All You Need to Know About Life, You Can Learn on the Road to Hana

Oh, Hana. Just the mention of the place makes most Maui residents smile and sigh – it’s our ultimate escape. Mainlanders escape to the islands. Islanders escape to Hana. If you think life is slow on Maui, just wait…it’s about twenty times slower in Hana. Time doesn’t matter. The only clocks you have are the rumblings in your belly telling you it’s time to eat, the pruny-ness of your fingers reminding you to get out of the water and reapply sunscreen, and of course that fiery ball in the sky that oh-so-slowly (but never slowly enough) rises and sinks out of the ocean every morning and night. You do what you feel like. Some venture to Hana to party and socialize. Others go for solitude and relaxation. Others go for epic waterfall hikes and adventures. Some camp. Some rent a treehouse. It doesn’t matter. You go for you. And it’s always a good decision.

There’s plenty of space on the internet dedicated to the road to Hana. I’m not going to go into that. It truly is a beautiful drive. But if you want to learn more about the banana bread stands and botanical gardens, you’ll have to surf the web a bit further. I want to talk about the life lessons that a weekend in Hana can provide, because truthfully, something magical happens when you make the drive.

I recently completed a yoga teacher training here on Maui – a wonderful, life-giving experience, full of mini-epiphanies and, honestly, the revelation of a lot of thoughts that both rocked and reinforced my foundation. Throughout the training, we addressed certain “Laws of Transformation” from a book by Baron Baptiste called 40 Days to Personal Revolution. They’re essentially spiritual laws that govern the universe, principles by which we as humans can live and grow. It’s all about creating a flow of energy and light in your life – you stop swimming upstream and fighting against the so-called obstacles and stressers in your life, and everything becomes so much easier. As we were rounding one of the fifty million bends on our way around Haleakala, I realized something. Going to Hana is the perfect mini-allegory of life and a beautiful illustration of these laws of transformation. You can try and plan as much as you want for your weekend excursion, but it’s usually best to leave it up to fate. That’s when the magic (or dare I say it, the transformation) happens.

Below I’ve listed some of the laws of transformation and my explanation of them, via my most recent Hana experience. The next time you have a chance to venture out to Hana (or to your own version of Hana), maybe you can dive a little bit deeper and see the room for spiritual growth in your own time away.

1. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone

For me, this law is so crucial to living a meaningful life. As Baptiste puts it, “the question…is not will I survive if I step out of my comfort zone? The real question is Will I survive my comfort zone?” Bring back the childlike spontaneity. It is our vitality. It’s how we grow. Take chances. Do things that scare you.

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2. Shift Your Vision

This law is all about shifting from seeing with your actual eyes and getting more in touch with your third eye. The Tibetans believe the third eye is between our two literal eyes, and is the source of our spiritual vision. If you take the time to soak up the beauty of Hana, it becomes apparent that there’s an abundance of energy out there, available to you if you only open the space for it.

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3. Drop What You Know

This is all about the willingness to drop what you’ve been taught and to look past the words of others (the same words that may have directed your choices and feelings throughout your whole life) and get in your with your own intuition. It’s the shift from living in our head to trusting what’s in our heart. Follow your gut! Pssst…I wrote another post on that here.

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4. Relax With What Is

It’s almost like you grant yourself complete permission to just check out for a few days when you go. It’s a beautiful thing to not need to worry about anything, because you left all of your stress behind at the Kahului Costco. Do you want to go jump into the ocean? Do it. Do you want to sleep in and lay in the hammock all day? Do it. You learn to relax with what is.

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5. Remove the Rocks

I love this law. It states that “transformation comes not be adding things on but by removing what didn’t belong in the first place.” You peel off the toxic layers and emotional baggage and find the perfection that’s already within you. Kind of like when you go skinny dipping….JK. In Hana, you remove all sorts of rocks by removing the negative feelings that may be affecting your life and just enjoying what you’re experiencing.

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6. Don’t Rush the Process

This is my queen law. I wrote an essay on this one. It’s beautiful. It’s the path of patience. Being okay with what is, and being open to it. Every situation is an opportunity to learn and grow, to appreciate. In Hana, you either settle in to island time, or you drive yourself crazy waiting for the twentieth tourist car to cross the one lane bridge in front of you. Just relax.

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7. Be Still and Know

Stop overreacting to small things, and practice coming into stillness. When we can do this, we lift the level of our attitude and begin to respond in new ways. This creates a whole lot of space for grace. This inner stillness, once mastered, can reflect outward into all the comings and goings of our lives. How beautiful is that? Because your trip to Hana doesn’t last forever. But you can carry that sense of peace and joy with you….

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And then when it’s all said and done, you return to your life. Work. E-mails. Cell service (gross). But you’ve recharged your batteries. And you glow a little – or a lot – brighter because of it. You do come back transformed. Just remember the joy. The inner peace. The relaxation, and patience, and understanding. The inherent sense of goodness in all situations.

When Maui Feels Like Idaho

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“Oh my gosh, look at this organic bread. It has coconut sugar in it.”

“These beets are the size of my head.”

“Kombucha made with honey instead of cane sugar? Why didn’t I come up with that idea?”

“How can you sell avocados for this cheap?!”

I was in heaven this morning. I’m a sucker for farmer’s markets, or really any sort of conglomeration of local farmers and artisans selling their wares, and after nearly a year and a half of life on Maui, I finally made the effort to journey up to the Upcountry Farmer’s Market in Kula. Friends had been telling me of it’s wonders, but somehow I always seemed to be working on Saturdays, so I had to shoot it down time and time again. But not this weekend! And HOT DAMN. Everyone who’s ever had anything to say about this market wasn’t lying. It was paradise.

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This was a farmer’s markets out of my wildest dreams. Maui has over 15 different micro-climates, making it a nurturing wonderland for a huge variety of fruits and vegetables, along with herbs, flowers, and pretty much anything else that grows. Papayas, avocados, beets, kale, coconut kefir, protea flower arrangements,  banana macadamia nut muffins, goji berry honey kombucha, fresh ginger and turmeric practically begging to be brewed into a magical tea….

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It was truly a feast for the senses. The frosting on the cupcake was indulging in a cupful of goodness from a coffee truck called Gypsy Maui – they taunted me with their “Gypsy Coffee,” a bulletproof-style blend of espresso, coconut oil, buffalo butter, maple syrup, and cinnamon. Wow.

