Everything Is As It Should Be

What is my life?

This is the question buzzing around my head.

Resurfacing when I lay in bed at night trying to wrap my mind around the events of the last few months.

The incredulous exclamation whispered with a laugh as I try to prepare for the upcoming ones.

A genuinely baffled and utterly delighted curiosity towards this whirlwind of a story unfolding.

Allie Illuminated | danner boots

A quick recap for those at home:

  • Last September, I left everything familiar and certain to travel around the west coast. I always knew the very next step, but plans or visions of any bigger picture were fuzzy at best. Eight months of adventure, discovering new friends and the hidden treasures of the Pacific coastal towns, all while launching a freelance writing business from scratch. The immensity of all that happened within me during this solitude and unprecedented independence is still hard to wrap my mind around.
  • In moments yet too fragile to put into words, I explored the outer regions of myself. It was a most beautiful emptiness, but the season of solitude seemed done around March. I wanted to keep traveling for a bit, but to adventure towards or with people who knew me well. So when an opportunity to stay with a dear friend in Australia presented itself, this nonsensical adventure made all of the sense in my soul. Which is why I booked a two-month flight to Brisbane, that leaves on Tuesday.
  • So in the last few weeks of being alone in the remote parts of Northern California, I stumbled into a plot twist. An unexpected, nearly unbelievable but ironically perfect gift. I met someone. I met a California mountain man,  to be more specific. With a depth of kindness that takes my breath away and an adventurous soul that feels like home. And, dear reader, this is very new. A story that is still just his and mine, and one that I’m not ready to share in this context. But a beautiful game-changer, with a weightiness impossible to ignore.

Endings and beginnings. Leaving and arriving, only to leave again. It’s as if I’m sitting at a train station. Just returned from this immense journey that changed me in ways I’ll still be discovering for years, and about to embark on another adventure of epic proportions. The whir of trains leaving, seasons ending, and the rush of anticipation, announcements, and countdowns to leaving has me feeling swept up and thunderstruck.

In the now rare moments of quiet, I poke around in the giddy jumbled pile of my thoughts and emotions. And I think “What is my life? How did this happen?!”

Fear disguised as wisdom would have me bridle my joy, hold back my happiness, guard against some future hurt. Worrying and playing out worst-case scenarios feel like the prudent things to do.

But I’ve lived enough life to know those tactics for what they are—feeble grasps at control rooted in mistrust. And regardless of the outcome, the times I’ve dared to be happy and chosen to enter into the moment have never ended in regret.

This time around, though, I’m feeling more able to dismiss the anxious thoughts. I’ve been trying on the thought “Everything is exactly as it should be.”

Months of healing solitude has produced a deeper sense of confidence in me. The nearly daily practice of stepping into the unknown has fortified my ability to trust. And the help of a dear friend and mentor, Julie has cultivated new and healthy thought patterns. I’m finding it possible to really believe in abundance and to recognize thoughts of scarcity as fear-based lies.

How do I know that my solo adventure on the west coast was the right thing for me to do?

Because that’s what I did.

How do I know that Australia will be Good for me?

Because I’m going.

How do I know all the moving pieces and sometimes overwhelming immensity of it all is supposed to be happening?

Because it is.

How do I trust that this story I’m in the midst of is the right one?

Because the One writing this story is trustworthy and Good. 

Tempting though it is to try and figure how all of this is going to play out, I want so much to be in this present moment. To not miss a thing. What’s happening has left me incredulous, but the story I’m in the midst of is so riveting.

At this train station, crowded with familiar faces of people who know me or knew me, as I share bits of past or upcoming travels, they say with eyebrows raised “I am excited to see what happens next!”

It’s all I can do to giggle and reply, “I know! Me too.”

Hindsight Revelations at the End of a Journey

It was 2015, and I was in the Chicago airport. On my way to Northern Ireland, the thrilling hum of upcoming adventure hovered just below the surface. It spilled over into conversations with strangers, impatient for them to ask me where I was headed.

Allie Illuminated | airport

A middle-aged lady sat next to me at the charging station, and a question about whether she could plug in her phone led to an easy dialog of conversation. When I mentioned my upcoming international adventure, she lit up, recognizing a kindred spirit. Over the shuffle of passengers and flight announcements, she shared stories of her international travels. Of how she’d spent a majority of her twenties traversing the globe, working odd jobs to fund her wanderlust along the way.

