DeceptionPassIslandIn 2011, I decided I wanted to run a half-marathon in every state. Combining the two things I loved, traveling and running, seemed ingenious. One thing I realized was there was no better way to see a city than to run through it. Running through streets, downtowns, neighborhoods, state parks, mountains, and everything in between was like seeing into the soul of a city. As I stated in my last blog, I was working on my 17th state last week, which I did accomplish. Up until this point I have run in Tennessee (Nashville), Virginia (Roanoke), Oregon (Portland), Illinois (Chicago), Louisiana (Franklinton), West Virginia (Charleston), Utah (Midway), Colorado (Grand Junction, Aspen, Colorado Springs, Georgetown), North Dakota (Fargo), Georgia (Lawrenceville), California (Santa Cruz), Wyoming (Green River), Texas (San Antonio), Hawaii (Lahaina on Maui), New Mexico (Albuquerque), Nevada (Boulder City), and now Washington State (Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island). Currently on the schedule for May and June is Arizona (There isn’t even a city for that race; it is just GPS coordinates! But it is in Kaibab National Forest.) and Alaska (Anchorage).

When I travel, I will generally drive anywhere that is within 8 hours from me. Anything over 8 hours, and I will usually opt to fly. But there is nothing like a road trip. This last adventure kept me fairly close to home. The drive from Astoria, Oregon to Oak Harbor, Washington State on Whidbey Island was 4 ½ hours. There is nothing quite like the open road. It just happened to be sunny that day. I had the sun roof open, my left leg propped up close to the dashboard, and my music floated out the speakers. The evergreen trees lined the roads and skyline like dutiful soldiers standing tall. Eagles soared in circular patterns never flapping their wings. The sun gently laid her warmth on my skin and the top of my head. (The sun also highlighted how dirty the inside of my windows were.)

En route to my hotel, I stopped at Deception Pass State Park for a hike. I started at Rosario Beach to Bowman Bay and Lottie Bay and up to Lighthouse Point and Vista Point. One thing I noticed was when I was outside, and especially in the woods hiking, it was hard to not breathe deeply. The same air I was breathing was the same air that rustled the tree leaves and blew the blades of grass in a synchronized wave. There was such a peace and relaxation that I just wanted to take it in and be a part of it.

The trail wasn’t overcrowded, but there was a steady amount of people until I arrived to Vista Point. It was there I had the cliff edge all to myself. The silence hung in the air like a framed picture on the wall. The water crinkled and reflected the sunlight, and Mother Nature decided to put on a show. Porpoises arched out of the water breaking the rippling surface. All around seagulls dove at the water surrounding the porpoises, grazing the surface, and pulling back up into flight. The sound of heavy breathing and spraying water caught my attention in the silence as a sea lion swam onto the scene. For quite some time, I sat mesmerized under Mother Nature’s spell; she exposed herself in my own private peep show.

The hike back to the car felt light. I seemed to glide right over the trail, rocks and roots. The path wound around the bay’s shoreline, then dipped into the woods, and then out into a park and open field. The trail picked back up by some campsites where the woods cloaked the trail but occasionally opened like a curtain to showcase the bay, cliffs and islands. The trail eventually led right back to the wooded parking lot.

The other big part of my trip was my half-marathon. It wasn’t sunny on race day, but it wasn’t raining either. The skies were gray and white with just a hint of blue in the backdrop. A strong breeze was blowing in off the bay, and pre-race the runners were hiding behind port-a-potties and buildings to try to block the wind.

The race was released in waves. About 200 people started every 90 seconds; there was about 1,200 runners participating in the half-marathon. I seemed to be surrounded by the half-marathon newbies. It was fun to hear the nervous chatter, and the vows to just survive and never do it again. (I may have uttered those words before my first half-marathon, but I am now 22 half-marathons in, so I don’t think it had much validity).