Walking back to the car with a backpack stuffed full of local goodness, I couldn’t help but reminisce about the Kootenai County Farmer’s Market that runs May through September back home in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I adore each and every Saturday that I’ve spent wandering those stalls, inhaling the aromas of freshly baked sourdough bread, watching my mom scrutinize and size-up every single tomato seedling, all while debating whether I should buy the chocolate peanut butter fudge or the huckleberry. It was nice to have a little taste of that community here on Maui.

I will admit that both Northern Idaho and Maui are drop-dead gorgeous, but each in a very different way. We definitely drooled over the view from Kula on our way back down the slopes of Haleakala.

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On the way home, we swung by the cute little paniolo (“cowboy”) town of Makawao to check out a keiki rodeo. This time, it really did feel like we were back in Idaho, and I was back at the North Idaho Fairgrounds, prepping Chandra for her (aka my) big debut in the 4H horse show. I MISS that so much. Horses and rodeos and boots, and for a few minutes, I let myself be wrapped up in the realization that this was all happening on Maui. This little island really does have it all.

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Home of the Makawao Rodeo – Check out Haleakala in the background!

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Cowboy style

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National anthem before the rodeo

I love new adventures, and the beauty of life on Maui is that there is always something new right around the corner if you’re willing to venture out and explore. You might even find a taste of home. And some really cheap, ridiculously delicious avocados.

What’s the Deal With External Validation? The Struggle to Love My Own Life

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Why do I seek someone else’s reassurance that I’m doing okay?

Ever since I left my happy little childhood nook in northern Idaho for college in Indiana, I’ve been on an insatiable search. I’m constantly seeking inspiration and affirmation that everything I’m feeling (restlessness and loneliness) and doing (switching jobs and moving across the Pacific Ocean every 6 months) isn’t crazy. Pictures, words, conversations, experiences…all of it. I’ve scoured Pinterest boards that glitter with photos of beautiful far-out places, snuggled in bed with quote books filled with happy thoughts and meaningful mantras, poured over self-help books about following your dreams and exploring your passions, and dived into long conversations with other twenty-somethings who struggle with the same life questions I do. I’ve spent countless mornings reflecting over coffee and plenty of evening musings over wine. There’s this huge turmoil within me, a roiling storm brewing over my life choices and my speculation over if they’re actually made for the right reasons. I’m trying to sort through what’s working, and what’s not.  I want to fill my life with things that make me come alive, and toss aside the things that turn me into an angry, bitter introvert.

But here’s the sad thing. Through this entire discernment process, I’ve found myself looking to others around me to assure me that the choices I’m making aren’t crazy, that I’m doing it “right.” I hungrily absorb the voices in my life that have been around since I was little (parents, friends, neighbors), the ones that appeared in high school and college (teachers, counselors, new friends), and the ones that I’ve become acquainted with in the process of my insatiable search (travelers, roommates, random strangers, bosses). I look to the people around me who I admire and try to compare my life to theirs. I panic a little when it doesn’t match up. They’ve been to more countries than me. They’re better at public speaking. They’re making five times as much as me, and they’re younger than me. They’ve found the love of their life already. They are super close with their family. Although it might sound dramatic, I really and truly too often forget that the most important voice to listen to when determining what I like, what I do, and how I feel is my own voice.

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A beautiful balance between volcano and sea.

Listening solely to these outside voices can be damaging, but perhaps it’s part of human nature. We are creatures who need companionship, and it can become a habit to seek validation or reassurance from our companions. We look up to them, we admire them, and sure, we do need them in certain areas of our life. But we don’t need them to live our life for us or show us how to do it. We don’t need to mirror our lives to look like theirs, or anyone else’s, even if theirs might look prettier, seem easier, or feel more epic.

This is my life. Why do I feel like I need a pretty little quote written by someone else to justify my intense desire to always be seeking new experiences? To want to feel that incredibly addicting heart-pounding adrenaline when you’re gazing upon a beautiful epic vista that you’ve never seen before? To assure me that my inability to maintain a steady relationship is okay, is normal, is fine? Why do I need some sort of validation for my independence and restlessness? Why can’t it just be what it is, and me be who I am, the unique individual fighting her own battles and scaling her own mountains, just like every other person around her?

But it isn’t that easy. I still get down on myself when people ask why the hell a chemical engineer is working as a naturalist on a boat. Disclaimer: I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life in college, so I picked a major and I went with it. And yes, I do like to challenge myself, I don’t like the easy path, and I thought I wanted to do something that didn’t really require a particular major (med school). So I chose engineering. Other disclaimer: I still don’t know what the heck I want to do with my life. This used to bother me. It doesn’t anymore. But what bothers me is the intense speculation others turn upon me when they realize my journey doesn’t match their idea of normal, doesn’t make sense to them, doesn’t seem practical. 

And it’s in those moments, when I don’t get the external validation that I’m often looking for, that I finally achieve a momentary rush of clarity and am able to forge my own validation from within. Because if those around me doubt what I’m doing, who else is there to turn to but myself? It’s a scary, empowering realization. And although these flashes of clarity don’t last for long, I know they exist, and when I’m feeling vulnerable, knowing that I’ll feel strong again at some point is sometimes enough in itself.

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Friends really do make the journey worth it 🙂

I’m my biggest cheerleader. I tell myself that it is in my power to be remarkable. And it’s in yours, too. It’s in everyone’s power. All you need to do is tell yourself that. You can make anything happen. Take courage in your own decisions, and follow your gut. God, I love my gut. No one else has your gut. Or your eyes. Or your hair, or your heart, or your spunk and zest and passion and mood swings. Go, be a beautiful, unique ray of radiant light that sprinkles a pixie dust on the world that no one else can. And don’t look to anyone else for reassurance. Just know that you’re doing it exactly right when you’re doing it because it felt right to you. 

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Surrounded by beauty – just take time to look!

 

 

 

 

Let Your Voice and Your Frying Pan be Heard -How We Can Turn Thanksgiving Meal Preparation into a Different Kind of Vote

Thanksgiving is rolling around yet again, and stress may or may not be running rampant among those of us hosting our families and friends for this annual belly-filler. But it’s becoming easier (and more tempting) than ever to hand over the reins to various corporate kitchens and let them take over what some would argue is the most stressful aspect of the holidays: cooking. Whole Foods, local grocery stores, and online companies like Foody Direct are among the many businesses that offer everything from fully-planned and catered Thanksgiving meals to a la carte sides and desserts when you just need “a little bit of help.”

How convenient, right? After all, in the words of the Trader Joe, “Less time in the kitchen means more time to enjoy!” I read this on a sign during a recent visit to the popular grocery store.

