Day 231: Hiking in Thailand

I woke up in our first Thailand homestay feeling surprisingly refreshed. I was worried that I wouldn’t sleep well since the padding was pretty thin and there were snorers in our group. I slept much better than I thought I would and I was excited for another day of hiking.

Our guides and the homeowner cooked up a huge, beautiful spread for breakfast. We ate outside on the covered picnic table. The fresh air, the rising sun, and bright blue sky created a gorgeous scene. We all got dressed, packed up our day packs, and started hiking.

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Neil and Tien

REI Adventures drove our bags to the next place so all we had to carry was our day pack. I really liked hiking to our destinations. There’s something satisfying about knowing my own two feet brought me there.

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As we walked out of the small village, Tri looked back and told us about their traditions to celebrate Chinese New Year, which involves slaughtering pigs. Mimi, being a vegetarian, got very upset and asked Tri to stop talking about it. I wanted to know about it so I asked Tri to continue. Frustrated, Mimi walked off. I don’t really understand not listening to someone explain a culture and their practices just because you don’t personally agree with it.

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We continued hiking and made it into the jungle once again. The bright green foliage surrounded us. I rotated from being in the back to being in the middle. We passed through bamboo sections and then a wheat field.

I was feeling much better that day because I was taking my salt pills when I should. The heat and humidity were high, but the breeze made it bearable. I was still a sweaty mess, but taking the pills really helped to ensure my electrolytes were balanced.

For lunch, we stopped in a semi-open space. The guides quickly gathered jurassic-sized banana leaves for us to sit on. Then they handed each of us our own little fried rice wrapped inside of a beautiful banana leaf. One of the nice things about going on an REI Adventures tour is that they feed me much better than I would feed myself. On hikes, I usually just bring protein bars and packaged foods like tuna.

We had a fun time laughing and relaxing on our banana leaves. I was happy to have a break and let my muscles rest after so much climbing.

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We continued hiking through the thick trees and brush. We even walked through a fruit tree farm and were able to pick some fresh fruit and eat it as we continued to hike. Once we reached the peak of the mountain, we started our descent. Going down is much easier for me, so I was elated to get the break.

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After hiking 11 miles with significant elevation gain, we arrived at our next homestay around 4:30 pm. This time we had two showers available. While the water was still freezing, we had lights inside and the sun hadn’t gone down yet. We made a list and let the people who didn’t get a shower the night before a chance to go first. Because I was the last to arrive, I was put at the bottom of the list. Just like the night before, the water was so cold, it took my breath away!

For sleeping arrangements, two of the married couples got their own rooms in small cabins. The rest of us had to fight it out for a space in the main upstairs of the house. Because I hiked in the back, the spaces were mostly taken by the time I arrived.

I climbed up the wooden staircase on the outside of the house and went inside. There were four mattresses in a small area and around the corner, there was a small nook with a double mattress. The other five mattresses were on the balcony. Each mattress pad had a mosquito net just like the night before.

The only beds left were the double mattress in the nook, one on the balcony, and one in the inside by the door. Nicole, Christian, and Kristen also still needed a bed. It made sense to give the double mattress to Christian and Kristen. But that meant my roommate Nicole and I would be separated. We had become good friends, so I was disappointed.

I was hesitant to be on the balcony, but I was next to a couch, making it harder for me to fall off. I was outside with Mimi, Lisa, Terri, and Cathy. They tried to make me feel at home, but I was upset that Nicole and I were left with whatever beds remained.

We were told to bring our shoes inside for the night because otherwise the dogs would take them and run off. There are a lot of stray dogs in Thailand because they don’t spay and neuter, and they don’t have shelters for animals. They are often in poor condition and carry diseases, so we were instructed not to touch them. It wasn’t clear if the dogs around the property were stray dogs or the owner’s pets. We also saw cats climbing around on the roofs.

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We all took showers and changed into warmer clothes as the sun started to set. The property was beautiful and very isolated. There were benches overlooking the mountain range. As people showered, some of us sat on a bench eating some nuts and beans, getting to know each other better.

