Tags Posts tagged with "California"


0 8

A number of people called me brave when I quit my marketing career of 11 years to volunteer in India. A handful more said, “I wish I could do that!” when I set off afterwards to travel solo for a year around Southeast Asia and Latin America. Maybe in their eyes, yes, and somewhat in my own, but those weren’t the bravest places I went.

No, that was home.

At age 39 I was a bit late to the whole “quit my job to travel” thing. My career was solid, but my soul was dry. I didn’t want a mortgage, and a corporate job really didn’t suit me, but I thought that’s what you’re supposed to do as an adult. It took me longer than I would’ve liked to figure that out, but at least I eventually did. My three months of volunteering plus an additional 12 of traveling changed me as much as it would any person. You’re just not the same afterwards. I grew accustomed to poverty, resigned myself to mosquito bites, always held tight to my belongings and got used to feeling old around 20-something backpackers who talked about amazing party hostels and 2 for 1 drinks (ok, the 2 for 1 drinks I could get behind). It became my new norm, far from the conference calls and bottomless inbox of my previous life.

I knew at some point I’d have to buy that plane ticket back to LA, and the catalyst was my mom wanting me home for Christmas. No matter how old you are, mom can still pull those strings. A week before I came home I couldn’t sleep. I was anxiety-ridden about being asked, “What’s next?”  Because you see, I didn’t know.  I was returning home without a plan. Would I go back to the corporate world and get a so-called normal job? No. That much I knew. When I really thought about it, being a location-independent freelancer was what I wanted. Sipping watermelon juice while writing SEO copy or being inspired by a temple for my next travel post or riding a camel as I contemplated marketing strategies- now THAT I could get behind. But how to go about it? I picked up a few consulting gigs during my travels, but not enough to sustain me. Could I afford to search for remote-only jobs and create a patchwork of income? The outlook was unclear, and at 40 that can be a bit unsettling.

But for some strange reason I’m not afraid. I can’t for the life of me tell you why because all signs point to panic mode. My savings is dwindling and I’ve regressed to starving student status. Thankfully I have friends and family with spare rooms and stocked refrigerators. The idea of starting over is both exhilarating and debilitating. Ideas swarm through my head and I keep trying to catch one long enough to figure out what to do with it. In the meantime I housesit for friends and cook meals in exchange for a roof over my head. I sometimes meet old work colleagues for happy hour, listening to stories that begin with, “Oh, listen to the latest bright idea so-and-so had.”  I may not know what’s next, but I’m glad it’s not that.

LA can be difficult for those taking the path less traveled. It’s a place where the second question out of someone’s mouth when first meeting you (after “What’s your name?”) is “What do you do?” I don’t blame people in their knee-jerk questioning as it’s totally natural, but it makes you realize how much of a person’s identity is wrapped up in their job. Especially when yours is on hiatus.

For now I’ll keep plugging away on borrowed couches until I make enough money from freelancing to comfortably take off again. I don’t know where I’ll go or when, but I’m ok with that. I finally feel authentic to who I am and brave enough to look those corporate denizens in the eye, own my choices and say, “I don’t know what’s next.”

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

0 83

The bright green, perfectly manicured grass illuminates the giant pink and white rose petal heart, and a guitarist strumming a Beatles Love Song amplifies the cheesiness of the situation to everyone within earshot. I stand, dizzy with anticipation and sweating despite it being a comfortable 65 degrees, on the deck overlooking the 18th tee of Pebble Beach Golf Course. My mother and father are renewing their wedding vows today, on their 30th anniversary. My mother is radiating with giddy anticipation, and my father is nervous and excited in the quiet way that only those close to him can distinguish.

The whole family traveled from all corners of the US to celebrate this momentous occasion. I am proud and excited, yet at the same time want to run for the hills.

As we stand there waiting to be called down, paraded in front of hundreds of strangers, the weather begins to change. The sunny California day seems to be changing with my emotions. The Pacific ocean turning from calm to rocky, as grey clouds quickly move in casting shadows on the monstrous houses that line the coast.

Wanting to make sure this wedding happens before rain comes in, the wedding planner waves us down.

I try not to notice all of the people watching us from the deck of the Pebble Beach Restaurant. My boyfriend touches my back, comfortingly urging me forward. He knows how much I despise unwanted attention. Without that slight push, I am not sure I would have the courage to march across the green with so many eyes on me. My sister parades to the heart like she owns the place, as I slowly and self-consciously make my way across one of the most famous golf courses in the world.

