Finding Home (Part Two)

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By the middle of 2011, my job had become a barred cage. A narcissistic, child-like woman was promoted and had been my boss for about a year. She led people by fear and on the waves of her ever-changing emotions. It was similar to being supervised by a 3-year-old child who needed a nap. If she was having a bad day, then she made sure her employees were having a bad day. If she was in a great mood, then she invited her employees to laugh and joke with her. At one point, we lost close to 20 employees in a month because working for this boss was like being in an abusive relationship. Employees had to walk on tip toes hoping not to step the wrong way in fear of sending the boss into a spiral of anger and abuse. At least half of the employees spent their work days looking for other jobs in hopes of escaping.

It was during this time I planned a week-long birthday vacation. I decided to go to Oregon. I stayed in Portland, and I was going to run a 4th of July half-marathon at Sauvie Island. ( I am in the process of running a half-marathon in every state, and I randomly decided Oregon should be next). When July rolled around, I needed a break from my work, from Tennessee, and the everyday monotony of my life.

While in Oregon, I went to a Blues festival and watched fireworks over the river, I went to local bars and restaurants, I ran my race at Sauvie Island, I went to the coast and played on the beach, I went on hikes and runs, and I did anything else that caught my attention like visiting the vibrant Rose Garden. The summer weather was perfect. It lacked the suffocating heat and humidity of Tennessee. The sun shined every day and the sunlight didn’t fade from the sky until after 10 p.m.

I loved how open Portland and the people were and how beautiful and natural everything was. People were allowed to be exactly who they were. I breathed in the authenticity in the air. I began to shed my own deceitful layers. I rediscovered myself in this city. I had come home to myself. It was as if I had been planted among the rose bushes and stumbled upon myself blooming.

When I went to the coast, Oregon officially had me in her grasp. I love the water, and I especially love the ocean. The closest I had ever lived to the ocean was 8 hours, but I was always drawn to go back to the ocean every year; it was one place I had to go. So to be on the coast, frolicking in frigid waves with rocky shorelines made me realize I didn’t just need to visit the ocean every year, I needed to live close to it. The waves whispered to me, and other times they were screaming, rushing faster towards the shore yelling for me to no longer ignore them and stay. Stay in this magical place. I listened intently. The language they spoke was inviting, it made sense to my confused mind, and it felt right. While I was enjoying the beach, I found my first sand dollar. It was an offering from the ocean herself. An invitation to stay and enjoy all the gifts she had to offer.

On the last day of my trip, I sat high on a hill overlooking Portland. I felt an ache inside. I didn’t want to leave. It wasn’t a typical “oh my vacation is over, and it is time to go back to reality” feeling. It was a deep pain, and I cried. I felt like I was being torn away from the one thing that ever understood me.

While it was still another 5 years before I moved to Oregon, I now had focus. I knew where I was going. I just had no idea the path I was going to be led down to get there.

Over the next 3 years, I did leave my abusive job and embarked on a new career. I lost both of my parents to cancer, and I also fell in love. When my parents passed away, there was nothing tethering me to Tennessee anymore. I had no responsibilities, I was financially secure, and all I saw was the open road. I even told the man I was dating that I was leaving Tennessee as soon as my parents’ house and my house sold. Both of the houses sold within a month of being on the market. I told the man I was with that I was getting out of Tennessee; he was welcome to come with me or stay behind, but I thought he should know because that may affect our relationship. He decided he wanted to move as well.

When the time came to discuss where it was we were moving to, there wasn’t much agreement. I automatically vetoed living in the South. He vetoed the North and the New England area. So we were left with the West. He absolutely refused Oregon. I was disappointed, but I was in love with him and I was just so happy to be getting out of Tennessee. I told him I enjoyed Utah as well, but he seemed to have his mind set on Colorado. Colorado seemed like a pretty amazing place, but I didn’t realize at the time that another “home” was being chosen for me.

Once we settled on moving to Colorado, we had to choose a city. I really was wanting to move to Boulder because I thought the vibe of the city would fit me, but I let my significant other choose Colorado Springs, and so it had been decided.

I moved out to Colorado first, a month before my boyfriend, and got everything set up and settled. I started to feel relief, and I was able to take deeper breaths. I felt the shackles Tennessee had me bound in fall away. Our apartment had views of Pikes Peak and Garden of the Gods. The mountains rose up towards the sky; their peaks reaching their jagged fingertips towards the sun. Nature and the outdoors were all around and so easy to access. I had whole trails to myself to run and hike on. There was a great running community and many races to run throughout the state. The weather was my favorite because there were four clear and separate seasons, and I loved being back around snow again. I found a beautiful yoga community, and I started to discover the things I really loved.