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Nicole and I joined Neil who was enjoying a large bottle of Chang beer on the picnic bench. The bottle was indeed large, but Nicole and I agreed to each get our own. Cathy and Lisa asked us if we wanted to share our beer, but we declined. We wanted the full bottle. We giggled as we started to feel the effects of the beer.

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Neil, Nicole, and I were the three solo travellers. Neil had a sweet personality and could make me laugh with the slightest comment. He was easy-going, retired, and had done a bit of traveling. The three of us were slap-happy and couldn’t stop laughing as we drank.

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Cathy told us about her son in high school and her husband. She’s very fit and works out a lot – she loves pickleball. She can be very serious and regimented at times. Her favorite quote was “No calories through beverage”, whenever someone asked if she wanted a drink. She did, however, love Thai iced tea. She let herself indulge once a day to have a sugary beverage. I kept trying to get her to have more drinks (coffee, tea, shakes, beer) and I’d say, “You’re on vacation. Enjoy it a little.” I suppose that’s why I have extra weight on me that I’m lugging around.

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For dinner, the guides and the homeowners cooked up another amazing, freshly made meal! I was enjoying all of the family-style meals because it gave us all a chance to bond, just like a family.

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After dinner was complete, a few of us watched the stars shine brightly above. It was incredible not having any light pollution around for many, many miles. It started to get a little cold outside, so we headed to bed. In the main house, I could hear one of the guides snoring so I put my earplugs in. It didn’t work too well, so I put my headphones in and played some music.

It was actually really refreshing to sleep on the balcony. The fresh air and sounds of nature were peaceful. Of course, I had to use the toilet in the middle of the night. I swear this never happens when a toilet is easily accessible. Using a headlamp, I had to put my shoes on outside, walk down the outdoor staircase, and across the yard to the toilets.

In the morning, I heard Cathy quietly sit up, turn around, and whisper, “There’s a beautiful sunrise.” I sat up, turned around, and saw the orange sun starting to make its way up to the sky. It was amazing to just sit on my mattress pad and watch it unfold. I was happy that I ended up on the balcony.

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Shortly after I woke up, I used the toilet and walked to the ledge where I could see the mountain range. Steve and Nancy were up early and taking pictures. One of the advantages of going on an REI Adventures tour is you get an opportunity to stay in homestays in remote areas. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 230: Villages in Thailand

On the third day of the REI Adventures tour, we were able to enjoy the delicious breakfast buffet at the hotel. Right after I sat down to eat, I received a notification from Airbnb that my studio apartment I had booked once the tour ended was cancelled. Confused, I logged on to see what the problem was.

I messaged the owner and let her know that my reservation was cancelled by mistake through Airbnb. The home owner and I agreed that I would just pay her cash when I arrived and she’d keep the apartment available for me. I was happy because the price for my stay in this apartment was only $23 a night.

Dealing with Airbnb and the homeowner meant I had to frantically scarf my food down and ignore my roommate, Nicole. We had to be at the vans ready to go, so I didn’t have much time. Thankfully, I was able to get it resolved and get to the vans.

We left the hotel and drove towards the mountains to visit hill tribe villages. The roads in Thailand are often bumpy and windy. I get carsick if I try to read in the car. Sometimes if my head is turned sideways looking at someone talking, I will start to get nauseous. The best place to sit for motion sickness is the first row because you get less bumps there. Unfortunately, there were several people in our group who also get motion sickness, so I sat in the back.

My roommate Nicole also gets carsick. We were in the van for a couple of hours and Nicole and I were talking to each other in the backseat. She told me about her travels and hiking various famous mountains. Her accomplishments were impressive, but she was humble. We talked for awhile, until we both needed to look out the window to attempt to alleviate the nausea. I took a dramamine in hopes that the motion sickness would subside.

When we arrived to the villages, our guide, Tri, talked to us about the general life in a village. The area we were visiting was a combination of many different tribes. They built this area to showcase a mini-village of each tribe, their customs, and their people.

