All Work and All Play

What is that feeling when you’re driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks disappearing?–it’s the too-huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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It doesn’t rain that much, it’s just overcast. All the time. But it rains sometimes.

Now that I have answered all your questions: Ahem.

seattle2Seattle has been slowly materializing for me over the past year and a half. I had never been here (unless you count flying through the airport countless times–one of my favorite airports, I might add!) until November 4, when I packed up my truck with my living essentials and my Empress and headed west.

How can I speak of three months in one post? Maybe it is not possible. It is mostly work and sometimes not, and occasionally sleep, and 100% life.

It is connecting with friends-of-friends over coffee, smiling uncontrollably while running through the light rain with arms outstretched, packing and unpacking, almost missing the bus, daily sack lunch to save money, dance lessons, budgeting, sitting in a corner next to a cardboard box/desk for an hour trying to unwind after a 16-hour workday, almost missing the bus, morning yoga, packing, drinks at midnight and pancakes at 2 a.m., a new church every Sunday, payday excitement, unpacking and packing, a penguin sweater, pulling off my heels and chasing the bus, free furniture, signing leases and other commitments, going grey, trying to understand football, almost missing the bus, paying rent, unpacking, jumping around and singing at the top of my lungs from the host stand at Hard Rock Café.

seattle10I have had three zip codes in three months, I have worked 50-65 hours per week since my arrival (thank the Lord for getting two jobs so quickly, I had some financial catching up to do!), and I have explored this city much less than other cities because of it. Nonetheless, I have still been up to the Space Needle, had a drink at Starbucks (it actually took me a couple weeks, so it was a milestone), hit up a couple museums, and watched people throw fish at the Pike Place Market.

I love both jobs and am excited where they will lead in the next couple years. Journalism is still on my mind but if I have learned anything in my travels the past couple years, it is that if you set your mind to something, work hard, stay focused, etc. then it will unfold naturally.

seattle7Like Seattle did. One of the main reasons I am in Seattle is because of a conversation I had with a journalist while roadtripping through the South last May. When I had only lived in Seattle a few weeks, he looked me up and said he was coming to the city to cover the Seahawks game and asked if I was in town. It was a God-moment in May, and it was a God-moment in November as well; both times were confirmation that I was on the right path. The journalist had no idea that his words in Jackson MS had such an impact on my life, and having the ability to share that news with him was such a blessing. In addition my words to him in Jackson had also, unknowingly, convinced him to take up running, and now I am proud to say he is a positive, enthusiastic, healthy half-marathon addict.

We have more impact on people than we think. Even if you only meet once you change lives and your life is changed. I was thankful to have the opportunity to see one of those moments come full-circle; the majority of the time we do not have that opportunity, but it still happens.

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She punched me while we were trying to selfie.

After years of travelling off and on, I am taking a step back and keeping the same address for at least six months… which allows friends to track me down, unlike the previous year when ‘What state are you in now?’ was a common good-morning text from a number of people. Currently I have a roof and four walls, and starting tomorrow I will have a couch for visitors, which means–it’s your turn, folks! I have driven all over the country to see you all, so if your heart desires a visit to the pacific Northwest, hit me up for a good time (and free lodging).

 

As for myself, I have yet to visit Oregon or Canada, ever! So those are next on the bucket list.

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The Last Hurrah–Massachusetts, Manhattan, Milwaukee

Well, not my last hurrah, if I can help it. But the last for now.

Times Square

Times Square

Perhaps this was unwise, but I knew I would be pinching pennies toward the end of my time at home… so I planned ahead and bought these flights back in July to make sure I went on the trip.

Could I have used that money to think about putting in a deposit for an apartment in Seattle? Perhaps.

Would I have spent that money on something else between then and now? Most likely.

Besides, by ‘planning ahead’ I was able to get three one-way tickets for $400. I knew the flights would be the most expensive part of the trip, since I was staying with friends for two weeks, so I just tried to watch my costs for food and fun–and I was quite successful, I might add.

newsconsin7In Massachusetts my friend Randall lives just off Cape Cod in the small town of Wareham. His neighborhood was a couple blocks from a small rocky beach and backed up to a random forest, where pine trees grew thickly out of sandy hills. While Randall was at work I ran through the forest every morning and laid on the beach/waded in the water in the afternoons.

