“I haven’t gotten to bed at a reasonable hour in at least a week,” my sister, Lori, said, sliding into the driver’s seat of my car.
She pressed the “2” button on the armrest of my car door. After picking her up and explaining the floppiness of my sandals, she offered to drive the rest of the way to dinner where we were meeting a couple of friends.
My certified preowned Acura had proved worth its weight in gold over the past four years. Lori enjoyed the extra leg room her button press provided, using my car’s pre-programable driver’s seat position feature. It only allowed for two pre-programmed seat positions, and, well, I haven’t dated anyone in over two years shut up she was my number two.
Earlier in the week, one of Lori’s two indoor cats had taken off on an impromptu rumspringa, and between that, raising teenage twins, working as a 6th grade teacher, and recently cutting sugar from her diet, things were looking bleak.
“Well…I still don’t have anything to blog about for tomorrow…,” I offered meekly. “I was thinking about doing something about gratitude… Mostly since Grayson [your spoiled, jerk, OMG-I-love-him-so-much cat] is back!”
I’ve been thinking a lot about all that I’m thankful for because many of those things I’m about to leave behind. I haven’t made any splashy announcements, but in two weeks, I leave the only state I’ve ever really called home.
At first, signing a lease on an apartment 3,000 miles away felt amazing. I knew that feeling wouldn’t last. Because I love my life. I love my friends. I love my family. I love stupid New Jersey property taxes and stupid good bagels and the stupid feeling that I’m only ever seconds away from SOMETHING.
Yet at the same time I know -in that way you just DO- that moving cross-country is perfectly, exactly right. Goodbye a-hole adorable cats, goodbye #2 seat, goodbye everything bagels.
…Then when I get home I still have to write a blog post. Ugh. I have nothing to write about. …Is that a rain drop? Not again…
I spotted a worn down gravel path veering away from the main road. What the…? I hadn’t been on this particular road in years, but certainly this path had always been there. It seemed to wind through someone’s front yard, yet was clearly meant for foot traffic. Stepping onto it cautiously, Uncle Jesse and I soon turned a corner and faced a sweet little covered bridge, connecting the gravel path to a cul-de-sac.
Once again dazzled by the treasures my long walks often gifted me, I stopped to snap a couple of pictures and investigate a nest tucked into one of the supporting beams. This little bridge would ensure that I stayed on safe sidewalks for the next mile or so.
“Worrying is like playing the slots every day,” Gay Hendricks, author of The Big Leap, continued. “Or worrying about the stock market crashing. Eventually, you’ll ‘win’ big. You’ll be right.”
Hendricks described the difference between worrying about things you can actually control -like someone who’s stepping on your foot- versus things you can’t. Most of the things we worry about, he said, are entirely outside of our control – because we make them up (what Brene Brown calls “rehearsing tragedy”). We imagine things going wrong because we all hit a certain happiness level and then subconsciously sabotage ourselves. Something inside of us -picked up from our early years, like most things- believes we’re only allowed a limited level of joy and success. How many times have you felt the high of a healthy lifestyle, only to gorge on potstickers and late-night Fuller House episodes (…just me)?
I thought about how I’d spent the past two months since leaving my full-time job: Ensconced in utter freedom, with plenty of money saved to travel, relax and enjoy my favorite things and people.
But what did I mostly do?
How long will my savings really last? What will I do after that? Where am I going to live? What if I’m alone for the rest of my life? What if I wind up right back where I started? Why am I so lazy?
I recalled countless moments where I’d caught myself having imaginary conversations that ended with me feeling angry, defeated, ‘less than’ or all of the above. When I downloaded this latest audiobook, I knew I needed to revisit some of the lessons I’d learned over the past few years. Gratitude. Visualization. Breathing.
It wasn’t hard to think of a million and one reasons to thank my lucky stars. Heck, just thinking of my Netflix queue brought a tear to my eye. The much harder part was believing I was worthy of this delicious slice of life. Was I doing my part for the planet, for society? Was it actually okay to quit a steady job, uproot my entire life, and hike every day? Was I leveraging my gifts and talents in a meaningful way? What I was really asking, of course, was, “Am I good enough?”