For each race, I always set three goals. One goal that I know I should be able to accomplish; one goal that is tough and pushes my limits but still within the realm of being possible, and then one final goal that is just out of reach, but hell I never know. Any given race day, right? With my goals in mind, I hovered around the 2 hour and 15 minute pacer before the race began. This race was an out and back on the road that hugged the shoreline. The race started flat for about a mile. Then the road continuously rolled up and down as if it was a wave itself. I decided to not try to stay with the pacer I initially started with and lagged behind. I watched her lean figure with a swinging ponytail get farther away, but I could still see her star-shaped sign she was holding up. That can be hard to do especially for someone like me who is goal-oriented and results-driven. But I decided to run my own race. Halfway through the race, I did pass the pacer. I know I am always a slow starter. Oddly enough, I get stronger as a race goes on. So I always try to keep in mind that I know myself and my own body. A pacer is always an awesome tool to have in a race, but only I know the best way for me to run. I am able to gauge how I am doing around the halfway mark, and then mile 10 is the marker I start to get a good idea of how my race will pan out.

This ended up being my fastest race time since I had knee surgery. My accomplishments are now referred to as pre-surgery and post-surgery. So I guess I had a post-surgery PR. My pre and post-surgery goals and accomplishments have not crossed paths, yet. So they still need their own categories. (That is a discussion for another blog, but there is nothing like tearing your ACL and both meniscus, as well as spraining every other 3 letter acronym in your knee, and then throwing in a cyst for shits and giggles). I took 2 minutes and 28 seconds off my post-surgery PR. It always feels so good to see the finish line sign jutting up above the crowd.

And then realize on this day, I would be accomplishing my goals.






As I wait for my next adventure, Whidbey Island in Washington State, I have been thinking back on what first sparked my hunger for travel and exploration. I am consumed with the need and want to travel like it is my first, and okay maybe only, love. I am running a half-marathon in every state, and after this weekend, Washington State will be number 17. I have also decided to run a half-marathon on every continent. Obviously North America has been conquered, but next on the list is Antarctica in 2019. And if I am being honest, I am sure Europe will happen in 2018. Seventeen years ago, I wouldn’t have fathomed that traveling, hiking, running, meeting people and hearing their stories, and seeing different lifestyles and cultures would be my life goal and healthy obsession.

Growing up, in Berwyn, Illinois, my parents did not share my now enthusiasm for traveling. My mom and I took small trips to different cities throughout Illinois and neighboring states, mainly Wisconsin, but that was the extent of my travels. My first time for a true “family vacation” was with my best friend and her family when I was 16 after my parents had moved me to Estill Springs, Tennessee. We left Tennessee and headed northeast. The official vacation started in Washington D.C. then we just traveled down the coast with stops like The Smithsonian, Monticello, an annual Irish Festival in Richmond Virginia, and the beach in South Carolina. This was the first time I had ever seen the ocean, and her waves, size, and beauty imprinted on me. But this still wasn’t what captured my attention. No, that would happen 5 years later, just a month after I turned 21.

I was a poor college student as many college students were. I went to school full-time, worked part-time at Home Depot, and paid my own rent and bills. When money was really scarce, meals consisted of cans of corn and boxed spaghetti noodles mixed with ketchup, and the beer was cheap and basically alcohol flavored water. But there were those moments where I actually had an extra 50 to 100 dollars. In true college student fashion I normally would have had to get a cute new pair of shoes or a new top to go out in. But in July 2000, I used my little bit of extra money to buy a bus ticket. Yes, I was going to take a bus from Clarksville, Tennessee to Los Angeles, California.

This was not a random trip. One of my best friends, Dave, was being deployed to Korea and before he left for Korea he was heading home to see his family who were sprawled across the California coast. Dave and I wanting to see each other one more time, and I also wanting to escape Tennessee for a bit, thought it sounded like the best idea for me to go to California. Plane tickets were too expensive, and driving all the way by myself would not have been a logical solution. So the bright idea was for me to take the Greyhound Bus. It was inexpensive, I would make it to Los Angeles in a few days, and I would get to see California for the first time. The farthest west I had been up until that point was North Dakota, but I was a small child and do not remember the trip. So the farthest west I had ever been that I can actually remember was Missouri.

I was absolutely ecstatic. Not only was I going to see my best friend, I had a free place to stay, I would get to see the ocean and beach again, but I was going all the way to California by bus. It seemed so adventurous and out of the norm of anything I had ever done. However, my parents did not share in my enthusiasm. My dad expressed his displeasure by saying this was a stupid idea, and he didn’t support me going. (I wasn’t really asking for permission though since I had already bought the ticket, and there wasn’t much he could do to stop me anyways).