One evening we drove out to Plymouth, where Randall showed me around his childhood haunts as well as a few historical points of interest, old churches and courthouses, etc. There was the rock, of course, inscribed with ‘1620’ on the top. Mayflower II was docked nearby, a life-size replica of the original, although it was too late in the afternoon to go aboard.

newsconsin1We spent the weekend in the setting for books, the background for movies, the skyline burned in every mind: Manhattan. We splurged on a hotel just a few blocks away from Times Square, Pod 39. It had a on-the-move/thrifty-traveller/wired-millennial feel to it, somewhat like a hostel but still with private bedrooms and bathrooms. I loved it, and would definitely look into it again next time I’m in Manhattan.

Since we only had two days, we made the most of it, walking until we nearly had blisters on our feet each day, but seeing as much of the island as possible: the first day we headed south to climb the Empire State Building and take in the view of the city. I could see the Statue of Liberty from a distance, but tickets to go in sell out months in advance. Next time, Manhattan.

Ground Zero

Names engraved around fountains at Ground Zero

Further south was Ground Zero, a full hour-long walk from the ESB. The fountains in place of the foundations of the twin towers were beautifully designed, pulling the water away out of sight into the center of each memorial.

newsconsin5Sunday morning we strolled through Central Park. I was amazed at how deep into the park one must go in order to be free of the city sounds. It took even longer to be free of the crowds: the main roads going through the park were packed with runners and bicyclists, and some horse-drawn carriages. Nonetheless, I enjoyed exploring the smaller paths: I felt almost at home in the natural-growth landscapes. I was a little jealous of all the runners: next time I’ll stay long enough to go for a run.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was extraordinary. I appreciated the local New York modern and historical art as well as the ancient collections. One room was dedicated to the rebuilding of an Egyptian temple that was taken piece by piece from the Aswan valley. When the Egyptian government built the Aswan dam, the US government donated money to the project, and as a token of thanks they allowed us to choose which of five temples we wanted to take, since all five would be under water once the dam was built.

newsconsin6We spent a lot of time in the rooms and rooms of paintings, and almost missed some classics: only as we were searching for the exit did we come upon Monet, Picasso, Manet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.

Of course we didn’t make it to everything in the Met, and we never set foot in the Museum of Modern Art, but…next time.

I’ve just decided there’s always a next time. I’ll always see someone again, I’ll always go somewhere again, I’ll always travel again. Telling myself this keeps me on my toes, but also keeps me from bemoaning anything I might have missed the first time around. Although I never experience everything I would like to, I saw some things I didn’t expect, like a street dance performance or a Hispanic parade of all Latin American countries dancing and singing down 5th Avenue.newsconsin9

newsconsin10The second week of the trip was spent in Wisconsin, mostly in Oshkosh and Milwaukee. However I did have the chance to explore some of the other cities and towns, because for me, this was the ‘next time’: I spent a day in Green Bay, and an afternoon in Port Washington, Grafton and Cedarburg with Jacqui, a Concordia friend.

Anthony at his internship at the radio station

Anthony at his internship at the radio station

After I attended a wedding with my ongoing travel buddy Anthony, we stayed at the Tundra Lodge in Green Bay. He had scored a deal in both the stay and tickets to the indoor waterpark, of which we definitely took advantage! The lodge sported woodsy décor and flair, with animal heads staring down from every wall, and the structure reflected a classic log-home style.

Although I spent a lot of time seeing friends on this trip, I had some enjoyable alone-time. I found the Sand Pond behind Randall’s house in Wareham during one of my morning runs. I got lost in the Downtown Bookstore in Milwaukee and walked out with four “unnecessary”/but-clearly-necessary purchases. I found Riverside Park about three miles north of the Milwaukee city center, and I explored the paths by the water.newsconsin13

newsconsin12Near the park was the Urban Ecology Center. I originally walked in because I wanted to climb their tower to see the Milwaukee skyline. I figured it was a government building of some type. What I found, however, was a community center focused on educating the public on ecological awareness: they hold classes in some of their rooms, they have free coffee and wifi for anyone who wants to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere (as I did), and they have information posted all over the building about how their toilets flush solely on rainwater and the furniture is all made from local wood. They also host a plethora of activities that encourage people to spend more time out-of-doors. The volunteers working that day were overly kind and gracious, and gave me a short history lesson on how and why the center began. It was one of those moments that renewed my hope in humanity.

Kevin and I had lunch one afternoon in Milwaukee at Uncanny Soup. Russian borscht soup was their special of the day–fantastic! It brought back memories of my Italian host dad Rosario spending all afternoon making it for us in Florence. I think Rosario did it better, but Uncanny Soup was a close runner-up!

newsconsin14On the final day of the trip I returned to Milwaukee’s now-somewhat-familiar Third Ward to kill a few hours before my flights, and I spent some time in the Public Market, which reminded me of Florence’s Mercato Centrale in shape and atmosphere (although the Italian one is far larger). I was not expecting Milwaukee to provide so many nostalgic Florentine experiences!