“I think everyone should take some time to travel!” she said, eyes fervent. “I’m so glad I did. It made me who I am today. It made me a better wife, a better mother, a more happy person.”

Her reasons resonated, but I was intrigued. “Tell me more about that. What do you mean?”

She considered for a second, then said “I mean that it shaped the way I see the world in only a way that immersing yourself in somewhere completely different than everything familiar can. I had a longing for adventure, to see the world, and it was important enough to me to honor that longing. So when I did meet my now husband, I was ready to start the adventure of being married to him. I’ve never had to live with the regret of wondering ‘what if’ as I raised my children. The way I live in the world, the way I engage in my community, the choices I make are deeply shaped by that time I took to travel.”

This is why I love talking to strangers. I soaked her words up in that airport terminal, reveling in her story. Acknowledging that her story won’t be mine, but noticing the way my heart was resonating, connecting with the desires she was articulating. 

I thought about her words as I laid in my tent last week, on the last night of my solo trip. Listening to the night sounds of this small town in central Colorado, her words echoed with the hindsight revelation of foreshadowing. My heart felt the truth of her observations as I tried to wrap my mind around the west-coast solo-adventure that was now coming to a close.

Allie Illuminated | tent

I don’t quite know in what ways, but I know I’m returning changed. I’m braver—more comfortable in my own skin. From near constant necessity, I’m more able to step out into the unknown. More willing to be surprised. I have felt an expanding, a blossoming of my soul in openness to others and a gentleness towards myself. I the outer edges of my solitude, I became more fully me.

I could measure it by the 241 days I was gone or the 13,471 miles I drove. But quantifying these last 8 months feels inadequate. Even after a week of being back at my parent’s house, around the now novel familiarity, I get the sense I haven’t even scratched the surface of processing the impacts of this journey. I will be marveling at the weight of this thing that just happened to me for awhile.

Allie Illuminated | Zion

In my tent, alone for one more night, I clicked on my headlamp and looked back at the journal I’d been writing in throughout this trip. I smiled and shook my head at my raw unfiltered thoughts scrawled out in early mornings with a cup of coffee. The scrappy plans and lists of places to see.

A single tear slid down my temple as I reread the mini-epiphanies and articulated tensions, remembering the mystery and the ache and the contented joy that blossomed out there on the Pacific coast.

Fort Bragg and the Art of Reinvention

This past week, I’ve been exploring the town of Fort Bragg, California. This sleepy blue-collar town on the Mendocino coast is a hipster’s paradise. Right along Highway One, Fort Bragg is bordered by Pacific coastlines to the west and lush Redwood Forests to the east. Secluded as it is, the town is populated by funky local shops and surprisingly excellent breweries. And don’t get me started on the locals. The quirky, lovable characters that live there only add to the charm that feels more like the set of some indie film than real life.

rough-barAnd do you want to know how I ended up here? (I have had to ask myself that question every day this week.) On a whim, I called up the innkeeper of the Grey Whale Inn and asked if I could help him update his website in exchange for free accommodations. And he went for it! This historic redwood building used to be the town hospital, but is now a quirky 13 room hotel, complete with wallpapered rooms, sweeping views of the coastline, and a dying cat named Sweet Pea. A plucky moment of asking for what I wanted led to this whimsical week of exploring a coastal town and listening to the story of this off-the-beaten-path town.

img_2120Fort Bragg is a city in the process of reinventing themselves. See, for decades, a huge corporate lumber mill generated the economy and culture of this blue collar town. When the mill closed down in 2002, they had an identity crisis of sorts, trying to figure out a post-industrial life in a changing world. It was like the townspeople looked up for the first time and saw the beauty of the coastline that the mill had been blocking. They saw the elegance of the Redwood forests they had been cutting down for decades. They saw the potential for what their city could be, surrounded by so much beauty. They started asking the questions and thinking about what the next chapter in their story could be.

A little over a decade later, the conversation is still going on, and change is gradual, but as a visitor passing through this town, the metaphor of redemption is so rich. All around me, I saw the potential of this sleepy town that’s starting to wake up.

trestle-bridgeAnd what a beautiful place to find myself, in the midst of my own reinvention. I can resonate with some of the locals, fearful of the changes and wanting life to be the stable comfortability of its former industrial days. With the new artists and small businesses coming to town, anxieties over the creative risks make sense to me.

