Coming Full Circle
As I sit here at my best friend’s house in rural Pennsylvania it dawns on me, I’ve come full circle. This is where my adventure in nomadic explorations began nearly four years ago to the day. This cozy, sweet family’s home was my very first stop on my grand world tour. This is where I celebrated the start. And now, this is where it ends. This time I am also celebrating.
In September of 2013 I left Chicago, the place I had called home since 2001. Chicago is where I became defined and grew into the person I am. It is the place where I met the people who have been most influential and important to me and the place where I opened up my heart to the people who have become my closest, most beloved friends. I call them family. I emptied a 2 1/2 bedroom apartment that held 12 years of accumulated memories in a month. I left a job I loved. But the world was calling and I didn’t hesitate. I planned on traveling for no more than one year. Four years later, I’m finally ready to slow down.
My first stop was to visit my dear friends in Pennsylvania. Next, I toured Canada, first Toronto then Montreal. I took a road trip through Quebec and went whale watching in Tadoussac. I wandered the streets of New York City before crossing the pond to rediscover my roots in Poland. I reunited with long-lost family, family I never knew existed, and the ones I lived with or only met a handful of times in my early childhood. I discovered the mountains that border the Czech Republic where my parents spent time before moving to Austria and then ultimately starting a life in Louisville, KY. I questioned what family really meant. Where these strangers them or the ones I chose and left in Chicago? I made my way down through Austria, Hungary, and Italy. It was late November and I craved the sea so I impulsively bought a plane ticket and arrived in Bangkok 3 days later, trading pasta for pad thai, Chianti for Chang, and boots for bikinis.
I spent the next 4 months crossing Thailand, Laos and Malaysia by way of countless tuks tuks, motor bikes, long boats, sleeper buses, ferries and trains. I ate bugs for Thanksgiving and drank very questionable homemade alcohols. I regret going to a ping pong show. I cried with an elephant held captive. I trekked though the jungle and stayed still on remote islands in the middle of nowhere. And I ate endlessly. I unexpectedly came across an absurdly cheap flight from Kuala Lumper, Malaysia to Sydney, Australia and spontaneously left the next day.
I couchsurfed Sydney, ate my way through Melbourne and then found myself on a farm in a tiny town in Victoria, Australia. I peeled and planted garlic for a month. I wanted to better understand the first step to how we get the food we eat and the work that goes into it. The work is hard. I now appreciate the act of eating in a whole new way. My first night on the farm, I walked out into the dark. The darkest dark I’d ever felt. It felt like floating or maybe flying. The stars were by the billions at least. When my eyes met the contrast of pinhole, bright lights against the pitch black canvas, I instinctively ducked. That’s how heavy the sky was. In the emptiness of the space and the deafening silence of night, I swear I saw a glimpse into the secret of the universe. I swear for a second, I understood.
Dwindling funds and a nagging heart landed me in Austin, TX. I spent 6 months working, saving, trying to stay still but my itchy feet sent me packing. I stopped through Chicago where everything changed. I thought I would stay, work for a while, and plan my next trip but instead I accepted an offer to start Salt Trails. A week later a coworker and I woke up in India. This felt like my true beginning. The previous 15 months had just been practice, a warm-up, perhaps a test.
For the next 3 months, I battled Delhi belly and lost more weight than I was comfortable with. I learned the true definitions of density, chaos, and personal space. I visited a rat temple. I slept in the open air of the desert. I immersed myself in an ashram and rekindled with my inner yogi. As cliché as it sounds, I had a genuine spiritual awakening. In a country that forces you to confront yourself, I discovered I had deeper strength than I knew possible. I ate a lot of bad Indian food in India.
Hunger pangs sent me to South Korea. I went there for dinner and ate live octopus. I found Korea to have amazing culture, thoughtful customs, and heart-warming kindness. I rode a bicycle 700km across the entire country! I climbed its many mountains, discovered the countryside, and even visited a penis park. I got to walk under tunnels of cherry blossoms as they rained their perfect, soft, pink petals upon me. It had been a simple but lifelong dream of mine. It was the first place I’d ever been completely and utterly illiterate where English isn’t spoken and the alphabet doesn’t resemble letters I know. I learned to trust everyone.