After New York I have only 10 states left of 50. And now I have been to Boston in the fall (for those of you who know the song..?).

Now, off to Seattle.

Travelling Has Two L’s

A wise traveller never despises his own country. -Carlo Goldoni

home1In the past I may have frustrated fellow language nerds with my spellings of ‘travelling/travelled/traveller,’ using two L’s. This is a purposeful decision, though that explanation alone may not calm the most extreme logophiles.

It has taken a while to teach my iPhone to add an extra L; hopefully it won’t take quite as long to explain to you. Then perhaps you will join hands with me, and we will become activists of language, and we will convince Mr. Webster himself or his descendants or whoever runs the dictionary now and we will convert our nation to the Double-L System.

home4I like to dream big.

Here’s my short reason: uhh…it’s just better.

Now join me! Let’s change the world! You may have to do some travelling to get to the DLS National Convention in the boonies of Montana. Since I’m head of the project I get to choose the location.

Travelling.

There’s something thicker and bolder about ‘travelling,’ as though it is capable of holding more experience. It’s courageous in a hardy, rugged, Go-West-Young-Man kind of way.

It also seems to be an older form of the word (probably just because it’s a British spelling. Don’t judge; I like British English. And all things old.)

I am currently writing from Wareham MA (more on that later) but before two days ago I hadn’t done much travelling in about six weeks. I was ‘in limbo,’ chillaxing at home and preparing for the next major transition of my life: THE REAL WORLD (queue music which expresses hardship and impending doom).

home3However, if you know me, I refuse to give in to the norms of what life is ‘supposed to be,’ so to spice up my transition into THE REAL WORLD, at which everyone from random person on the phone from tech support to the UPS delivery guy have been not-so-subtly hinting at for many months now, … I am moving to a place I have never been before. That way, I can ‘settle down’ (for a bit) and ‘travel’ all at the same time: new sights, new people, new coffee shops to test new chai, new parks to run new routes.

I’m still on the job hunt, so hit me up if you know anyone in the greater Seattle area who needs help with words. Or anything related to words.

home2I like words.

Travelled.

.past tense//a state of being.

.I travelled//I am travelled.

I had three goals during my six weeks at home: sleep, ride horses, spend time with family and friends because Seattle may or may not eat me alive and maybe I will never come back and then at least they will have fresh memories of times we spent together.

I doubt that, but really, who knows when I’ll be back in the 406. (That’s Montana, for you Out-of-Staters. There are few states in the Union that use one area code for all their inhabitants, and we’re proud to be one of them.)

Fact of the Day: According to the 2013 US Census, Montana has approx. 29,000 less people than Rhode Island, the smallest state.

I would like to announce that I am fully caught up on sleep. If you are curious about yourself, use the car test: if you can stay awake in the passenger seat for more than 10 minutes in ideal temperatures with a warm fall sun on your face, then you have successfully recovered from all those college all-nighters.

Mom and I found our old horse trails and biked our way up and down the valley, and Dad and I ‘took our guns out for a walk.’ We also attended a number of rodeos.

home7Routine. That thing I have not had since April. That mysterious thing that is so peaceful and so suffocating at the same time. It is a benefit of staying in the same city for more than four nights in a row, which I did not do from the middle of May to the end of August, except a short stint in Haiti. Routine is a benefit of being home.

Home routine is: wake up at the same time every day, so my body can be on a normal sleeping and eating schedule. Workout six times a week. Feed the horses and chickens twice each day. Relax in the evenings.

Traveller.

A traveller can find joy in rest, and peace in routine.

And then there’s the stranger routines that develop: Mom and I decided to test our workout progress by hiking Goat Mountain once a week four weeks in a row. I discovered if I jog the flatter parts I can shave my time down almost to 35 minutes.

home6A traveller has more blood than a traveler. More music. Like the troubadours of old.

A traveller has more focus on the journey: the 35 minutes instead of just the peak.

‘Always’ Is a Strong Word

For indeed now it feels not like going, but like going back.                                                   -C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

The last few weeks I feel as though I have been always on the road, always travelling, always moving. In a week and a half at the beginning of July, the General and I spent 32 hours flying over the familiar highways of Wyoming and Montana, like a time machine taking us back through flashing memories to the Home Place and old friends.

drive1My big farewell from living in Seward NE for four years was finally spending Independence Day in Nebraska’s Fourth of July City. After two big roadtrips it was fun to see so many familiar faces on the streets of Seward. Many of these streets were closed off to house a massive car show, carnival rides, dance performances, and hundreds of vendors and craftsmen spread out across the lawn of the city courthouse.

