My Journey on the Tahoe Rim Trail

Let me begin by saying that this will absolutely be one of those “the trail changed my life” posts. Throughout the writing of this blog, I found it so challenging to figure out what to write because there’s just SO MUCH that went down my 12 days on trail. Do I talk about the logistics? The day-to-day? My insights and takeaways? It’s been more difficult to write than I anticipated, so I did my best to give you a cohesive look at those 12 days and all the ups, downs, and life-affirming moments.

I made the decision to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail back in January, when I was still in my teaching job, dreaming about travel and long-distance hiking. Initially, I thought of it passively, sort of as something that I wanted to do, but probably wouldn’t actually end up doing. I day-dreamed of it in different scenarios… would I hike it with my partner? With a friend? Would I meet trail family out there that I could link up with and seek safety with? Or would I just… do it by myself? No… that thought seemed too crazy and a little too spooky. But I still told people, “Yep, I’m hiking the Tahoe Rim Trail by myself” almost to see if I believed it.

Now, to provide a bit of context, I have done another long distance trail before: The Colorado Trail. It spans 500 miles from Denver to Durango, and I hiked it with my partner back in the summer of 2020. Yes, I walked every damn step of that trail with my own two feet, and yes, I got myself up every day and found the willpower to walk 18(ish) miles each day… but when it came to logistics, planning, navigation, water and food, and picking me up when I was having a meltdown, I leaned heavily on my partner. He’s an extremely experienced hiker, having completed the Appalachian Trail (2190 miles), the Pacific Crest Trail (2650 miles) and part of the Continental Divide Trail. Subconsciously, I put a ton of stock and belief in him as my guide through my first ever thru-hike, and the result was me feeling super proud of myself, but not much more confident in my own ability to survive out in nature. I so badly wanted to feel like I could take care of myself… that I could not just survive, but thrive in a high-intensity situation like a thru-hike. Thus, I decided: “Fuck it, I’m doing the Tahoe Rim Trail by myself.”

The days and weeks leading up to my first solo thru-hike had me questioning things a lot… fluctuating between “totally fine” and “totally freaking out.” I hadn’t really planned out anything in regards to resupply, food, and water, and it was starting to hit me how stupid it was that I would be stepping on trail in an ever-shrinking number of days with little to no info about the trail. Where would I park? How would I get to town, and how often, to get food resupplied? Would there be plenty of water? Or none? Would the trail just go around Lake Tahoe? Or through steep mountains? I just had no clue. But even when I sat myself down and researched my ass off in the 2 days before I began my hike, it still wasn’t enough to comfort me into certainty that I could do the damn thing. But I still went for it. So here’s how that went:

Big Meadow Trailhead, Tahoe Rim Trail mile 106.4

While most people start the trail at the trailhead in Tahoe City (mile 0.0), I chose to begin at the Big Meadow Trailhead (mile 106.4). I made this choice for a of couple reasons, chief among them being that it would break up the 80+ mile dry section out of Tahoe City. There’s only one permit that is needed to hike the Tahoe Rim Trail, and it’s only for the section that spans trough the Desolation Wilderness. After a slightly frustrating experience trying to secure my permit that morning, I finally got it and set out on the trail around 1:30pm. I walked about 10 miles that first afternoon and met a wonderful friend, Cory, who’s mere presence was a great comfort to me on my first day of solo thru-hiking. Now, I debated about putting this story into this blog, but it’s kind of too good not to…. That first night on trail was COLD, and after finally getting warm, I did NOT want to get out of my sleeping bag to pee in the middle of the night. So I thought back to a book I had read called “Thru-Hiking Will Break Your Heart”, written by Carrot Quinn. She would pee in gallon sized Ziploc bags and place them in the vestibule of her tent at night so she didn’t have to get out into the cold night when she was exhausted. So, I tried this in my half-asleep daze, not remembering the importance of the size of the Ziploc… so with my quart-sized sandwich bag, I started to pee. And it worked well!!! Until it didn’t. And I ended up getting pee all over my sleeping pad, my tent, and my pants. Great first night!

Big Meadow

The next several days were a whirlwind of beauty, pain, happy tears, and very, VERY upset tears. The trail meandered through wildflower speckled meadows, climbed steeply up mountain passes with sweeping views that my mind couldn’t quite grasp, and traversed around several stunning alpine lakes (and boy, a swim sounds super nice on a hot day until you finally get in and can’t breathe for 5 minutes). On day 2, I decided that I would push it 18.5 miles to get to camp that evening (a trend that remained), sort of just to see if I could. My journal entry for that day read, “Didn’t mean to walk this far… just sort of happened I guess.” And as you can probably imagine, I was exhausted by the end of the day, feeling overheated, sunburnt, pissed off, and with the beginnings of some overuse injuries forming in my right ankle and left knee. When you go from a relatively normal lifestyle, doing some yoga and walking about 5 miles a day, and then you suddenly jump to being on your feet for 9 hours, climbing up and over mountain passes, and walking 18 miles a day, your body may start to rebel (as mine did). The overuse injuries started getting worse, and by the 4th day on trail, my right ankle was throbbing on every uphill and my left knee felt like it was about to pop out of place on all the downhills. This led to a classic “mid-day meltdown” on the steepest part of my third sustained climb of the day. A super kind PCT hiker from the UK saw me leaning against a tree, crying and hyperventilating and kindly offered me Ibuprofen, a hug, and the reassurance that the pain is normal and part of the game. The mix of “vitamin I” and coffee had me feeling like Superman for the rest of the day and I hobbled into camp in better spirits, knowing I would arrive in Tahoe City the next morning.