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Tri stood in front of a large painting of the king of Thailand. He told us there are six main tribes in Thailand and they are mostly in the mountainous northern and western parts of the country. Generally speaking, the women work harder than men. When a family gives birth to a girl, they are very happy because she’ll bring in money from the husband. She’ll also work harder both in the fields and in the home, while the men will take opium and sleep in the fields.

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We wandered through the streets and saw several different tribes selling hand-made items. The tribespeople weren’t pushy though. They just casually stood near their booth and would tell us the price of an item if we pointed at it.

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We saw some women weaving fabrics, while others proudly displayed their products. One tribe is known for their long necks. They put rings around their neck and keep adding to it in hopes that their necks will stretch. I bought a couple of items, mostly to support their efforts.

Once we finished exploring the villages, we stopped at an outdoor market on our way to lunch and were given ten minutes to browse. There were fresh vegetables and even fried insects – beetles, crickets, you name it! I declined trying one and kept walking.

I was walking alone and a vendor asked me, “Where are you from?” I replied, “America.” He got very excited, “Oooooh! USA! Super Power!” I smiled and slowly kept walking. He continued and mentioned how tall I am and then asked, “You married?” “No”, I replied. “Ooooh, are you alone?” As I walked away, I told him I was with a group.

For lunch, we went to a restaurant that sat right off of a river where people on rafts raced through the rapids. We ate family-style, but this time the vegetarians asked Tri not to be separated because it didn’t allow them time to talk with the non-vegetarians. We each had our own plate of pad Thai, which was delicious!

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I sat next to Scott and Andrea, who are from Minnesota. Scott works as an industrial engineer and Andrea works as a physical therapist. They told us how cold Minnesota was when they left and how a huge snow storm was sweeping the area. They were happy to have escaped it.

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Once lunch was finished, we began a hike to the village where we’d stay the night. It was hot and humid. This hike would take more than three hours and involved a lot of climbing.

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The thick forest was unforgiving. The dense vegetation often brushed up against my legs. I was sweating profusely in the extraordinary humidity. When I sweat too much, I need to take salt pills so I don’t lose too much salt. About 30% of people are salty sweaters. The group was moving so fast, I was struggling to keep up. I didn’t have time to take my pills. In addition, the Dramamine made me feel tired.

I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. I felt bad and hoped I wasn’t keeping them from the rest of the group. Kristen assured me that she also likes little breaks – we were soul sisters. We would often stop for 60 seconds just to take a breather. There was another guide, Sak, in the back with us. The four of us had a fun time looking around at the Jurassic-sized leaves and learning from Sak. He told us that when bamboo dies, it sprouts a flower. Just one flower it’s entire life and only when it is about to die.

The rest of the group would stop every 20 minutes or so to let us all catch up. Those of us in the middle and the back would arrive, and within one minute, we were off again.

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I felt my heart pounding and realized I should have taken my salt pills. Once my electrolytes are out of balance, I can feel it in places like my heart.

While the hike was challenging, it was also beautiful! We were the only ones on the  trail. Finally, we arrived towards the top and were rewarded with incredible views. The sun was just starting to set and was giving off splendid rays of light.

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This fueled me to get to the homestay. As we approached the small village, I couldn’t believe people lived there. It was extremely remote, steep, and the dirt road was in terrible condition.

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Our homestay was with a local family who had a large main room filled with 15 pads to sleep on. Each thin pad had a mosquito net above it. The floor was made of thin pieces of bamboo and I was afraid I would fall through, so I stuck to walking near the main wooden beam down the middle.

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I’m sensitive to people snoring so I asked that I be on the end and not near any snorers. I brought earplugs, but the sound of snoring is usually so loud they only slightly work. I had my iPod shuttle just in case.

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It was evening and there was only one shower available. It was outside in a small concrete building that was not completely enclosed, letting the cold air inside. They don’t have electricity so we were warned the water would be cold. People made a verbal list of who would take a shower next. I was number four on the list until some of the women decided to make another list and I was bumped towards the bottom.