I walked around most of the day with newlyweds Matt and Maddy, watching our friend Brandon in a pole vaulting competition and viewing the extensive parade from a professor’s lawn with scores of other Concordians. In the evening many local friends threw house parties and barbecues, so I bounced around from one to another until it was time for fireworks.

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Cousins visit the Bitterroot

The fireworks show was incredible–perhaps the best I have ever seen. Lasting over 20 minutes, the lights flooded the sky in large flashing booms above thousands of people lying on blankets in Plum Creek Park. They also shot off an impressive ground show, sending out a simultaneous wave of radiating light from below.

After the professional show, Maddy, Matt, and I lit off a few of our own fireworks before I party-hopped again until the wee hours of the morning, bidding everyone farewell. It was everything I had imagined for a Seward Fourth, the perfect sendoff.

Bucket List: Participate in a Seward Fourth, check!

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Rodeo in Sheridan WY

My inspirational nomadic friend Bridget surprised me by asking if she could crash on my couch on the night of the 6th on her way back home to Montana–interestingly enough, I was planning on leaving the following morning myself for our Home Place in Montana’s Bitterroot Valley. Welcome to Part 2 of the Jarvite Gypsy’s caravanning experience! This trip went smoothly, mainly because we agreed on a GPS route to use at the beginning of the excursion. Florida lesson learned–the beauty of piling excursions atop one another is the rapid rate of acquiring knowledge about such essential details.

We were also excited about the 80mph speed limits all the way across the state of Wyoming!

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Rodeo with Bridget

We happened to be staying in Sheridan WY the night before the opening day of the largest rodeo in the Mountain Circuit! So before driving out on the 9th, Bridget and I took an short detour to watch some calf roping.

Bucket List: Watch a rodeo in Wyoming, check!

All of this placed me in the Bitterroot in time for the Missoula Half Marathon, which I have run for the past four years. I think I’m going to make this a tradition!

drive15After a brief stay at the Home Place with the cousins who flew in the day after I arrived (I was able to squeeze in a hike between my arrival and theirs; it’s impossible for me to be in Montana for more than a few hours without hitting the trails), our family packed up the speedboat and headed to Bigfork MT.

We spent some time with my grandparents the first day, and then took the boat out on Flathead Lake the next day, though it started out cold and cloudy. It took us a little while to find a spot that wasn’t too choppy for wakeboarding, in Woods Bay on the northeastern side of the lake. Nearby were the Raven and the Sitting Duck restaurants on the lake, complete with boat docks for parking on the lakeside.

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View of Flathead Lake from the Sitting Duck

The weather warmed up when the sun came out later in the afternoon, and my wakeboarding was perhaps some of my best ever, even though I haven’t been out in two years. Of course we broke out the tube for a while before the day was over. We had an awesome stay at the Marina Cay Resort, on the mouth of the Swan River where it flows into Flathead Lake, and includes a pool, outdoor restaurant, tiki bar, and often live music, as well as a giant chess set!

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Happy birthday, bud

On the 15th I drove from Bigfork to Bozeman, which I have recently termed the Promise Land. My friend Elias was turning 21 that day, and I made it in time to go to Bridger Brewery with him for lunch.

drive12The rest of the weekend included a barbecue and Bozeman’s Music on Main on Thursday and a concert on Friday, as well as going downtown three nights in a row.

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Palisade Falls

No trip is complete without some time in the great outdoors and catching up with a few friends: Will took me on a hike up to Palisade Falls near the Hyalite Reservoir. Naomi showed me her new gypsy van which she will be taking down to New Mexico in a few weeks.

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Hyalite Reservoir

I also went for a few morning runs on some of my favorite paths: Pete’s Hill, which offers a gorgeous view of the city, especially at sunrise or sunset; the Sourdough Trail, which cuts through a few neighborhoods and Graf’s Park south of town near the Museum of the Rockies, and feels like a tiny patch of untouched wilderness; and the Gallagator Trail, which cuts across the city from Kagy in the south by the museum to the public library on Main Street, and is dog- and cyclist-friendly.

drive7All of these places, Sheridan, Hamilton, Bigfork, Bozeman: all are familiar, either because they were past homes or favorite stops on past roadtrips. I have been going to so many new places recently that I almost forgot what it was like to see a place for a second time. New memories are made, not to replace the old ones, but to layer atop them and make them richer. Old places do not get used up: there are always more experiences to be had.