But even after being grateful for leaving Tennessee and loving the beauty of Colorado, within 6 months I felt a pang. Oregon was still calling out to me. Her voice was quiet and low, but her whisper spoke to the ears of my heart. I was committed though. I was committed to my boyfriend and to the move I decided to make to Colorado.

As months passed, I was my boyfriend’s insignificant other. He made decisions that suited his needs, we were more like roommates than loving, intimate partners, and I felt awkward and strange in my own home. I was in constant discomfort and neglect. There is nothing lonelier than being alone in a relationship. I could no longer stay where I never belonged in the first place.

Without a fulfilling relationship with my boyfriend or Colorado, I had a decision to make.

Fear. Sea. Surf. (Part II continued from 8/2/17).

girlssurf2It was July 8th, 2017. We walked down the long, gently sloping path. The trees were decorated with moss ornaments that hung like flowing hair. As the trail dipped through the shade of the trees, the path eventually spat us out into an open area on a short cliff that overlooked the beach. The blue of the sky met the blue of the ocean in an embrace. I watched the waves curl over like a baby’s hand griping his mom’s finger.

The ocean always soothed my senses like the briny air, the tumbling waves, the water reflecting the sun’s light but that day was a little different. I was taking my first surfing lesson and fear played through me like a needle stuck on a record.

I was with a group of all women and three women instructors. The day began with getting our surfboards for the weekend. These surfboards were like foam icebergs; they were huge, thick and unsinkable. My board was 9’2”, and it was 4 inches thick and 2 feet wide. It was just as much of a workout to carry the board to the beach as it was to surf. We also learned about the intricacies of the beach like rip currents, and the best conditions to surf in like wind direction, tide times, swell intervals, and wave heights.

The lesson then continued on the sand. The next challenge was getting into our 5mm wetsuit. The ocean on the Oregon Coast hangs out at about 58 degrees and wearing a full wetsuit is pretty much a requirement. Everyone always wore boots, but the gloves and hood were optional, which I did opt out of. The suits were skin tight, and it was like trying to put on and wear one big suction cup. Once we were suited up, we practiced sand surfing.

We worked on our form for paddling out to the waves; we balanced in the center of our boards scooping the sand back with cupped hands. We pushed into plank pose when imaginary waves were coming while we were paddling out. We churned our legs like a hand mixer practicing turning the board around in the water while sitting on it and waiting for the right wave. When we saw the imaginary wave we wanted, we slipped onto our stomachs and slid back on the board until our toes touched the edge of the board, and we started paddling hard to catch the wave. The final step was pushing up into an almost upward facing dog or a push-up with the knees down, then “popping up” to standing to surf the wave. I was considered a regular which means my left foot was out in front and my right foot was in back. It is called goofy if a surfer puts her right foot out in front and the left foot is behind. My body pointed towards the right side of the board. My shoulder was supposed to point in the direction I wanted to go and both feet were parallel on the board just a little more than hip distance apart. On the sand, this seemed logical and simple enough. Until it was time to apply the lessons in the water.

I remember walking towards the water as the panic began to ring louder, yet I just kept walking. The waves began to move higher up my legs slowly reaching towards my chest. The power of the ocean shoved me back as I continued to push forward.

I practiced sliding up on my board and paddling and pushing up on my board through the waves. Prior to this moment, I normally hung out in waist deep water. Now I was in a full 5 mm wetsuit, on a surfboard, paddling farther and farther from shore as the waves continually crashed into me and my board.

I have to admit my first day surfing I was not really brave. I had never participated in any water sports before. In fact, I had never participated in any snow sports either like snowboarding or skiing. This really was a brand new experience, and I had nothing to reference. To begin, we rode on the white water. After a green wave breaks it turns into white rolling water that pushes towards the shore. That is what we began learning on. There were three other women in my group and one instructor. Our instructor stood in the water and gave tips and advice. She took turns helping each of us pick waves and telling us when we should paddle.

I will admit as I sat on my board my fears tried to creep in like a wild cat stalking its prey. I was concerned about my lack of experience in the water.  I was nervous about being in the wide-open ocean; there were rip currents, not to mention the waves. I also kept waiting for a fin to break the surface at any moment. But I didn’t budge. I didn’t let my fears chase me from this experience.

The first wave I caught I didn’t even try to stand up. The wave felt like it was moving so fast; it took me by surprise. It was like being on a roller coaster that was rushing down the tracks, and all I had to cling to was my board. Even though I didn’t even attempt to stand up, the thrill was just as strong. I felt my lips turning into a smile. A laugh escaped from my mouth. My heart was fluttering. I may even have squealed as the board started to reach the shore. When my surfboard stopped, I couldn’t wait to get back out to the instructor and try again.

As I was waited for my second turn, I was sitting on my board facing the shore. The waves moved under me as I stared at the tree-covered, rocky cliffs, the chunks of driftwood, and the seagulls floating and riding on the wind. The beauty of the landscape was powerful, and it began to ease my fears. A calm settled over me; I had inhaled the peace of nature.