The wedding planner, beaming with faux happiness, dangles a garland of flowers intended for me, and drapes it across my head. Pink, white, red and yellow roses adorn my head. The scent of freshly cut flower overwhelms my senses, yet does not do a thing to calm my nerves. Photos are snapped, I force a fake smile.

My sister, skinny, blonde, and perfect in every way, stands next to me. Chest proud, shoulders relaxed, smug. I look her up and down, trying not to compare myself to her like I do at every family gathering. I, the older sister, aspire to be like her. Thin, confident, and dripping with an “I don’t care what you think” attitude.

From the outside, no one would know the self-conscious turmoil bubbling inside me. I look put together, though on the inside I am anything but. Travel has been my escape and a key element in teaching me about myself and all that I am capable of. As I make my way around the world, my self-confidence grows with each new adventure. This trip, I tell myself, is just another stepping-stone toward positive growth.

So, I try to change my thoughts from negative to positive as the guitarist begins to play Alan Jackson’s country ballad ‘Remember When’, signaling the start of the ceremony. My mother and father stand in the center of that cheesy flower heart holding hands.

As the minister speaks his words, words about love and acceptance and happiness, I try as hard as I can to focus on my parents; my mother-beaming, and my normally stoic father-red in the face and crying.

I look around at where I am and what I am doing. One of the most beautiful golf courses, on one of the most beautiful stretches of land in the world. Even with the changing weather, the deep blue of the ocean collides with the bright green grass and brightens everything, including my attitude.

All of the distractions surrounding us; the people watching, the golfers playing, the ocean waves crashing, blur.

It is here in this blur, surrounded by love and beauty, that I am grateful. The love of my family, coupled with the beauty of the celebration and nature around us, allows me to finally throw out all of the negative thoughts that occupy my mind.

The ceremony ends and I walk with my head held high back to the deck. It is time to celebrate with a champagne toast and the sun, peaking through the clouds, just before it sets over the Pacific Ocean.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

0 89

Otters, half-covered in kelp and half-asleep, are floating in the briny seawater to our left. There are also brown, glistening sea lions basking on the brown, glistening rocks nearby, braying at biscuit-munching tourists and at each-other. And sea birds, squawking loudly, thrashing their wings overhead and underfoot. The ocean itself is wailing like a fiend all around us, slapping at the white, sturdy sides of our boat. It’s no wonder all sea-dwellers seem to shriek with abandon. They’d never be heard otherwise.

We’re landsmen, the lot of us. The vacillating of the boat has got a few of us looking green already. We’re cold, too — the wind’s whipping our noses reindeer red — and it’s early enough that the last dregs of sleep are still haunting our eyes. Beyond the chill and the torpor, though, there’s something else thundering under our skin like the boat’s engines roaring under the water. It’s writhing in our very blood, this feeling; it’s swelling like the frenzied water all around us. Childlike delight. We’re feverish with it, all of us out here on the Monterey Bay.

There are a lot of other boats in the marina, bobbing like harbour seals, but they seem to melt into the morning fog as our own moves out, away from the promenade and the brightly painted kiosks advertising fish hooks and crab meat. It’s just us and the ocean, then. Its waters stretch in every direction, pushing a muted California behind a veil of mist and vapour. We are puny and insignificant, settled atop the belly of this great colossus, but how wonderful we are at the same time — our pale fingers interlocked, our glasses stippled with sea-spray, our lips curving, curving, curving.

The tour guide’s voice is punctuated by the sputtering of static and waves, but it hardly matters. She’s talking about the ocean like it’s a cantata and she’s got the libretti stamped across her heart. Believing in magic is no Herculean task, here in this moment. Look! Even the grey whorls of the waves are starting to look like porpoises. In fact, it is almost as if we have found ourselves on the canvas of a great artist’s watercolour masterpiece: the entire world looks pale and ethereal and lovely.

The younger ones are tearing into crisp packets with stubby fingers. We’re lobbing coke bottles at each other and laughing, our teeth bared at the grey sky. We’re coming undone under the canopy of that same sky, over the mattress of the same ocean. We’re so much more awake than we have ever been before. It’s terrifying and it’s thrilling and –

It’s all stifled by a staccato intake of breath crackling over the intercom.