‘Always’ is a strong word: but when you get itchy feet as often as I do, that strength is enticing, drawing forward in the crisp novelty of the moment or back in timeless memories to the place where it all began.

The Compromise of 2015

‘I just won’t sleep,’ I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.         -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Sushi with the girls

‘Compromise’ carries a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t. Compromise is often thought of as losing something; as not winning the whole thing; as giving up a part of what you have or want.

But there is a beautiful side to compromise, too, which I recently spent two and a half weeks rediscovering.

flash2My last roadtrip was one of the pinnacles of independence so far in my life. It was not uncommon to receive texts or calls asking, ‘What state are you in?’ I ran my days by my own schedule, or no schedule, whichever I pleased. I drove when I wanted to drive, napped when I wanted to nap.

While there is nothing wrong with being on my own, we are created to be communal beings, and independence can go overboard. So I compromised the things to which I was accustomed in order to gain something I had not had before: companionship on the road.

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Egret…?

After three days in Pierce NE for my roommate’s wedding, I drove to Seward and joined four other young ladies–Hannah, Erika, Kristin, and Ellie–for the 27.5-hour trek to Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Hannah’s grandparents gave us a week in their condo, a very kind gift. The drive down had a few hangups with varying routes on GPS’s, etc. We were driving through the night in two cars, trying to keep drivers awake, stopping more than usual and sometimes not in the best gas stations…

But as I said: if I have the privilege of driving through the night with friends, I have to learn to be patient with hour-long rest stops & refuelings.flash4

The condo made everything worth it. Five days on the beach, swimming multiple times each day and runs in the sand in the mornings. The condo itself was almost completely decorated in white, accentuating the feeling of renewal and cleanliness that matched my mental and emotional restoration taking place throughout the week. The spacious porch allowed us a delightful view of the sunset over the water (and sometimes dolphins jumping in the distance!) during supper. A few nights we grilled lobster and shrimp kabobs.

flash1Indian Rocks Beach, a quaint resort town, lies on a small island on the gulf side of the Tampa Bay peninsula. Sometimes in the afternoons we took walks to get ice cream or sushi. We also visited an outdoor mall to look around the tourist shops and participate in a ‘free’ wine tasting–but they convinced us to buy a few bottles, so was it really free… oh well.

The girls had to drive out Friday to make it back in time for work. My friend Anthony had flown in that morning. We stayed an extra day at the condo, and continued the trend of spending the majority of our time on the beach or in the ‘dolphy’ water (‘salty’ water just after a conversation about dolphins). I told Anthony he wouldn’t live that one down.

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One of my favorites of Dali’s works

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Lincoln/woman at a window, Dali

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Also a favorite, note the patterns & hidden faces, Dali

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Dali & da Vinci & me

Saturday began the three-day roadtrip to Nashville. In St. Petersburg on the peninsula, we visited the Salvador Dali museum. The only painting I knew of his was the ‘melting clocks’ piece, so I was astounded at the multiple floor-ceiling pieces containing hidden patterns and classical images and sculptures inside the paintings as a whole.

Dali’s mustache was a theme throughout the museum and the garden behind it, which contained a labyrinth.

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Bird with Dali stache

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Zoo Atlanta

In Atlanta and walked around downtown, paying a visit to World of Beer and people-watching while sitting at a table on the street outside. Father’s Day we walked around Zoo Atlanta through the scorching heat and oppressive humidity then went and saw ‘Love & Mercy’ at the movie theater to cool down. Just before sunset we took a ride on the SkyView Ferris wheel near Centennial Park, which is dedicated to the Olympics.

Don’t go to Birmingham on a Monday. Everything is closed.

Museums, theaters, hall of fame, even the churches. All closed on Mondays.

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Statue in Birmingham in Kelly Ingram Park

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16th Street Baptist Church, bombed in 1963, four girls killed

Also it was hot.

So we walked around the park and ate at Jim ‘n Nick’s. Definitely a thumbs up for that, at least.

Then seven days in Nashville TN. You might think of Nashville as a music city, and that aspect can’t be overstated. Everyone I met seemed to be in multiple bands, with past involvement in at least half a dozen others, and had the ability to play at least seven different instruments. At the same time. (Just kidding–but sometimes it felt that way!) Having so much talent condensed into such a small area was astonishing. The air radiated with a sheer love for making music.

