The Best, Most Ridiculous Detour Ever

When I was in Washington, my friend Andrea sent me a casual text along the lines of "Hey, we'll be in Snowmass in a few days, why don't you join us?" A great invitation, two great friends, and a teensy, weensy 20-hour detour to Colorado on the way to the Badlands. I had time to kill since I'd just pretty much given up on planning anything at all and was wondering what in the heck I was going to do with 3 wide open weeks. So, I sat in Jackson and planned a route that made my friend Andy look visibly ill, though he did help me with it, so I ended up going through some country I might otherwise have missed. The route wasn't exactly a picnic, but it got me to all of the places on my list and I got a LOT of time to think as I drove hundreds and hundreds of miles to see people and places I just couldn't miss.

I spent my first night out in Vernal, UT. The landscapes I drove through before and after that place had me screeching over to the side of the road and whipping out my camera regularly. I just love Utah and it was so good to see those red rocks again, never mind great huge swaths of water, sagebrush, and wildflowers. I drove through Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area on the way in, and along the edge of Dinosaur National Monument on the way out the next morning.

Grand Teton

You must search for the loveliness of America; it is not obvious; it is scattered; but when you find it, it touches you and binds you to it like a great secret oath taken in silence.
— Struthers Burt, Jackson Hole Dude Rancher, 1934

While I stayed in Jackson, on of the minor sub-plots was Ruby and her search and destroy mission related to my bare feet. It's challenging to stay somewhere when the whole time it's a "the floor is hot lava/swarming with rabid cats" sort of scenario. I'm sure you can figure out which one she is - she's got that Very Intense look. Andy has a voice for Ruby that left me in floods of helpless laughter, tears streaming down my face. If he ever starts a YouTube channel for that cat, I will be its number one fan, no question.

I ventured out on Wednesday to explore Grand Teton National Park on my own, armed with direction from Andy on must-sees. I stopped at the visitor center first and spent a long time admiring animal skulls and native bead work, which is so intricate and beautifully done that it always stops me in my tracks. I also encountered my first ledger art, which was pretty exciting.

I stopped in front of the quote I posted above, unexpectedly tearing up and spending a few minutes contemplating questions I've been turning over in my mind this year. What does it mean to me to be a patriot? Am I one? Am I proud of this country in which I live? Where do I fit? In that moment I gained more clarity. I love the land I've been through. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to see it, spend time on it, and understand it from a personal perspective; it's given me a context I never had before. I feel as though I've taken that secret, silent oath. Mr. Burt articulated something I have not yet been able to put into words.

I spent part of the morning at Jenny Lake, walking along the shore in the blazing sun, admiring the green water and keeping a close eye out for bears. I desperately want to see a bear, but I'm also afraid of them, though maybe not as much as snakes. Maybe. I'll let you know after I see one. 

Jackson Lake Dam provided an unobstructed view of the mountains and also, apparently, excellent fishing, based on the couple of very happy guys below the dam. The trees and shrubs in the area were all golden yellow, rusty red, and pale green - a soft watercolor against the bright blue sky.

Jackson Lake Lodge is an imposing building, but from the inside, not the outside. Two-story floor-to-ceiling windows frame a gorgeous view of the mountains, while soft leather couches welcome you to sink into for a long, contemplative coffee. I found a sun hat there for my small noggin. Ridiculously expensive, but I'm pretty sure it's paid for itself by now, so I'm grateful.

Toward the end of the day I made my way back toward the National Elk Refuge; on the way I spent some time wandering around the Mormon Row Historic District before making my way back into town.

It's hard for me to see the change in myself from these past few months on the road, but I can tell you for sure that nobody would have gotten me to happily smile for a photo while sitting on a saddle in a touristy cowboy bar last autumn. 

Three days, two national parks, miles and miles and miles, and I couldn't have been happier. Next up? A completely senseless 20-hour detour that was one of the best decisions I've made on this adventure to date.