But I love the glimmer of hope that many Fort Bragg residents seem to have. They see the possibilities and have a dogged loyalty to the place that is endearing. They have a Stars Hallow level pride for their community, enduring the necessary growing pains for a small town longing to thrive in a new way.

pudding-creekMaybe this is narcissistic to say, but I can see myself in this town. I see the scrappy attempts at new businesses around the downtown, even as I sit at my computer, pitching myself as a freelance writer. I resonate with the cycles of self-doubt and brave dreaming that Michael the innkeeper shares as he talks about plans for the Grey Whale Inn. I see evidence of the grieving of seasons past and anticipation for what lies ahead because that’s exactly what I’m doing in my own story right now.

As I wander around the streets of Fort Bragg, listening to the stories of anyone that will talk to me, I am reminded of the beauty of the process of reinvention. I see the blossoming potential of this best-kept-secret of a town, and it is whispering hope right back to me.

img_2156“The journey of reinvention is one of raw emotions
Emerging from dormancy
Surprising as a paper cut
Overwhelming as a hailstorm
One part vulnerability
One part rage
One part surrender
Uncomfortable
Unfamiliar
Unsure
Fearful
Alone
Damaged
Broken
And finding a new Self
Slowly
Different
Healing
Humble
Present
Open
Longing
Free”
Dave Rudbarg

Traveling is a bit like falling in love

A few days ago, I got in my car. With a deep breath, I turned the key in the ignition and pulled out of my parents’ driveway.

I had meticulously filled my car with my favorite belongings and necessities for the road.

I had been held in the I-won’t-see-you-for-several months embrace of my parents.

I had double checked for the fourth time that I hadn’t left anything important behind.

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And then I did the thing I had been talking about doing since February.

I started heading west.

Gratitude spilled out in the form of tears as the reality sunk in, driving on Interstate 80.

I had been looking forward to palm trees and beaches and the start of this new season in California. But ahead of me lay thousands of miles of In-Between.

Not that I was dreading this trek across the country. I not-so-secretly love long drives in the car. And while the magnitude of this road trip was unprecedented for me, I had a sense of giddy anticipation for the journey ahead.

As the sun steadily rose in the cloudless sky, the familiar cornfields melted into the open plains that stretch through Nebraska.

img_2438In the late afternoon, my eyes strained to see the faint purple outline of the Rocky Mountains on the western edge of the sky.

The next morning, my car swiveled through the jagged mountain terrain, past cobalt mountain lakes, with placid surfaces mirroring their surroundings. Slanting morning sun cast shadows of evergreen armies, standing salute on the sloping foothills. 

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetMy little Ford Focus sped onward through highways that ribboned around the stony towers, the gray and greens blending into rust-colored plateaus of Utah.

Processed with VSCO with g3 presetMaybe it was the elevation, or maybe it was the beauty that made my chest ache. There were moments that I couldn’t contain my elation. It felt wrong to be zooming past this glory at 80 miles per hour.

As I passed the continental divide and started the downward slope, I entered a part of the country I had never been to before. The beauty of the foothills I was driving through seemed to reflect the foothills of this adventure I was embarking on. This was uncharted territory. Stripped of everything familiar, I felt exposed.

It was as if someone had turned up the saturation and contrast levels of my experience both internally and externally.

Alone with my thoughts, I’d oscillate between giddy excitement for what these next few months would hold and dread at the realization that I am now essentially homeless and unemployed. I’d revel in my solitude one moment, and feel the pang of loneliness around the next bend in the highway. I would feel lulled into a mundane daze at the endless miles ahead of me, only to feel a surging burst of excitement when another beautiful mountain range would emerge on the horizon.

I think anytime I find myself venturing out into the unknown, the vulnerability leads to an intensity of sensation.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetIt struck me that this trip felt a little bit like falling in love. That feeling when the whole world seems to have a filter of vibrant colors.

Like falling in love, travel is uncomfortable and there’s so much uncertainty about how it will all turn out.

But your heart is ignited and your eyes opened to the possibilities and breath-taking beauty that other people might have passed by.

The beauty felt is almost painful. There’s this urgency to claim it, possess it, to share it.

Both of these experiences leave you forever changed.