Day 2, passing Lake Aloha

The ability to eat unlimited high calorie foods, drink beer, take an hour long shower, and sleep in a fluffy, quilted bed cannot be underestimated. When you’re out in the woods, covered in dust, sweat, sunscreen residue, and your own filth, sleeping on an egg-crate pad, trying to wash your hands to take out your contacts only to discover that no amount of soap and water seems to help… those modern comforts that we take for granted are like borderline orgasmic pleasure. That may seem like an overstatement… but I kid you not, my first bite of a slice of vegan pizza brought tears to my eyes. Relaxing in Tahoe City and making wonderful trail friends was exactly what I needed to wrap my mind around the next 40 miles, where there would only be 3 natural water sources the entire time. Now, the thru-hiking community is amazing and beyond helpful, and wonderful people called “Trail Angels” regularly drop off gallons of water at certain points along the dry sections so that hikers can avoid carrying more than 10-15 pounds of water at a time. There was one such water cache along this section in addition to the 3 natural water sources, so my anxiety about dehydration was pretty high going into this section.

Back on trail after a nice afternoon and evening break!

The longest water carry in those next 40 miles was 18 miles of dry, waterless trail. I made the decision to upgrade my water carrying capacity to 4 liters throughout this section, budgeting about 1 liter for every 5 miles of walking. What I didn’t account for was that this section is HOT and DRY and EXPOSED and in NEVADA, so the drinking habits I’d had in the water-filled Desolation Wilderness weren’t gonna fly out here. Those first 40 miles out of Tahoe City felt like one extended climb with very little relief, in my mind. My brain was constantly obsessing about how much water I had left, how much further I had to go to find more water, and how hot it was. The funny thing about obsessing about water is that the more you think about rationing it, the more you want to chug it… so I got into a pretty negative headspace my second day out of Tahoe City feeling like my body was giving up on me and the trail was out to get me. That evening, I began to feel physically ill, fighting waves of nausea and trying to find ways to ease the burning pain I was experiencing in my inner thighs from chafing. My climb up to Relay Peak that next morning was an intense one… I was struggling hard to remain present and focused. My sister briefly video called me so that I could say good morning to my nieces, and she found me wobbly-legged and crying at the beginning of the climb. I began to grow anxious about my nausea, worrying that I would begin vomiting and become dehydrated (given that I only had 1 liter left for the 7 miles to Galena Falls) and pass out on trail and not be able to make it out. My ability to catastrophize is truly incredible… like… if we could create renewable energy off of my catastrophizing, I could power New York City off of that alone. So the climb up became a cocktail of “shut the hell up, Morgan” and “I’m going to die.” Getting to the top of that climb felt like a breakthrough moment for me. It was amazing to me to see that I, in fact, DID NOT DIE and I actually got myself to that point through my own willpower, effort, and ability to take care of myself. I’m someone who loves to ask for help and rely on others when I feel scared or out of my element, so it really tripped me out to be at the top of that mountain and realize that this was the first thing in my ENTIRE life that I had done for myself and completely BY myself. No one was there as a backup to give me water when I felt thirsty. No one was there to comfort my anxiety when I began spinning out of control stressing about water sources and climbs. It was only me. And in that moment, my entire outlook on myself and my relationship to myself changed dramatically.

The view from Relay Peak, where I cried my face off

I began sobbing the kind of tears that are difficult to understand. There was exhaustion behind those tears… emotional overwhelm and frustration, but also tremendous pride, gratitude, and joy at having made it to such a beautiful point on my own two feet. I changed the mantra of “This sucks. I hurt. Am I there yet? I can’t do this” to “I love you, I’m proud of you, you’re doing great.” This mantra may sound super cheesy, but it was a hugely impactful experience to say those words to myself and actually feel the comfort and release from them as though they’d been spoken to me by someone else. It was like, in that moment, I learned that I could actually believe myself and love myself fully. I’d never been so kind and gentle to my own mind and body before. I’d never given the space from my automatic negative thoughts about myself to realize that the voice telling me, “I can’t do this. This sucks” is not my own. And so, with this huge awakening and 2.5 days of dry conditions and difficult hiking behind me, I was massively ready for a break to recenter and get my head right for my last 73 miles.