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But, enjoy what, exactly? Visions of a dad throwing a football to his 8-year-old son in a leaf-strewn backyard popped into my head. A mom pushing a stroller down the sidewalk with a latte in hand, chatting to her friend on Bluetooth. A family sprawled out on the living room floor, hours deep into an intense Settlers of Catan game. Maybe this is what the sign meant: when you aren’t slaving away in the kitchen, you have many more hours to enjoy quality time with friends and family!

This is true. It’s pretty simple logic – if you free up hours that you would’ve spent in the kitchen, you can choose to spend them in a more enjoyable way. Certainly today’s society values and seeks out certain pastimes over others. Cooking for hours in high-stress conditions typically isn’t one of them. Even outside of holidays, we’ve long since signed the majority of our meal prep over to corporations so that we can busy ourselves with other, more pressing matters in our day-to-day life. Why should you have to rinse and chop kale or sweet potatoes or garlic when you can buy these in conveniently vacuum-sealed packages on your way home from work?

This is where the story turns. I’m not going to write about the glory of processed and prepared foods and how much easier they make our lives – quite the opposite, actually. That Trader Joe’s sign was one of the most depressing things I’ve read in a long time. I think being in the kitchen is a healthy and meaningful way to spend our time, for many reasons. Who influenced this mindset of mine? One of my favorite writers.

Anyone who’s asked me “what person, living or dead, would you most want to invite to dinner?” (which has happened oddly frequently this past month) knows how much I admire Michael Pollan, a journalism professor at UC Berkeley and a passionate food writer and activist. He has an impressive amount of books, articles, and other publications under his belt, and he’s even added a four-part Netflix series, Cooked, to his collection of inspirational and investigative media. His work explores the path that food takes to our plates and how that has changed throughout the years. In college, when I was beginning to take an interest in food beyond how it tasted and how much it cost, Michael Pollan’s views were what stuck with me beyond any other diet, trend, or scientific publication. He is a huge proponent of stepping back into the kitchen and taking charge of our meals and our ingredients – and Cooked, a read I highly recommend, will tell you all about it. Here, I mainly want to focus on how his ideas can help us feel empowered in our kitchens.

I don’t want to speak for Michael Pollan, of course, but I have a feeling he’d be all for each and every one of us making an effort to take back the responsibility for at least some  (if not all!) of the Thanksgiving cooking this year. Maybe that’s what your family has been doing all along, and maybe you do always make an effort to prepare your dinners from scratch. That is so wonderful, and it really shows what is important to you. For many of us, however, the focus is on instant gratification. We want to get the meal on the table in the quickest, most convenient way possible. But this isn’t how it’s always been. Cooking and eating used to be about spending time with your family and bonding, socializing, and connecting with each other over a common necessity: food.

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Beautiful veggies at a market I walked through on a recent trip to Cambodia

 

But decades ago, we started outsourcing our foods to corporations. We stepped out of our kitchens and gave the frying pan to someone else. And since then, there has been a rather alarming decline in the health of Americans and the land. Obesity and high blood pressure are just a few of the drains on human health, and farmland is brutally abused by industrial agriculture (it reduces biodiversity, pollutes the air and water, and contributes to climate change – and these are just a few of the threats). Corporations want to be profitable, and so they buy from big monoculture farms and big companies that only care about the most efficient (and frequently unhealthy) agricultural practices. They don’t give two shits about your local farmer’s market or the Slow Food movement. But many of us do give a shit, or we at least say we do. And if we look deeper, we’ll see that the success of the organic, local food moment that’s been gaining popularity lately is directly related to the revival of cooking. Those locally grown greens we just bought aren’t going to dance their way into a colorful salad all by themselves, after all! And when we assume the role of home cook, we are the ones who can best support small farmers because we directly buy and prepare their food products. It’s a way for us to say “no thanks” to the big guys and instead support the locals.

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Happy cattle on a dairy farm owned by friends of mine in South Africa

Aside from all the benefits to health and nature, I think time spent in the kitchen is personally rewarding. What an act of love it is to create something delicious from scratch and be able to serve it to your friends and family. We all need to eat, after all, so we might as well make it special! And our body is our constant companion day-to-day, so arguably, we should really want to treat it well. When we cook ourselves, we tend to use less salt, fat, and sugar than large corporations do (they simply want to make the food taste “good” with the cheapest ingredients possible, often in the form of these and other unhealthy additives). This means cooking often leads to better health. For me, cooking isn’t just about making my body feel good, although that’s a big part of it – it also serves as a fun stress-reliever. It allows me to become a producer and temporarily step away from the role of consumer that is a much larger part of my identity than I’d like it to be.

“We find time for what we value.” These are words Michael Pollan mentioned during a book tour for Cooked. This is ultimately what it comes down to. If we want to support local food, if we want to improve the health of ourselves and our families, if we want to take an active stance towards the health of our planet (and combat climate change!), we’re going to need to make the time to step back into our kitchens and cook. We can treat these everyday food choices as a vote for something, because how we eat directly shows our support for how we’d like the land to be treated. Do we want to see our planet abused through industrial agriculture? Or do we want to see it nurtured and cared for with good farming practices?

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Kauai – as they say on the islands, it’s our responsibility to care for the ‘aina (land)

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How could we not cherish something so beautiful? Vineyards in South Africa 

Sure, it might seem like a grand notion to assume that cooking our Thanksgiving dinner at home will save the planet. But the point is to stand for your beliefs and let your choices reflect your values. So let’s start small! Let’s start somewhere! And what better time to step back into our kitchens and cast our votes for a healthier planet than during a holiday that’s all about sharing with loved ones and showing gratitude for what we have? If you’re feeling frustrated about recent events, and helpless or unheard, cooking is something that you have power over. You do get another vote. Even Patagonia (an environmentally-minded company that has recently expanded to include Patagonia Provisions) stands behind positive change in the food industry, with an expert from their recent e-newsletter still bouncing around in my mind: “You can still vote with your stomach. As the dust from the election settles, we can all find hope for our planet in better ways to grow and harvest food.”

This is something I’m passionate about. And, yes, it’s a lot more complicated than I’ve made it seem above (there’s always the issue of affordability, among other things – eating local and cooking with fresh ingredients is certainly not the cheapest option). If we’re not quite ready to take the full plunge into cooking from scratch, it’s something that we can at least think about and shift towards the top of our priority list. We can start to appreciate cooking as an act of empowerment and a vote for our beliefs. So…pick up your frying pan (or sauce pot, or baking sheet, or preferred cooking vessel). Light a nice candle. Open a bottle of wine. Put on your favorite Spotify playlist. And let’s celebrate this holiday by giving Mama Nature a big hug!