I stared at the little red covered bridge a while longer, remembering all of the bridges that had appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, over the past year. Some literal, some not. Certainly if those bridges could talk, they would have said:
Of course we’re all good enough. Why else are we here? As one of my very favorite passages goes, from Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, “We did not come all this great distance, and make all this great effort, only to miss the party at the last moment.”
In between seeing fantastic local musicians, we subjected her three-legged, one-eyed dog to all kinds of unbidden “fun”…
…saw the sights…
…ate so much plant-based foodie goodness…
…and of course, went on oodles of hikes.
The best part of the Duluth Homegrown Festival -a 20 year-strong, nonprofit tradition that features local musicians performing all over town for an entire week- was the close-knit community vibe. For eight straight days, like-minded music lovers united to support their fellow Duluthians, shouting, “Happy Homegrown!” and sharing smiles at every turn.
Besides the bargain booze, highlights included:
And now I’m back in New Jersey.
I may have just signed a year-long lease on an apartment in a city 3,000 miles away that I’ve never been to.
Hi there! …What’s that? Why are my eyes so bloodshot? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m fully committed to the fine art of weekly blogging. I definitely planned ahead for this one. It’s gonna be a good one. Hoo boy.
…Are you ready? Today’s post is called, “Caption This!” I came up with it all on my own. Here’s how it works. …Are you sure you’re ready?
I’m gonna post a bunch of pictures that may or may not be from last night’s 37th 25th birthday celebration -and- (oh my God this is so exciting) YOU GET TO CAPTION THE PHOTOS YOURSELF.
It sounds like a dream come true, right? Freedom, adventure, new friends… What could go wrong?
Unlimited Cell Service? Psssshhh.
After discovering that the middle of Maine was a dead zone (at least for me), I took to hand writing my directions before entering unknown territory. Luckily, the impressively eclectic radio stations provided the perfect soundtrack for my 90s-style, Google maps-less travel. (Rant for another day: Why does New York City radio have the most monochromatic music on the face of the planet?)
“Fully Equipped Kitchen” Means Very Different Things to Different People
If you’re planning to do any cooking on the road, and assuming your lodging (mostly AirBnbs, in my case) will come equipped with certain basics as described — think again. Here are some common items missing in one or all of my AirBnb kitchens: Ice cube trays, wine opener, strainer (colander), dishwasher soap/cleaner, pot large enough for boiling pasta, curtains (ahem), and spatula.
You’re Going to Spend More Money Than You Think You Are
As a [former] project manager, I’m ashamed to admit that I didn’t fully acknowledge the ‘over deadline, over budget’ mantra that accompanies so many projects – including road trip ones. Besides ALL THE GASOLINE, unplanned expenditures are bound to crop up almost daily. Like, oh, I don’t know, duty charges on your case of wine, forgetting your dog’s kibble and discovering he’ll accept no substitutions apart from homemade people food, and ice cube trays/spatulas/THINGS ANY NORMAL KITCHEN SHOULD HAVE.
But lest you think road travel is all a pile of tears…
Most People Are Mostly Nice. Really Nice.
By far the best part of traveling alone is forcing yourself to rely on the kindness of others. Rarely did I find anyone who wasn’t more than willing to offer the insider scoop, their washer/dryer, or just a general helping hand. I’m headed back to New Jersey with friendships and experiences I never would have had were I to stay inside my comfort zone.
And isn’t that the whole point?
Next time, though? I’m bringing my $%&*@! colander.
Have you ever road tripped? Was it what you expected?
“Hello. Bonjour,” a baby-faced, tow-haired man greeted, nodding curtly at me.
“Hello,” I answered to indicate that, while I was in fact learning French, I didn’t think ‘Where is the bathroom?’ and ‘My dog is beautiful and intelligent’ would be particularly helpful in this moment.