A stunning morning on trail amongst the lupines and trees

I’m so lucky to have a compassionate and thoughtful partner who enjoys surprising me, and that’s just what Mike did when he made the last minute decision to come to the Mt. Rose Summit Trailhead, pick up my smelly hiker self in his car, and drive me to Reno for a 1.5 day break from nature. We spent our time being potatoes; laying in bed staring at our phones for hours at a time, drinking beer and eating tons of food, binge watching Friends (OMG TELEVISION!!!), and trying a bit of gambling down in the casino. By the evening of that full zero day, I was itching to be back in the trees and feel wind on my face and sun and dust on my calves. The complete immersion in nature that thru-hiking affords can become overwhelming at times, and it can feel like “PLEASE LET ME GET TO A CITY SO I CAN SEE SOME DAMN CONCRETE.” But once in the city, it struck me how much I was ready to get out of it and back into the forest. Ready to escape the cigarette smoke, creepy male gaze, judgement over my filthy clothes, distraction, and way-too-fast-paced living of downtown. That mental shift made those last 73 miles so gratifying and intentional. Realizing that this way of life would inherently be temporary caused me to take in every single thing; every color of every flower, every conversation with a new trail friend, every moment when my thoughts reverted back to “this sucks, I can’t do this” and changed back to “I love you, I’m proud of you, you’re doing great.” I allowed myself to take the breaks I wouldn’t take in the beginning. I sat at the views with strangers who became friends in a matter of minutes and experienced the deepest belly laughs I’ve ever had. I swapped trail stories with amazing people like Funny Bone, a man who has hiked every long trail in the United States, most of them at least 4 times, and was on his third loop of the Tahoe Rim Trail that summer. As my hike came to a close, I felt torn about finishing. I was incredibly proud of myself and emotionally fatigued at the wide array of feelings I experienced each day. I was simultaneously very ready to be done, and nowhere near ready for the experience to be over. But as I crossed the Big Meadow Trailhead and walked back to my Prius, the weight of what had just occurred fully sunk in.

Back in my Prius after just finishing the trail

I had hiked 174 miles and I had done it… alone. I went from never being fully comfortable and confident by myself to owning it and enjoying it in a matter of 12 days. I learned that I can take care of my own damn self and that I have all the same competencies that I’ve observed and admired in other people. I learned that the only things that cause me to fail are my own mental limits, and by pushing past them and challenging every single negative thought that pops into my head, I can do hard things. Hiking alone was incredibly challenging. At times I felt scared, paranoid, tremendously lonely… but the resiliency and love I feel for myself now were well worth every moment of sadness or discomfort. Being alone isn’t about never feeling lonely… it’s about feeling lonely, feeling what ever comes along with that, and then just continuing to live and experience all that’s around you. I am so grateful to the Tahoe Rim Trail and every single person I met along the way for all that I learned and experienced. These lessons are definitely more challenging to integrate back in normal life, but each day so far, I’ve woken up with the knowledge that I can take care of myself, I have all that I need, and I love myself.

And that’s the greatest gift I could have ever received.

Thanks for reading!

Sincerely,

-M

Looking Without Seeing

Children are absolutely amazing. From the time that they are just born, until they begin to take on the shape and values of their society, they seem to have a unique ability to be fully present and in awe of the things around them. I can remember feeling this way as a child… the wonder that I experienced looking at the sunlight streaming through the leaves of a tree, or the way I could pretend so fiercely that it felt real… But then at some point in my life, that kind of stopped. I’m working tirelessly on figuring out when and why it happened… could be trauma, could be enough voices telling me who I was and what I had to offer… but the flowers lost their awesomeness, and the world began to flatten a bit to a more dulled out, reasonable thing to be a part of. I know this sounds sad, and to be honest, it kind of is! But I really didn’t notice the gradual losing of this ability to look at something and truly see it for the wonderful thing it is… it just sort of happened throughout the course of my late teenaged years and early twenties and before I knew it, I was uniquely incapable of being fully present to a person, thing, or experience. I’m not sure if this is a common human experience, but my hunch is that it super the heck is.

There was a moment when I realized this lostness, and my frustration over it. I had made the decision to hike the Colorado Trail with my partner, Mike in the summer of 2020 (chaotic time to do a chaotic thing). In the planning and dreaming process of the trip, I imagined countless scenes where I was looking out over incredible mountaintop views having incredible mountaintop experiences; crying into the wind with gratitude, weeping with joy over how beautiful and amazing the world is, feeling my feelings fully and having the space to be myself, etc. That might sound silly to you, but I really put a lot of detail into these daydreams and consequently, a lot of expectation into the fulfillment of those daydreams. I’ve always heard the advice “go in with no expectations, and then you won’t be disappointed”, and I really tried to internalize and integrate that advice, but in the back of my mind, the expectations prevailed.

Now, the Colorado Trail is 500 trail miles long from the city of Denver to the city of Durango. It meanders through peaceful meadows with crystal clear, ice cold streams to drink from, climbs (relentlessly, at times) countless mountain passes and rocky talus fields that make you feel like you’re on another planet, passes by thousands of brightly colored, fragrant wild flowers, and overlooks pristine alpine lakes with colors so pure, they’re almost incomprehensible. By all intents and purposes, it’s a perfect place to reconnect with the awe of nature and rediscover the parts of yourself that may have become lost throughout the years. In these 500 miles, I certainly had several stand out moments where I thought, “Holy shit… I’M HERE! THIS IS AMAZING! WOWOWOWOWOWOWOWWWWWW!” But those moments were few and far between, and certainly not as numerous as I anticipated. More often than not, I found myself cursing every step, agonizing over the weight on my back, and standing at the peak of a climb only to look out over the scenery and feel nothing (maybe tired, maybe hungry… but no emotion or gratitude). At first, I didn’t notice… it seemed normal to be hungry and tired and pissed off when walking 15-20 miles a day in the full Colorado sun. But after about 28 days, a generalized sense of panic set in. I felt like this incredible life-experience was passing me by and just slipping through my fingers… like trying to grab water. You can see it, you can understand that it’s real, but you can’t quite grab it and hold it as your own. I spent the following days trying so. damn. hard. to be present. Every time I felt my mind wandering, I would say, “SHIT MORGAN. NO. Look at that flower, it’s beautiful!” And inevitably, the harder I tried to chase the feeling of presence and gratitude, the harder it became to find.