The sea lions have returned. Like us, they seem to have left their old selves behind, back by those rocks they built their kingdom on. They’re quiet, circling a stretch of water a hundred feet off the port side of the boat. Oh: it’s all so quiet. The surf is still, the sea birds are sombre, and even the children look sober. The sea lions are waiting. Contemplating.

And, then: they are barking like mad angels heralding the advent of something incredible. (Our own hearts have turned into cyclones raging inside white bone prisons.)

They surface, one after the other. Four, eight, twelve. Sixteen. A hush has fallen over the boat. We watch as: they breathe out, they pirouette, they arch sleek tails. They leave our very bones clamouring; if the boat’s railings petered out of existence, half of us would leap into the gaping mouth of the ocean ourselves. We are — perhaps — an especially excitable audience, almost barking ourselves. They’re just so big and so beautiful. Prophets of a genus of wonder we thought we outgrew. We are wide-eyed, tongue-tied, and so very alive in front of these primordial giants.

 We’re so small, out here on the water. We know it in our typhoon hearts, we do — but we’re feeling so much and feeling it so hard, that we can’t help but think we must be pretty vast and pretty beautiful, too.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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It’s 7 o’clock and as I leave the house the dawn-lit eastern face of the Sierra Nevada mountains looms above me.  A wide path through golden browns of brittle sages leads me to my first stop, a small abandoned bungalow, and then on to a small workshop filled with barely used tools and unfinished projects—all inhabited by cats.  I check their food and water supply, and as I finish with the felines a donkey whines from the tin-roofed barn up the hill.

For the past 3 weeks I’ve lived in a passive solar cabin on a ranch in Olancha, California, farm-sitting while the owners travel by motorhome to Louisiana.  The property is a surreal 28 acres of abandoned shacks and trailers, derelict refrigerators and trucks, a red-slat barn and dry fields, all nestled within ephedra, sage, and a few pine trees that have wandered off the mountains.  I’m a Canadian city boy from Toronto; I came here looking for space, and did I ever find it.

I continue up the subtle hill, past the well-house filled with extra feed stock, and the horses whinny when they see me, hungry.  The aged gray gelding, Shetan, 30 years old, foundered, his eyesight starting to go, looks about anxiously.  As I reach the barn doors a flock of quail waits in the bushes nearby, eager for their morning seed.  I am a far cry from my past life of only two months ago, and yet my role hasn’t changed entirely.

In Toronto I’d been a case manager with a social service organization, helping adults with long-term brain injuries navigate the difficulties of their day-to-day lives.  Although I’d loved my work and my co-workers, a voice had whispered in the back of my mind for years, prodding me to write.  And to an extent I did: I took courses and wrote short stories, and had 10000 words of a corny science fiction novel, but it wasn’t enough.  That voice needed to spend full days at a time writing, if only to see, to feel that life.  Then, in July of this year, I met a girl.  An artist and photographer coming from two years of globetrotting, now preparing to move to California to pursue a Masters degree in Fine Arts.  She was realizing exactly what that voice needed: a life of travel and the pursuit of creative passions.  In those two months we spent together—rock climbing dense ravines along the Niagara River, packed into the Osheaga festival in Montreal, laying on a dock at the High Park shore of Lake Ontario—something in me was finally able to let go.

So in September of 2014, at 30 years old, I completed one journey and embarked upon a new one, leaving Canada via Sarnia to drive across America.  I listened to the blues in Chicago in company of a PhD friend suffering from tendinosis in his wrists.  I talked politics in Des Moines with a teacher who’s obsessed with Game of Thrones.  I climbed the Boulder Canyon boulder outside Boulder, hiked off trail in Arches National Park and was only slightly worried that the parking lot towards which I was hiking was a mirage.  And via a two week stint in Pasadena with the girl who brought about all of this, ended up here in Owen’s Valley.

But for all that I’ve left behind, despite the drastic locational and vocational change, I laugh, because I suppose I’m still a caregiver, only with a small zoo of cats, quail, donkeys, and horses, instead of people.  Twice a day in the foothills of the eastern Sierra I lay out their food and water, clean the horses’ stalls, and make sure that the elderly Shetan continues to eat as he enters what will likely be the last days of his life.  In the hours between feedings I walk through the desert, I drive to Bishop and climb the quartz-monzonite boulders of Buttermilk Country, and most importantly, I write.  And that is the space that I sought when I left Toronto: not any physical space, but a creative space, and the time to focus on my true passion.