Anthony and I were staying with his friends Dave and Jenny and their family, who were hosting the music festival. Dave’s daughter Charlotte passed away four years ago, and the family hosts ‘Charleyville’ each year to raise money for scholarships for music camps, free and reduced music lessons, and purchasing instruments for kids, as well as making a donation to the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which Charlotte had been studying, learning to write lyrics. Every year Anthony and his friends from Oshkosh roadtrip down to Nashville to support Charleyville.

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Johnny Cash museum, Nashville TN

Charleyville lasted three nights, featuring 22 bands, a silent auction, a raffle, good food, and a lot a great people: the kind of great people with whom you want to stay up all night around a bonfire while they improvise on random instruments. I’m no musician but I lent my listening ears (those are needed too; at least I like to think so) and felt a part of the Nashville culture for a week, and it was beautiful.

During the day time before the music started, Anthony and I spent our time walking around the city as he showed me his favorite spots and we explored a few more. I hit up a few museums of course, including the TN State Museum across from the capitol building and the Johnny Cash museum which opened two years ago.

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…and the Nebraska jacket

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Modeling the Montana jacket….

We also met Manuel, a friend of Jenny’s, at his shop, where he designs and makes clothes for celebrities, including Elvis’ famous gold suit. Manuel let me try on some of his state jackets.

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Parthenon

Nashville has a to-scale Parthenon, left over from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition, complete with a statue of Athena inside which precisely follows the historical measurements of the statue which once stood in the original Parthenon in Athens.

Dave and Jenny lived about 15 minutes north of Nashville, which offered some great running territory in the mornings through forested lanes and around duck ponds and parks.

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Shy’s Hill

I hiked Shy’s Hill, where the decisive Battle of Nashville took place during the Civil War–Dave happened to be a history buff as well and directed me to all the right places. The hike up the hill only took about 10 minutes but it was a steep drop on all sides. I cannot fathom how the Union army fought its way up and took the hill, all but wiping out the western Confederate forces.

While independence is a handy tool to have around, there are some things you can’t have without compromise. Like friends, for instance.flash18

My Grand Gypsy Experiment

‘Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.’ -George Eliot

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Ole Miss, Oxford MS

14 days. 13 cities. 8 states. 2400 miles. One giant travel-induced adrenaline high.

wedtrip10I saw two friends get married, spent several days with friends here and there and everywhere, slept in the back of my truck when I couldn’t crash on someone’s couch, and met new friends every day. I saw parts of the country I have never seen before: the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas, the reservoir outside Jackson, Mississippi, the riverfront murals in Vicksburg.

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Riverfront murals, Vicksburg MS

I called this crazy, incredible, whirlwind trip my ‘gypsy experiment’ because one of my dreams is to find a way to make travel sustainable. I know it’s possible (as shown by pioneers such as The Professional Hobo, and also by my own dear Bridget Ervin), but I also know that everyone has to find their own way in the world of full-time travel.

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Hiking in the Trail of Tears state park with Tori & Sarah, Cape Girardeau MO

The purpose of this trip, besides spending time with many wonderful people, was to test myself to see if I actually could travel cheaply, but still get the full experience of travelling that I have enjoyed in the past. Oftentimes, I feel I got more.

Now all I have to do (ha) is find a source of income (more on that in future posts) to balance my (hopefully minimal) cash flow out, and boom. Full-time travel.

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

But this summer is the period of experimentation. Travel opportunities/necessities are keeping me from holding a ‘normal’ full-time job, so I’m making do here and there, mostly working online and the occasional yard work and weeding, a delightful rest between trips.

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Kettler Wedding, Clinton MS

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Reynolds Wedding, Norman OK

A quick overview: Seward NE –> St. Peters MO –> St. Louis MO –> Uniontown MO –> Cape Girardeau MO –> Memphis TN –> Oxford MS –> Jackson MS –> Clinton MS –> Vicksburg MS –> Little Rock AR –> Tulsa OK –> Norman OK –> Seward NE.

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View of the Mississippi during our hike, Cape Girardeau MO

If you’re counting states and not coming up with eight: I spent quite some time driving in Louisiana and Kansas, though I never stayed the night in either (but have in the past). Sometimes I covered more than one city in a day, so I wasn’t in a different location every night (though I was close).

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Bass Pro Shops pyramid, Memphis TN

The trip as a whole was unforgettable: call me crazy, but I love driving for hours on the open road, calling friends if I want to, or just boppin along to some good tunes. For the purpose of this post, however, there were some moments were notable in themselves: sitting for an hour in a tree after the Kettler wedding in Clinton, feeling the breeze and watching the clouds roll by and not having a care in the world.