When we finished the trail, I was elated, but disoriented… like I had just clambered through a dream whose contents were slightly out of focus and hard to remember. The post-trail depression settled in and I was able to reflect on the paradox I experienced of looking, but not seeing. It occurred to me that I had been experiencing that for all of my adult life, but the Colorado Trail was a dramatic enough experience that it became impossible to ignore any longer. So I set out to figure out how to solve it. Now that was September of 2020. It’s now June of 2022 and I feel like I’m still struggling with this issue almost as deeply as I was then, but I’m at least aware. Aware of the tendency to dissociate. Aware of the tendency towards escapism and believing that I’ll be happier or a better version of myself when I’m “in this place” or “doing this thing.” Aware of the constant web-spinning of endless thoughts that keep me from looking at a beautiful scene and just being grateful for what is.

Now that I live in my car, I find myself back in this loop. Like I’m watching a TV show about a woman who looks like me living this impossibly adventurous nomadic lifestyle, but it’s not me. And I again find myself perplexed, annoyed, and determined to fight the dissociation in favor of awareness and the type of gratitude that brings deep peace. I still have a lot of learning to do and a long way to go… maybe one day I’ll post the blog post titled, “Looking Without Seeing: SOLVED!” But more than likely, it’ll be a lifelong journey and a constant reminder to come back to myself and my surroundings and connect deeply with what matters. One big thing that HAS changed since September of 2020: I’m officially OKAY with that.

Thanks for being here, and take a moment with me to look up from your screen. Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Breathe it out, and smile. You’re where you need to be and you have all that you need in each moment.

Love always,

-M-

Solo Travel: Anyone’s Game

I am now 2 weeks into my new life as a nomad… driving through states, sleeping out of my Prius, seeing incredible views, and posting up in Starbucks and McDonalds around the Southwest to steal Wi-Fi. There are so many things that I could take the time to write about right now, because I’ve experienced so many amazing things already, from time spent with my sister, brother-in-law and nieces, to strangers met on a cliff that helped me find my way back onto the correct trail, to panoramic views of the Sierra’s and a private car-camping site at the base of Mt. Whitney… but I’m going to take the next several hundred words to explain what I have experienced so far as a woman traveling alone.

Now, I haven’t been out long, mind you, so I’ll likely have more insights on this very thing in a month, 3 months, or a year. But so far, my experience has been a mixed bag. I’ve met several wonderful people who have been extremely kind, helpful, and enthusiastic about the fact that ya girl is out here roughin’ it in a car the size of a coffin. But I’ve also experienced some things that have given me pause… caused me to think and ask questions about the nature of our culture and society… how far we may or may not have come in the past 245 years of American history. First, let me begin by saying that the travel/nomad community is lovely. It’s full of people who are full of life, adventure, and the thrill of not knowing what tomorrow could bring, and I love it! I met several such people at my first car camping spot in Las Cruces, New Mexico… young couples disenchanted with the grind of modern life who were exhilarated by the idea of living out of a van with their dogs or their baby. The conversations had with these people were energizing, exciting, and affirming… “Oh you’re also traveling indefinitely with no certain plans for stopping or returning to modern society?! Cool, me too… I must not be as crazy as I thought.”

It isn’t the nomad community that has caused me to question things or feel insecure… but the traditional community.; the lovely, kind, and bewildered people I’ve met while hiking, doing yoga in a park or coveting McDonalds Wi-Fi. These are the people that comment things like “You’re out here all alone?! Wow, you must be brave” or “Where’s your husband? What does he think about all this?!” While people certainly mean well by these comments, and I hold no ill-vibes towards them, it’s really made me pause and wonder what the heck our culture’s values are. Since the beginning of male-female dynamics, there’s been this power-play between man as strong and capable, and woman as supporter and nurturer. While I admire and cherish the supporter and nurturer in everyone (not just women), I’ve been bumping up against the sexist view that a woman can’t be alone because she needs protecting. I’ve had women say, “You’re out here hiking alone? I’d be too scared… what about bears and predators?” I’ve heard men say, “I’d never let my wife do what you’re doing… it’s too dangerous.” Now let me tell you why I believe that these beliefs are ass-backwards.