Yellowstone South

After coffee and a quick breakfast, Andy and I headed out to tackle the southern end of Yellowstone. We managed to hit most of the stops south of Madison, which included many brilliantly colored geyser basins, and also made it to West Thumb Geyser Basin. We saw Old Faithful, wandering along the boardwalks to see smaller pools and geysers for an hour or so before it finally erupted. We visited the iconic Old Faithful Inn, climbing up its steep plank stairs to check out the ancient timbers holding the whole place together.

I'm sure I'm forgetting to mention half of what we saw and did on that marathon day, but it was good to be with an old friend, catching up on years worth of news, laughing at practically everything (Andy is seriously funny), listening to music, watching bison and elk roam around, and hopping out of the car frequently to explore a new place, especially with the added bonus of actually being able to point and say how amazing something was to another person. After hours of exploring we finally left the park and drove down the other side of the Grand Tetons to a small town just across the pass from Jackson, where we had some super good tacos in Victor, ID before calling it a day and heading for home.

Yellowstone North

After Bozeman I had a very, very long day on the way to Jackson, WY to stay with my college friend, Andy. Since Yellowstone is so huge, Andy made some suggestions about what I should try to see and do on the way south. I'm so glad I took his advice, because every single stop was well worth my time. This national park is a singular mashup of Mars and Eden that is really difficult to absorb. There were geysers, steaming sulfur waterfalls, enormous craggy mountains, snowbanks higher than my car, evergreens, sagebrush, cacti, bison, elk, and rabbits. I specifically made time for Mammoth Hot Springs and Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, both of which were spectacular in completely different ways. There were a lot of tourists and some construction delays on the roads, so I was glad to be there in mid-May; I can't imagine navigating it in peak season, since I'm now spoiled by months of visiting national parks in the off-season. I stopped at Old Faithful and wandered around, but it wasn't set to go off for another couple of hours, and I needed to make tracks to Jackson, so I left it for the following day.

Oh, Montana

I've been to some beautiful places on this adventure, but Montana! I forgot all about Montana. I don't know what trick of light or scale or color of blue makes the sky larger there than anywhere else, including the desert, where you can see forever. It's drop dead gorgeous, as far as the eye can see. It doesn't matter that it takes 45 minutes to get to the place you can see straight ahead because there's plenty of mountain ogling to accomplish along the way.

I stayed with my friend Andy and his family - Andrea, Stella Blue, and Soren. The family is in the process of relocating to Portland, OR, so my visit was a chance to reminisce and see places they may not get back to for a while. We went to Lewis & Clark Caverns and to a tiny town with an ancient saloon. Stella and I made dinner for friends one night, including her very first cold blueberry pie. It snowed in the canyon on my first night, pretty normal for May. Soren gave me stickers for good behavior at dinner. I threw a ball for Rosie over and over, missing my own dogs and feeling my heart turn over toward home.

Spokane

After nearly a month in Leavenworth, I traded in my quiet, largely solitary life there for the chaos and noise of a large family in Spokane. On the way, I stopped at Dry Falls State Park, which I'd like to get back to someday when I have more time. The park is the site of Ice Age-era floods, which left behind a dramatic and beautiful landscape in the Grand Coulee. 

In Spokane, I stayed with my friend Steve, his wife, Nikki, and their 4 full-time rambunctious kids for 4 days. Within 15 minutes of arriving I found myself on the back of a motorcycle for the first time in 25 years and it was non-stop catching up, day trips to Idaho, watching the first season of Fargo, visiting the local botanical gardens, and seeing Spokane after that. It's good to have friends who will do absolutely anything for you. I still don't think the brass knuckles were a necessary addition to my gear, but the camping hammock will get used at some point soon.

The Ski Hill

My favorite place to hike in Leavenworth most days turned out to be the Ski Hill, especially after I found a trail that was rarely used so that Bailee to run off-leash. Wildflowers exploded to life over the few weeks I was there, puddles provided mud bath relief for my small, fuzzy friend, and the views of the orchard-covered valley were always stunning. 