The moments when I’m not doing anything are the moments that tie everything else together.

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Sun Records, Memphis TN

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Elvis impersonator at the Rock ‘n Roll Café, Memphis TN

In Memphis I stayed in a campground directly across from Graceland, and fell asleep in the back of my pickup listening to ‘Maybe It Was Memphis’ and singing along softly until I fell asleep.

wedtrip20In Jackson I found a small pond on the deserted campus of Belhaven University where I lay down for a while in the sun after church on Sunday. I also had a tailgate picnic Saturday morning overlooking the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir before the wedding and soaked up some rays.

In Vicksburg I awoke early on Memorial Day and ran around the battlefield, even scaling the Confederates’ Fort Hill, the second-highest point between Memphis and New Orleans. It offered a breathtaking view of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.

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Art Museum at Ole Miss

wedtrip14In Oxford I parked my truck, offloaded my bike from the bed, and spent all afternoon riding around the Ole Miss campus and exploring William Faulkner’s hometown.

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View from the Bass Pro Shops pyramid, Memphis TN

To save money, I slept in campgrounds whenever I didn’t have a friend in the area, and bought all the food I thought I would need for two weeks in advance, and kept it all in a box on the passenger seat and in a cooler below.

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The morning after a crazy storm, Little Rock AR

No trip is complete without a few hangups. One of those could have been the rain, but I spent about $25 at Walmart on my way out of Missouri (I planned on camping the next five nights) to pick up a tarp and a set of bungee cords for the bed of my truck. I stayed dry every night = success! I also bought a toothbrush and toothpaste outside St. Louis because I realized after the first night that I had forgotten mine. Oops.

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Vicksburg MS

In Jackson I pulled into the campground at 7pm, only to discover that they closed the gates at 8pm until 8am, and they did not have showers as promised online: and I had a wedding to attend the next day! I panicked for only an hour or two, and while talking to my parents that night, they suggested I find a gym with showers the next morning. Workout + showers = two birds with one stone!

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Vicksburg MS

I wish I could say I spent the whole trip purchasing only the necessities and controlling my excess spending. But I had a few splurges: I got a hotel room the night I stayed out late in Jackson, since the campground closed at 8 and all others were booked. I’m also a sucker for coffee shops: even though I don’t enjoy the taste of coffee, I love the atmosphere of the coffee shop. I noticed they were not as plentiful in the South as the Midwest and Northwest, but I was still able to root out a few to sip chai and use internet.

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William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oaks, in Oxford MS

Anyway, the following night I wanted to see the Jackson nightlife after the wedding, but I was alone. I asked advice from a kind hotel bartender, and she pointed me to some safe spots. My heart was pounding as I said a prayer and entered Underground 119 alone, walked to the far end of the bar, and took the only open seat–which happened to be right next to a journalist from USAToday. He also was experiencing downtown on his last evening in Jackson, so we spent the evening talking travel and journalism, and I picked his brain for advice.

It was one of those moments when you know God is present. So many ‘coincidences’ had occurred all day, so many times I almost made a different decision that would have changed everything that day.

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View from the top of the pyramid. The floor was glass! Memphis TN

Another of those moments occurred when I was setting up camp in the rain in the growing dusk. I had found a headlamp in my truck box on my first night of camping (thanks Dad!), but it wasn’t working, and three out of four nights I camped I was able to set up in the daylight with no rain so I didn’t need it. On the fourth night, however, I did not roll into the campground in Little Rock until after dark, and the rain was less than a half hour away.

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The elevator inside the Bass Pro Shops pyramid is the world’s tallest free-standing elevator. Or course I went up! Memphis TN

I speedily began to set up my bungee-cord-and-tarp contraption in the bed of my truck in the dark, trying to hold my phone in one hand for light. As I opened my truck box, there was the headlamp lying in a corner, already turned on. I lifted a prayer and then strapped it on, beating the storm with literally seconds to spare. It was a small thing, but it certainly meant a lot to me that night!

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Memorial Day concert, Vicksburg MS

I learned a lot during my gypsy experiment: that cold ravioli is as good or better than the hot stuff; that I can set up camp in less than fifteen minutes when a storm is on the horizon; how to live hour-by-hour and accept and flourish in constantly changing plans (or no plans at all); that it’s less expensive to stay at a campground where the owner can’t speak English rather than at a KOA, even if there’s ‘not a square to spare’ of toilet paper; that travel can be cheap and still a lot of fun. I’m not sustainable yet but that’s the goal, and this is a start!