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The sun was quickly setting and we were desperate to get a shower in before it was dark since there wasn’t a light in there. When it was my turn, it was almost dark, so I brought my headlamp inside to see my shampoo and soap. I knew the water would be cold, but I didn’t expect it to be freezing. A thin stream of water forcefully came shooting out! I gasped for air and almost started to hyperventilate from the harsh cold. I showered as quickly as I could.

To use the toilet, there were two small rooms in the same concrete building. Because they don’t have plumbing, there is a pot full of water next to the toilet. Once you’re done using the toilet, you have to scoop the water with a bowl and dump it inside the toilet, which slowly drains it. You have to put a few bowls of water in order to get it to fully go away. Behind the toilets were pigs, which you could hear while you took care of business.

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As we all showered and drank some beers, the guides and homeowners cooked our dinner. On the rough dirt street, young children drove by on motorbikes, often 2-3 per bike. Stray dogs also roamed around and we were instructed not to touch them as many of them carry disease.

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There were a few people who didn’t get showers because they didn’t want to shower in the dark. Dinner was ready and there were a couple of dim lights hanging above the table. As we sat down to eat, Clark gave a nice speech. After a tiring day of hiking, it was nice to have some time to unwind.

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After dinner, we enjoyed the stars above with the complete absence of light pollution. The village was celebrating the Chinese New Year, so the occasional firework went off. Tri told us that families will kill one of their pigs and eat it over the next three days and basically have a party the whole three days.

Once the sun fell, it got much colder. After star gazing, we all headed to bed. I put my earplugs in, but I kept waking up because I needed to use the toilet. Of course. This never happens when I’m inside of a house. But if I go camping or have the toilet outside, I suddenly have to go. I tried to ignore it because it sounded like rain was pouring down outside. I wondered if it was flooding. I didn’t want to put my glasses and shoes on and slip through the mud.

Then suddenly I realized maybe it was wind and not rain. I listened intently and realized I didn’t hear anything hitting the roof, so it must be wind rushing through the trees. I reluctantly put my glasses on, walked down the entire room following the beam with the light from my cell phone. I put my shoes on that were sitting outside by the front door steps and made my way to the toilet. Sure enough, it was extremely high winds, not rain.

I returned to my bed and went back to sleep. At 4:40 am, roosters started to crow. The sound was deafening so I tried to smash my head into my pillow. It didn’t work. I put my headphones on and played music on my iPod shuffle. We were warned about those roosters and they weren’t kidding. The roosters crowed for the next several hours. The thin bamboo walls did nothing for soundproofing.

Steve had noise cancelling headphones, but he still heard the roosters. He joked the next morning that if a company can create the ultimate soundproof headphones, their slogan should be “Strong enough to combat roosters.” I also found out the next morning that Mimi fell into Steve and Andrea when she went outside to use the toilet. Having 15 people sleep in the same room only inches apart makes for an interesting night.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 228-229: Overcoming Fears? Maybe Not…

I arrived at the hotel and met the 15 people who I would be spending the next nine days with through REI Adventures. My taxi was late getting to my previous hotel to pick me up, so I arrived about ten minutes late. Everyone was fit and standing in the lobby of the outdoor/indoor hotel. The guide, Tri, was giving the group an overview of what the week would look like. I met everyone so quickly, I couldn’t remember who came with who or anybody’s name.

The two vans would be leaving soon to take us to our first destination for the afternoon. While we briefly waited, a girl walked up to me and said, “Hi, you must be my roommate. I’m Nicole.”

We were both solo travelers and neither of us paid the $600 single supplement fee, so we were roomed together. Nicole was 44, but looked like she was in her early 30s. She had brown hair, a sweet smile, and was very athletic. She lived in Denver, Colorado and worked from home as a project manager.

It would take me two days to learn everyone’s names and remember where they were all from, but here they are!

