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 183-189: Christmas and a Spinal Tap

I was so happy to see my cat, Cali, who was staying at my parent’s house. I was able to snuggle with her and enjoy being “home.” It was Christmas Eve and I had Christmas shopping I needed to do. My mom and I went to a few stores and I picked out the last few presents that I needed for the following day.

As we were shopping, I noticed I had an email from Josh. I had given him a letter before I left Whistler and included my email address. His email was sweet and he told me that he appreciated the letter and it gives him hope that romance is still alive in the world. He told me that if I’m in Whistler again to let him know and we’ll catch up over a drink.

I was happy to hear from him and happy to know that he didn’t think I was a stalker. He thought it was romantic. It reminded me that my instincts are usually pretty good. Even though my friends thought I was crazy, he appreciated it.

After shopping, I went to a Christmas Eve church service with my parents and three of my nephews. After service, we wanted to go out for dinner. After driving to several locations that were closed, we settled on IMO’s pizza. I love their St. Louis style pizza (think crust), but we thought it was funny that we were eating at a pizza shop on Christmas Eve. My nephews are a blast to hang out with, so we had a good time.

On Christmas Day, we opened presents with my sister, her husband, and three boys. It was a great day filled with lots of food, presents, and family. Relatives were coming and going all day, so there was always someone to talk to and celebrate with.

I spent the next few days joining Planet Fitness, working on my blog, and hanging out with family. It was nice having my car with me so I could come and go as I pleased. Normally, I fly to Missouri and am at the mercy of getting rides from people or borrowing my mom’s minivan.

It was the end of the year, which meant my medical insurance would be starting over on January 1st. In June, my eye doctor found a hole in my retina after I complained of having some blurry vision. An ophthalmologist lasered around the hole and said he also saw signs of pressure coming from behind my eyes in the scans. My optical nerves in both eyes were fuzzy when they should be defined circles.

I was told back in June to follow up with a neurologist because the pressure didn’t seem to be coming from my eyes and could be coming from my brain. I tried to get an appointment with a neurologist in Portland, Los Angeles, and again in Missouri while traveling. However, it was a nightmare trying to get my scans faxed to the correct place and they wouldn’t make an appointment without the scans.

One doctor said I should go to the emergency room if my vision is blurry so they can do a spinal tap to check the pressure in my brain. I knew this would be expensive and the year was almost over. I had already paid my maximum out of pocket cost for the year, so I decided to go to the hospital and get the spinal tap.

It was around 3:30 pm when they took me back to the room. After an exam, the doctor said the person who does the spinal tap with a guiding X-ray machine was about to leave and would be gone for the weekend. Instead, they’d try and do the spinal tap manually.

If you’re not familiar with a spinal tap, it entails a very long needle going into your spine. They use this technique when giving an epidural during childbirth. For my purposes, they were putting the long, large needle into my spine and removing fluid to measure the pressure. The best way to get the pressure is for me to lay on my side.

I went into another room, put on the gown and laid on my side. Another doctor came in and the huge needle was alarming. She asked me to get into a fetal position as much as I could. She first poked me with a needle to numb the area, which was painful as the medicine worked its way around.

Then the doctor put the huge needle into my spine. She told me to let her know if I felt pain down my leg. I felt pressure, and then as she continued to push the needle in, I felt pain down my leg and told her. She quickly pulled the needle out. She kept pressing her fingers on my spine, trying to gauge the best opening in my lower back.

The doctor ended up sticking me with the large needle four times and couldn’t seem to get the correct spot. Each time, she would give me another shot of numbing medicine, which also hurt. The pain from the needle was becoming too much and I was starting to shake and sweat. Laying in a tight fetal position and trying not to move was very difficult. On the doctor’s fourth try, she asked another doctor to come in and gauge the spot to see if he had any better ideas. He pressed around and agreed with where she was trying to put the needle.

The nurse was super sweet and was holding my hand and kept telling me I could squeeze her hand harder. I tried to close my eyes because when I would look at her face, I could see the terror on her face as she watched the needle go into my spine.

Unfortunately, the doctor could not get the needle in the correct spot to get the spinal fluid. The original doctor that I had seen came back in and said, “You’re going to have to stay the night so we can try again in the morning with the X-ray guiding machine.” I was upset and almost started to cry. I didn’t want to stay the night in the hospital and I had no idea how much this would end up costing – hopefully nothing.

I begged her to try again. She said they already tried four times and she knows it’s extremely painful and didn’t want to keep putting me through that. The machine would guide them to a spot that would work. I asked if I could just come back the next morning. She said they had to call someone in to use the machine because nobody is there on weekends who knows how to operate it. They couldn’t call someone in without a patient there waiting. I told her I needed to think about it, so she left the room. I laid in the bed crying at the thought of staying in the hospital. I wasn’t prepared for that and for some reason it really bothered me.

I texted my parents and sister and told them what was happening. Then the nurse came in and told me, “I’m going to try one more thing. Hold on.” About five minutes later, she came in the room and said she convinced an anesthesiologist to come downstairs to try. He does epidurals all day, so surely he could get it right away.

