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 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 130-133: Getting Settled in Whistler, Canada

On Halloween morning, I left Vancouver, Washington and drove about four hours to Mount Vernon, Washington to stay the night with my friend Chanell. I arrived in the early evening and enjoyed a delicious crockpot meal that Chanell had prepared. Her adorable children, ages 1 and 3, had carved some pumpkins that were proudly displayed on the front porch.

Once it got dark outside, I tagged along with Chanell, her husband Matt, and the kids to go trick-or-treating. I absolutely love taking kids trick-or-treating. I love the costumes, the fun vibes, and the excitement as kids gather more and more candy. When I was a kid, my dad used to take me and my siblings trick-or-treating, and I was determined to get as much candy as possible. I used a pillow case and because I’m a saver, I would slowly eat my candy over the next year.

It was a foggy night outside, which created the perfect ambiance. Once we were finished and the kids went to bed, Chanell and I stayed up late talking. We talked about how she was doing during her current pregnancy, and what books she was reading. She had a lofty goal of reading two books a month and was on track to achieve it.

After enjoying a relaxing breakfast at Chanell’s house, I continued my drive north towards Whistler, British Columbia. The U.S. and Canada border is only about an hour and a half north of Mount Vernon. I arrived fairly quickly, but I always worry about getting through. The intimidating police officers and border security scare me.

I pulled up to the booth when it was my turn and a young, blonde, girl with a French accent sternly started asking me questions:

Where are you staying?

For how long?

Why did you drive instead of fly?

Do you have friends here?

I was surprised by some of her questions, like asking why I drove my car, because I hadn’t been asked them before. Just then, she received a phone call and closed her window to talk on the phone. I started to worry. Were they calling her because there was a problem?

Thankfully, she opened her window, handed me my passport, and said I was free to go. I drove past high rises in Vancouver and then hit the Sea to Sky highway to Whistler. Whistler is about an hour and a half north of Vancouver and it’s a very scenic drive. It was raining and foggy, however, so I couldn’t see much.

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I arrived at my Airbnb at 4:00 pm, which was a small, recently remodeled condo. It had been remodeled in gray and white with all things IKEA. Lisa, the owner, met me there to let me inside and show me around. I had booked the place for the month, so I’d be there for a while.

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Airbnb on a clear day

Lisa was in her 40s, thin with long blonde hair, pretty and spunky. She was from Melbourne, Australia and said, “I came here 25 years ago for a three month holiday and then I never left.” That seemed to be the story with most of the people in Whistler. We couldn’t get the cable to work and we played around with several wires. Eventually, her friend got on the phone for assistance and we got it to work.

The place was beautiful, but small. It was a studio and the couch converted into the bed. Lisa knew I would be doing a lot of writing so she got me a small wooden folding table and chairs. There was also a great reading nook with windows looking out to the driveway below and a view of gorgeous trees.

I unloaded several bags from my car and then drove to the market to get some groceries. As I walked around the produce section, I noticed several attractive, single men in their late 20s to late 30s. I was pleasantly surprised and thought this could be a great place to be.

The food was extremely expensive and my total came to $275! Thankfully, that was only $209 US dollars. I had to buy things like salt and pepper since the condo was new and didn’t have anything. I loaded my car in the pouring rain. I had a hard time making my way back the few miles in the dark with such little light pollution. I pulled up to the front door and carried all of my bags down to the first floor. Then I had to move my car to the parking lot around a second building and down a hill. I thought, “I’m prepared for a winter in the mountains, right?”

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It was raining the following day and was perfect weather to stay indoors and write. I unpacked some clothes and got settled. It was the first time in four months I could unpack. While the rain was nice writing weather, I was anxiously waiting for the snow. I had a goal of writing while I was cozied up inside my little apartment, watching the snow fall.

The next day I went to a small gym, the Whistler Athletic Club, that was a 15 minute walk down the road. I was able to do a free workout to try it out. It was small and not the nicest, but it had the machines I like to use. At $68 a month, it was also the cheapest.

I spent the day writing and listening to music because that’s part of my process. At 10:15 pm, I heard a knock on my door. I was still in my workout clothes and answered the door.

