I stood in the mirror, turning my head to the right just slightly.
The side of my nose bore a small mark where a metal stud had just been. During a particularly enthusiastic nose blowing session, it had fallen loose. I’d gotten the new facial bedazzlement (…what? It’s a word) just five months earlier.
Now, happily settled in Oregon, 3,000 miles from my New Jersey hometown, I reconsidered my reflection. As tiny as it was, the nose stud had been a booming echo of my inner state. It had symbolized the version of myself I’d tried so hard to hide – or at the very least, keep subdued. The independent thinking, rebellious, stubborn adventurer.
When I had first gotten the piercing and had looked in the mirror, I had nearly cried.
Five months later, I turned my head back and forth once more, staring at my bare nose, remembering the panic I’d felt in April, while roadtripping in Canada.
“I took my nose ring out to clean it and I can’t get it back in!” I had frantically texted to my friend, Sandy.
“I hate to break it to you, Jules,” she had immediately replied. “But you’re just going to have to shove it in.”
After a tearful 30 minutes in the bathroom, I’d finally gotten the nose ring back in place. I’d taken a few deep breaths, attached to this ‘other’ thing that I had been sure was a critical part of The Real Me.
I stared at my naked face, hit by the exact same thought as when I’d first gotten the piercing.
I didn’t need it anymore, I suddenly realized. I didn’t need an outward symbol to acknowledge my newfound badassery. I was an independent thinking, rebellious, stubborn adventurer. No piece of jewelry could outshine my current lifestyle. My day to day choices, at long last, represented the authentic me.
…Or maybe I’m just really fickle.
How do you (or have you) express(ed) the ‘real’ you?
Chelsea, my friend and better half of the duo behind Traipsing About, was explaining the key to forming and sustaining friendship.
“You and Dakota are the ultimate Friend Makers,” I gushed, thinking about their impressive social circle. Somehow they managed to make everyone feel included and important. Their seemingly natural ability to link people together based on common interests was truly a thing of beauty.
“If you meet someone for the first time and want to build a friendship, you have to take the initiative and reach out,” Chelsea went on.
“That makes total sense,” I nodded. “I’m still afraid to send people Facebook friend requests for fear of rejection, and I feel the same way about being the first one to reach out. I wonder if that’s what holds other people back, too…”
I thought about my move to central Oregon (from New Jersey) a little over a month ago. I landed here with a few built-in buddies, including Chelsea and Dakota, which gave me a definite advantage in the Friend Game, but how was I going to reach that deep, comfortable, Real Deal Friend Zone with people I had yet to meet? It seemed almost impossible.
“Follow through is the number one thing people miss,” Chelsea’s words echoed in my ears even weeks later. “And why everyone thinks it’s so hard to make new friends as an adult. That’s really all it takes.”
I realized earlier this week that I’d been hiking every day and it had never occurred to me to invite other people. “No one cares about doing this,” I told myself.
Really, though, I was just scared. Childhood bullying and a few failed friendships haunted me. The same tape I replayed in my mind when it came to dating wound ’round and ’round.
It’s SO hard to click with someone… Even if things go well this first time, what happens next? …If I look or act a certain way, they won’t like me…No one wants to spend that much time with me… And my #1 go to: S/He has so many other people who are cooler to hang out with…
Every fear of failure and rejection I’ve ever had has danced through my mind during these last few weeks of whirlwind change. The fact that I feel happier and more alive, too, has me wondering if the two just naturally go hand in hand.
Nevertheless, after 2+ years on the No Dating bandwagon, the temptation to peek at what was out there, 3,000 miles from the men with whom I’d repeatedly failed (please refer to links 1 to 1,373 listed above), proved too much to resist.
“All riiiiiight,” I groaned on the phone to my friend, Shawna. “I’ll try Bumble. AGAIN.”
And thus, with a trembling index finger, I downloaded a dreaded dating app on my hitherto untainted phone.
This time, though, I decided I’d cut right to the chase. “If you want to meet for coffee or beer sometime, let me know!” my initial messages read. (In the Bumble world, the women always make the first move.)
If the Bend, Oregon Bumble selection were an ocean filled with fish… No. I can’t even finish that metaphor. Because we are not talking “ocean.” We are talking lake. No. Still not right. Pond. Teeny, tiny pond.
I didn’t have a lot of time to dive in because almost as soon as I got to Oregon, I was off to Boot Camp. I returned to a message from “Dave” that made me laugh. (And if there’s one thing I promised myself, were I to ever dip a toe in the treacherous dating waters again, it was: He gots to bring it with the ha-ha’s.)