Hiking in Leavenworth

When Jill and Finn came to visit, we hiked Sauer Mountain on Saturday and walked to Hidden Lake on Sunday. With bluebird skies, incredible views, plenty of snacks, and two happy dogs, it was hiking at its very best. Bailee was pretty sad when Finn left; she spent the afternoon alternately sighing under the bed and gazing out the window toward Seattle.

Sweet Little Lady

This sweet little lady, Bailee, was my reason for being in Leavenworth. While her folks were off exploring Spain and Portugal, Bailee and I walked all over Leavenworth, watching Spring happen.

She has a solid internal radar for mud puddles and loves to eat and roll in things that are dead. Happily, she also has an iron stomach and loves to swim, so we managed to make it all work. She hates riding in the car, but I did see her sneaking her nose out the window to catch a breeze or two a few times. 

I've fallen in love with just about very dog I've taken care of, and Bailee was no exception. I photographed her a lot more because her people were first-time house sit clients and I posted a photo for them daily on Instagram. She was the perfect companion for a long set of sunny, quiet days in the woods.

Walking Meditation

How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Leavenworth, WA is a small town with a giant, Bavarian-themed personality, nestled in the craggy central Cascades. So complete is Leavenworth's dedication to its theme, you could be excused for believing that you had been dropped into the Alps somewhere. Leavenworth is a former timber town that managed to reinvent itself in the 1960s, when two enterprising Seattle businessmen lobbied the town to adopt a theme. The town responded in go-big-or-go-home fashion; today even the local Napa falls in line. I landed here for a house sit and promptly fell in love with the entire place.

Nearly every view from town includes a view of the Icicle, the top of which was still covered in snow when I left in the 2nd week of May. Even the home in which I spent nearly a month had views of snow-capped peaks in the distance and great big evergreen-coated cliffs rising up out of the valley bottom. The valleys for miles around are covered with pear and apple trees, which exploded into bloom during my stay.

If how we spend our days is truly how we spend our lives, then my time in Leavenworth reflects a way of life that I can get behind long term. I slowed down, walked miles and miles every day, rediscovered actual cooking, made time for yoga, slept hard almost every night, mowed the lawn, and watched dozens of birds negotiate the feeders. Coyotes loped across the backyard toward a deer carcass they were feeding on, sat in the neighbors field at dusk, and watched us from on high as we climbed through the woods.

Spring was imminent when I arrived and unfurled in a carpet of bright yellow Balsamroot, followed by purple Lupines, dark purple Trillium, Mountain Sweet Cicely, blue and purple Vetch, Blue Stickseed, the tiny flowers of Star Solomon's Seal, Barestem Desert Parsley, Oregon Windflower, Pokeweed, and Snowberry. The air was suddenly filled with the scent of freshly mowed grass, while tulips pushed their way toward the sun.

After a week I had a few favorite spots to walk: the Fish Hatchery, Waterfront Park (perfect for rinsing muddy dogs and finding deer peeking out through the trees), Leavenworth Ski Hill, and the National Forest roads near the house I stayed in. I walked so much that I revved up the plantar fasciitis I thought I'd left behind, but the act of walking felt so good that I countered 5 or 6 miles with a lot of yoga at night, and managed to keep myself moving. I listened to podcasts as I moved along the trails, walking until I reached the end of the trail or the story, and then starting on something new.

Walking became a meditation over those short weeks, one which I have since lost as a daily practice. It feels as though there's a great big hole in my days, but it's so easy to let the crazy pace of travel (or real life) get in the way. Yoga is on the back seat too, which I'm planning to pick up again as soon as I have more than 2 days strung together in one particular place. I could do it now, but there's something about the cadence of a more daily life that helps to anchor the habit.