A short man about 5’7” in his 40s who looked like a serial killer was standing there. He introduced himself as Kelly who was staying in unit 109 for the month while he was there for work. He was doing laundry and accidentally locked his phone inside the room. The laundry room uses a passcode, and everyone has their own code. Kelly told me he knocked on my door because he could hear my music, so he figured I was still awake.

I was slightly worried since he seemed a little strange, but I gave him the paper with my code. He came back a few minutes later and said it didn’t work. He couldn’t message the owner because he didn’t have his phone. I took the paper with my code and followed him to the laundry room. The room is at the other end of the long, windy hallway. I thought, “Is this guy trying to lure me away so he can kill me?”

I tried the code and it wouldn’t work. I texted the maintenance guy since his number was listed on my paper. While we waited for a reply, Kelly told me he’s from Calgary and he was hired as a consultant for a car repair shop that wasn’t doing well. He mentioned that he lived in the U.S. for seven years in many different states. Kelly liked the U.S., but said he doesn’t want to live there. He pointed out that Americans say “uh-huh” all the time, so I pointed out that Canadians say “eh?” all the time.

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Kelly went on, “Here’s the difference in Americans and Canadians: If an American doesn’t like you, they’ll tell you. If a Canadian doesn’t like you, they’ll tell everyone else.” I told Kelly about my drive to Alaska from California. He responded, “People tell me that California has more people than all of Canada, and I’m like ‘You think that’s a good thing!?’”

I had messaged the owner of my unit and she provided another code for me to try. It also didn’t work. Then I noticed the sign on the door listed the hours until 10:00 pm. I told Kelly it’s probably not working because it’s past 10:00 pm. On the way back to my unit, I stopped by Kelly’s unit, where he had left the door open. He ran inside to grab paper and write down the new code we were provided. He messed up the number and said, “Sorry, I have brain damage.”

I went back to my unit and locked the door. I like helping people, but something seemed off about him. I found out from the maintenance guy the following morning that the door codes stop working after 10:00 pm, which is what I had suspected. I had only been there a few days, but it already felt like my own little apartment, dealing with everyday issues like laundry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I replied, “No, LA.”

“Cool. Are you just on vacation?”

“Well, I’m traveling for two years.”

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

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

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

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

“Hearst Castle and then probably Eureka.”

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

“No, I’m traveling for two years.”

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

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

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

“Well, I gotta go, sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Cat

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

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

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Doctor Appointments

Ophthalmology

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

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

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

Restorative Medicine

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

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

Breast Center

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

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

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

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Dentist

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

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

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

Primary Care

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

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

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

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

Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work

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

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

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

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

My Mind Adjusting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leaving Long Beach – arriving back in Long Beach:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited by: Mandy Strider
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Days 101-102: Back to the U.S.

In the morning, I made phone calls to set up healthcare  appointments during my time in Los Angeles, like my six-month teeth cleaning. I also needed a mammogram, so I called my OBGYN. The girl who answered the phone told me that Dr. Kelvie passed away.

I couldn’t believe it. I sat there on the phone in complete shock. Dr. Kelvie was healthy and fit. She was in her 50s, but looked much younger. I believe she had children in middle school. When I was there in March for a mammogram, she was out of the office on medical leave, so I saw a different doctor in the office. I had no idea that Dr. Kelvie’s medical leave was for a life-threatening condition.

Stunned, I asked the girl if she could tell me what happened. I had been seeing Dr. Kelvie for ten years. The girl told me, “I’m not 100% sure, but she had a brain hemorrhage and died.” I apologized to the girl because I couldn’t focus on why I had called in the first place.

Once I got off the phone, I couldn’t stop thinking about Dr. Kelvie. I remember when I was in my early 30s she told me, “You should really think about having children. You’re married, you have stable jobs, and you have a condo. You’re also getting older. You’re in your early 30s and I see patients all the time who thought they could wait until they were 40 because they see all of these celebrities that age and pregnant. But I’m telling you, most of the time, those celebrities had medical help to get pregnant. I see patients all the time who are struggling to get pregnant because they waited too long.”

