was searched at the border. They ended up just having to pay a travel fee in US dollars, which was a problem since they didn’t have US cash. They used a prepaid card and it worked.

I really enjoyed talking with Susan and Tony. They were friendly, kept me company, and it was fun swapping stories.

I went back to the Airbnb, showered, and rested for a bit. A guy I had been messaging on Tinder for the couple of days asked me how my day was. He said his band was playing at a local bar that night so I said I’d come see him play.

Adam was 37 years old and was from Toronto, but had been living in the area for many years. He messaged me the first night I arrived in Whistler when my back and neck were extremely sore. He was really nice asking how I was doing and telling me about his pulled neck muscles as well.

I took the free bus to the village that Ash told me about. It was a quick ride, but shortly after I boarded, a British girl jumped on and we chatted for a bit. She had just finished a catering event and was hired separately from the caterers to “make sure rich people had wine at all times.” She was excited about the job because she said she was paid for the work of two people ($25 an hour) for a five hour shift where she talked to people for 70% of her time. They let her take home three bottles of expensive wine because the label was ripped (but the cork was still on). She said, “They also didn’t care if I drank on the job.” Maybe Ash’s description of Whistler of being the Wild West was correct.

I arrived at the bar where Adam was playing and ordered a drink. I purposely sat towards the back at a cocktail table. His band was really good and they played cover songs. Adam was the lead singer, had a great voice, and was charismatic on stage. I was nervous and wondered why he was interested. He seemed much cooler than me.

The band was done playing and the bar was still open for about an hour. I figured Adam would message me asking if I was there and where to find me. I always hate the first in-person meeting. Will he be attracted? Will I be attracted? Will there be chemistry?

As soon as the band finished, I looked up from my Long Island Iced Tea and saw Adam running towards my table. We made eye contact and he got a huge smile on his face, came around the table and gave me a hug. He said, “I really want to talk to you, but I have to use the restroom really bad! I’ll be right back!”

Adam ran off down the stairs to use the restroom. I felt relieved. The anticipation was over, he was happy to see me, he made me feel accepted right away by giving me a hug, and he was cute.

Adam came back from the restroom and stood by the side of my round table. We briefly talked and then he said he had to help the band clean up and load their equipment in their van. He asked if I was sticking around and I told him yes. For the next 20 minutes as Adam was loading the van, he’d stop by my table to chat for a few minutes here and there. He had a lot of energy and it made me feel excited.

Once Adam was done loading the van, he sat at my table with me. He’s been sober for over five years so he didn’t order anything. He was about 5’11”, thin, had wavy black hair that was just above his shoulder, and full sleeve tattoos on his arms. He looked like a musician – sort of like Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.

Adam and I talked for the next 45 minutes about where we’ve lived and politics. He liked Trump, even though he can be crass. He said he likes to disrupt the system. Canada and the US were in the middle of trade talks that weren’t going well, so we talked about the current climate between our countries. I enjoy talking about politics so we continued for a while. At one point, he got a big smile on his face and said, “You get really passionate talking about this.”

I really appreciated him saying that with a smile on his face. My ex-husband, Aaron, hated that I got passionate about topics like politics. One time we were out with a few friends for dinner and I was getting animated while talking about politics. Under the table, he squeezed my leg and looked at me like, “Stop, you’re embarrassing me.” After we left the restaurant, I asked him to never do that to me again. It made me feel so belittled and controlled. But a few months later, he did it again while I was talking with some other people about politics at a restaurant. This time, I was angry that he was making me feel like I couldn’t be me and also angry that he was hiding the fact that he was squeezing my leg. He always liked to appear to be the “nice guy.” I said to the friends, “I’m sorry. I’m embarrassing Aaron. He’s squeezing my leg under the table to get me to shut up.” Understandably, there was an awkward silence.

Having Adam appreciate my passion for politics felt amazing. He wasn’t embarrassed, he liked it. I could be me without judgement. At 1:20 am, the bar was closed and they were cleaning up while trying to get people to leave. We decided we should leave and as we walked outside, Adam said, “You’re just so real – I like it.” We talked outside for a bit and I mentioned I thought some places were open until 2:00 am. He explained that only the underground clubs are open that late and he doesn’t do those clubs.

After talking for another 10 minutes, Adam offered to take me back to my Airbnb since I had taken the bus there. His van was illegally parked on the sidewalk so he needed to move it too. When we arrived at my Airbnb, there was nowhere to park so he just pulled up out front. We talked for a little bit, but I couldn’t invite him inside because I wasn’t allowed to have guests. I got out of the van and said maybe I’d come see his show the following night. He said he would like that.

Adam lived in Pemberton, about 20 minutes north of Whistler. When he got home, he messaged me for a bit, flirting, and then telling me goodnight. I was happy to have met him. He’s one of the rare guys on Tinder that messaged me shortly after we matched. He was always nice and fun, and I looked forward to seeing his show the following night.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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