I've been asked many, many times if I have found a place in which I could live outside of Maine. Leavenworth is that place for me. There was something magnetic there that kept pulling me back into the woods, pulling in breath after breath of clear mountain air, talking idly to the dog, and watching the water rush over rocks or around a lazy bend. Part of what captivated me was that in a funny way, it felt so much like home. Everything is on a larger scale, but there's a similar feel to western Maine in particular.

Even the small town, where cheesy souvenir shops and local artisans sit side-by-side with wineries, coffee shops, and beer gardens reminded me of home. Maybe it's the reliance on tourists that was so familiar, but more than once I imagined myself there, part of the place, with trails out my back door in every direction. 

Tulips for Days

Look, if tulips are not your thing, back away slowly. This unapologetic photographic love letter to Roozengaarde and the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is not for you. Easily half of these shots were taken with my phone since I had a charged camera battery, but it was all the way back at my car and I wanted more time with the flowers, so I opted not to trudge all the way back.

I did put in a photo of my new hopping lederhosen from Archie McPhee at the very end if you want to skip ahead and see those instead of ll the flowers. They're pretty awesome.

Olympic Dash

When Jill came home, I took off for the Olympic Peninsula for a couple of nights. I had plans to revisit Hoh Rain Forest, but that never happened. I wandered around in my car, stopping to take photos, but not really committing to anything. It bothered me at first, but I realized I was on one of those strange vacations that happen right after I complete a house sit. With no one to care for but myself, I let life happen, but I don't try very hard to direct things.

I have what I think is a pretty unexceptional fear of not knowing how to do everything and looking stupid. I'm sure there are people out there who don't suffer from it, but in my experience, everyone has at least some version of it. It's a perfectionist thing, the Achilles heel of people like me. This trip is my recovery, in a way.

As I've gotten farther along the road, the trip itself is becoming my life and I find less and less reasons to have a case of jellylegs. Normally, I have low-level fear of things like going into a shop I've never been in before or trying a new restaurant - daily, simple, silly things. I've largely gotten past that out here in the world, where I have to just do things and not worry or run home with my tail between my legs. All that being said, I was a little surprised to be scared of driving my car onto a ferry. I wasn't scared of having my car on a boat over water, I was scared of picking the wrong lane at the ferry terminal and looking like an idiot in front of everyone. I kid you not.

I've been on ferries a ton of times and I love them. I had not, however, been the driver. I'm pretty sure that the combination of watching ferries move past Jill's house multiple times a day, walking almost to the terminal with Finn, and negotiating the long, impatient lines of commuters waiting to board every day fueled this completely irrational and weird response. It sounds ridiculous, and I felt ridiculous. After everything I've experienced, this is what freaks me out?

Suffice to say, I took a deep breath, drove up to one of the booths, paid for my ticket, and was directed to the right line. I followed directions and was on my merry way to Sequim. The next day, I hopped on another ferry to Anacortes and did it all again, barely making it because I'd neglected to make a reservation. What a colossal waste of energy all of that worry was! Still, it was a good reminder of how far I've come. I've been watching those little fears pop up ever since and they're practically non-existent again.

I drove all the way out to Neah Bay and Cape Flattery in one colossally long day, going up through the Olympic National Forest and coming back down along the water. Clouds were stuck in the tops of the trees, turning the water an icy blue-black. Logging trucks blazed past, impatient with my slow progress, grudgingly grateful when I pulled over to let them pass.

Port Townsend is jammed full of Victorian era homes and art galleries, and I'd love to go back and spend some quality time there some day. Many of the brick buildings on the main shopping street still have old, painted advertisements, which have been carefully preserved. The wind was blowing so hard that I couldn't see from all the tears in my eyes and my hair whipping around, but I found a good spot for breakfast and hunkered down for a while before walking around downtown.

Deception Pass Bridge was one of my favorite stops along the way. I spent an hour or so walking the length of it and wandering on some of the steep goat trails underneath. The water was so green that I couldn't stop staring at it, especially he way it contrasted with the purple-brown rocks and the evergreens clinging to every available surface. I have far more photos of the bridge and water than is necessary, but it felt magnetic and I finally had to back away slowly, remembering that I had places to be.