Dr. Kelvie tried to convince me it was a good time to have a child and how she’d be delighted to be my doctor during the pregnancy and delivery. I never ended up pregnant, but I’ll never forget that conversation. I was so sad to learn of her passing. I sat there and cried, thinking of her children that were left behind. She worked so hard to become a doctor and was great at it. It was a reminder that life is incredibly short. We all have a limited amount of time on earth and we need to make sure it’s a life worth living.

I felt I needed to get out of the house so I found a hike nearby to Mill Hill. I got my backpack and walked about a mile to the entrance. There wasn’t anybody around. The fallen, dead leaves reminded me that it was officially autumn.

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As I climbed the small mountain, I saw a blue bag stuffed and tied up. It looked like a dead body and my adrenaline starting pumping. Did somebody dump a body here? Do I call the police? I decided to get closer and see what I could find. As I poked around, I saw it was a bag full of leaves. Relieved, and slightly embarrassed, I continued up the mountain.

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I reached the top and was treated with amazing views! I could see 360 degrees in the clear blue sky. In the distance, I could see Victoria and the ocean. Below me were the suburbs where I was staying.

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The rolling green hills surrounded the area. It was a clear day, but it was incredibly windy. I put my jacket on and walked around the top. I sat on a bench and enjoyed the view until I was too cold and needed to hike back down.

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I went back to the airbnb and ate some leftover food I had in the mini-fridge. I paid some bills and watched Netflix before I went to bed.

The next morning, I checked out of the airbnb and drove through morning rush-hour traffic to get to the ferry. I was taking it from Victoria to Port Angeles, Washington. I had to arrive 90 minutes before boarding because I would have to go through customs. Of course, I had some veggies and apples in my cooler.

The security guy walked up to my car window as I was parked in line. He asked why I had been in Canada and I enthusiastically told him I drove the Alaska highway. I figured if I was excited and friendly, maybe they would stop drilling me so much. It worked and the guy started asking me what it was like. He asked if I had any food and I told him I only had a sandwich that I planned on eating on the ship. He gave me the ticket and said I needed to go inside and show them my passport.

On the way inside, I threw my veggies and apples away just so there wouldn’t be any problems. I was cleared and got back inside my car to wait to board. When I drove my car onto the ferry, they squeezed us in like sardines and I could barely get out of my car.

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I went upstairs and worked to update my blog while I ate in the cafe for the 90-minute ferry ride. All of a sudden, I received a presidential alert on my phone. The US was testing it to make sure it worked. In case of an emergency, the President has the power to send an alert to notify citizens. It’s a pretty good system and I was happy that I received the alert.

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When we arrived in Port Angeles, Washington, I went through customs in my car and got through pretty easily. My phone wasn’t providing directions because we were in a remote area. I called my mom and asked her to help me navigate so I knew where I was going. I made it to the main road and lost connection with her.

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After a couple of hours driving, my AT&T service was still not working so I pulled over at a Starbucks. It was “police day” so there were police everywhere and of course, free donuts. It was nice to see the police and community interacting together in a positive way. One officer in a Starbucks apron walked over and gave me a donut sample. I used the WiFi and uploaded my blog. I also used it to make sure I had directions to my next destination: Hood River, Oregon.

I had to turn my phone off and on several times after I left Starbucks to get it to work. It was about a five-hour drive to Hood River. During the drive, I noticed the wrinkles on my hand. Maybe it was the cooler, dry air, but they didn’t look my hands. They looked old and tired. It’s a strange realization when you do not recognize yourself.

I arrived at Hood River in time for dinner. I was staying the night with my friend, Tracey. Once I put my bags down, Tracey, her husband Farron, and I went to dinner at a Chinese restaurant. It was so much fun talking about my adventures in Canada and Alaska, and hearing about her new retired life in Hood River.

We talked some more before bed. It was great to see a friend again and to have someone relate to having a whole new life. It was also helpful to have someone to talk with about how I was feeling about things like my doctor passing away. Sometimes the road can be isolating, but friends seem to pop into my life when I need them the most.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 98: Thoughts Driving on Vancouver Island

Before leaving Tofino, I stopped by an outdoor market selling locally made items. It was small, but I enjoyed walking around. I went to a restaurant, sat at the outdoor bar, and ordered a poke bowl. Afterwards, I got some ice cream at a small shop next door. The girl told me that the power was going to be out the following day, so most businesses were closed. She was discounting her ice cream before it melted.