First, a big reason why people view something as “dangerous” or “irresponsible” is because they’ve never done anything similar to it in their lives. They listen to their true-crime podcasts while sitting on their comfy couches and hear horror stories about a woman found dead at the bottom of a cliff, or a man found dismembered in a hotel parking lot (if I hit a nerve there for anyone, let it go on record that I was the person I just described like… 3 weeks ago). These horror stories affirm the decision to stay inside, stay safe, and stay in certainty. For instance, someone who has only gone on day-hikes may view a backpacker as “hard-core” or “insane” for willing to be out in the woods for days on end. The fear that keeps them from trying it comes from never having tried it. Could that day-hiker discover after trying backpacking that it is indeed terrifying and dangerous? Sure! But more than likely, that day-hiker will come away with a new-found understanding of themselves and of the people that really exist “out there”, AND, most importantly, they will have tried. In my situation, people who have only hiked with their spouse or friends think it’s so dangerous to hike alone, but is it really? I pass like… 5 people every 30 minutes, I have cell service, I have a knife, I have water and granola bars and plenty of lung-power to scream “HEY BEAR!!!!” should the situation arise… it’s really not as dangerous as many people make it out to be. Have people died alone in the woods before? Definitely! But people have also died alone in their homes, on the street, in schools with teachers and peers, and in grocery stores. So all I’m saying in response to this first kind of comment I get is, try the things you view as admirable or interesting or cool but kinda scary. You’ll learn so much through the process, you’ll likely feel a tremendous amount of “hell yeah” for the fact that you tried (even if it doesn’t go as planned) and you’ll hopefully come away realizing that the fear that held you back is no longer necessary.

As for the second type of comment I get (the sexist ones)… all I have to say to the world is, STOP ASSOCIATING A PERSON’S COMPETENCY AND ABILITY WITH THEIR SEX. And to any man, woman, or person out there who won’t “allow” their spouse to dream of an opportunity and pursue it, quit tryna be God, cuz you ain’t. We are all people of free will and the thing is, we are all capable of anything we put our minds to regardless of what genitalia we were born with. Do I, as a woman have to deal with certain things that a man does not? SURE! Just this morning as I was doing yoga in a park in Lone Pine, CA, I began to feel a little uneasy only to look up and realize that a man who had been sitting at a table far off moved to a stream a few hundred feet from me and was watching me. Does that make me uncomfortable? Of course it does. However, I have control and agency over the situations I put myself in. If I begin to feel uncomfortable, I can move. I can get in my car and leave. I can scream and alert the other people in the downtown area that I may or may not be in danger. I can use my pepper spray. I can keep doing my yoga and assume that he’s just a creepy guy and not a predator (which I did, and a nice older couple came along and told him to stop staring at me and he left). That may have seemed somewhat rambly, but I use all of those possibilities to illustrate the fact that a potential danger should not necessarily keep anyone from doing something that would make them happy or bring them joy. If we all avoided anything potentially dangerous, what kind of life would that be? Every single person out there has some type of “lofty dream” that seems unattainable. On average, more women than men STILL end up giving up on their dreams due to a variety of reasons, one of them being that they are too afraid or have been told that it would be too dangerous as a woman, especially a woman alone. As a woman alone, I can attest to the fact that every single person I’ve met while traveling (apart from the park-bench creeper) has been welcoming, helpful, and interesting. Every time I’ve seen potentially dangerous wildlife, I scream “HEY BEAR” or sing “Memory” from CATS at the top of my lungs, and they leave. Every time I’ve slipped and hurt myself, I take a second to breathe, assess the situation, and I handle it. There’s no boogyman lurking in the forest to come eat you from inside your tent. There’s no pack of hillbilly’s in the trees waiting to steal all your belongings. And for sure, there’s not a single situation that you can’t handle.

I can’t sit here and tell you that nothing is actually dangerous and everything is easy and simple, and will turn out perfectly… because that’s just not true. Just like I know that it won’t be true of my trip! I’m sure I’ll bump into intense situations and moments of fear or uncertainty, but I have the belief in myself that I can handle anything that may come up, or I can call someone who can give me advice or assistance. There may certainly be flat tires, knocks on my window telling me “YOU CAN’T SLEEP HERE, MOVE NOW”, wildlife encounters, and the ever-present male gaze, but I, like anyone else out there, am competent and capable of handling, navigating, and integrating those experiences. So, long story short, it really is possible to do just about anything just about any time. Certain factors make those things easier or harder, like having kids, a disability, a financial hardship, or being in the middle of a devastating life shift, among other things, but you really can do just about anything you dream of. Maybe you can’t grow wings, but you can certainly complete that 50 mile backpacking loop you’ve been eye-balling. Maybe you can’t become James Franco, but you can absolutely drive across the country and see amazing things. Maybe you can’t be a snow leopard, but 100% you can audition for your local theater’s production of Guys and Dolls. And if you’re sitting there saying “no I can’t Morgan, you don’t know me”, you’re probably right about the not knowing you part… but I would challenge that you’re wrong about the “no I can’t” part.

If your inner world is telling you “I CAN’T, I CAN’T, I CAN’T” where is that voice coming from? Is it actually coming from you? Or perhaps a friend, a spouse, a protective parent, or the programming of your culture? If the voice comes from anywhere but your own intuitive voice, DISREGARD IT! Easier said than done, I know… it can take time and a tremendous amount of work to shed the beliefs of others from our belief in ourselves, but It’s 2022. DO YOU, BOO.