I slept like a rock for 3 nights, hours of walking lulling me to sleep early, the promise of a new place to explore each morning launching me out of bed more quickly than usual. Eventually, I started back toward Seattle, planning to stay with Jill for a night before making the big right hand turn toward home. First, though, I was most definitely making a stop in the Skagit Valley to see acres and acres of tulips.

Kubota Garden

The constant remaking of order out of chaos is what life is all about, even in the simplest domestic chores such as clearing the table and washing the dishes after a meal…but when it comes to the inner world, the world of feeling and thinking, many people leave the dishes unwashed for weeks so no wonder they feel ill and exhausted.
— May Sarton, Recovering
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Bridle Trails State Park

Seattle is a very cool city, but it's a complete pain in the neck to get anywhere because of the clover-leaf-inside-a-clover-leaf-under-constant-construction thing that seems to be an ongoing reality of life there. I didn't see half the things I planned to because I simply couldn't face more time in the car, but I did make it to Bridle Trails State Park for a long walk with Finnegan. It's cool and quiet, filled with moss, ferns, and tall trees. Everything is green and it wouldn't be strange to see a magical creature step out from between the trees. The paths are actually built for riding, so while there were some walkers, there were also a fair number of horses out for a ramble too.

Hometown Connection

One of the many things I'm doing to make this trip sustainable over several months is house sitting. I'm a member of a great international service, Trusted Housesitters, through which I can apply for jobs along my route. I've had an almost entirely positive experience, with just a couple of bumps along the way, and love to settle into a new place and get to know the area on a more personal level. 

While sitting on my childhood friend Kristi's couch in California, I applied for a 10-day job in Seattle. It turns out that the homeowner, Jill, grew up in the same small NH town as Kristi and me, though we had never met. Even more small-worldy, Kristi's dad built the house that Jill grew up in. 

I took care of Jill's dog Finnegan, a Labradoodle with an out-sized personality and off the charts levels of cuteness and sass, and 2 sweet cats, Pinto Bean and Pacha. Jill's tiny treasure chest of a house reflects her love of travel and indigenous craft. Perched right on the edge of Puget Sound, the murmur of rocks tumbling over and over lulled me to sleep every night. Located on a dead end street at the bottom of a twisty, steep street, the pace was a haven from the bustle of the city, a little bit of calm in a sea of people and constant traffic.

I ventured out on a few field trips of my own over the 10 days I spent in west Seattle, which I'll add as separate posts. There are a ton of things to see and do, and I didn't get anywhere near close to halfway done with my list.

Finn and I went out for a walk every morning and every afternoon, exploring the neighborhood or finding a local park. We hit a nearby dog park several times and Finn practiced swimming in the Sound, particularly useful on days when he found the dead rat that kept washing back onto shore [insert full body shudder here].

By the time Jill returned from her trip, we were well on the way to a solid friendship, something I never expected to come out of a house sit. I've realized more and more over these past few months that my wealth lies in the number of deep friendships I have with people all over the world. It's my very best collection and I'm lucky to have it.

Exploring Seattle

I spent an afternoon wandering around the Pioneer Square area, dodging drunk tourists playing football in traffic, and families with kids going in 42 directions. Not my kind of place to hang out generally, but I was searching for The Belfry, a shop I learned about via Atlas Obscura and didn't want to miss.

I wandered through a bunch of antique shops on the way (IMO, the best way for getting to know a place, aside form libraries and a local pub), and eventually found the store tucked on a quieter street. Victorian hair paintings, skulls and other bones, gorgeous vintage school posters, old photographs - this place is well worth a visit! 

I braved the tchotchke shops along the pier, walking as far as the Seattle Wheel before craving quiet, so I headed back to my little sanctuary on the Sound for a quiet afternoon of reading.