I can’t do this. I can’t do this. I scrolled through his photos again. F my life. I read his message again. I laughed again. OKAY FINE.
Two days later, I pulled into a brewery parking lot right on time and saw a guy leaning on the fence. That might be him…
I sent a text, “Just got here!”
The guy in question looked down at his phone, so I hopped out of my car and walked over with a wide smile and outstretched hand. Something immediately felt off, but I followed him inside.
“I’m excited to try this place!” I offered.
“Yeah yeah yeah, they have some good stuff! I always get the Sweet Ass.”
I snorted, spotting a sign that read, “Sweet As! Pacific Ale.”
He talked quickly and didn’t make eye contact, but offered to buy my beer. We were well within the happy hour timeframe, so I thanked him and we took our selections outside, where there was an impressively grassy outdoor area and live music revving up.
“Yeah so you just moved here, huh? Yeah?” he said as we sat down.
I eyed him closely. Coke. It’s gotta be coke. Or is he just that nervous?! The next two hours were filled with frenetic conversation, me asking question after question. He talked about his Aunt. A lot. And a former tenant of his garage apartment.
“Wow, so the guy just left after that?!” I asked.
“Let me finish the story!” he said in a tone so scathing I put a hand to my heart.
“I’m so sorry!” I gasped, completely thrown.
“No worries,” he gulped his beer and carried on.
When the two hour Suffer Fest was over, I pulled into my driveway, debating whether or not I should try to still salvage the night. Just then, someone came running up from the house next door, bouncing around the side of my car until she could give me a hug.
No matter! I’ve still got eight hours of daylight left here in beautiful central Oregon!
I checked Google maps and my guidebook. Gack. Seven miles too far. I turned the car around.
When I eventually pulled into my target destination, the Green Lakes trailhead parking lot off of the Cascade Lakes Scenic Byway, I inspected the tags hanging from other cars’ rearview mirrors.
That kid at R.E.I. better have sold me the right one.
On top of the colorful car tags, I also spotted a lot of these:
The trailhead parking lot was nearly full, but I found an empty spot – thanks to someone who probably started their day before noon unlike some jobless hobos. I filled out a “day use voucher” (a.k.a. Evidence I Was Here Should Things Go Horribly, Horribly Awry), stuck one half in the slot beneath the signage and the other half in my backpack.
The first five miles to Green Lakes, though mostly uphill, were breathtakingly scenic and only slightly buggy, with a well-marked, moderately trafficked trail.
By the time Uncle Jesse and I hit the lake and stopped to enjoy some peanuts and cherries, we were feeling bold.
“Once you’ve taken in the glory of the area, continue along the shoreline toward the east, where you’ll wrap slightly around the lake before noticing a number of side trails…” my trusty new guidebook read.
That sounds…confusing. I shook off any niggling doubts and headed east. At least, I was pretty sure it was east. Soon I found what was certainly the proper path. I persisted onward, but the lingering snow made it almost impossible to tell if I was still on a trail, let alone the right trail. I wonder what cougar tracks look like…
Every now and then we’d hit an open area and I’d gaze around hopefully. There is seriously no trail. Uncle Jesse and I bushwhacked for another seemingly endless stretch before I finally gave up. That’s it. Broken Top [mountain] is behind me, that means the water is in front of me. We’re going west (f%@&, it’s west, right?) until we hit the damn water.
The next thirty minutes felt like twelve hours, until at long last, I heard the familiar sound of rushing water.
I spotted people on a wide, luxurious trail…on the other side of the creek. F%#&. We walked south along the water’s edge, constantly being forced back uphill to more level ground, stomping over fallen trees and coarse, woody debris. In spots where it might have been safe, if highly unpleasant, to cross, the bank on the other side was so steep, we’d never make it up to the trail.
Eventually I succumbed to our less than ideal Fate. Uncle Jesse, always eager to show off, sensed my resignation and bounded towards the water.
“WAIT,” I said in my sternest Mom voice. “COME.” The water was rushing with the force of Donald Trump’s combover. Uncle Jesse stopped in his tracks, just inches from the crashing falls, and ran towards me.
I said a prayer and put both feet in. It was deeper than I thought, almost thigh-high. Okay. This is fine. It’s not so bad.
Uncle Jesse followed and immediately got scooped up by the raging current. I grabbed his collar, shocked by the water’s might. This won’t work. With not a second to spare, I gathered him in my arms, above the roaring waves, struggling to keep my balance. I made it nearly to the other side when my shin collided with something hard. A rock? A log? Holy s&#% it’s cold!