Bound by layers of clothes that began to feel ever-tightening, I longed to be half-naked and warmed by the sun, to feel the sand, the salt, the edge of the earth. I left Seoul, South Korea with my belly and my soul filled and headed for the beaches of Indonesia. Bali and the tiny Gili Islands thawed my hard travel armor. I was reminded to lighten up, take it easy and appreciate the little things like bare feet and bikinis, early mornings swims and fresh coconut water. There’s always a guy with a guitar to remind you to “don’t worry be happy.” I relaxed. I learned the value of relaxing.
In Greece, I was taken under the wing of many gracious, boisterous Greeks. I had the chance to work at one of my favorite wineries and it taught me a lesson in appreciating the little things. I toured the northern farming region and tasted fresh foods from the land I walked upon. I watched as the 2015 referendum vote shaped the lives of locals and how the news represented it all wrong and contrived. I stood with my Greek friends as they stood strong through their political strife. I explored all of Greece’s most amazing, ancient structures as it forced me to contemplate the meaning of our short lives. I drove the winding, magical roads of Crete. I combed its wildly unique and old geography, tasted its distinct flavors, and swam its many liberating nude beaches. In Greece I learned the lesson that we are a blip in time, an ant in the great big world, so I learn to give up worry.
London and Paris
I zipped through London and Paris with colleagues I call friends, where with a stroke of luck and kind generosity I experienced high-end life of the western world. I crossed velvet ropes. I enjoyed a coveted burlesque show from highly sought after seats. I sat in first class train cabins. I was served chilled shrimp by waiters with perfect posture in clean, white shirts starched so hard they might crack at any wrong move. They brought me fine rosès. They brought me escargot. I occupied spaces on patios that I did not belong on. One afternoon in a Parisian courtyard full of wrought iron and crawling ivy I sipped Chablis and puffed on Cuban cigars. It confirmed my great appreciation for the finer things in life, yet solidified that I do not require them. Though I couldn’t have been more grateful for all the luxury I was experiencing, it was the people I was thrilled to be with. We could have been anywhere. It was true, it was who not what that surrounded me which mattered.
I swung back through the States, this time to drive a friend’s truck from Austin, TX to Monterey, California. I then drove another long haul from Los Angeles, California to Chicago, IL. I drove alone in quite solitude and contemplation through the far deserts and unexpected gems of Texas and New Mexico. It’s wild and vast out there. I wound my way through tall woods till I hit high cliffs that line at the Pacific. I made my way through wine country and back down. I went from big city L.A. and wild and crazy Las Vegas to the awe-inspiring country in Utah with its incredible canyons, parks and lakes. I went high into the snow capped Rocky Mountains. Kansas proved its more than flat land, it’s also home to wicked storms as I experienced the most terrifying drive of my life. I sampled all the good old southern cooking and moonshine with good old southern hospitality as I made my way through Kentucky. This county has space. It really does have purple mountain majesty and amber waves of gain. America is beautiful. I ended the drive in the city where my heart lives and as I drove up to its tall, steel sky scrapers, I knew I’d never live in Chicago again. At the end of my road trip that lasted a little over a month, across 12 states, and some 4,ooo miles, it was January in the midwest and the winter was not welcoming. I fled to Colombia instead.
In Colombia I danced salsa late into the night. I hiked for days into lost tribal lands and to the highest tip tops of the Andes Mountains. I left a piece of my nomadic self in the coffee rich region of Salento. It’s where I accidentally fell in love and began to wonder how much longer I wanted to wander alone. In Ecuador, I trekked through the Amazon, ate meals among relentless sand flies, slept with mosquitos, and woke next to tarantulas. I loved every minute of it. Then I watched a man I cared for deeply wither into illness worse than I have ever seen. I caught myself caring more for him than for travel. I stumbled upon an abundance of life in a hippie community with more centenarians than anywhere else. I thought about how long life might be without love, community, and friends. Loneliness threatened and I started to crave roots. As I straddled the literal equator in Ecuador, I started to wonder which side of this life I might end up on.