“Do you have any weapons, firearms, commercial goods?” he asked.
“No,” I replied easily, my hands resting on my steering wheel.
“Yes, a case of wine.”
“I’m saw-ry, how much?”
I gulped. “A case…?”
“How many baw-tles is that?”
“Twelve. Well, eleven. I drank one last night.”
He raised his eyebrows and looked at the officer in the booth behind him. They began having a hushed conversation. He turned back to me, looking like he was trying not to smile.
“Are you planning to leave them all in Canada?”
“That was the plan,” I said, smiling nervously.
“Why do you have so much wine?”
You don’t get out of this booth much, do you, sir?
“Well, I’m visiting a friend and I thought I should be a good guest and not show up empty-handed… She’s having friends over this weekend to welcome me…”
I wasn’t entirely sure if this was true, but it could be true.
“The first two bottles are free, but you’re going to have to pay a duty charge on the others. You can decide if it’s worth it to keep them. Just pull to the left and go inside.”
$61.90 ($46.30 USD) later, I was back on the road to Nova Scotia, my bubbly safely nestled in my trunk where it belonged. What’s more, my cell service was as bright-eyed and bushy tailed as the border patrol officer (unlike during my most recent adventure…). Things were looking good.
When I hit the small university town of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, nestled an hour northwest of Halifax, I easily navigated the two blocks to my AirBnB apartment. As I was about to pull up the steep driveway, I saw a college-aged woman coming down the sidewalk. I paused to let her pass, but instead she knelt down at the corner of the driveway. My gaze followed her reach and I soon realized she was picking up a large branch that was lying in my path. She moved it aside and grinned at me.
It took me a moment to realize that she was not only offering roadside clean-up, but also allowing me, the non-pedestrian, to pass in front of her.
Oh holy cannolis. I am not in Jersey anymore.
As soon as I unpacked, I checked my phone.
“I can pop over in a little bit to say hi and we can make a plan for tomorrow, if that works!” my most recent text read.
After years of communicating through our blogs and joking-but-not-really about me visiting, I was finally within a few short miles kilometers of one of my oldest bloggy friends, Sandy from Sandy the Social Butterfly. We’d never video chatted or talked on the phone, but I wasn’t worried. Over the years I’d had nothing but sparkly experiences meeting other bloggers in person.
Thoughtsy and Go Jules Go.
Sandy arrived a few minutes later and immediately gifted me a bottle of her favorite Nova Scotian wine. Her stunning bright blue eyes sparkled and she was dressed to kill. Meanwhile, I was covered in 10+ hours of car funk and not sure if I’d remembered deodorant.
“I didn’t realize you’d be so tall!” she said.
And I’m only in sneakers, I thought. I didn’t miss my heels, which I’d left back in New Jersey, knowing my 3+ weeks in Maine and Canada wouldn’t call for them.
We gabbed enthusiastically before heading a few blocks downtown for a glass of wine, quickly falling into conversation like old friends. The waiter took our photo and made sure we’d promise to tell him if he should take another one.
“Canadians are so nice it almost makes me uncomfortable,” I confessed to Sandy.
Over the next few days, Sandy showed me around town, took me to wineries, kicked my ass in her boot camp class, arranged a gorgeous hike, and introduced me to her friends. (Too bad they were real bitches.)
P.S. – Even the dogs in Canada are nicer.
How does it feel when you travel? Do the people start getting nicer…or not?
I know this because, despite being a New Jersey native, I’m spending most of April in one of my favorite states.
I can do this because I quit my job and now my life is filled with rampant lawlessness.
When I arrived in rural Maine, intending to volunteer on a friend’s farm sanctuary for two weeks, I didn’t immediately realize my cell signal had given out. A half hour earlier.
I diligently followed my friend’s instructions to “look for the next driveway after the sanctuary’s entrance,” where my cabin was located. Instead I saw train tracks and a sign that read, “Pavement ends.”