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Get out there and love the land! (Be fruitful and dig up your own clams for chowder!)

Understanding Coping Mechanisms – The Importance of Self-Care

What is it to cope with something? What do we do when our lives become crazy and complicated and we need to deal with it somehow? We utilize the method of coping, which Sarah Mae Sincero defines in this article as “an activity we do to seek and apply solutions to stressful situations or problems that emerge because of our stressors.”

And the presence of stressors in our lives is inevitable – it’s part of the human experience. Getting laid off, dealing with presidential elections and  worrying about their consequences, anxiety about illness in friends and family or maybe ourselves, planning stressful moves across the ocean, cleaning up cat pee on your bed for the fifth time this week, opening a paycheck that just isn’t enough to fill the fridge or maybe doesn’t exist at all, feeling isolated from your peers or your family because of your sexual orientation…everyone’s struggles are different, and everyone’s struggles are valid, no matter what it looks like to anyone on the outside. Like I said, it’s part of the human experience, and we have a right to feel. There are some things (a lot of things, actually) we just can’t control. But it’s how we cope with these stressors that ultimately leads to our mental and emotional health and reflects our internal strength.

There is an endless rainbow of coping strategies out there. One psychology textbook by Weiten narrows the classification of coping strategies down to three categories: appraisal-focused (involve changes in mindset or a revision of thoughts, such as denial), problem-focused (those that modify behavior), and emotion-focused (alteration of a person’s emotions to deal with or eliminate the stress, like distraction and meditation). I’d like to focus on the emotion-focused coping mechanisms, because distraction is a very common coping strategy that I, and many others, utilize. I often turn to fitness to quiet and distract my mind, because it’s something that I feel I can control – when other parts of my life are spiraling out of control, at least I have exercise. If I can’t take care of my body now, what can I hope to accomplish years down the road in failing health? How we treat ourselves is a direct reflection of our self-respect and personal motivation.

Usually, but not always, coping mechanisms are things we enjoy, because we want to escape our misery for some sort of pleasure. Running is one of my most consistent coping strategies. I love that this activity is always an option, whether I’m in the brightest, most inspired mood and my run is essentially a form of skipping, or if I’m in one of those states where it takes me four hours to motivate myself to lace up my shoes and slink out the door. The beauty is that you can run pretty much anywhere with minimal equipment and no expense. I’ve already written about why it’s the traveller’s perfect form of exercise. If you want to completely erase your mind and focus on physical instead of mental pain, you can pound the pavement and sprint to your heart’s content (or your heart’s demise, your choice), or if you simply want to settle into a nice recovery pace, you can do just that and watch the world spin on around you. You can blast your favorite “Fuck this!” jams through your headphones, or go sans music and enjoy the sounds of bird, traffic, other people, whatever might be filling the airwaves around you. It’s pure therapy, and it’s incredibly good for you.

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Dancing on mountain tops can sometimes be a coping strategy…

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…and sometimes it can just be for the hell of it 🙂

Others turn to different modes of distraction: reading…television…artisanal baking…taxodermy…hiking…cooking…coffee dates with friends…fishing…crafts…photography…blogging…schoolwork…dancing…building…yardwork…home improvement…burying ourselves at work…really the list is infinite. That’s the beautiful thing, because it shows how unique we all are and how varied the human mind is – we all handle our stress differently.

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Other favorite coping mechanisms include horseback riding.

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Drinking coffee.

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Surfing

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Hiking

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Camping (especially on the beach)

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Okay, not the healthiest coping mechanism. But when you drink alcohol not to feel better but to feel even better, they say that’s okay. And I just really like this picture.  We were enjoying the sunrise on the way to the Big Island after a night of little sleep on a crossing from Maui.

See, I love running. I turn to it in good and bad times. I’d say we have a pretty solid relationship. And that’s the beauty of these positive coping mechanisms. They’re comforting. They’re most of the times familiar. They help bring us back to a state of being our best self. Once we’ve retreated away from whatever is difficult in our life and distracted ourselves for a bit, we emerge rejuvenated, with a fresh affirmation of our values and the things that make us joyful, the things that give us zest and drive.

There is no shame in the “retreat.” In backing down, for just a little bit. In distracting your mind from the negative and temporarily filling it with something that gives you pleasure. Sure, there is something to be said for standing tall and facing your problems/issues/concerns head on – but there is no rule that says you can’t take a timeout for yourself. The older I become, the more I grasp the concept of self-care and its importance (I wish I’d had a better grasp of this in college). There’s plenty of research out there that shows how performance levels can increase with successful stress management. It’s the truth – there’s an optimal level of stress we can have in our life that leaves us neither bored (too little stress) or overwhelmed and burnt out (too much stress). And it’s our coping strategies that can get us to this happy medium.

My point? I’m curious. I want to know how you deal with your stress. I love that we can turn to these activities that give us joy to help us remember who we are, what we stand for, and give us renewed energy to face the stressors in our world. There is pleasure. There is joy. There is never just stress, never just negativity.

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This beautiful humpback whale may be stressed out that the health of his ocean home is depleting…but he copes with a quick spyhop to indulge his curiosity 🙂

So I hope you look for the positive, and that you can find it in your coping strategies. I hope you focus on yourself, and remember that if you don’t practice self-care, you really can’t expect to be a positive force for those around you. I hope that you allow yourself to truly feel all of the emotions, negative and positive. And then I hope you step back and cope, in a healthy way, so that you can share your best self with the world.

So what are you waiting for? There’s a lot of life to live. It’s not always going to be pretty. But it sure is going to be interesting, and there are a whole lot of mistakes out there to go make.   🙂

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Take time for you.

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And sometimes it’s best to escape underwater, where the only pressure you feel is from all of that water above you 🙂

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Going outdoors is probably one of the healthiest ways to cope.

Head vs. Heart vs. Gut. Navigating the Confusing Jungle of Decision-Making.

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Bangkok, Thailand

We all have that internal decision-maker that is neither heart nor mind. It’s not passion, it’s not reason. It’s the gut. It doesn’t listen to our whims or desires. It doesn’t require any effort at all on our part, except the ability to recognize it. There’s no thinking necessary, no milling things over or dwelling on difficult topics. The gut is instinct, built into our very being. Some call it intuition, which defined is “the ability to understand something immediately, without the need for conscious reasoning.” What an incredibly beautiful concept. The chance to escape our chaotic minds, abandon all attempts to reason through challenging situations or choices, and let this mighty, all-powerful gut do the tough thinking for you. All we have to do is listen to it and then follow.