Love always,

-M-

A Loose and Chaotic Assortment of Emotions

I am writing this post on the evening before my last day living in Austin, Texas. The place where I have lived for the past 9 years. The place where I found my roots, my people, and my sense of belonging. For many, the occasion of moving may be stressful, annoying, off-putting, or much-needed.. like “Thank god I’m escaping from this hell-hole.” And at different points, it has been all of these things for me as well. But as I sit on my couch, the last piece of furniture that remains unclaimed by others, I am hit by the movie reel of moments lived within these walls.

This was the first space I moved into alone. No roommates, no significant other to share space with… just me, and my 6-week-old puppy, Poppy. We moved into this space a week before I began orientation for my new career as an elementary music teacher. I was unsure, terrified, excited, and dealing with a whopping case of imposter syndrome… but we came into this space and made it our own. The walls and ceiling were cracked and peeling, the floorboards occasionally popped up with a mind of their own… but I grew to love this place. What made me love this place was not the furniture I purchased, built with friends, and lived with, nor the location or size of the place… but the memories I made within it.

My first standout memory of this apartment happened once my friends left. After helping me move everything in, building furniture while drinking beer and coffee, going out to eat… I returned here, just me and my dog. I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility watching her sniff every corner and try to eat literally everything. The song “Amsterdam” by Gregory Alan Isakov came on my Spotify shuffle station and I broke down crying with amazement over the fact that I had somehow graduated college, gained a career, gotten a dog, and moved into a place all by myself within 3 months. Since that moment, countless beautiful moments have graced these 775 square feet. I gained beautiful, lasting friendships with people that came over often to play games, share stories, cry, laugh, play music, and dream. I test-drove relationships within these walls and experienced a tremendous amount of pain, sadness, and regret until one day, the love of my life walked through the door to meet Poppy and stayed forever. This was the first home we shared together… the place within which the first several chapters of our story was written. Mike moved in when the pandemic began, and it was honestly the best few months I could have ever asked for. We spent our time making dream catchers, candles, gourmet meals, and forts that we played video games in. We held each other during moments of fear and sadness, and stitched our stories together in an enduring way that held patience, understanding, compromise, and fierce love.

So all of these past words I’ve written lead me to this one main point: I am so grateful for this foundationally screwed, semi-falling into the Earth apartment. And I’m going to share with you the words that I just sobbed out loud to my apartment walls after 2 glasses of wine.

Thank you to the place that holds all my deepest memories. Thank you to the walls that witnessed the depth of my sorrow, the weight of my grief, and the breadth of my joy. Thank you to the bathroom that saw too many drunken nights throwing up, or moments spent trying to pull myself together with my reflection, or dance parties in the shower. Thank you to the bedroom that watched me dream almost every night for the past 5 years. That heard dozens of FaceTimes with friends in other states that ended in tipsy goodbyes. That witnessed failed relationships and loves until the right one came along, claimed a spot on the right side of the room, and stayed. Thank you to the kitchen where I opened many celebratory bottles of wine to enjoy with friends. Where Mike and I made dozens of “taco nights.” Where I would get pissed off at being snuggled while trying to cook only to laugh about it later with a full heart. Where we sang “Crocodile Rock” at the top of our lungs while making homemade ramen. Thank you to the living room where each of my closest friends have sat. Where we did drunken Karaoke nights and played Boomwhackers at 3:00 in the morning (much to my neighbors dismay). Where we did full moon rituals and shared our fears and insecurities, only to be so deeply embraced and understood. Where we played Quiplash and laughed so hard I actually peed my pants (just the one time though). Where I broke down my walls and learned to love and trust the people who love and trust me.

Thank you to the walls that witnessed me falling in love with myself. When I moved in here, I was a lost, freaked out, confused 22 year-old with a lot of wrong ideas about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness. But this space allowed me the safety to ask questions, cry at the answers, and delve deep into the shadows I’d never wanted to see. This space witnessed countless mornings of dedicated yoga practice, breathwork, meditation, and ecstatic dance, with just as many mornings of hangovers, regret, depression, and loneliness.

Maybe this post is more for me than for anyone else… so that I have something other than just mind-picture memories to look back on when I’m 40 and wanting to remember my 20’s. But regardless, what I have realized is that the spaces we put ourselves in, the people we allow into our lives, the ways that we grow along the way… those all add up into a beautiful path worth walking along. Life will never be perfect, beautiful, and magical all the time. But when I look back at the past 5 years living in this apartment, I am shocked to see more amazing moments of ecstatic joy, bliss, love, and surrender then I ever would have expected while living them. At age 22, I could have never imagined I’d be leaving this apartment to move into a Prius with my boyfriend and my dog… but here I am. And the walls that housed me these past 5 years helped me get here.

So cheers to you, apartment 811. I hope someone actually fixes your foundation one day <3.