And Hannah is here with me for some days, working on her own art projects while I write about traveling and writing and finding the space to be yourself.  I think I’ve finally figured out how to make space for that, and though I don’t think I owe her my ability to do it, I am grateful that she was there to push me to try.


Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

1 76

My headlamp swings like a pendulum, hanging from a carabiner clipped to the top of my tent, casting a cone of light on the void of space next to my sleeping bag—the naked nylon of the tent floor reminding me of one thing—this time, I am alone.

I had been crafting the ten day Sierra backpacking trip that had long occupied my East Coast daydreams for months, meticulously applying for all the necessary and highly coveted permits to approach Mount Whitney via the two million acre Inyo National Forest.  But I was never supposed to go it alone.    I had planned the trip with a childhood friend living Northern California— hardly a rustic outdoorsman, but he had been enthusiastic—until backing out a month before we were due to meet in Lone Pine, the sleepy town serving as a portal to the Sierras.

I had spent the month before the trip agonizing about doing it alone.  After Washington, D.C. winter spent awkwardly sweating in a guest-room converted to workout room and a spring full of training hikes, I had also been methodically adding to rapidly expanding stash of gear, buoyed by an unconcealed excitement.  The Mount Whitney High Country Trail map became my dining room tablecloth.  I spent an unnerving amount of time vacillating over the gastronomic merits of various free-dried backpacking meals—would beef stroganoff be more filling than turkey Tetrazzini?

I unzip my tent and step into the twilight.  Above me Mount Whitney’s towering granite spires are illuminated in the rosy hue of alpenglow in the vanishing sunlight.  My lighter flickers and in a flash of blue light my stoves hisses to life.  I systematically unpack my bear bin, only too happy to tuck into freeze-dried lasagna for two.  I can hear the steady rush of the icy water of trout laden Lone Pine Creek above the sizzle of my stove.  Below, in the disappearing light I can just see the rounded contours of the clay-red Alabama Hills, spreading like a collection of boulders mid-tumble over the landscape.

As the sun sinks behind the Sierras, I shovel steaming lasagna into my mouth with a blunt, reputedly flameproof spork and reread my National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) Wilderness Guide, ‘Traveling solo in the backcountry is at once liberating, free, and lonely.  The solitude may be just what your soul needs…  But those new to solo travel need to be prepared for the sense of isolation in a vast space.’  I close the book and look up the boundless night sky, stars shimmering like tiny specs of glowing dust sprinkling the galaxy.

I had spent the night before staying with friends living in Death Valley—a park ranger and a nurse, expecting their first baby.   I sat in Tommy and Sarah’s living room, cradling a sweat-beaded Sierra Nevada, in the humid fog of their panting black Lab.   ‘I still think you should do it,’ Sarah says immediately when I recount my month of equivocation on finding out I had to do the trip solo.  She and Tommy had met a few years earlier while each solo hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Another solo thru-hiker they met on the Appalachian Trail even officiated their wedding.

As I slide into my sleeping bag, wind whips around my tent, jostling its corners.  I reach up to click of my headlamp andmy finger lingers of the switch—one last comfort—then, dark.  I lay stiffly on my mattress, ears prickling for any sounds other than the frictionless whoosh of my sleeping bag against the polyester backpacking mat.

At sunrise, I hear distinct vocalizations—long, jubilant howls.  I sit up in my sleeping bag, realizing only as the fog the sleep fades the calls are coyotes, wolves disappeared from the ecosystems of the Sierras by the early 1920s.  I take stock of the gear in my tent—and cough as the damp morning dew seeps into my throat.  It startles me—I realize I haven’t spoken out since I left Death Valley, my entire, constant monologue has been completely internal.

I drive to the parking area at Horseshoe Meadow, the Cottonwood Pass trailhead.  I peruse the Forest Service billboard plastered with maps and safety advisories.  A flier illustrated is tacked to the top of the board—‘Mountain Lion Recently Sighted in the Area,’—I glance down to the section on safety in lion country, ‘Do not hike, bike, or jog alone.’  I reflexively pat my shorts—feeling for bulky can of bear spray—grizzly strength—in my shorts pocket.  Reassurance.