I am not sure what I thought about surfing prior to this day. I knew surfers were toned, skilled and seemingly fearless, but I had no idea how tough and tiring surfing really was. On my first day of surfing, and I don’t even know if I can call what I did surfing, I rode the surfboard in on my stomach and sometimes on all fours, and I never stood up. I made it one hour, and I rode in about 8 waves before my body felt drained.

My initial feeling was disappointment, but I was overwhelmingly proud as well. I never thought I would push my limits like that. I realized how much fear and anxiety tried to live my life for me at times. The more I caved in to the fear, the louder it got. I realized I didn’t want to hear the voice of fear anymore. I didn’t want to hold myself back.

As I was driving home, I began to cry. It was like a pop-up rain shower that took me by surprise. I cried because I felt free. I cried because I didn’t let fear win. I cried because I unlocked a hidden treasure within myself. I honestly felt like I could face anything. My tears were symbolic of an awakening.

The next morning was the second and final day of our lesson. I wasn’t sure what I would be capable of because I was sore; my hands were like 50 pound kettlebells weighing my arms down. However, today I was determined. As I drove to the beach, I vowed to turn my disappointment from the previous day into satisfaction. I told myself I was going to stand up or at least attempt to stand up on the surfboard.

That morning we changed instructors as well, so we could learn from someone different. My new instructor, Dani, and I had a great connection. The first question she asked me was, “What would you like to accomplish today?” Instantly I replied, “To stand up.” She smiled and nodded.

As we were waiting for a wave, Dani was pumping me up. She told me to repeat this mantra in my head, “I will stand up. I will stand up.” I had that in my mind as I caught my first wave, but I made it to my knees and rode the wave like I was a dog. When I paddled back out, Dani assured me it was okay. She encouraged me and told me to repeat my mantra again and just commit to standing up.

Dani and I picked out another wave together. She said, “That wave is yours!” as she pointed to a wave forming in the near distance. I quickly went from sitting on my board feet dangling in the water to slipping onto my stomach. I scooted back until my feet were at the edge of my board. Dani shouted, “Paddle!” I started digging my hands into the ocean pushing the cold water back as I repeated in my head, “I will stand up. I will stand up. I will stand up.” I felt the wave lift the back of my board up which was the sign it was time to stand up. I began to push up on the board with my arms, and I slowly popped up and brought my left foot forward on the board. I couldn’t believe it. My body finally followed suit on what my mind had been telling it to do. I only made it a few seconds standing up on the board before I “starfished” off. But for that fleeting moment, I was in sync and in perfect harmony with Mother Nature. It opened my eyes to a new level of being alive.

Fear. Sea. Surf. (Part I).

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I didn’t learn to swim until I was 12 years old. My mom never learned to swim, and I could even go as far as to say she was traumatized from her water experiences. It was so bad that my mom even wore a life jacket in a pool that was 4 feet deep; she was 5’ 4”. Since my mom was so afraid, she never let me near the water because she knew she wouldn’t be able to save me or help me if something happened. So the easiest thing for her was avoidance which unwillingly trickled down to me.

So finally when I was 12 years old, I was able to take swimming lessons at the YMCA for a few months. I made it as far as becoming a “guppy” according to the YMCA standards. According to my standards, I was skilled enough to not drown. Since I had such a late start learning to swim, the water felt as familiar to me as walking on the moon would. Mixed with that, my parents didn’t take me to the pool, the lake, or the ocean to swim. The only time I was ever close to the water was when I was fishing with my dad.

I mentioned in a previous blog post that I have always been obsessed with bears, sharks, and moose. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved reading about the ocean and sharks. I think a lot of people have similar stories, but I remember seeing the movie Jaws when I was 9 years old, and I was making Easter eggs with my dad. For one, I was way too young to see the movie, and two I don’t think turning a majestic animal into a horror movie was the best idea. That movie changed the view of sharks for decades. The ripple effect of fear and distaste for sharks is still felt today. I was one of the many people who feared sharks, but I also knew sharks weren’t “killing” machines.

As I said, I was obsessed with sharks. When I was a child and my mom and I went to the Brookfield Zoo, I would always get something from the gift shop. I remember when I bought this set of ocean animal information cards. Each card had a picture of an ocean animal with detailed facts about the animal on it. I loved looking over and rereading the cards. It had everything from Great White Sharks to Hammerhead Sharks to Moray Eels to Polka Dot Groupers.

