reflections: a year of exploration

2018 was transformative.

New places, new people, a dramatic leap from living on Seattle’s Capitol Hill to suburban Houston. Sometimes a change in our environment is all it takes to spark some introspection; which, if you let it, can be the stone that ripples the water.

Take the risk. Shatter your reflection and see what takes shape as the ripples calm and your image rebuilds itself.

January: Paris 

Lesson 1: Rediscovering my love for travel.

(Part 1, Part 2, exploring Versailles, cooking in a French kitchen)

To kick off 2018 I was lucky enough to return to one of the most beautiful cities in the world. A place that exists so elegantly alongside the grittiness of urbanity, decorated with stunning architecture and littered with the some of the most delicious food on earth.

There are few experiences so powerful as the beauty of a dream realized. I’d been to Paris before but each time you travel somewhere you return as a new person. To walk on the streets you’ve dreamed of for years, to imagine for yourself another life and to return inspired… god, I love that feeling.

Travel encourages a sort of dramatization of life.

I love tapping into the life of the “someone else” I could have been, which is part of why I stay in Airbnbs and hostels worldwide- you get a better appreciation for the way people go about their day-to-day than you do from staying in a hotel. It’s also way cheaper, for us broke-travel folks. There is something about getting up in the morning imagining a life lived differently. One of the most fun things to do as a tourist is the same things locals would (maybe this is just me…?); finding small organic grocery shops, waiting out the rain under an awning with a cigarette and a book… okay, without the cigarette for me, but you get the idea.

I went to Paris because I was feeling dull and tired of my existence in America. I hadn’t really traveled since my failed move abroad and returning to Paris reminded me of how much I truly love to explore foreign places.

It reminded me that I was brave enough to keep exploring.

February: Rome, NYC

Lesson 2: Living in the moment and being confident in your decision to do so.

(First Impressions, Architecture)

NYC is my soul city. The first trip I made on a plane (save for a childhood trip to California I have few memories of) at age 17. The first city I got to explore on my own- if only for a day, because it was on a school trip and technically we were supposed to have chaperones with us at all times. Where I dreamed of moving for years, where I sent off college applications before deciding on Singapore. Where I went after that first Europe trip to recharge.

I was elated when I booked a ticket to Rome with a layover in New York that gave me enough time to spend the morning reconnecting with that beautiful city. I wandered along the waterfront, ate the most amazing paleo food at Hu Kitchen, and just explored, soaking up the vibe of what has to be one of my favorite places on earth… so far, anyway.

I mean, then there was Rome.

A perpetual sunset, a dream city. I have a tendency to rush through things, living in perpetual urgency. Rome doesn’t allow that. It is an urgent city- traffic whizzing by, the clattering of espresso cups at a bar, quick pizza lunches on the side of the road, all the stereotypes you’d expect- but in a manner that is full and lively and entirely of the moment. If you choose to relax amidst the chaos it’s not seen as giving up or laziness but simply a pause, another dimension to the structure of this city’s culture.

Rome was a reminder to embrace each moment as it comes.

One of the other things I love about solo travel is that it places you so fully back into yourself. You are forced to be confident in yourself and your ability to figure shit out, the decisions you make amplified by the matter of dropping yourself into a country where you don’t speak the language. Taking these risks makes you stronger, brings you back home- to your core.

March: Reykjavik

Lesson 3: You can relax. Exploration doesn’t require constant motion.

My best friend and I spent a few days in Reykjavik on a whim, and it ended up being absolutely wonderful. She wasn’t feeling so well the first day after our arrival, and neither of us had a ton of money to blow on excursions, so it ended up being a really relaxed and laid-back trip. An escape from the day to day, if you will.

We stayed in a peaceful little eco-friendly hostel, which only lost points for the lack of toilet paper and the co-ed bathroom situation. However, it was located in a beautiful park, whose frosted ponds we crossed on rickety bridges in pale morning light.

The weather was freezing but refreshing, and were able to walk from our hostel to central Reykjavik (eating rice cakes for lunch because we’d overspent on a delicious raw/vegan spot, Glo, earlier on) along the water. Having been to Reyjavik before, I loved being able to show my friend my favorite cafe, Ida Zimsen, a combination bookshop and cafe (like catnip for Seattle-ites).

If you’ve ever felt like it’s not okay to slow down, you’ll understand the power of receiving permission to catch your breath.

Our trip culminated with a trip to Blue Lagoon, which we had splurged on, choosing the night option because it was the cheapest. We worried it might be a bit of an overblown experience but it was actually the most phenomenal thing, to swim between black rocks under a starry sky with steam rising off the water. We were incredibly lucky, too- on the bus ride back to our hostel, the Northern Lights, vivid green and undulating, wrapped themselves through the sky and followed us half the way back into Reykjavik. That moment, apart from hiding out in the back of a few basilicas in Rome, was the most spiritual I have ever felt. The most peaceful. It was an amazing sight, and my words absolutely cannot do it justice.