I look back over my shoulder at my rental car.  The parking lot bustles with people, a flurry of packs, trekking poles, and exuberantly straining leashed dogs.  I shoulder my pack, cinch the straps, and start walking toward Cottonwood Pass.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

Felix and Frosty Family St Regis Monarch Beach

St. Regis Monarch Beach: Luxury Staycation

 #MyDanaPointFelix and Frosty Family St Regis Monarch Beach

I went to Dana Point for to experience IlluminOcean and celebrate the holidays in Dana Point with a mile stroll of Mingle & Jingle with literally thousands of lights sculpted into fantastic glowing sea-themed attractions. In this video we experience St. Regis Monarch Beach. I cannot wait to go back to this fantastic hotel. WOW! I loved my room and enjoyed the property! Especially Felix interviewing the snowman family!
Enjoy Dana Point!

VIDEO: St Regis Monarch Beach Dec 2014 

The stunning view @stregismb #stregis #monarchbeach #MyDanaPoint Thanks @spg! #Relax!

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Ready for relaxation? #StRegis is the answer! @spg #spectacular #MyDanaPoint #MonarchBeach #LagunaNigel A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Good morning #hooping #stregismb #MyDanaPoint

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

More about IlluminOcean:


The warmth of the Southern California winter season. The wonders of the deep blue sea. The dazzling spectacle of sights, sound and motion that’s electrifying our ocean views like never before. Be there when the holidays brilliantly come to light in an amazing wonderland by the sand — it’s the event premiere of Dana Point IlluminOcean.

Like Rockefeller Center in New York or Millennium Park in Chicago, Dana Point is creating waves of excitement in Southern California this holiday season by showcasing 40 nights of holiday lights. The OC Dana Point Harbor will transform into the festive village to mingle and jingle, surrounded by hundreds of thousands of lights creatively sculpted into true wonders to sea — grand creations like a towering 50-foot GlowMotion tree and Lightwave tunnels that stretch longer than a football field!


group fam dana point illuminoceanExperience IlluminOcean and celebrate the holidays in Dana Point with a mile stroll of Mingle & Jingle with literally thousands of lights sculpted into fantastic glowing sea-themed attractions.

“The warmth of the Southern California winter season. The wonders of the deep blue sea. The dazzling spectacle of sights, sound and motion that’s electrifying our ocean views like never before. Be there when the holidays brilliantly come to light in an amazing wonderland by the sand — it’s the event premiere of Dana Point IlluminOcean.”

I loved the a towering “50-foot GlowMotion tree and Lightwave tunnels that stretch longer than a football field!” Bring your friends and families and experience the first year from November 26, 2014 to January 5, 2015. There are twenty-two larger than life attractions and over twenty-three miles of glowing LED Light Strands.

VIDEO: IlluminOcean Dana Point Holiday Lights 2014


#MyDanaPoint @IlluminOcean 40 Nights of Holiday Lights! n
Nov 26, 2014-Jan 4, 2015 #Wonderland by the sea

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

Playing around with Puff the magic dragon! #Illuminocean #MyDanaPoint

A photo posted by Lisa Niver (@wesaidgotravel) on

PARTNERS PROTECTING OUR OCEAN: The Resorts of Dana Point are working together with SIMA Environmental Fund to “protect the environment — from keeping our beaches clean to ensuring waste is properly managed — …and to spread the word about our devotion to the ocean and commitment to conserving these precious resources.”

Stay in The Resorts of Dana Point and enjoy #IlluminOcean: 

The Ritz Carlton Laguna Nigel,

St. Regis Monarch Beach,

Laguna Cliffs Marriott and

Double Tree Suites Doheny Beach.

0 48


At thirty-thousand feet, I was reading about destruction. I admit: it’s not the most pleasant subject matter for someone who’s facing her fear by confronting it. But I needed a plan, before landing, for how I could burn away everything that had been holding me back: frustrated relationships, insecurity about my career path, a temporary creative block.

With nothing but atmosphere between me and the Earth, I was studying Awakening Shakti, a book that introduces readers to female Hindu goddess. Kali, I was learning, is a goddess who represents creation and renewal, which can only happen when a person destroys whatever is keeping her from growth. In New Jersey, my origin, my heart and creative energy had become as lifeless and cold as the mid-January freeze.

When I landed at Los Angeles International Airport, where the temperature was about 40 degrees warmer than in Newark, I picked up a rented Hyundai Sonata and anticipated spending the next few days like a child’s lost and forgotten summer toy – a miniature water gun, perhaps – captured in a block of ice, waiting for the heat to melt it into being. I could go anywhere and be anything without answering to anyone.