Being from what you might call a New York City suburb, I interpreted that to mean, “TURN YOUR CAKE ASS AROUND, JERSEY.” I did so happily, heading back towards the sanctuary’s driveway instead.
“Mud season” wasn’t just a cute saying. My non-all wheel drive sedan squealed for mercy as I attempted to haul her up the hill.
“Oh my GAWD are you f*@#&$ kidding me?” I imagined her saying. “I am sooooo going to need a pedicure after this.”
I had gotten AAA before the trip, though, and felt cavalier mildly confident. (Until later, when I realized I wouldn’t have even been able to call AAA if I HAD gotten stuck.)
Once I made it to the sanctuary, the owner looked confused. I explained that I couldn’t find the cabin. Apparently I was supposed to charge past the “Pavement ends” warning and go another mile or so to “the next driveway.” I felt silly explaining that in Jersey terms, “the next driveway” is usually measured in feet. Sometimes inches. I kept quiet and accepted her gracious offer to lead me there – something I knew she didn’t have time for.
Running a farm sanctuary is No. Joke.
“Thank you so much. Just a warning that I’m going to keep a safe distance from you going downhill.”
She smiled knowingly, casting a glance at my mud-spattered pansy car.
We soon reached the small cabin, which was clean and well lit, warm from gas heat and equipped with the basics. Except internet. Which, I quickly began to realize, was going to throw a wrench into this whoooole plan. I checked my phone; still no service whatsoever.
“This mayyyy be a problem,” I said, feeling the panic start to rise in my throat, the extent of my remote location settling in.
Let me just text… No.
Let me just look up the nearest… No.
Let me just check the weather for tomorrow and… No.
I waited until she left to execute what would come to be the first of many, many strategies to try to make the next couple of weeks work out.
I’m just going to drive towards a town, and see when my service picks up. I didn’t even bother unpacking, just loaded Uncle Jesse (the dog) back in the car. As I made the first turn, my stomach flip-flopped, trying to memorize my surroundings. Holy god I miss Google maps. The sun would set in less than an hour, so after just a few minutes, I decided to give up and turn around in a church parking lot. The last thing I wanted to do was make the situation worse by getting lost.
As I did a U-turn, I noticed the church’s sign.
I decided to go back to the sanctuary -walking from the bottom of the driveway this time- and borrow someone’s phone to let my family know I had arrived safely. A volunteer was sorting vegetables and happy to offer her phone, so after I successfully texted Babs (mom), I helped sort produce for the next couple of hours, chatting and feeding Uncle Jesse stray bits of cauliflower.
Thankfully, my phone still worked as a flashlight, and we made it back to the car and our cabin. It was pitch black. As I unpacked the car, I caught a glimpse of the stars twinkling brightly – the way they only could when not overpowered by street lamps and cramped houses. I stood still, and for the first time in hours, took a deep breath.
Maybe this will all work out…
I finished unpacking, popped some potatoes in the little oven for Uncle Jesse, and cracked open a bottle of wine, deciding to make the most of my off-grid night. I’d sort out my phone issues in the morning.
Fast forward two days, and my phone -even with a new, more expensive carrier- still wasn’t working. Nor were my pseudo, DSW-purchased “muck boots,” which I managed to puncture by repeatedly tripping on a sharp rock while cleaning the rabbit houses.
Every two minutes, I thought of some reason I needed to use my phone, or get online. Upcoming bills I had to pay, friends with momentous events I had planned to check in on, ASMR videos on YouTube I needed to watch, travel plans I’d yet to make…
Shame washed over me in endless, sickening waves. I am so fu@*#^% soft. Here I thought, with my tiny living and frugal spending, I’d become so flexible! So strong! So adaptable! But 48 hours without a phone broke me, and after Sunday’s full work day, I fled back to my comfort zone, checking into a pet-friendly motel 90 minutes south, in one of my favorite parts of Maine.
“Does the dial go all the way up to ‘donkey’?” I asked Darla when I stopped by the next day to do laundry.
How would you fare if you were unexpectedly off-grid?