The Courage to Feel Fear

Let me paint the scene I am currently experiencing for you:

It’s May 8. My boyfriend leaves tomorrow for his 6 month season as a backpacking guide in Yosemite. I just finished an intense and difficult 45 minute yoga flow focusing on power holds and hip opening. I finish the yoga flow, and began to sob uncontrollably for a good 30 minutes as my boyfriend holds me and witnesses the full expression of my vulnerability. I cycle through about a million different emotions, chief among them being fear, anxiety, dread, excitement, deep sadness, and even deeper gratitude. As I look around the rooms of my apartment, I see flashes of scenes I’ve shared with Mike over the past 3 years… snuggling on the couch, singing Eagles songs loudly while making tacos, getting pissed off at each other over board games (or, me getting pissed at him, and him just taking it), hugging each other inconveniently while the other brushes their teeth…

I have lived in Austin for 9 years, 5 of them tied up into this foundationally screwed apartment I now sit in. For all of it’s cracks, cockroaches, broken cabinets, and loose floorboards, this was the first place I moved into as a young woman, freshly graduated with my degree in music education. The walls of this place witnessed countless hours of loud music sung on the couch with friends, tearful emotional releases after failed relationships, wine-drunk evenings grazing on potato chips and avocado toast. This is the home where I raised my dog and absolute best friend, Poppy. From the time she was just a tiny potato pup nugget to a fully grown, almost 5 year old dog, she’s shared every memory in this place with me. This is the first home I shared with my partner, Mike. The place where we fell in love, learned to trust, and dared to dream of greater things and wild adventures.

So as Mike packs up all of his things and condenses them down into a size that will fit into the Prius that we will live in together, I feel fear. And sadness. And regret. And gratitude… and all of the things at once that cause me to ugly-cry and open-mouth sob. For as excited as I am for this new chapter of life, I am also completely terrified. Giving up all of the comfort, security, possessions, and stability that I’ve culminated these past 9 years is pretty shattering to my nervous system. I have always viewed myself as a creature of comfort…. someone who loves to know what’s coming next and what I can expect from any situation. So giving up my job, apartment, lifestyle, and city in pursuit of not knowing where I’m going or what I’ll be doing tomorrow definitely doesn’t come easily or naturally to me. I feel fear over it not working out. I feel sadness to leave this place. I feel anxiety over the next 3 weeks as I pack up all of my belongings to fit into something the size of my current closet. I feel regret that I didn’t appreciate the place I live in more while I still had the time to marvel at how amazing it is that I built this life for myself. I feel excitement, of course, to embark upon a new chapter of life, and a deep sense of gratitude for all of the memories, people, experiences, and lessons learned while safely tucked away inside this 850 square foot unit. I also feel the immense privilege that comes with being able to make this decision, which comes with a double whammy of gratitude and uncomfortable guilt.

I give all of this context to bring out one point: it takes a tremendous amount of willpower and courage to allow yourself to feel fear. So many times in my life, I have felt fear, a flash of anxiety, and then resorted to self-soothing methods like binging TV, drinking too much wine, shoveling $15 worth of taco bell into my face, or busying myself with cleaning or hanging out with friends. These methods kept me comfortably removed from my own problems and shortcomings for years, and I don’t regret those years spent in distraction. Eventually that feeling of distraction led to a feeling of lostness and confusion, which led me to begin searching and questioning everything. That questioning led me to the realization that the best way to navigate through life and emotions successfully is by fully feeling them in each moment. Happiness, anger, sadness, fear, anxiety… they’re all meant to be FELT, not avoided and ignored. And so, as I find myself in this period of immense change and upheaval of my norm, I also find myself breaking down into hysterics at the drop of a hat. And I love it. I’m so grateful for every feeling as it comes up. They don’t always feel easy or graceful, but the full expression of each emotion has enabled me to consciously take each step forward with certainty and a deep knowing that even when things get hard, it will all be okay. Everything will always be okay.

I think I honestly wrote this post more for myself than for the viewing of anyone else, but since you’re here, if you find yourself in a moment of fear, uncertainty, depression, anxiety…. breathe. I know that sounds so cliche and predictable, but truly. Breathe, let yourself feel what you feel fully, and if that means that you’re swallowing your own snot because you’re crying so insanely hard, or laughing like a mad-man because your joy is so limitless, or gasping through sobs as you shake with tears of gratitude… just feel it. Feeling can be terrifying and can bring up so many things that you may not have thought about in a long time, but it’s always worth it in the end. So to quote my boyfriend quoting Game of Thrones:

“Bran thought about it. ‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’
‘That is the only time a man can be brave,’ his father told him.”

So many thanks and joy to you for reading through this and going on this emotional journey with me. I am thankful that you’re here, and I’m thankful to share with you through this blog. Enjoy your day, and step forward knowing that you’re loved by me and every emotion you have is beautiful and valid.

Sincerely,

–M

What The Hell Am I Doing?

So I guess it’s high time I explain what’s going on in my world. After 5 whole years of being a normal, highly-functioning, *mostly* responsible adult, I QUIT. I just quit the whole business of it all. Well, I should say, I’m QUITTING, because it hasn’t happened yet. In fact, from where we sit right now, I’ve done nothing remarkable or different at all other than turn in my letter of resignation at my job of 5 years. But essentially, in less than 30 days, my entire life will be changing… (and as I type this, I literally have to take deep breaths to calm the anxiety and my inner parent screaming “STOP IT. DON’T DO IT.”)

So I guess I should break this down into sections, since I really am kind of about to change everything all at once (I promise this isn’t a quarter-life crisis???).