I peeled off the layers – a scarf, a sweater, and heavy socks – that had kept me warm that morning and on the air-conditioned plane, and I considered what to do with my new sense of weightlessness. Hungry, I decided my first stop would be Veggie Grill, a plant-based fast food chain with locations throughout California, Oregon, and Washington. As a vegan, I wanted to take this trip partly so that I could indulge in all the best vegan food that Los Angeles has to offer. I wanted to celebrate, in abundance, my decision to be vegan, a choice that many assumed was limiting.

When I arrived at the restaurant, I couldn’t believe how many people were eating lunch at a restaurant with a meatless menu; all tables were occupied. After ordering a “quinoa power salad,” I sat down at a table that had just cleared and waited.

Suddenly, I felt a tap on my shoulder. In the moment before I turned around, I guessed that the person tapping me might be another solo diner, hoping to share my table in the crowded space. Or had I forgotten to take my change from the cashier? I faced the stranger.

“Are you Laryssa?”

I squinted at the dark-haired young man. He was wearing a black hooded sweatshirt
and jeans. I tried so hard to place him in my memory that I could almost feel my hippocampus groan.

“Yes, that’s me,” I said.

Who, so far away from my home, would recognize me? I was trying to be something different here, to shed my East Coast identity. Obviously I was still carrying its weight.

“Do I know you?”

“We follow each other on Instagram,” he said.

Instagram is a social media community where I post photos of vegan food and other miscellany. To myself, I call it “Veganland” because nearly every one of the 1,000 users I follow is vegan. Whenever I feel alone, I can open the iPhone app and, as I scroll through photo after photo of vegan dishes, can pretend that our planet is a cruelty-free utopia.
But I didn’t recognize his face from any of the 110×110 pixel profile photos I had associated with people’s Instagram handles.

“What’s your username?”

“Spencer – “

“Oh!” I interrupted.

We chatted for a few minutes, and he hugged me: the perfect welcome. I learned that my Instafriend Spencer was visiting Los Angeles for the day to protest with an animal rights activist group from San Diego.

When he left, his absence made me feel as if my cover had been blown – what are the chances that someone would recognize me from my own square profile photo? I wouldn’t be to begin this trip as someone completely new, removed from my past failures and frustrations. But I realized, between bites of my quinoa salad at Veggie Grill, where I was surrounded by people who were actively making the same ethical choices I make, that I’m in good company, not only in a vegan fast-food establishment but wherever I am.

I wouldn’t have to be alone to burn away my past identities. Instead, I would soften myself to allow connection, which is the only way I’d be able to learn about new possibilities and opportunities, to gain insight into the person I am and who I want to be. When I stepped into the parking lot, I felt a dampness above my upper lip. The sun was at its highest point, and I was sweating.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

0 58

A Calling for a road trip in the USA

This’ll be the third night sleeping in the car. You know you could find a hotel, but somehow you don’t think you deserve it. You wonder if you can keep driving, but that long night in Oregon flashes into your mind, and you’re not really sure you could handle losing another car. Her name was Jenny.

That’ll be the fourth morning not waking up in your bed. Your joints are stiff, and you have to get out to crack them; snap back into life. The world around you is alien. The Mojave is an ocean, but the sand and stone won’t slate your thirst. You wonder how long it’s been since this whole place was under water. You think that you should write; it’s been too long since you opened the dollar store notepad you’ve been abusing as a journal. It sits solemnly in the passenger seat, tempting a hateful glance every ten minutes. But there’s no beauty out there amidst the crags and the cactus. There’s nothing worth writing about. Or there must be, but you just can’t see it. Perhaps the wanderlust has finally taken its toll; maybe all that spinning has worn you away, eroded you like the dry creek beds and those gaping gulleys. You’ve hardened, but that’s what this was all about. You wanted to get to the core. You’re coring. You’re bedrock.

This will be the fifth time today you’ve reached for the journal, and fifth time you’ve closed it before writing a word. You took to the road to find inspiration, but you’re writing less than you were before. Another hasty wind blows you back into the car, and pretty soon the desert is only another image in the mirror. It’s another pronoun titled town, another night without dreams. And the lack of real memory worries you. You think this trip has been a mistake, but the nostalgia also empowers. You know you can’t have come this far for nothing. There must be something out there, at the end of the world, or you wouldn’t need to find it. You will go to the ends of the earth. That place where no soul has dared to tread before, and you will capture it; document the unknown. You will wrest it from oblivion, and take it back with you, or you will fall. Drive off the edge of the earth, or see that it is round, for your own eyes. But you’ve seen so much, you wonder if some of it hasn’t just passed right through you. So many miles, you couldn’t really remember it all. But you do.