I’ve been thinking about the gut a lot lately. It first sparked up in my mind about two weeks ago when I was on the beautiful tropical island of Koh Phangan, off the Gulf Coast of Thailand. I was staying at a quirky yoga resort called The Sanctuary, half jungle, half beach, located on the remote eastern coastline of the island, accessible only by boat taxi (or a very hardy hike). The Sanctuary is a haven for Westerners looking to escape the hectic pace of their “back home” lives and instead focus on their own connection with the universe, be it through yoga, meditation, spa treatments, beach relaxing, workshops on wellbeing, or various spiritual healing exercises. It was just what I needed after a busy couple of weeks bouncing from place to place in Cambodia and Thailand.

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The view from my dorm room at the Sanctuary

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The most stressful part of my day. Where to sit.

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Perfect.

The day I arrived, there was a workshop being offered on “Decision Making,” and yet I, oh-so-tired from my journey from the neighboring island of Koh Tao, decided to lounge on the deck and eat lunch instead. However, a couple of my roommates  (staying in the dorm with me) did attend, and were absolutely gushing about the workshop experience over dinner that evening. I gleaned a lot of information from them and really started to ponder over what they were telling me.

The basics: we make decisions everyday. Hundreds of them. Some of them as simple as choosing what to eat for breakfast and others as complicated as whether we want to end our relationship or quit our job or move across the world. And we have three forces at work in our body that will try and help us make these decisions: the head, the heart, and the gut. The head is what we use to reason, to make lists of pro’s and con’s, to rationalize things. The heart is driven by passion, not reason, and is fueled by some of our deepest desires. But it can be easily misunderstood, and we all recognize that passion does not always lead us to make the smartest decisions. That brings us to the gut. Our intuition. That whisper that we hear before either the head or heart can speak up. You know how they tell you it’s usually best to stick with your first choice on a multiple choice exam? That’s the gut! “It’s B. Definitely B.” Now, Oprah has all sorts of scientific backing for the gut and how it may seem like a mysterious inner voice, but it’s really unconscious reasoning that happens because of the science of our brains: check out this article here, it’s a good read.

But of course, it can be lot more complicated than just sensing your gut reaction to something and saying, “Yep, I’ll do that, thanks Gut!” Guts and intuition can sometimes lead us down very confusing and painful roads, and they don’t always lead us to our happily every after. In fact, they rarely do. But they generally lead us to the place that’s best for us. This allows us to enter into situations that may not be ideal, but that are essential for our own personal growth. The beauty about being human is that we are allowed to change our minds. We are allowed to say, “Whoops, I don’t like this situation. I’m not happy. So, I’m going to do this instead.” And we evolve, and we grow, and we experience all of these beautiful things around us that are disastrous and painful and live-giving and healing.

I am a truly horrible decision maker. It’s a little painful how horrible I am. I’ll curl up in the fetal position on the floor when I’m trying to figure things out. Often, tears are involved. It can be pathetic by many people’s standards, I recognize that. I’m also not about to apologize for being who I am. I just feel things pretty intensely. But that’s why I’m so fascinated by the gut, and what I was hearing my friends say about this workshop. It’s a simpler approach to decision-making. Deep down inside of us, there’s a little voice (intuition) that knows us so much better than we – meaning our heart and our mind – know ourselves. And we can choose to hone into this little voice instead of going back and forth and back and forth and back and forth with our mind and heart.

I’ve got PLENTY of examples in my life of when I did not listen to my gut, and instead chose reason. The biggest example is my choice of college major, Chemical Engineering with a pre-med concentration. I didn’t really enjoy it. Wasn’t passionate about it. Nothing about it spoke to me, except maybe the challenge of it. I do enjoy challenging myself. But picking a major and a concentration just because it’s one of the most difficult academic paths offered at the University? Not a gut decision. It felt practical. “I mean, think of the job opportunities, right?” I would tell myself. But job opportunities in what? A field that doesn’t even interest me? I chose to listen to my mind. And I’ve forgiven myself for this decision. It was what, apparently, I needed at the time, and it was what I thought was best. I didn’t have any idea what I wanted, and this felt like the safe path.

That doesn’t mean that my gut didn’t pipe up from time to time throughout college. I didn’t always squash it down in misery while I blindly fumbled around trying to do something “practical” with my life. My gut led me to study abroad in Australia my junior year. It led me to the School of Oceanic Sciences at the University of Western Australia to find a professor doing research that I found interesting, while every single one of my classmates went to the School of Engineering. This led to a further fascination with the marine environment, which led to springtime applications for grants to fund a trip to Africa to work on a cage-diving boat and work with Great White Sharks. This led to an amazing experience that I could talk about in my interview with the Pacific Whale Foundation, which led to an amazing job in Maui. This job led to another amazing opportunity to work in the San Juan Islands this past summer and learn about orcas. And while I was living on these islands and working these marine jobs, I learned to dive. Now I want to work on furthering my dive certifications, and I’m looking forward to that.

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Exploring Koh Tao by sea.

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Diving gear makes everyone look good.

So, I guess the gut, although I was late to recognize it, finally raised it’s squeaky little voice above the mind’s roar. Although I will never look back on college with regret, and indeed I look back on it with a lot of love and affection for my younger self and my experiences and gratitude to my parents for making it possible, I definitely did go through some dark times back then. For lack of a better analogy, I was a very square peg trying to force myself into a round hole. It was agonizing, and I recognized that right away, but I ignored it because it felt easiest to go along with it. I also can’t imagine college going any other way. I don’t know what I would have changed, because I was so confused back then, about everything, and I agonized over every decision. But as life is progressing, I’m able to try these different things and see my choices a little bit differently. I guess I’m a late bloomer in finding something I love. But, it’s happening, and watching it unfold is a little bit magical. I’m being more honest and patient with myself, and I’m developing all of these loves and interests and finding things that I’m excited about. I love the ocean. I love marine animals. I love biology. I love educating people. I love constantly educating myself.

For right now, at least, I’m happy doing this. And maybe in six months I won’t be. That’s ok. Because no matter what, my gut is with me through thick and thin. Who knows – maybe I will end up using my engineering degree, if something comes along that sounds fascinating and allows me to use both engineering and marine biology. Only God knows!

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Pretty content to keep exploring this magical ocean.

Have you had any experiences where you chose to listen to your gut? Or what about times when your mind won? How did things turn out? It can be oh so confusing, because there are really no wrong decisions. It’s just an endless journey, an open book, with millions of plots or paths that we can choose.