SECTION 1: THE JOB

It was once “sold” to me as an idea that career was the big “thing” in life. The thing that everyone goes through all those years of education for. The thing that would really bring you into that upper echelon of adulting prowess and sheer responsible bliss. For the first year of my teaching career, I really felt this. For the first time in my life, I had financial freedom! I could go to restaurants and bars whenever I wanted and buy useless, pointless things on Amazon (yay!). I also genuinely enjoyed what I was doing. Getting paid to hang out with kids, teach them music, and listen to them tell jokes?! Count me in. The second year wasn’t too bad either… I got to direct and produce my first ever musical production with a big group of kids, and it was a success! But then COVID hit. And things really took a nosedive for me. I felt undervalued and underappreciated in the eyes of the public. Everyone was asking more and more of teachers and then getting angrier and angrier when we couldn’t be 5,000 different things at once. Gradually, the vibe around campus got darker and darker as kids and teachers came down with COVID, some cases mild, some severe. And yet, we were still supposed to give MORE than the 150% that we gave last year because we were doing it all “for the kids!” While I value and admire the sentiment that teachers are selfless, loving, compassionate givers who bend over backwards for their students, it began to break me. After all, the whole world was living through a new, terrifying kind of trauma, and yet I needed to be stronger, more responsible, and more flexible than ever before. In the years following the initial outbreak of COVID, the state of education has begun to suffer more and more. The students don’t have the resources they need to re-acclimate to being around 650 kids while also learning social skills, test content, OH!, and dealing with that previously mentioned trauma. The teachers are given new “magic bullet” strategies every few months and expected to implement them immediately and seamlessly into the classroom, only to have them thrown out and replaced with something else later on. And on top everything, everyone is just BURNT OUT. So many teachers are tired. So many students are exhausted and just want to feel safe and loved without having to “catch up” so they can make up for missed time. And through all this change and dissonance, I began to realize that teaching absolutely wasn’t my calling.

I’ve tried to put on every hat given to me as a music teacher. I’ve become so flexible that my legs are over my head and back where they come out of my pelvis. I’ve given everything I can to the kids, and I’ve loved them all 5 years. But I officially submitted my letter of resignation and now I’m on to… what? I have absolutely no idea.

Which brings us to…..

SECTION 2: THE LIFESTYLE

A disclaimer NOT TO READ THIS SECTION IF YOU LOVE COMFORT AND SOCIETY BECAUSE YOU’LL JUST END UP PISSED AT ME. I’m going to use the term “we” to refer to humanity as a whole, not to you as an individual.

Comfort is seductive. Society makes it SO seductive… practically fall-on-your-ass, pick-your-jaw-up-off-the-floor sexy. We have luxury couches, big, flat televisions, candles to make everything glow all sexy, soft, fluffy beds, long episodes and long seasons of TV shows to watch endlessly, short and sweet TikToks to entertain us… I mean, DAMN! Who wouldn’t want that? And our pace of life, too! So fast, so effortlessly difficult… we make it look so normal, don’t we?! We wake up to our beeping tiny computers telling us to get up, we sit down to get places, we sit down at work where we go to make the money that we need to sit down to go home and sit down to watch TV and play our video games. Over the past couple of years, I’ve started to realize how freaking bizarre this whole rat-race is.

It started with walking 500 miles in Colorado… yeah that really woke me up to how different things can be when you’re comfortable being uncomfortable. For one, it helped me to realize how disconnected from the Earth and myself I had become in my daily life. I spent so much time indoors, and when I was outside, it was often on pavement, and absoLUTELY with shoes on. I spent more time being comfortably distracted with my ultimately meaningless activities like binging the new Netflix series, playing video games, drinking, and doom scrolling. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed those things at various times! But ultimately, at the end of the day, week, month, year… I felt like “what the hell am I doing?” After some amount of time, I realized that I’d been ignoring all of my problems, my trauma, my fears, and my anxieties by allowing myself to stay stuck in the societally built comfort nest. So to quote myself at the beginning of this post, “I’M QUITTING.” I’m quitting my apartment, my TV, my job, my single-city dwelling, my societally approved, stamp of approval lifestyle, and…

I’m moving into my Prius.

Full-time.

Why? Other than the reasons I mentioned above, I’m not totally sure. All I know is that my inner-knowing is calling me to it. It’s begging me to wake up and smell the proverbial coffee. It’s yearning for long drives to free forest land. For waking up to alpine lake views and Wal-Mart parking lots. For lessons learned through ease or difficulty. For a bit of struggle to shake up the monotony of “normal life.” For an adventure and a story to tell when I’m old and gray. For the opportunity to act on a whim so I never have to question “what if I had…”

I have no idea where this will lead me. I have no idea what I will learn or how much I will love/hate it. But I can tell you one thing, I’m committed to searching. I’m “all in” (the ABC Bachelor franchise really ruined that one for me) for finding my most authentic self… the self that was born of a self-paved path. And I’d love to bring you along on the journey, if you’re interested! The goal is at least this blog, perhaps a vlog… and I’ll update you on the good, the bad, the ugly, and the beautiful.

Thanks for joining me on this journey (and for reading my long-ass rant). Cheers to living!

Sincerely,

–M