My parents and sister showed up and it was so nice to have them there. Normally, I’m in Los Angeles, where I don’t have family. I’ve had to deal with most of my health issues alone. Sometimes my ex-husband was there, or friends were there, but this was the first time since I was 23 that my family was able to be there, and I needed them.

The anesthesiologist came into the room and was very confident he could get the spinal tap completed. I thanked the nurse for getting him to try. The doctor was talking to the nurse about how he was going to try above my tattoo. She asked him if it’s because the ink could get inside. He confirmed that the needle can indeed push the ink from a tattoo inside the bloodstream. He said he never does a spinal tap over a tattoo. The nurse asked what he’d do if a patient was covered in tattoos. He responded, “That would be a conversation with the patient.” Then they got quiet because he could see that the previous doctor had indeed put the needles through the tattoo on my lower back.

My family left the room and I curled into a fetal position again. The doctor numbed me with a needle, which hurt almost as bad as the large spinal tap needle. He pressed his fingers around and then stuck the needle in. I kept feeling a strange pressure sensation. He said pressure was ok, but I needed to let him know if it was painful. Once the needle was inside and he was attempting to get it in the right spot to get the fluid, I started to feel pain.

The doctor took the needle out and seemed frustrated that he didn’t get it. He told the nurse he usually has patients on their stomach so they can open up their back, but he agreed the best way to measure pressure is to be on your side.

The doctor tried again and failed. At this point, he said he would only try one more time because I had been stabbed too many times. He said, “I don’t know how you’re handling this. I would not be able to sit through this many attempts.” I REALLY didn’t want to spend the night there. I also didn’t want this to all be for nothing.

The doctor was called on the radio because they had a pregnant patient who needed an epidural. He told them he was in the emergency room and would be there shortly. The doctor numbed me again and tried really hard to get the needle this time, but to no avail.

He said he was done and I’d have to wait until the morning when they can use the guiding machine. He said, “You don’t look like you’d be a difficult patient.” I explained that I have extremely bad arthritis and I’ve already been told that the discs in my lower back have deteriorated from it.

He agreed to try one more time, only if I was ok with it. The sweet nurse held my hand as I sweat and slightly shook through the pain. Frustrated, he was unable to get it on a fourth try. He cleaned up and said I would have to stay the night. I appreciated his efforts and was thankful that he tried. The nurse told me he can normally get them just fine.

I was transferred to an upstairs room and my back was extremely sore. They told me to lay flat and rest. My parents showed up with some dinner, clothes, my toothbrush, and glasses. They kept me company for a little bit. It was already late so they left and I turned on the tv. I couldn’t sleep because I wasn’t in my bed, the door was slightly open and letting the light from the hallway inside, and the nurse would come in from time to time.

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The soreness of my back made it difficult for me to move side to side. I regretted not taking the nurse up on some pain medicine. Early in the morning, the nurses came in and out a few times and I felt very groggy. Finally, around 8:00 am, they wheeled in another bed and told me to slide on to it. They wheeled me down to the floor with the X-ray machine.

There was a large machine hanging over a table. The doctor asked me to lay on my side under the machine. She said, “I heard you were prodded over and over yesterday.” I replied, “Yes, I think eight times.” She said, “Well, we have the machine so we’ll get it right away.”

I curled up again, the doctor stuck a needle with numbing medicine into my back, and said she could see the holes where they kept sticking me the day prior. She used the machine to help guide her and found the spot. She stuck the needle in my spine. It didn’t work. Shocked and frustrated, the doctor said, “I’m putting you on your stomach. I know gauging pressure is best done on the side, but you have been stabbed way too many times.”

I turned onto my stomach and arched my back a little. The doctor used the machine and was able to get the needle into the spinal fluid. It took several minutes for her to collect all the fluid. The whole time, the needle was painfully inside my spine. Finally she got what she needed and sent me back to my room.

They told me to keep my head and back absolutely flat for at least one hour, preferably two hours. If not, there is a common headache that develops once fluid is removed from the spine. Sometimes the hole that was created by the needle continues to slowly leak spinal fluid. Without the right amount of spinal fluid, once you sit up, it will cause excruciating pain instantly in your head. The only way to fix it is to have a blood patch put over the hole. This involves sticking another needle with your blood back inside so the blood will clot over the hole.

I laid flat on my back for two hours. The neurologist showed up and told me my spinal pressure was normal. So good news, bad news. Good news that there wasn’t evidence of pressure in my brain. Bad news, I was back to square one and was told to follow up with a neurologist outside of the hospital.

I went home and rested on the couch because my back was extremely sore. I also would get a slight headache if I stood up. I was taking Excedrin and figured it wasn’t “the” headache that is known to accompany the spinal tap because it wasn’t excruciating. I thought I was in the clear. I had New Years Eve plans in Nashville in two days and wasn’t going to miss it. Unfortunately, I was wrong about that headache.

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 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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