But how crazy beautiful is this life!

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Waterfalls. Thailand. Magic.

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Elephant friends.

All of the Cambodian Smiles

The Khmer people of Cambodia are literally some of the nicest, most genuine, giving, selfless people I’ve ever met. They are always smiling and laughing and joking with each other. They have hearts of gold and are honest and sincere. Below are only a smattering of my experiences of this so far, but these stories certainly warm my heart in times of travel stress.

When I went on a four-hour horseback ride through the countryside near Siem Reap, every single child (some pantless), would stop whatever it is they were doing (kicking balls around, helping mom cook, playing with the dogs) and run out to the road, beaming and yelling “Hello-lady-how-are-youuuu!!!!” while waving their little arms frantically. Just so excited to see me! They don’t even know who I am! I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face.

Two days into my trip, as I’ve written about, I got food poisoning. It sucked. But early one morning when I was in the lobby of the guesthouse, attempting to dump spoonfuls of sugar down the narrow mouth of my water bottle (rehydration fluid recipe courtesy of Dr. Ronald Fritz, thanks Dad) and the sugar granules were landing anywhere but in the water bottle, the adorable dining room attendant brilliantly helped me by fashioning a makeshift funnel out of a napkin. She didn’t speak much English at all, but she could see I was struggling and close to tears in my hazy state, and she reached out and helped me with a very ingenious solution.

Everyone just wants to help. Here I am, sitting at a little guesthouse in a town with a name I can’t pronounce, typing this up on the front desk attendant’s laptop. He was all too eager to have me use it since my phone wouldn’t connect to the internet for whatever reason, and I desperately needed to search plane tickets and e-mail home. He then gave me a water bottle, adjusted the fan so it would blow on me, and later shyly asked what my name was so we could be “Facebook friend.” My heart is glowing.

Anytime we eat somewhere with Gabe’s local friends, they always offer for me to try whatever they ordered before they touch it. “Loh-ren, do you want to try?” It’s the sweetest thing. Or if we’re at a stand by the road buying coconuts or local fruit, they make sure to ask “Loh-ren, you want?” before they purchase one for themselves.

My server one evening at Il Forno, an amazing Italian restaurant in Siem Reap, struck up a conversation with me as I was paying my bill, asking if I was traveling alone and where I was from and if I had siblings and what I did for work and how old I was. She was so un-shy and curious, such a delight to talk with. People here care about you and your story instantly, even if they met you only a moment ago. I’ve been back twice to visit with her at the restaurant. 

And although there have been a few occasions on this trip where I’ve felt a little bit isolated from certain people around me, I’ve never felt lonely, because I can literally walk the streets and smile at anyone and they return it with the largest, most genuine smile. I instantly feel at home in a city I’ve never been to before. It’s all because of these amazing people.

I could do well to take a page from their book. What are these boundaries and walls I have put up in my life back home? Barriers between me and my friends, my family? I’ve always been a private person that way. I’ve never liked to open up, because I dislike attention focused on me. The Khmer people help reinforce the realization just how unnecessary these barriers are. Life is meant to be shared and lived and absorbed from the people around us. We are all connected in the human experience. And we all have unique stories to share. What’s the worst that could happen when you open up to someone and attempt to connect?

So my goal for the rest of this trip: BREAK DOWN THE FRICKIN’ BARRIERS. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I’m sure I’ll be meeting and talking with plenty of strangers, locals and travelers alike. A smile is an instant connection. Share it. Boom.

News Update: iPhone Falls to a Vomit-y Grave Amidst First 48 Hours of Epic Journey through Southeast Asia

Well, I’m going to say that this trip has certainly had it’s way with me already – but best to get the nasty stuff out of the way early on, no? Not more than 36 hours had passed in Cambodia before I found myself vomiting, rather violently, into a quarter gallon Ziploc snack bag, unfortunately at the expense of my cherished dried pear chips still nestled there, about 3.5 hours into a wobbly 7 hour bus ride from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. I blame the roadside mango slices. It couldn’t have been anything else.

Now, this sucks, as I’m a girl who loves food. I’m not picky in the traditional sense, but picky in that I want to eat as locally and authentically as possible (preferably healthfully as well, but that can be thrown to the wayside if I’m presented with an exciting dining opportunity). I don’t like to settle for something just to fill my stomach. I like food that means something. Eating and trying new restaurants is probably my favorite part of travel.

But none of that matters when you’re sprawled on your guesthouse bed for the second 36 hours of your trip, puking your guts into a trash bin on the floor. Why, cruel world? Gone was any appetite, in the heart of a city where I had the chance to dine on amazing food of all types of cuisine for a mere fraction of what I would pay in the U.S. This was only the second time in my life when I’d had food poisoning (the first being a rather unfortunate incident with Indian food from the beloved North Dining Hall of Notre Dame – the night before the last presentation I would ever give in college). I don’t remember it sucking this much. But I won’t go into details. It sucked, but I let it suck, I embraced the suckiness, tried to push my mind past the inevitable suck, and attempted to look forward to the rest of the trip when I would be back to 100% and frolicking around Cambodia and Thailand.

But I do have to insert one more “side” story that accompanies the food poisoning incident. Which is more and more hilarious and less painful as time passes. It involves the death of my iPhone 6, which unfortunately was my sole means of photo-taking on this journey, as well as my only computer. In the midst of said food poisoning session, I woke up in the middle of the night around 1 a.m., a bit dazed, confused, dehydrated because I couldn’t keep any water down, head pounding, stomach roiling, and blearily started reaching around the bed for my phone (which I had been texting on a few hours before, and left next to my pillow within easy reach before falling back asleep). No phone in the bed. Ok, did I leave it in the bathroom? Nope. This is getting ridiculous. Checked luggage. Checked bed again. Checked under the bed. To the side of the bed. Everywhere. Then I froze. No way. My vomit “bucket” was still perched next to my bed, full of the watery remnants of my stomach. It was barely 7″by 7″ wide. No way did my phone fall into the vomit bucket. I grabbed the bucket. Couldn’t see anything in it. Ok. Tilted it to the side a little to see better. Holy shit. 

My F***ING iPhone was in the vomit bucket.

Now, I was in a rather fragile physical and emotional state. So forgive me for bursting into tears as I grabbed the phone and started frantically pressing buttons. Which, as I later learned, is not the way to handle a submerged and potentially water-damaged (vomit-damaged?) phone. But I didn’t know any better. There’s no class taught on this stuff! How was I supposed to know you turn it off immediately to prevent it from shorting?? I just wanted to see the familiar comfort of my home screen! PLEASE! Sure, it popped on. But the screen would switch to the bright white apple and then off. Shit. It continued to behave the same the next three times I tried to access the home screen. Then, nada. Zip. Gone.