Starting that spring, over the next handful of months I flew back and forth a dozen plus times between California and the rest of the world. I was chasing my heart while my mind bent out shape. In the meantime I fell in love the ocean and west coast. I fantasized about another life. It was the beginning of the end. A shift was happening. I went to Panama. I showed up sad. At this point in my travels, I was mentally weaker but I still celebrated my 3 year anniversary of travel by hiking as many hills as possible in one day. And I got to celebrate the birthday of a close friend on the Panamanian coast. Along the way, I competed my Yoga Teacher Training course, something I’ve wanted to do for years. I celebrated that too. Panama reminded me that we create our destiny. Happiness is a choice.
Back and forth to California again. I wound up in the Redwoods, a place I had forever wanted to see, feel, hear and breath. It somehow feels steady there despite the uncertainty of its tall trees efforts to not fall. The woods and my life had that in common. I knew I had to surrender. This is where I finally learned how to.
I went to Mexico. I stayed 6 months, the longest I’ve ever stayed in one country. I road-tripped and camped through the surprisingly great wine and food region of Baja. I became obsessed with mezcal. I went to lucha libre. I explored sacred pyramids, canyons, and had an existential epiphany in a cenote. I released baby turtles. I experienced the great monarch migration. I met a woman in her 60’s in Guadalajara that had traveled so long she forget the point of life and where she came from. I wondered if the same could happen to me. I needed to be grounded and so I stayed for 6 weeks in one spot, in paradise. For a sliver in time I had it all. I lived in Puerto Escondido, by the ocean, and with a man who I loved. I was near friends I adored and doing work that I cared about. I had routine. I had morning workouts, afternoon swims, evenings with friends, home cooked meals and quiet nights. I wavered in my confusion between what I wanted and what I wanted for others to want. You don’t always get what you want but our potential paths are many, if you hit a wall, make a turn. I chose love but it didn’t choose me back. I left Mexico to walk it off in Portugal and Spain.
Portugal and Spain
In Portugal I reunited with a friend. We walked all the way from Porto, Portugal to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The Portuguese coastal way of the Camino de Santiago took us 14 days and 330km. You can eat a lot when you walk that much. My feet hurt with blood filled blisters. My back ached from carrying my bag. My head was busy and my heart heavy. None of it mattered. The only thing to do was keep walking. It was therapeutic. It was enlightening. It was empowering. It was beautiful and it was fun. It was hard and when it was over I didn’t want it to end. My amazing four years of travel had taken me as far as I could go. I actually went as far as the end of the earth, where in my heart, I knew my journey was ending. I left Spain with peace. I left knowing I was going to make a big change.
The truth is I’ve become exhausted from moving every week. Living out of a backpack has its perks and its downsides. On the most basic end, I’d like to stay somewhere long enough to know without thinking where all the outlets, light switches, and doors are located. I want to wake up in the same bed for more than a few days in a row. I want to leave my shampoo in the shower and my towel anywhere I put it. I want to drink coffee out of my same favorite mug everyday for a while, just for a while, so can I unpack my bag and unpack my brain. In the bigger picture, I feel the need to spread out, separate, and sift through all the knowledge and lessons I’ve accumulated over the last four years. I need time and space to think it all through. I need to discover what parts and how to expand upon, to see what it’s all worth.
That kind of long-term, focused travel changed me, or rather brought out the best in me. I like this version of myself and I think I’d like sit with myself for a while and just enjoy the process. For now, I want to improve upon the things that I’ve learned over the years and make space in my life for the things that truly make the world go round- love, community, and relationships. And once I’m done with myself, I’d like to figure out how to give all the love I can back to the world.
And as if to second my decision, in either pretty well-timed synchronicity with the universe or just plain bad luck and sheer irony, my computer, my livelihood, died a quick and sudden death. This happened on the eve that I planned to post my last entry. This post was not it. I think fate has decided for me, it’s time to move on.
I have loved every minute of Salt Trails. Writing the blog has forced me to be present in every moment. It has taught me to seek alternative perspectives in similar situations. It has made me dig deeper, try harder and believe in myself more. I am forever grateful for the invaluable opportunity to write and share the contents of this blog. For all those that followed, thank you for joining me as I’ve carved my trail trough the salt of the Earth.