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Ross R. Barnett Reservoir, Jackson MS

On Motion: January Roadtrips

“To me–a blank fortune is…an open sky on the horizon. Fill in the blank. A fortune no one’s ever written up ahead of time, because no one could imagine a life as strange and as beautiful as the horse you’re about to jump on.”  -Sarah Ruhl, Late: A Cowboy Song

There is something beautiful and exhilarating about constant motion, something powerful. Motion accomplishes something that stillness cannot. Perspective changes: physically, and then psychologically.wisco1

Such were my thoughts as I pushed through the West, then the Midwest, changing landscapes falling behind me and looming before me, one after one after one, the blue hood of my Dodge pickup pressing on in front of me like the prow of a ship.

January was full of time in the car, most of it alone. I didn’t mind: in fact, I had been looking forward to the trip for weeks.

I get excited when I drive. Sometimes a good song comes on the radio, or a prayer rises in my heart, and I laugh. It bubbles up, and I roll down my window and lean out up to my waist, feeling the wind and the tears running out of the sides of my eyes, and I yell at the world in happiness.

This was my first drive from my home in Western Montana to Nebraska in the winter or alone. I have made this same trip eight times before, but always with someone else, and always sometime between April and August (although we still hit white-out blizzards even in that time frame). I needed to get my truck and my college belongings back to Nebraska for the upcoming semester.

I looked around for a driving buddy for a while but I wasn’t too disheartened when none surfaced. Every brain needs a rest from constant interaction.

I began my journey January 2, and that first day on the road was glorious. I missed being behind the wheel while I was in Italy. I spent 14 hours flying across beautiful Montana and south through Wyoming, leaving my beloved mountains in my rearview mirror for seven months. I had heard there was a storm on my tail, but I had a good chance of outrunning it for the first day.

I always make a few calls while I drive, catching up with old friends. Some people tell me it’s dangerous, but if you have ever driven alone across eastern Montana and all of Wyoming in one day, you know it’s much safer to be on the phone: otherwise you risk falling asleep out of sheer boredom (although as long as you keep the steering wheel straight you may still stay on the road at least until you run out of gas, probably 30 miles from the nearest gas station).

wisco2I found a tiny motel in Cheyenne for only $55. I could hear the man snoring next door, and there was a wind (not draft) coming in through both the rotting wood around the window in the bathroom and the 3/4-inch gap around the front door; but all I really needed was sleep, and I can sleep through anything. I just used an extra blanket or three.

The second day was a white-out blizzard. I spent six hours gripping the wheel as the wind whipped white sheets across the road, erasing any remains of asphalt to my view. I arrived at my apartment in Nebraska exhausted.

But the next morning, I was up early and out on the road for another 10-hour adventure: I wanted to visit a friend from Italy before the semester got started.

I spent four delightful days roaming around Oshkosh, Wisconsin. It was in the single digits all week, and the wind chill put us deep in the negs. However my friend Anthony, who had also studied in Florence last semester, still managed to give me a grand tour of downtown Oshkosh during my stay.

wisco3We hit up Peabody’s where they offer live jazz every Sunday night, and we attended The Traveling Suitcase’s debut concert for their new album. Anthony knew the lead singer/drummer Nicole Rae (he knows everyone in that city).

I also stopped for a night to see my brother Kevin at his school in Mequon, and he treated us to Panera. We don’t have those in the West. I also hung out with his college buddies, some of whom I remembered from my visit last March.

Over the week, as I socialized with Wisconsinites, one thought pervaded my mind:

Wisconsin is the South of the North.

I am always struck by Wisconsinites’ superb hospitality. I know the Midwest is known for this trait in general, but Wisconsinites’ love for their Home and their Guests is a thing to behold.

The drive to Nebraska was blessed by good weather, although I counted over three dozen cars and six semi trucks off the road in mangled fashions, a result of the storm the previous day. I heard about a 190-car pile-up in Illinois just east of where I passed through.

I was home for only one weekend before I piled into a car with six other people and drove through the night to Louisville, Kentucky, for a travel conference (ironic, I know).

wisco4There is not much to say about this weekend except that I experienced my first two all-night drives, and that I got to spend a Saturday evening in downtown Louisville. We all grabbed a few drinks at Sully’s downtown. There were so many lights in the walking district that it reminded me of what I imagine New York City to look like (a future bucket list location).

In true college-student fashion, we managed to fit 14 people into two hotel rooms, 10 in one and four in the other. Thankfully I had a sleeping bag with me: the gypsy life, my friends, and the beauty of constant motion.