Nancy and Steve: Married couple in their 50s who live in North Carolina

Andrea and Scott: Married couple in their 40s who live in Minnesota

Christian and Kristen: Married couple in their early 30s who live in Washington

Terri and Cathy: Two women friends in their 50s who live in California

Mimi and Lisa: Two women friends in their 50s who also live in California

Tien and Clark: Friends Tien (in his 40s) and Clark (in his early 60s) who live in New Mexico

Neil: Man in his 60s who also lives in Washington

Nicole: Woman in her 40s who lives in Colorado

We boarded the two ten-passenger vans and drove to Wat Suan Dok Temple. I sat in the front row of one of the vans, next to Cathy and Clark. We talked and got to know each other. It was clear that there were different personalities on this trip.

We arrived at the temple and had to climb up 300 steps. I was wearing mid-length jeans that made it an uncomfortable journey to the top. To get into the temple, women need to have their shoulders and knees covered. I was wearing a tank top, so I was provided a short-sleeve shirt to wear while I was inside.

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Our guide, Tri, had been leading tours for several years. He was short, had black hair, and had a huge, welcoming smile. His English was pretty good, but sometimes we struggled to understand each other.

The temple was outdoors and I was sweating in the sun. We had to take off our shoes and leave them outside. The stone floor was warm on my feet and I didn’t like walking around barefoot. We huddled around statues as Tri told us about the stories behind them. Thailand is predominantly Buddhist. I was starting to get overwhelmed after 30 minutes. It was a lot of information to take in and the heat wasn’t helping.

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The temple was full of tourists. With a group of 15, it was difficult to navigate through the crowd. At one point, I accidentally lost the group and the people behind me were now lost with me. Clark teased me because he had been following me. Oops. We eventually found the rest of the group and then headed back down the 300 steps.

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We ate lunch at an outdoor restaurant. All of our meals would be shared family-style. There were five vegetarians, so Tri asked that they sit together to make sharing easier. During lunch, I was able to talk to a few people and tell them about my travels. They were surprised to hear that I had been traveling for seven months and they enthusiastically asked me questions.

Nancy works at an REI store, which is a separate division of REI Adventures. Her khaki clothes gave her an outdoorsy look. It seemed to make sense that she’d work there. She knows a lot about the outdoors, so I’m sure she is super helpful to customers. Her husband, Steve, works as an engineer and is also into the outdoors. He struck me as responsible and smart.

After lunch, we went back to the hotel to check-in and clean up a bit. The hotel was a beautiful resort that had a lot of green trees and impeccable landscaping. It had soft, comfortable beds.

For dinner, we boarded the vans again and went to a restaurant. Because it was Chinese New Year, Tri gave us the option of going to an outdoor market to check out some festivities. Some people in the group had just flown in that morning, so they were exhausted and opted to go back to the hotel. A few of us went to the market.

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It turned out to be the market I had visited the day prior. Now that it was nighttime, it was packed! It was difficult not to get separated from the others. We watched some festivities on a stage and walked around the booths.

After walking around a little bit, we decided to go back to the hotel and get some rest. The next day would be our first hike and ziplining. I was excited for hiking, but less excited about ziplining.

We ate breakfast at the hotel, which had an incredible buffet spread, and left for our hike. We drove to a small village of wooden houses precariously built on a steep hillside on the side of a mountain and started our hike.

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Once we passed the houses, we started to climb on a trail through the forest. It was warm outside, but there was a cool breeze. I quickly fell to the back of the group. Ascending is harder for me because it’s hard to catch my breath. My slow heartbeat starts beating too fast and I need small, 30-second breaks.

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I was in the back with Christian and Kristen. They’re the young married couple from Washington (Seattle). Christian works for REI Adventures and does the planning part before people leave for the trip so they’re all prepared. He had been working there for less than a year and really liked it. He wanted to make it clear he was just on vacation and wasn’t working.

Kristen worked in admissions at a university in Seattle. She was so sweet and friendly and also wanted little breaks, so we stuck together. They are one of those couples that is really cute together because they are both kind and thoughtful.