Then by the sixth sunset, you find forest. Redwoods, oaks, firs as tall as the tallest building in your podunk Colorado town. The daylight is gone before you get there, but the night doesn’t swallow you up like it has before. Those stars that you held as companion for so many lonely evenings, seem like pale shades of friends, to the towering old world forest; those ancient sentinels of God’s vast imagination. They were here centuries before you were evening an inkling, a twinkling in your father’s eye, and they’ll be here for centuries after you’re nothing but dust, and wind. You hope you should be so lucky to be blown back to this place; this home to the most primordial of giants, this place where life is earliest. You roll down the windows, and let the humid atmosphere wash you. Even so late, and smothered in shadow, the forest is awake as always; it trembles, it catches the wind like no other clime, caressing a simple draft into a symphony of sustenance. The mountains back home are magnificent, but your forests are far less restful. This place is full of deep-rooted enchantment, but you did not come for trees. Tomorrow you will arrive; you can already smell the sea.

On the seventh day you find her. There are no lightning bolts, or choruses of angels descending from the heavens. There is beach, and more water than you thought there could ever be. Perhaps that call that drove you out the door, that call that led the pioneers to perilous years of settling, that call that drove the Spanish explorers to dare an unmapped horizon; perhaps the call was false. But you do not feel false. You sit in the sand, and watch the sun slink down to the edge of the earth. You taste the salty air, and you listen to the ocean. You hear the breath of the world for the first and only time, because you will never forget it, it will never leave you now. You know tomorrow you will head home. Until the next call that is, to some other distant imagined place. But today, you will write.

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I walk down the path and I can breathe. Suddenly, I’ve risen above. I’ve risen above the traffic, the incessant rumble of rubber meeting pavement. I’ve risen above the strip malls filled with stuff that melts my brain into a mush of consumerism and more, more, more. I’ve risen above the clouds, and I’m at 7,000 feet taking a hike, skirting between California and Nevada. Sunrise red snow flowers spring up from piles of auburn pine needles, promising new life among the rubble.

Again I’m hiking at 7,000 feet and reaching my fingertips toward the clouds. There is supposed to be less oxygen the higher one climbs, but my lungs don’t feel strained; instead, they feel a sense of release, saturated with leafy nasal libations. This time around Piegan Pass is the goal with Glacier National Park as its backdrop. I keep my freak flag snuggly tucked in my back pocket, but pull it out on these occasions. Even though it’s mid-summer, snow patches still cover the ground up here, and glaciers remain hidden between mountain peeks (glaciers in Glacier, you don’t say). Instead of snubbing the frosty patch of ice like I normally would, I leap onto it and lie down to make a snow angel in July. The cold is welcome this time of year, and something in the air spurs me to action.

In New Zealand’s Arrowtown the sensation is multiplied. Everything is in high definition in this town and in this country as a whole: trees, mountains, trails. I look at my hands and feet and feel their connection to my body. Everything is working as one well-manufactured machine, but my soul skips like a little girl galloping through a field of lupine. A dozen trails take off from the Arrow River and I choose the Sawpit Gully Trail, which leads me up a hill peering over Arrowtown and Lake Hayes. I stop, equipped with my journal, and jot down a few thoughts. Then I grab my ankle and prop my foot on the inside of my calf in tree pose. I rotate through a series of spontaneous yoga poses, lifting my eyes to the sky and pointing my body toward the mountains in prayerful meditation. Time stands still as I focus on the air filling and emptying out of my diaphragm.

It doesn’t matter where I am in nature. As my boots meet the dirt, I feel free. I feel brave. I can “say what I want to say” as my husband and I walk and talk — about our dreams, about our next big adventure in Iceland and Norway, about the U.S. road trip we want to take next year. Heck, who knows? Maybe we’ll go work in Hawaii come January.

Out here, the possibilities are endless. I want to run and leap and boulder up rock walls. I want to be great and humble, calm and ecstatic, quick and slow. I want to be present in this moment and savor every crisp, full lung inhalation.

About the Author:  Sarah Reijonen sold her house and 80 acres in eastern Washington to travel the world — that was five years ago. Since then, Sarah and her husband, Spanky, have traveled to nearly 30 countries and wander and work in California in their RV. Last year Sarah published her first book, a travel memoir entitled Country Girl: Letting Love and Wanderlust Take the Reins.

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