Seattle Touristing

At some point in my online rambling around, I noticed that tickets were on sale to see one of my favorite authors, Elizabeth Gilbert, speak in Seattle. Happily, the date coincided with my first night there, so after an early morning hug from Molly, I took my time getting ready and then headed toward Seattle.

I eventually found a parking spot in a tightly packed garage down the street from the theater and set off to kill several hours before the show. I hadn't explored Pike Place Market since I came for a visit when I was 15, so I spent a lot of time ogling flowers, watching other tourists, and browsing through little shops selling every tchotchke imaginable.

I found myself down the street from the market at Von's 1000 Spirits for a late lunch, where I ate what was quite possibly the best burger I've had on this whole trip - a Vietnamese style Banh Mi - that I have not stopped thinking about since. This place also includes an optional, additional 3% tip for the kitchen crew on their bill, which said a lot about how much this company values everyone who contributes there. 

I wandered more after lunch, popping into stores until I got too tired and overwhelmed by all the noise and people, so I headed up to my car for a PB&J dinner and a little nap. Refreshed, I made my way up the street to the gorgeous Moore Theater, and waited in a very long line to get a decent seat inside. I was early enough to find a good seat in the balcony with a clear view of the stage and spent the time before the show people watching and admiring the theater's intricate decoration.

I spent a day or two listening to Gilbert's Big Magic as I crossed from Arizona into California. She has a great reading voice; her personality really shines through. She is also a great speaker, both emotional and funny, with good timing and plenty of self-deprecation. I learned the important difference between chicken shit and chicken salad, and alternately cried, laughed, and cringed through a tale about a terrible lady parts injury brought on by a total lack of self-care and exhaustion during her mind-numbing book tour. 

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After the show I made my way out into the cool night and followed clusters of people down the hill to the parking garage, then made my way to my uncle's apartment for the night.

Museum of Glass

If you are in the Tacoma area, make sure you stop in at the Museum of Glass. There are a lot of things to see and it's a surprisingly good place to take kids.

I checked out Ispirazione: James Mongrain in the George R. Stroemple Collection, full of delicate, fanciful, sea-life inspired vessels, organized by color.

The hot shop is open to visitors (there's even a live feed on the website if you want to watch them in action). I sat behind a school group and listened as a guide talked about the process while a group of artisans worked on a piece by visiting artist Ginny Ruffner.

I spent quite a bit of time on the Bridge of Glass after eating a truly good lunch in the museum cafe. The bridge features work by Tacoma native, and renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly. I prefer Chihuly's sea forms to his flowers, and there were plenty to see in the ceiling of the Seaform Pavilion. I also especially liked the Crystal Towers, columns of blue glass chunks that anchor the bridge and are lit from below at night.

I wandered through Into the Deep and found a small exhibit of sculpture based on drawings by children in the hallway to the bathrooms.

The Art Deco Glass from the Huchthausen Collection was amazing, each vase or bowl more beautiful than the last.

After realizing that I had a solid case of museum fatigue, I crossed the bridge and poked around some of the downtown shops; Stocklist was my favorite!

Crashing in Tacoma

I added Tacoma to my list when my friend Molly invited me to stay with her while she visited the area for work. It's a quick trip from Portland, so I took back roads all the way, avoiding the rain-soaked highway. I stopped to see the World's Largest Egg in Winlock and the visitor center for Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. I watched a terrifying film about the 1980 eruption and was sort of glad that the rain and fog would keep me from visiting the mountain itself, just in case

Molly is the kind of person who not only doesn't bat an eyelash when you announce that you need to go for a long walk, she will walk you until your legs fall off. So, that's what we did. We were staying on the waterfront, right next to a wide path full of dogs and their people, bikers, kids, and runners (insane people). The sun was shining and it wasn't too cold (for me, anyway); it was good to be out in the air and moving again after a day in the car. 