My parents also bought the full set of Encyclopedia Britannica which I read all the time. My favorite subject was the ocean and sharks; it was a whole other world. I would stare at pictures of the Anglerfish and the Viperfish and just be in awe that these creatures existed in the deep depths of the ocean. I also read every shark entry I could find. Even though I was informed about sharks, I still feared them. However, I feared them because they were so large and graceful and moved through the water with ease. They had perfected their craft of hunting marine mammals and fish, then mix in their blade like teeth that cut with surgeon precision; I respected them immensely. Sharks were all the things I wish I was. They just existed with ease, grace, beauty and this absolute comfortableness in the water. I feared their power; I feared the respect they commanded.

Then there is the ocean itself. I recognized the specialness of the ocean from the first time she spoke to me, and I laid eyes on her when I was 16 years old. The power and the vastness of the ocean is breathtaking. It is hard to not be hypnotized by the waves as they start to develop then casually, yet forcefully, roll towards the beach. The sound of a wave breaking makes me take a deep breath and inhale the salty air.

I really do have this entangled mix of fear, awe and respect for the ocean. Just as the waves well up, my emotions always do too when I am in the presence of the ocean. However, I always enjoyed the ocean from the safety of the beach. When I would venture in, I would linger around the water that was waist-deep. Friends would try to lure me out further, but I always stayed where I was comfortable. Now pair my swimming experience with my fear, but fear based solely on respect of the ocean and its inhabitants, and this made for a strained relationship

Throughout the years I tried to push my comfortability level though because I don’t like to have my life dictated by fear. So in 2004, I went on a cruise to Mexico with my mom, and I did go snorkeling in the ocean, even if I stuck close to shore and other humans (more potential choices for the sharks).

In 2008, I went to the south island of New Zealand for 2 weeks. Once again, I went snorkeling, but this time with seals. I may have clung to a lifebuoy for 90 minutes straight that floated on the ocean surface and frantically jerked my head in all different directions, praying that the 90 minutes of snorkeling would hurry up and end, but I did get in the ocean, with the sharks favorite meal, in about 30 feet of water.

In 2012, I decided to challenge myself in a new way. I had been a runner for 4 years at that point, and I cycled once a week for cross-training. I thought, “Why not do a triathlon?” I was very selective on which triathlon I was going to do. I picked a sprint triathlon that was 8 months away. The sprint triathlon was the shortest triathlon distance I could do. I also made sure the swim portion was in a pool because I wasn’t quite ready to venture into a longer lake swim (at this point I lived in Middle Tennessee so the only options for the swimming portion were a pool or a lake). The swimming portion was 200 yards, the cycling portion was 14 miles, and the running portion was a 5K (3.11 miles). The format worked to my strengths as well. I was a weaker swimmer, so it was nice to get that out of the way first. I knew I was a strong runner, and I had no problem running exhausted and tired, so having the triathlon end with the 5K run was a confidence booster for me.

Training and participating in this triathlon was a huge feat for me. I didn’t even enjoy swimming in pools in the summer time. I would always quickly dip in then just cozy up in the chaise lounge and read a book. Now I was spending two days a week building up my swimming strength in a local indoor pool.

When race day came, I was super nervous about the swimming portion. At this point, I still wasn’t overly confident in the water. I ended up lining up towards the end of the swim line because my time didn’t officially start until I jumped in the water. When I hit the water, I started off as I had practiced so many times. I freestyle swam with my face in the water, and every other stroke I tilted my head to take a breath. However, this only lasted for one length of the pool. My semi-formal swimming form quickly melded into something that resembled a lame otter. My head stayed poked above the water line, my feet flutter kicked, and my arms most closely resembled the breaststroke: a very loose interpretation of the breaststroke. I remember my dad walking the lengths of the pool yelling encouragement as I attempted to swim. (Later he told me I looked so awkward and slow and he felt bad for me, but he was proud of me for even doing it).

Honestly, I was proud of myself. There were only two other people who had a slower swim time than me, but I did it. Every time I swam in the pool I was uncomfortable, but I continued to push myself. I successfully completed a triathlon that I never imagined I would have even attempted.

In 2016, I went to Hawaii, more specifically Maui, which is where Tiger Sharks love to hang out because it has a protected ocean shelf. I have to say it is pretty hard to go to Maui and not get in the ocean though because it was like a warm, inviting hug. I did find myself in the water up to my shoulders as I playfully ducked in and out of the waves. Swimming in the ocean and turning back towards the shore to see the mountain peaks wearing the clouds like a halo was a treat. Once again, I even went snorkeling. This time I spent more time engaging with the fish and turtles instead of panicking about the possibility of a shark encounter. Now, I wasn’t totally reformed because I did still have a few moments of fear, but I was able to smile and take in the underwater scenes.

In 2011, I made a promise to myself that if I ever moved to Oregon, I would learn to surf on the Oregon Coast. At that time, Oregon felt so far from my grasp that it felt like an easy, empty promise to make, and considering it took over 5 years for my move to Oregon to happen that promise drifted from my mind like a rogue cloud.

That is until July 8th of this year.