Well, ok. Yes, I tried the bag-of-dry-rice trick. Yes, I spent painful hours laying in bed, nauseous and crying like a baby over my lost connection to home and the death of my travel-planning-and-documenting buddy. Yes, I spent too many minutes contemplating the crazy misfortune and bad luck that of all the places for me to push my phone in my sickness-induced sleep coma, it had to land in my tiny vomit bucket. And then I had to go and short it. But, with some consoling, I managed to reorient my priorities, get my shit together, and realize that this trip was way more important and bigger than anything that could be captured by a phone.

So, I’m kind of over it now. It’s pretty funny. Still stings a little. But you know what doesn’t hurt anymore? My head or my stomach! SO, my next posts are certainly going to be about the amazingness that is Cambodia, because I’ve already fallen in love with the Kingdom of Wonder. Much more to come, my friends. And yes, luckily my wonderful travel buddy, Gabe, happened to have an old extra iPhone of his in his luggage that he has passed on to me, so I do have some way to communicate with friends and fam. Sometimes luck has your back. As we’ve seen, sometimes it doesn’t. But now, bring on the rest of this trip! I’m ready for ya.

Seasonal Life = Friendships on Fast Forward

Friendships are a rich, life-giving, healing, magic-perpetuating substance of the gods. For a lot of us, they’re the peanut butter that holds together our PB&J during rough times, and the extra sprinkles on top of our honey lavender ice cream when we’re having a good day (because we get to share it with someone!). Friendships challenge us. They expand our horizons. They make sunsets and picnics and hiking adventures even more worthwhile. And, for me, as a mid-twenty-something currently exploring the realm of seasonal work, the new friendships I am building are somehow being put on fast forward because of the short amount of time I get with these new people before we all move onto our next adventure.

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These girls are my bread and butter ( I LOVE BREAD BY THE WAY)

Fast forward isn’t a bad thing. Thinking back to the VHS tapes I would watch religiously as a five-year-old, I used fast forward to skip to the best Disney songs in my favorite films. It let me skip the annoying and scary bits (I hated Scar’s song in The Lion King and the scary Ursula scenes in The Little Mermaid). Friendships on fast forward are pretty similar. You skip past a lot of the “fluff” to get straight to the good stuff, because there really isn’t time to waste. You only have a short work season to bond and hang out with your coworkers and new acquaintances, so the “getting-to-know-you” part is greatly condensed. Otherwise, you waste time dilly-dallying and feeling awkward when you could be getting to the heart of things, like drinking good red wine around campfires and talking about your favorite country songs!

What’s particularly amazing about the type of seasonal work I’ve been doing is that it tends to associate me with like-minded, adventure-seeking individuals. We all like to be outside. We all appreciate an epic sunrise, sunset, a good workout, a kick-ass spot to camp or day hike. We aren’t afraid of sore muscles or cold nights in a thin tent. We’ve generally got a gung-ho, go-get-’em attitude about life. So we say yes to adventures as they come up, and these are exactly what I’ve found rapidly eliminate any barriers that would slow the friendship-forming process. It’s hard not to have quality life conversations with someone when you’ve been hiking on the trail (or watching sunset on a beach, or driving the backroads of Washington) with them for a good few hours. Words and stories and opinions and dreams tend to come out, just because, why not? If you end up not liking the person, it’s just a seasonal job, so you don’t necessarily have to see them again (sad way of looking at it, but true). Or, if things work out and you totally vibe with your new pal, you all of a sudden have developed a deep bond with this person you just met, and because of the lifestyles you both lead, you have an adventure buddy that you will more than likely cross paths with in the future. Probably in some epic scenario, like sky-diving or cage-diving or a multi-day trek across the Himalayas.

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Friends who run together jump in Roche Harbor together

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You know. Eating seaweed on South Beach.

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Friends on a log, friends on a log, lookin’ like a fool with your friends on a log.

It’s a different type of friendship. It’s not the type of friend you had in grade school that you have sleepovers with every night and grow up with. It’s more a friend that you link up with later down the road. You only get to share snippets of their life. You might be apart, and grow and develop and experience new things on your own path and on your own terms, but when you come together again, it’s the richest feeling. You’re able to share your separate experiences while simultaneously building new ones together. And this can go on forever. An endless weave on a big cozy friendship quilt. The ebb and flow of togetherness just leads to a deeper connection.

I love this, and I feel so amazingly blessed to have done what I’ve done. I owe it to so many people for encouraging and supporting me. It’s been hard emotionally and mentally, sure, traveling around and working in new places all the time. I’ve been ripping off bits of my heart and leaving them all over the place. I’ve left it with my first taste of red wine and the wild, untouched coastlines of South Africa and Australia. I’ve left it with my favorite little coffee shop tucked away on some back neighborhood street in Cape Town and the first acai bowl I ate in Maui. I’ve left it with the horse I rode beneath the towering mountain ranges of New Zealand, and the first humpback whale that I ever heard breathe, and the boat I was on when I saw my first orca breach. But I’m learning slowly that although you can donate bits of your heart to experiences and places that you won’t necessarily have or see again, people are different. You don’t really leave your heart with the people you meet, and live with, and work with. You loan it to them. You loan it to your friendship, and like anything on loan, it usually has a way of finding it’s way back to you. People aren’t static. They live and breathe and move and change and grow but they’re there, and you can call them up, and you can talk to them and hear their voice talk back. It’s like the gift that keeps on giving when you loan someone a bit of your heart (just by being their friend, awww).

I’m wealthier than I’ve ever been because of this life I lead. Not monetarily. That’s not what I’m focusing on right now. I’ve built a network of human connection that I couldn’t be more grateful for. Each year I hope to continue developing and reconnecting with these people. Technology makes it easier, too, for sure. But that being said, it’s stressful and a little bit of a time-eater to spend your days connecting virtually. So I save that FB message or Whatsapp text for the important things, the quick check-ins throughout the season, but I try to spend most of my time in the here and now. I’m definitely not perfect at that. But I want to sew my quilt with the good stuff, the strong colorful thread that is these friendships on fast forward.

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Christmas parties in September because we won’t get to celebrate together later in the year (sad!)