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The trail was narrow and not very well maintained. Trees and bushes often overtook the trail. The dense forest was beautiful and I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t more humid. It was “cool season” for them and being in the mountains made it much cooler than the rest of Thailand. Thailand has three seasons: Cool, Hot, and Rainy.

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We arrived at a beautiful waterfall where we took pictures and ate snacks. I took a picture with Nicole, my roommate. She was hiking at the front of the group because she’s very athletic.

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After our snack, we continued climbing. There were a few bridges, which were ladders laid down with some fences, that we had a cross. One bridge was more a swing-type bridge.

At times, the trail was steep and narrow on the side of the mountain. Tri said once during the rainy season, a guest slipped and slid down the side. She ended up being ok, but was cut up. I was grateful it wasn’t raining.

After several miles of hiking, we went to a beautiful outdoor restaurant for lunch. Most places in Thailand are outdoors, which makes for a very relaxing atmosphere.

During lunch, I talked with Tien. He’s a psychiatrist, but was going to start a new job soon working in more of the administration side of a healthcare company. He was married with two young kids. Tien had a subtle sense of humor. We talked about my travels and his job throughout lunch.

I also talked with Clark. I told him about my solo travels and some of the things I need to be aware of as a solo female. He said, “You’d be hard to kidnap.” I asked why and he replied “Because of your attitude. You don’t seem like a victim.”

After lunch, it was time for ziplining. We drove five minutes to Flight of the Gibbon. We were fitted with gear and weighed because they have weight limits. Because our group was so large, we split into two. My group had the following: Clark, Tien, Scott, Andrea, Mimi and Lisa.

Clark and I were both nervous. He’s tall and extremely fit. He does a lot of trail running behind his house in New Mexico and can be pretty hardcore with his workouts, but ziplining didn’t appeal to him very much.

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We jumped off the platform one by one. To stop, this zipline company doesn’t use brakes. The zipline in Canada that I had gone on a few months prior had a brake system. Instead, you have to raise your legs when you’re coming into the treetop platform and the guide will help stop you before you smash into the tree. I was nervous about this because on the zipline in Canada, I kept inadvertently turning around, so I always went backwards. This time I needed to make sure I didn’t turn or I wouldn’t know when to raise my feet.

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The zipline has 14 lines, which is a lot. The two other places I’ve ziplined only had six to seven lines. I zipped across, tightly holding my harness. I could not relax because I kept thinking I’d be too heavy and I’d fall. What if the safety standards haven’t been met? I tried to convince myself thousands of people do this and I’d be fine.

Once I landed on a tree platform, the guide would hook my harness onto a cable wrapped around the tree. This was necessary because the platforms were very high into the tree with very limited space for standing. The seven of us would pile on, hugging the tree as we waited for everyone to finish. A couple of times, there were still people on the tiny platform from a group in front of us. I worried there were too many people on the platforms, but at least we were clipped to the tree.

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We continued zipping through the forest, and each time I was scared. I just wanted to get done with it. The trees were beautiful, but I just couldn’t shake the fear. The local guides sometimes did crazy things like pulling on the line when someone was on it, making the person bounce. On one line, they recommended we go “Superman” style where our face would go first, facing the ground. Then we’d have to climb up a rope net. I just did the regular line instead of that contraption.

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Most people were really enjoying the adventure, even if they questioned some of the safety standards. Clark, on the other hand, was like me. I couldn’t tell if he was joking at first because he’s a big jokester, but he was just as frightened as me. Fourteen lines is a lot and it was starting to weigh on him. He knew there was no way out – we had to complete the lines. At one point, he turned to me, “I’m emotionally exhausted. I’m serious. I have nothing left to give.” I knew exactly how he felt.

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Halfway through, we came to a section where we had to rappel down from high above on the tree platform. I’ve never repelled before and having to rely on the guides lowering me down was not comforting. I knew I had no other option to get down. I sat down and tried to get myself to go through the small square hole in the platform. I told the guy to go slow and said I just want to get home alive.