July: Houston

Lesson 4: When you give yourself fully to a new place, you will be rewarded.    

Moving to the suburbs of Houston was something I expected to be tedious, dull and short-term. I was only supposed to be here for a month. But for a variety of reasons, that month became a year. And a small town I expected to make me feel trapped and excluded actually revealed itself to be home to the most welcoming and supportive community I’ve ever known.

I got involved in several running groups as soon as I was able to start running again, which I’d never done before, thinking I preferred to run alone. I still do, often, but between the social and speedy groups I train with I have met so many big-hearted, badass, and overall wonderful people. I mean, they’re runners, so their all-around greatness is to be expected! But I am constantly amazed with the kindness and generosity that exist in this local running community, and am so, so grateful to be able to be a part of it.

There is still the matter of getting comfortable with the discomfort of leaving, which was rough moving here and I’m sure will be rough when I move again. But I have loved getting to know new faces in a part of the country I never expected to grow roots in. Sometimes even if you know it’s going to be sad or uncomfortable in the future (ie; moving away), it’s still so damn worth it to engage with those around you in every second you have with them.

September: Oaxaca

Lesson 5: Let go of your fears and inhibitions. Release control. Embrace the moment.

(Oaxaca)

This trip was way out of my comfort zone, which made it the best thing I could have chosen to sign up for.

Sometimes you need a reminder of what it feels like to release control. A reminder that if you can push through things that are uncomfortable or difficult, you can gain so, so much.

I may be a budget traveler but I am definitely a city kid at heart. Traveling into rural mountains and being out in the woods all day really tested my spirit. It wasn’t truly that challenging in the end, but I hadn’t really thought about what a trail running trip in the mountains of Mexico really entailed, so it was a bit of a shock. However, it was also a huge confidence builder because it reminded me to just let go and focus on the moment. For example- when you can barely walk and someone says today we’re running another 10 miles, do you sit down and give up? Or do you limp over to the trailhead and, wincing at that first step, chase the guys leading the run to see how fast you can fly?

(hint: never give up)

October: Ragnar 

Lesson 6: Sometimes you just have to do it.

(it’s going to hurt anyway)

Oaxaca definitely gave me the crazy “I can do anything” confidence to agree to sign up for a random trail relay through the woods. Overnight. Also to decide on a whim that I could totally cover 31 miles of the course. Having not been running for a year-ish.

So I plastered Nike’s “just do it” onto my heart and just went for it.

In Oaxaca I had relearnt that as a runner, a real runner, you can’t plan everything. You can’t always plan when you are able to eat or pee or rest. You just go out there when it’s time and do the thing and it’s hard but you do it anyway.

The mantra that month was “I can do hard things.” Which ended up carrying me nicely into November, as it turned out.

November:  Copper Canyons,  New Orleans

Lesson 7: I can do hard things.

(Copper Canyons, New Orleans, strong / 13.1)

I returned to Mexico in November with the confidence that I could take risks, do difficult things both physically and mentally. This trip helped solidify my faith in myself, proving that I was capable of more than I thought possible. It helped that friends from my first time in Mexico were along for the ride as well- with international friendships sometimes it’s hard to reconnect, and it was wonderful to feel so connected to people who I really had only spent a few weeks in total with. Running, adventuring with others… doing hard things together does that for you, that quick and close forging of bonds.

Between Oaxaca and Ragnar, I think I unintentionally gave myself the best possible training for the New Orleans half marathon I won. My unorthodox (okay, nonexistent) training plan paid off because it had taught me so much about digging into my soul, my spirit, my heart… and trusting that the numbers, the speed would follow. I have a lot more to say about this but… we’ll save that for an upcoming blog post.

Because of all this, I am moving into this next year with a renewed sense of self. There are greater challenges ahead, I’m sure, and I am ready to face them, in large part due to the adventures of this past year. Travel, exploration, is soul expanding. It reminds you to be grateful for the ordinary days as well as introducing you to your wildest dreams.

Next year, I’ll be moving to a new city. I hope to travel for a few races, and lay down some fast times. I’m also dying to explore Greece and Morocco, so I’m keeping an eye on cheap flights to those destinations.

As 2018 comes to a close, think back. What have you learned this year? Are you still the same person you were a year ago? Probably not. How have you changed?

Who are you becoming?

This year I read (or reread) some books that had significant impacts on my life, and that I think anyone could learn from. In no particular order…

“The Desire Map” by Danielle LaPorte

Mind Platter” by Najwa Zebian

A Beautiful Composition of Broken” by r.h. Sin

Spend time with these or other pieces of literature that inspire you. Spend time with yourself. Live a little more every day this year.

Happy new year, everyone! I’m psyched to see what’s in store for us all.

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