Most people in the town were at an all-female surf competition. I drove by the entrance to the competition, but there wasn’t anywhere to park. I kept driving and hiked to a beach with beautiful views.

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My next Airbnb was in Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, with a metro area population of 367,000. It’s on the other side of the island so it would be just over four hours to get there. Part of the drive was going back the way I had come, but this time I was able to see it in the daylight.

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At one point, I pulled over on a gravel shoulder to take some pictures of a lake. I left my car running and crossed the street. I noticed there was a small path leading to better views of the lake, so I hurried down to take some pictures. The lake was picturesque. It was huge and clear, surrounded by blue mountains.

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I saw evidence of a recent campfire fire and started to feel creeped out – like someone might be living out there. Just then, I heard a car door. Panicked, I realized I left my car running with all of my stuff in it, and couldn’t see it. Adrenaline kicked in as I started to run back up the small hill to my car. I yelled at myself, “You aren’t in the isolated Yukon any longer!” Relieved to see my car still on the shoulder of the road, I saw that a fisherman had just pulled up and was getting the gear out of his car.

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I continued my drive and noticed signs proclaiming that you are not allowed to hold up five or more cars. If you are, you need to pull over and let them pass. I was grateful for the opportunity to see the beautiful drive this time. The road wound its way around large boulders to my right and a lake to my left. I couldn’t believe all of this was on an island.

As I drove, I thought about where I’d go next. I knew I needed to be in Los Angeles soon for some doctors’ appointments and a friend’s birthday, but I also needed time to catch up on my writing. When I left California, I knew I wanted to see Canada, Alaska, Thailand, Australia, and Eastern Europe. But I wasn’t feeling it. My gut was telling me it wasn’t the right time to go overseas.

It’s difficult to decide where to go when you can go anywhere. There’s an immense pressure to not make the wrong decision. I was also realizing that traveling long term meant that I might not be able to date. If I traveled for two years, that meant no dating for two years. I had already been single for a year and a half, but it seemed much longer because the last few years of my marriage I felt alone and unloved.

Then I thought about the movie, The Holiday. Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz do a house switch between  LA and the English countryside. They are both fishes out of water, which is hilarious. Then, they each meet a man that’s just right for them, while also discovering more about themselves. Life can be like that, right? I could meet someone while traveling?

I arrived at my Airbnb in the dark and it was slightly drizzling outside. I was renting a room inside a house, but it had its own little studio-like area. A door separated the living room from my apartment, which included a bedroom, bathroom, and a small living space.

I met the owners – a young husband and wife with a toddler and two giant labs. We said our hellos and the wife showed me my space. I grabbed my bags and had to walk from the front door through the living room. The husband was playing video games on the large TV, and wearing headphones while saying “f*ck” a lot. The wife was folding laundry in the kitchen while also taking care of the toddler.

As I relaxed in my little living space, I could hear the husband playing video games for hours. I felt sad for the wife. This sort of marriage is so common. The woman takes care of the house and child while the husband plays games. I am aware it’s not always like that. Sometimes it’s the man doing all of the work, and sometimes people have very happy marriages with shared responsibilities.

My marriage was similar to this couple’s arrangement, only we didn’t have a kid. Even though we both worked full time, I did most of the house work while he watched TV. Even though I get lonely at times, this was a good reminder to me that I do not want a relationship like that. I would much rather be alone than be in a boring, monotonous marriage, doing the same thing over and over, in something that resembles a business arrangement more than a marriage.

I know everyday can’t be exciting and there is comfort in being still with a loving partner. But we get such a short amount of time on this planet and I don’t want to spend it like that. Waiting for the kid to grow up or waiting to retire. I want to live the life I believe I was created to live. I don’t know if I will live to be 100, but if I live my life the right way, it’ll be great no matter how many years I get.

POst Edited By: Mandy Strider
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