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We continued on several more lines until we were finally done. The final line was to rappel down again. This time I enjoyed it. The guide lowered me slower than others, which made me feel better. Once we were done, I was relieved.

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A few months later, Scott came across an article about that zipline, Flight of the Gibbon. A 25-year-old Canadian tourist was on those same lines two months later and fell to his death. He was halfway through one of the lines when “the lock on his body harness and the main line broke.” His girlfriend watched as he fell and I can only imagine the horror they both felt. My heart breaks for them.

Reading about that accident and the history of accidents at that zipline made me incredibly grateful we were all safe. I recognize that many thousands of people have been on those lines and have not gotten injured. However, the company has had other accidents and even deaths over the years. From my own experience, I can say the safety standards were poor. Pulling on lines to make people bounce around was not safe. The company is currently shut down for an investigation. REI Adventures has discontinued using that operator and instead of zip lining, people will now meet elephants. I think that’s a great alternative and I’m happy they are always looking out for the safety of their members. I can confidently say that was my last zipline adventure!

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 227: Arriving in Chiang Mai, Thailand

I arrived at the airport in Chiang Mai, Thailand around 8:00 am. I was curtly ushered towards customs. “Wrong. Walk around.” I was a little intimidated to be in a country where I did not speak the language and I tried hard to navigate the airport effectively.

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I arrived at the baggage carousel and found my bag with the two clear plastic bags draped loosely around it. The attendants in Osaka, Japan did their best to keep my items inside after the luggage handlers had ripped both zippers and the lock off of my bag. Unfortunately, my items were starting to spill out. I ended up losing my sunglasses in that debacle.

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After getting my luggage and getting through customs, I headed to a booth that sold local SIM cards. Everything is on my phone and my AT&T plan cost an extra $10 a day for international use (in addition to my $85/month bill). I would be in Thailand for 30 days, so that wouldn’t be cost effective. Instead, I opted to get a local Thai SIM card.

The two young women at the booth were busy as they swapped out SIM cards for other travelers. When it was my turn, one girl grabbed my phone and quickly went through the prompts, which were all in Thai. The SIM card was cheap – around $10 USD for 15 GB of data. They only took cash so I quickly walked over to the ATM.

I needed to get to my hotel and there was a booth offering shuttle and taxi rides. I paid the $11 USD and got into a taxi. I didn’t realize they drive on the left side of the road in Thailand. I talked with the taxi driver until he said his English was “just ok, but you talk very fast.”

I arrived at the hotel around 9:30 am and hoped to check in since I had gotten less than three hours of sleep in the last 32 hours of travel. Chiang Mai is 14 hours ahead of Los Angeles, which makes the jet lag pretty rough. I only got about four hours of sleep the night prior to leaving Los Angeles, so I was feeling incredibly sleep deprived. Since it was the Chinese New Year, all of their rooms were fully booked. The front desk informed me that I wouldn’t be able to check in until the afternoon.

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I walked to the outdoor restroom by the pool, put in my contacts, left my luggage at the front, and started walking. I decided I should get my nails done because they were in bad shape and I thought it would be much cheaper to have them done in Thailand than in the U.S.

I wandered through the narrow streets that didn’t have sidewalks. Cars and motorbikes zipped by me at rapid speeds. Following Apple Maps, I wandered through narrow alleyways, checking out the back of houses, their fences, and clothes drying on lines.

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It was a cool 68℉ with a real feel of 71℉. I finally found the nail salon, but it was closed due to the holiday. I continued to wander around and ended up at a river. The beautiful trees and flowers shimmered in the bright sunlight. I walked along the path and crossed a bridge to the city center.

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I found a coffee shop on the other side. The air was getting warmer by the minute and I was starting to regret wearing my mid-length jeans. I stopped inside, bought a cold coffee drink, and relaxed on a couch under the air conditioner. I was starting to feel tired, so I got up and continued to walk around. I found an outdoor market selling belts, souvenirs, scarfs, elephant pants, etc.