So a few weeks later I was packed, my roommate dropped me off at the bus station, and I waited for my departure. When that bus finally departed the station, I spent a lot of my time staring out the window watching the blurred scenery distort and blend together. I also spent a lot of time listening to artists whose songs had become the soundtrack of my life that summer: James Taylor, Moby, The Bloodhound Gang, Tom Petty, and Fatboy Slim.

My first true interaction I had on the Greyhound Bus was with a middle-aged woman who was headed to California as well. She joined the bus on the stop in Dallas by way of Virginia. Her nerves were vibrating off her like a plucked string on a guitar. Not too long into the trip she began to open up. She told the story of her first love. Sometimes, as with first loves, she explained they went their separate ways. She said she ended up marrying another man and started a family, but it ended in divorce after her children were grown. Through the beginning of the social media craze, her first love found her and reached out to her. Coincidentally, he too had married another person, and it had recently ended in divorce. Through this new chance online encounter, these two previous loves were able to reconnect. They had spent the last 6 months getting to know each other on the phone, through social media, and email. They hadn’t seen each other in over 5 years, and at that time, both of them were still married to other people. Before she found herself on this Greyhound Bus bound for L.A., her first true love asked her to marry him. Even though they hadn’t seen each other in person for quite some time, she said yes. With that, she decided to sell her house she raised her children in, move across the country, and they would get married when she arrived in California. He sent her the engagement ring through Fed-Ex just a few weeks prior to this trip. She had delicately slipped the ring off her finger and smiled as she twirled it between her fingertips as the gold band and diamond reflected the sunlight peeking through the bus windows.

She continued, sharing her excitement and fear with me. She said the connection she felt with him hadn’t changed. In fact, it was magical. Even though they went in their separate directions after high school, their lives intersected at so many important points still. But she was still fearful. Since he last saw her she had gained some weight, and of course she was older. She acknowledged he had seen pictures of her, but it still wasn’t the same. But the beauty and romanticism of this story was not lost on me, and I was able to genuinely offer reassurance and comfort.

First, I was just so inspired and in awe by this love story. I didn’t know this then, but reflecting on it now it is really highlighted, but there was a no-nonsense, no bullshit aspect to this rekindling of love. At 21, it was just a romantic love story, and I hoped to find true love as well one day. But now at 37, I see another layer and have a deeper understanding of what it is to want to just be seen and vulnerable and cut out all the excess games. Well, not even the excess games, all the games. That was truly apparent in the telling of her story. This story was just about two people who wanted to be real together.

Second, she looked beautiful to me. Once again at 21, I don’t know if aging was high on my radar of concerns, but definitely almost two decades later, the pressure to not age is strong. Yes, she had a few smile wrinkles and a few extra pounds, but her sweet demeanor and loving spirit truly shined through as well. I saw the beauty in exactly who she was, and I knew her future husband did and would.

When we arrived in L.A., I wished her all the luck in the world and a huge congratulations. As strangers, yet as new momentary confidantes, we gave each other a hug.

When I was in L.A., I did have the best time with my friend. We spent several days at his family’s beach house in Huntington Beach literally just donning bathing suits the whole time. The ability to step from the backdoor onto the sand is an experience I will never forget. There is something about the beach in the middle of the night, dark with the moon offering her light, the waves rolling over one another, and the cooled sand spreading out under my feet that ignited me inside. We even took trips through the cities of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, to the Los Angeles Zoo, Six Flags Magic Mountain, and maybe even stole a huge paper sign out of a laundromat that became a staple in my apartment.

Even though this blog is about traveling, my interactions with people are just as much a part of traveling as seeing the world is. This trip made me want to fan that fire that started inside me. It opened my eyes to all the people that we see and pass by every day, yet know nothing about. All the people in this world who are on their own journeys and explorations with stories to tell. It opened my eyes and made me realize all the different landscapes and cultures each city, each state, and each country has to offer.

That was the moment I realized, I wanted to see it all.