Uncle Jesse sprung out of my arms, and after a heart-attack inducing second or two, scrambled onto solid ground and up a steep hill. One more step, two, three… my head spun and my heart pounded. There. I clung to soil and suddenly realized my phone -secured in a race belt (all right, fanny pack) around my waist- had been completely submerged.
I freed it from its pouch as I crawled uphill, utterly amazed by my own stupidity.
When I made it to the top, finally back on the proper trail, I looked for a place to sit down. I sucked in a few deep breaths, adrenaline coursing through my veins. You’re lucky no one is here to witness your fool self.
I decided to keep walking, glancing down at the rushing rapids. If I hadn’t caught Uncle Jesse… I tried not to think about what might have happened; the next half mile was even more treacherous than where we’d crossed.
We trudged the final, endless mile back to the car, swatting away hundreds of blood thirsty mosquitos, the pain in my left leg growing.
107…108…I did not know it was possible to sustain this many mosquito bites
and live to tell about it.
When we reached the parking lot, I peeled off my soaked, mud-covered socks and collapsed in the driver’s seat. Thirty minutes later, a dripping wet, bug-bitten, bleeding blonde could be seen purchasing several bottles of wine from the local Fred Meyer.
“Just past the two topless women circling the labyrinth…”
I sat in a large Adirondack chair, my chin tilted skyward. It was only 70 degrees, but the sun was determined to make an impression and I took full advantage.
“…Keep going until you hit the river, then turn left….”
I flexed my feet in the sandy grass, my calve muscles twinging.
“Still with me? Okay, now keeping going until you see a yurt on your left. HI!”
I snorted, entertaining myself by imagining how I’d describe my location to friends back in New Jersey. Fleshy, human-shaped blurs passed in my peripheral vision every 10-15 seconds. Hey! Maybe my Duolingo app works off-grid…
Don’t get me wrong. I know how to chill.
But there was a lot going on here.
Never heard of it? Allow me. Breitenbush Hot Springs is a place in the middle of the Oregon woods where people go when they decide they’ve had far too much caffeine and/or clothing.
“I help coach a running and yoga retreat [there] in June! It’s right up your alley! As ‘Oregon’ as it gets! Blog fodder for days!” The Byronic Man, my oldest bloggy friend, marketed it to me late last year.
That’s right. The Byronic Man! After eight years, we decided to meet in person for the first time under the most mundane circumstances imaginable.
When the running-yoga-hot-springs-retreat topic was broached, I was prettttty sure I was calling Byronic Man’s bluff by saying, “I’m in!”
“The hot springs are ‘clothing optional,’ so we’ll be going from 0 to 60 in the getting to know you department,” he cautioned.
“Sounds like I can pack light!” I replied. “Just promise to ship my ashes back to New Jersey if there’s another cougar this year.”
It was on. I was brave now, after all. I did things like quit my job and sell all of my stuff. In fact, by the time I got to Breitenbush, I was already moved out of New Jersey and unpacked at my new apartment in Bend, Oregon – a plan that magically came together just before this intriguing hot springs retreat.
So, three days in the middle of the woods filled with nudity, shared showers, running uphill in front of strangers, and no cell service, wine or caffeine? BRING IT.
After descending a long (and I mean long) gravel driveway that gave me Maine road trip flashbacks, I checked into my Breitenbush cabin, heart in my throat. Thankfully, The Byronic Man and I had had an opportunity to meet for a beer just before the retreat, so that left only 10,327 things to worry about.
The first evening kicked off with an “easy” 3-mile run.
I approached the group -ultimately 13 women and 4 men- with a big smile, hoping to make some new friends.
And you know what?
I TOTALLY DID.
I fully intended to turn this experience into a fabulous, ongoing series about how awkward and awful the whole thing was, but… it was… kinda… AWESOME. I mean, I was the only person there who wore a bathing suit, and I’m pretty sure the retreat coach has several videos of me running uphill, but… I LIKED IT. No wine or cell service in 72 hours and I’D GO BACK.
And I’m not just saying that because I lost five pounds.
I’m really sorry. I’m disappointed for both of us. But hey! I’m sure I’ll be mortified again soon!
And the winner of THE WORLD’S BEST BEER KOOZIE AND DECK OF CARDS IS…
The minivan was packed. Travel games galore were in easy reach of our 10, 8 & 4 year old boys. My meticulously planned itinerary was a glance away as we began our 3,000 mile, 55+ hour adventure from San Diego, CA to see my sister in Seattle, WA…”
“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.
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.