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I ended up walking to an inside part of the market. It was huge and had fresh foods. On the upper level, I found a merchant selling luggage. It was the perfect time to buy a new bag since mine was completely ruined. I debated whether or not I should continue with a duffle bag or get a suitcase. The duffle bags were small and I was afraid it wouldn’t be sturdy enough for my long-term travels. I didn’t want to lug around a suitcase, but it would be sturdier (or so I thought-spoiler alert). The suitcase was priced at $1,300 Baht, but I talked the saleswoman down to $1,100 Baht ($35 USD).

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I rolled my empty suitcase behind me as I headed back outside. It was now lunchtime and food vendors were starting to put small tables and chairs in the middle of the walkway. I picked out four pieces of sushi at one vendor and some noodles at another. Each one only cost me $0.60 USD.

I was annoyed by my suitcase as I continued walking around the market. It was getting hot outside (it was now 84℉ with a real feel of 92℉) and I was wondering where all the tourists were.

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I found another nail salon on Apple Maps that was on the way to my hotel. I walked for another 20 minutes, dragging my suitcase along with me on the sides of narrow streets, hoping a car wouldn’t hit me. I made it to the small nail salon that was attached to a hotel. I walked inside and the woman across the hall in the hotel front desk came running over. She said she could give me a mani/pedi for $14 USD, but she didn’t have gel so it would just be regular polish.

Exhausted, I agreed. She turned on the air conditioning unit when she saw how hot I was. The woman started with a pedicure and put my feet into a small shallow glass bowl. My feet are large (I wear size 12), so they didn’t quite fit. I didn’t care. I was extremely exhausted. The heat, lack of sleep, and jet lag made me fall asleep in the chair. I would occasionally wake up – startled and wondering where I was. I would look at the woman who smiled and slightly laughed. Then I’d fall right back asleep. She must have thought I was so strange, but I was exhausted enough not to care.

After my mani/pedi, I walked back to my hotel. I could now check-in and I desperately wanted to curl up in bed. I got my bags and the front desk staff looked at me funny as I carried my new suitcase upstairs. The room was huge! I thought about sitting at the enticing pool, but I feared I would burn as I snoozed. Instead, I passed out on the bed for two hours.

When I woke up, it was time for dinner. I was still exhausted and could have easily continued to sleep, but I forced myself to get up in an attempt to get acclimated to the new time zone. I found a dinner restaurant online that was just a short 10 minute walk from my hotel on the riverfront. When I arrived, they seated me outside by a pool surrounded by beanbags and tables. Beautiful string lights were hanging above, making it a perfect romantic spot for dinner.

The server didn’t speak much English, so we communicated through pointing. She put a bottle of bug spray on the table, but it was such a nice night I didn’t even need it. I ordered Pad Thai, one of my favorite foods, and enjoyed the evening.

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On my walk back to the hotel, I searched for convenient stores so I could buy some water. After a few attempts, I gave up and walked back to my hotel. I had taken off my belt during my nap and my jeans were now falling down. I took a shower and crashed hard that night.  

The following morning, I ate breakfast at the outdoor restaurant at the hotel. The waiter seemed surprised to see I was alone and since I had two vouchers for food, he kept trying to give me two meals. Great. It’s not embarrassing at all to be alone, with two meals at your table.

As I sat at my table waiting for my multiple plates of food, Facebook reminded me of a video I had shared in 2014. It was a video they had created of a montage of pictures over the years. Almost every picture involved Aaron from a life that no longer exists.

I hate wasting food, so I almost ate two full breakfasts. I went back to my room to pack my bags. I needed to get a taxi to another hotel where I’d start my REI Adventures trip. This would involve hiking and biking across northern Thailand and I couldn’t wait! There were 15 people signed up for the tour and I was excited to see who I would be spending the next nine days with.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 223-226: Overseas vs Wedding

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 196-222: Life in Missouri

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Logistics

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

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

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

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

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Doctor Appointments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Investment

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

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

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

Family and Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 183-189: Christmas and a Spinal Tap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Days 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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