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More South Beach sunsets

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HANNAH HEALEY WILL YOU MARRY ME

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Erick bear and I go shrimpin’

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Sibling love

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Reconnecting with sibs/bffs (+bfs and gfs), from all of my life chapters

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Reconnecting with M.C., from the Notre Dame chapter of my life

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Reconnecting with Alicia, from the Gonzaga Prep chapter of my life 

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Reconnecting with Lendy, from the (first) Maui chapter of my life

Solo, & Yet So High

5,300 feet high, to be exact. But let me get to that later.

Solo Hiking

I really, really hate watching plans slip through the cracks. I’ve learned to deal with this in two different ways. 1) Don’t plan too much, because then you’re less likely to be disappointed. This is an emotionally safe, and yet fairly uninteresting, way to go about life. The second way I’ve learned to deal with the issue of dissolving plans is 2) Do everything in your power to make shit happen. Don’t accept setbacks and obstacles as “signs” not to follow through with something, or as a reason to change the goal. Accept them as the strength-building exercises that they are, and do what you want to do. Get ‘er done.

This second option is pretty empowering. Every new place I move to, every new adventure I take, every new person I meet, all remind me just how true it is that we are the authors of our own life. We ultimately make our decisions on a day-to-day basis, which in turn dictates our life situations. We decide our attitudes (for the most part, I understand there are exceptions and struggles) every morning when we get up, and we can let the little things bother us, or we can find the other little things in our life to savor and celebrate. If there’s something that we want to do/see get done, and it’s proving difficult or challenging to arrange/plan/make sense of, we have to keep in mind that the only thing that’s standing in your way is…(ahem, we’ve all heard it before) you.

This makes me both giddy and a little terrified, because it means there’s really no excuse to let things/people/situations linger in your life that are making you unhappy or that are unfulfilling. It can be a challenge to accept that and to take the necessary steps forward on your own path. It also makes me giddy because it means we can do anything we set our minds to!

This was a bit of a long introduction to a really amazing experience I want to share that I had this past weekend. I’ve been wanting to do a Mount Pilchuck sunrise hike in the North Cascades for a few weeks, and there’s been a few obstacles to completing it. Whenever I tried to plan it, something usually popped up, typically work-related, which I understand, and I’m appreciative that I even have work to keep me busy, especially a job I love. But a couple of days ago, when I realized I had a chance to do this hike, with plenty of time off and a chance to catch the right ferry off the island, it was go time. The other relevant portion of this experience was that I was going to be doing it solo. I wouldn’t have minded company. But I threw my plans together last minute, and it would’ve been a bit hectic to expect someone else to hop on board with only minutes to pack. I’m fairly independent, and I frequently thrive on the high of making last minute decisions to do what I consider reasonably epic things, especially when I’m doing it all by myself. I hope to forever live my life as a go-getter.

So I packed all of the necessary hiking things into my adventure van Saturday morning, scurried down to the dock to work a whale watch and spend the afternoon talking about the wonders of transient killer whales with fascinating passengers from all over, and got off work just in time to catch the 6:30 ferry off island. And then…she gone. Once I got to Anacortes, fueled up Blue-y, and headed east into the mountains, the setting sun started to light up the world around me. I was stoked that the next time I was going to see that pretty orange glowing ball again would be from the top of a mountain. I arrived at the trailhead for Mount Pilchuck around 9:15, settled into my bed that I’d prepared in the back of the van, and got ready for about 6 hours of sleep…..

Casual 3:30 a.m. wake-up. I blearily stuffed last minute supplies into my daypack. Chugged some water. Strapped on a headlamp and laced up dem boots. After locating the trailhead (which was way more difficult than I thought even though it was right off of the parking lot, but I’ll blame the pitch-blackness of 4 a.m…), I set about to climbing.

And then it was climb, climb, climb, basically through pitch darkness, sliced open only by the narrow beam of my headlamp, with no sounds but the occasional trickling of streams and some strained breathing. Sure, the small percentage of rocks and stones in front of me  that I could see were very beautiful…but I knew the darkness around me was hiding some mystical forest beauty. What I loved so much about this night hike, though, was that because I couldn’t see anything much around me, I was so focused on what was right in front of me. It was refreshing. My brain didn’t wander to unrelated topics (a first for me!), because it was pretty much mush from having woken up so gosh dang early. So for a good hour or so, I kept on trudging up and through the forest, essentially in zen mode, trying to ignore the heavy dispute my leg muscles were having with my brain and focus on the anticipation of what was to come.

Around 5 a.m., the sky started lightening just the tiniest bit. Soft grays painted the horizon line as I emerged above the forest into a clearing, which I still couldn’t see properly. Below me in the distance I saw flickering lights from the towns I had driven through last night, and I could sort of make out the silhouette of the Cascades. But still, the peak of Mount Pilchuck loomed up to my right, and I knew I had a ways to go.

Soon enough, I was able to peel off my headlamp and let the coming dawn light my path. I could finally revel in the sheer magnitude of the mountains and wide open sky that made up the landscape around me. My legs had stopped rebelling and I instead embraced the feelings of pain and muscle soreness, grateful that I had quads that could power me through the last few hundred feet. I knew I was getting close. I was 1.5 hours in, and there couldn’t be much more to it.

My arrival to the summit sort of unfolded in progressively more epic steps. First, I reached the ridge, where I could finally look down over the other side of Mount Pilchuck. I turned a corner and saw some hardy backpackers had chased sunset the previous night in order to sleep on top of the mountain and catch sunrise at a more reasonable schedule. Their tents were looking down on one of the most epic vistas I had ever encountered. But I passed this by to scramble up a few more boulders, with the Mount Pilchuck fire lookout on my left and the slowly warming sky glowing on my right. I settled in to wait, watching the world light up around me. When the sun finally crept over the Cascades, I felt chills, the kind you get when you know this is one of those rare moments that you’ll never forget.

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It’s Time

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Illuminate

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Mount Pilchuck Fire Lookout

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Mount Baker from the Fire Lookout

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Pastel Skies

Hell. Yeah. More people need to solo hike. It’s like solo travel, which I’ve had my fair share of, and though it might seem uncomfortable and unnatural to some people, it really and truly opens your eyes to what you and you alone can accomplish for yourself. You overcome the obstacles, you figure out the solutions. It takes you to some cool places, and forces you out of your comfort zone. You meet cool people (like Lauren, a new friend I met from Seattle who was enjoying the sunrise with her friends and snapped some incredible photos of the morning!).

So, solo, I hiked, so high. 5,300′ to the summit. 3 miles each way. And although I had to hike back down later that morning, I still felt on top of the world.

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Courtesy of my new friend Lauren and her amazing photography skills

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Post-Hike High

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Post-Hike Indulgence