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetWith any pursuit of the things the things our hearts long for, there is a rawness that grips us to the core.This vibrancy is not to be feared or shied away from with numbing defense mechanisms. It is to be leaned into.

This is what it means to be fully human.

You Should Buy a Flare Gun… And Other Travel Advice I’ve Received

The bell chimed its friendly greeting as I opened the door to Prospero’s Books. Besides a gathering of older men around the checkout counter, the place was empty. I nodded my head in the general direction of the group and slipped inside.

Bookstores are a safe middle ground for the solo-adventurous.

I’ve been practicing, you see. Traveling alone takes a lot of bravery. So I sometimes go on mini-ventures in my familiar places.

Practice turns bravery into second nature, and striking up conversations with strangers still takes bravery for this shy girl.

Bookstore

I wandered down the musty aisles, checking for all my go-to authors, comforted by the columns of colors and gold-etched words on the spines. Wisps of the men’s banter up at the counter wafted over the bookshelves, commentary about the presidential candidates, punctuated with guffaws and disparaging remarks.  

Winding my way over to the travel section, I happened upon John Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. I had heard of this memoir of his journey across America, a friend recommending it to me when I told him about my plan to do the same thing. This edition was beautiful, the kind of book that begs for you to smell the pages.

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Satisfied with my find, I clutched the book and brought it up to the counter. The flock at the counter continued their shooting of the breeze as I slid my book onto the counter.

“That’s a good one,” the man who must have been the owner said, pausing his conversation.

“Well I’m about to take a similar journey, so I thought I should give it a read.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah, this fall, I’m planning to drive out to the west coast,” I replied, opening up to the inside cover with the map of Steinbeck’s trip. “Well, this half anyway,” I added, fingernail tracing the left side of the map.

The hum of conversation around the counter halted, simultaneous interest peaking in the men.

“My sister did that awhile back.”

“Are you going to drive or fly?”

“What kind of car do you drive?”

“Where are you going to stay? Have you heard of KOA camps?”

The barrage of questions hit me as I became the epicenter of these retired men’s Saturday evening.

They were chiefly concerned about my auto-mechanic smarts and my personal defense plan. Each man put in their two cents worth about how to make the most of my trip.

“You should get a flare gun. That would keep ya safe,” one man advised, looking over his bifocals with one eyebrow raised. “You don’t need a gun permit to have one, and that would knock someone right out if you needed to.”

Murmurs of agreement from the peanut gallery.

Bemused, I asked for other words of wisdom.

 

I finally broke away, making promises to stop by the store before I’d leave town, shaking my head and smiling for the next two blocks.

What I’m finding is that people are excited to share in this adventure with me. There’s something about traveling that leads to moments of connection. A magnetic force that draws people in with a range of curiosity, wistful longing, and excitement.

Even though I haven’t left yet, I’ve already had several encounters of sweet conversation and unexpected generosity.I’m more exposed to the kindness of strangers when I’m out of my element, whether it’s spending a Saturday night by myself, or in a foreign country. Most of the time, the people I meet at the intersections of my openness are eager to help; to share in the moment with me.

I think we are all captivated by stories of people pursuing the things that are life-giving. It conjures up memories of our own bravery or our hunger to do the same. What a relief it is to break past the mundane small talk and delve into the things that ignite our souls!

These conversations have often been sparked as I share my story.  That being said, I find myself wanting to receive advice more than give it these days. I’m intentionally seeking out the stories and wisdom of people that I see pursuing the things that make them feel alive.

Some conversations I initiated, inspired by their bravery in seeking adventures. Other advice came from late night conversations with people who know me well. Others still, like my peanut gallery at Prospero’s Books, have been friendly strangers willing to share their words of wisdom. Some advice is unsolicited, but all is welcome.

Less than two weeks away from embarking on this journey, I’m thinking back to all the myriad discussions I’ve had over the last six months.

The words that have shaped me the most haven’t been about the practical how-tos. Or the hacks of how to copy other people’s journeys. It’s been the statements that lead to the deeper reasons of why we go on adventures. It’s been the pointing out of lies that keep us from embarking.

Looking back, I can see that these statements formed the foundation for which I am now leaping off.

Allie, you can do this.

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(Or: Bravery is a choice.)

The idea of traveling for a longer period of time was sparked by a conversation with a friend who was about to take a year-long trip with her husband around the world. I was bombarding her with questions of how they were making this happen, and she was firing back questions about what I was planning to do after the school year was over.