The next morning I went into town and had a coffee, then wandered around the Old City Hall Historic District, ogling buildings and signs, walking down the Spanish Steps, and peering into shop windows. There weren't a lot of people out, but almost everyone I passed smiled or said good morning. It's a strange impression, but this town felt so clean to me. The sidewalks were wide and free of litter, everyone was so nice, and it all just had this freshly scrubbed feel that I can't exactly put my finger on. 

Tacoma is the hometown of Dale Chihuly, whose work I've been lucky to see in a few places during my travels. There's a glass museum across a pedestrian bridge that features a couple of Chihuly installations, but I'll get to that in another post. 

I went to Seattle with Molly to attend her work meeting. On the way to the venue a cab drove right up over one of those giant concrete balls, just like the ones in front of Target, and came right for us on the sidewalk. Thankfully, there was also a large concrete planter, which saved us from being squished. I'm sure Molly is still having flashbacks about nearly being run over. I was so wrapped up in puzzling over how the whole thing was possible - it was a Prius, for Pete's sake! - that I didn't feel afraid. 

I tend to become calmer as things around me escalate, but you'd think a car coming straight at me would invoke some sort of flight response. I'll just file that one away to mull over at a later date.

Walking Around the Whole World

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk around the whole world till we come back to the same place.
— G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

This adventure has brought me everything I could have hoped: new and restored friendships, the chance to explore places I've never seen, time to truly unravel, and a return to the best parts of the person I vaguely remember being before my life became completely crazy.

Along with all of that happiness, some of my old anxieties still lurk, waiting to be tackled. Chief among those worries is money, and checking my balance this morning brought it all to the surface. I feel apprehensive when my balance drops beneath a certain threshold. Before I left, I worried about whether I would ever find a job again, if I would be able to survive on my savings, and if my loosey-goosey way of handling money would sink me.

With 3 months to go, I am just fine. I have a solid Plan B (in place since well before I left), and it's really the thought of ever needing to use that plan that distresses me, not the current state of my bank account. Though I'm nowhere close to needing my Plan B, my nature is such that I quietly stew, sifting through the coulda/woulda/shoulda's, as though every decision I've made is reversible through sheer force of will. I haven't skimped on this trip - I haven't gone crazy either - and I'm happy about that. Still, I brood about such things.

A lot of people have asked me how this trip was possible financially, and it's something that's uncomfortable for me to talk about in detail, because money is not a thing I like to talk about, though I put a lot of mental energy into fussing about it privately. Over several years, every decision I made was run through a "some day I want to go on a very long trip" filter, somewhere off in the distant future. I chose a savings goal that reflected a salary from very early in my adulthood, and with which I managed significant debt and living expenses. I thought that if I could manage so many responsibilities on that amount of money, then surely I could manage to drive around the country on the same amount of money.

I worked hard to get out and stay out of debt, got rid of a house, lived in a smaller, less expensive place, and walked away from monthly expenses that weren't adding value to my life. With less and less going out the door, more and more went into my savings account. A few months before I left, I was extremely lucky to receive an unexpected small sum of money from a family member who passed away. Since it put me over the top of the goal I'd been striving toward for so long, it was enough to give me the boost of confidence I needed to walk away from a steady salary and good benefits. Still, that's one of the hardest, best things I've ever done.

For me, it's important to say out loud those things that worry or scare me in order to reduce their power and open my mind to perspective. As someone I deeply respect recently pointed out, sometimes it's important to "throw the book at it" when there's something bothering you. So, I got a book, but I'm also working through a lifetime worth of thoughts and feelings around money, spending my time walking in the woods, practicing yoga, and trying to be mindful when I open my wallet. It feels good to finally be tackling this part of my worry list. I knew it was coming since I pretty much forced the issue, but I also knew it would hit me at the right time, just when I was ready to handle it.

I'm slowly coming back to the same place after my walk around the world and I will never fit into the spot I left behind, for which I am deeply grateful.