She must have seen my eyes lighting up because she looked me squarely in the eyes and said “Allie, you could do this. Travel! Do what you want to do! You don’t have to live this cookie-cutter life!”

At first, I dismissed this as a fanciful but wildly impractical pipe dream. I filed it away in the “Someday” drawer in my brain. You know the one–right next to the “when I’m married” box and the “when I have it all together” filing cabinet.

But I couldn’t get her words out of my mind. The more I sat with the idea, the more appealing and intriguing it became. To take a set outside of my expected narrative and delve into the perspective that comes from travel. The risks of this dream were very blatant. But her words helped me overcome this myth that you need some sort of permission or credentials to be able to do what you want to do!

Bravery is not some inherent trait like being left-handed or Irish. Nor is it this grandiose disposition of fearlessness. It’s more like integrity: a daily choosing to align with your desire. Being willing to reckon with the self-doubt and accept help along the way. It means deciding to submit to the mundane minutia of following through with something when it stops being easy.

You’re not just going to be a hippy for six months!

(Or: Your level-headedness will be an asset.)

IMG_1336I’m this weird hybrid of spontaneity and strategy. I’m free-spirited and a planner. I love having a framework of a plan, but I have no qualms with scrapping the plans at the last minute and embracing what the moment is calling for.

Sometimes I feel like I’m too much of a free-spirit, choosing to be a vagrant with no place to call home for several months. I see people’s eyes widen at my vague descriptions of plans, feeling overwhelmed on my behalf.

I also have moments of panic, feeling like there’s no way I can handle this. I don’t know what the heck I’m doing! All the “What-Ifs” creep up, and suddenly my cozy bed at home and some easy comfortable job right here in the Midwest seem pretty appealing. Or at least safer.

Truth is, I am heading into a level of unprecedented unknown territory. This feels daunting when I try to wrap my mind around the whole big picture. But if I remain in this present moment, and do the work that is before me today, it’s fine.

I have done the work to be prepared. (As prepared as a can be.) A friend who has also done some solo-traveling reassured me when she said that both sides of my personality are needed in this adventure. It’s a process of leaping into the unknown while making the best choices with the information that you have.

The worst case scenario isn’t actually that bad.

(Or: Fear doesn’t get the final say.)

Processed with VSCO with c1 presetSometimes optimism can be paralyzing. Trying to drown out the voice of fear with trite hopes that “It’ll all work out just fine” doesn’t hold much weight for long.

This has felt counter-intuitive but has proved to be so mobilizing in actually decided to pursue this dream. Letting my fears have their say; letting all my worst nightmares play out in my imagination is a launching off point for finding a way to move past them.

When I actually exposed my worst fears, I saw them for what they were. They were either inconvenient problems that are solvable (i.e., my car breaks down=get AAA.) Or they are things that I have no way of controlling, and could just as easily happen in a safe and predictable environment.

Which begs the question, what is the cost of not doing this thing I’m longing to do? After my fear had its say, curiosity’s voice came out loud and clear. That is the voice I’m choosing to listen to more.

You should stay with my cousin’s best friend!  You’d love her!

(Or: Wherever you go, connect.)

IMG_7433I haven’t spent much time on the West Coast. I don’t know very many people there. And for this shy girl, it’s daunting to feel like I’m heading to so much newness.

Before I could talk myself out of it, I was met with this outpouring of generosity and hospitality. More people than I can keep track of offered their insider scoops on places to visit and have given me names of people to connect with when I go.

Some bloggers get sponsored by big brand names. I get sponsored by college friends and their relatives. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And, without a doubt, the best way to travel is through the eyes of a local. There’s such a difference between being a tourist in an unknown city and trying to find your way to interesting places and being guided by someone who shows off their city with the bragging pride of a smitten lover.

It’s humbling to receive other people’s hospitality, let alone people that are friends of friends. But the beauty of this connection, especially in an age of rugged individualism, is well worth it.  

It’s true–I am heading out on my own in a few short weeks. I’m taking this dream of mine out of it’s dusty “Someday Box” and embarking. But I am not alone. I am encompassed in the support of a kind multitude. I can embrace my beginner status, because I know that I will have instructors along the way, helping me with all the advice a girl could ask for.