Monday, September 26, 2011

When the Story Ends

Moving to the Northwest has been a dream of mine, for any of you who have not been following my blog the last few years. It has been the goal for so long. It's been a dream I've had in my head since I first visited Seattle two years ago. This summer's job search gave me the opportunity to move here as I'd been hoping for. The dream would be realized. Pack up the necessities in Marie Antoinette and hit the road heading west until the road ran out.

So I did it.

Now what?

That's been the question. I've been reading through my favorite book again, "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Don Miller. In one of the chapters, Don mentions the idea that we rarely think about: what happens to the characters when the story is over? We all know about John Cusack holding the stereo in the girl's yard, or Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan on the top of the Empire State Building, or Rudy making those unlikely tackles in his first-and-only playing time for Notre Dame. But what happens next? People don't live happily ever after because there is always a new goal, a new challenge, a new endeavor to navigate. I'm starting to learn what it really means for this to be the start of a new chapter rather than the end of a story.

This move has been the toughest thing I've ever done. Some days I wake up with debilitating homesickness that makes it difficult to function normally and enjoy my day. Some days I don't, though, and I thank God for those days. Things will get better, but for now I'm still just handling the homesickness day-to-day.

The most difficult part of this move has absolutely been finding community. It's not that I'm struggling to meet people or find places where community is, but it's just that I'm struggling with not having any support system in place here for me to rely on as I venture out for new places to call home. I don't have that one go-to friend to talk to about everything. I'm still finding ways to get my emotions out and feel refreshed. It's been a real struggle to lay in bed at times and process my thoughts by myself because sometimes it's hard to talk to anyone about them, even if they know what I'm going through.

Things are getting better, though. This weekend I spent time with some people who made me feel like they are genuinely happy to have me here. I do have a need to feel appreciated and I think the last 48 hours have made me feel that way consistently for the first time since I left Pittsburgh.

This is a journey. The past month has been an amazing journey that I'll never forget. Yesterday was a journey. Today is a journey. Tomorrow is a journey. Every day we learn new things about ourselves and others. Each day we get more comfortable than the last. One day soon Tacoma will start to feel a bit like home. 

No matter when that is, I know that I need to take advantage of the opportunities I have while I'm here. I want to go to shows weekly. I want (need) to start a band and play a shows around the Sea-Tac area. I may even want to live in Seattle for a year before my time here is done. Until then, though, I am living in Tacoma, finding community, and filling the voids that have been left from my move. I'm also creating new experiences that would not happen in Pittsburgh.

At the end of the day, God has placed me as a tree in a story about a forest. The story is ongoing and purposeful. There is a reason for me to be in Tacoma right now and it doesn't have as much to do with me as I'd like it to. I'm just a tree in a story about a forest.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Day 7 - Tacoma

Well, that's it!  I'm here.  I've made it to Tacoma in one piece thanks to Marie Antoinette.  It's late now, I'm tired, and I start work in the morning, so tonight may be more brief than I was hoping.

I woke up this morning next to Gonzaga University in Spokane.  I woke up pretty early since I'm still physically on Eastern Standard Time, so I rode my bike around campus.  Every time I was reading to turn back, I decided to go a little further and it paid off every time.  Their basketball arena, the McCarthy Athletic Center, was beautiful. There was a bridge crossing over to some dorms that provided the most amazing view of Gonzaga across the lake.  Then I rode around on a trail around this lake, providing more breathtaking views.  I thought the campus was fine last night when I rode around (catching a few minutes of Back to the Future on the lawn en route), but I'm sure glad that I experienced the beauty of Gonzaga this morning because it was a spectacular campus.

It'd be beating a dead horse to tell you about how amazing this trip was or how beautiful this country is.  Every day was better than the last as far as scenery has gone.  South Dakota was amazing, Wyoming was even more amazing, Montana seemed second-to-none, then I hit a brief/unbelievable stretch of Idaho, followed by the incredible contrast of Washington.  Desert, desert, desert, mountains.

I was wondering how things could get any better once I got to Spokane and had just experienced Idaho, but I forgot about the water!  Oh, the water.  I randomly decided to stop at one of these "scenic overlooks" today, which was probably the best thing I've done on this trip.  The Columbia River came out of nowhere to be what seemed like simply beneath me at one point.  I snapped a few simple pictures of its unreal beauty, then descended to a bridge that came down so far that I could have touched the water if I'd have reached over the railing.  Seriously, the only comparison is a National Geographic.

Now, the hard part.  I'm here, I'm settled, and tomorrow starts work.  Now I have to start over.  I sure do miss all of you back home, but I can't think about you much because it'll only make things hard.  I'm a sensitive, emotional, nostalgic person, so the last thing I want to do as I start this next chapter is to worry about who is not here.  All I can consider is what's ahead of me; my new chapter.  I look forward to developing relationships with my roommates and co-workers as well as finding a new church home.  I look forward to this challenge, but know that I love and miss you all in PA!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 6 - Spokane, WA

I'm so close, I can almost taste it.  In fact, it was a shock when I rolled into Washington today because I realized that this physical journey is almost complete.  Tomorrow morning I'll wake up and head west one last time for a short 5-hour jaunt to Tacoma; my final destination.

I traveled through Montana for most of today.  Montana was, by far, my favorite state to drive through on this trip.  First, it hits you with the wide open spaces that I wrote about yesterday, then it starts crushing you with mountains.  I started getting a taste of the Rocky Mountains when I was arriving in Bozeman yesterday, which created an excitement to hit the road again this morning.  By the time I got to today's midpoint, Missoula, I was fully immersed in the Rockies.

I love seeing college campuses, so I punched the University of Montana in my GPS for the Missoula stop.  I was driving up and down around 8000 feet of elevation (probably higher at some point, but I didn't notice a sign).  I thought the mountains would open up to allow Missoula to emerge, similar to other Montana cities, but it didn't.  Instead, Missoula is situated right in the mountains, creating the most beautiful natural location for a university that I've seen.

The university was crawling with bikes.  Students were riding all over campus and clearly have mountain biking opportunities because this was the model of choice.  I got on my bike to ride around and take some pictures while I had plenty of time to kill.  The U of M has about 16,000 students, making it a similar size to Pitt.  The campus, however, is as different as can be.  Their campus is set apart from the city of Missoula with breathtaking scenery thanks to its mountainous terrain.  I asked the information desk girl where I could get a t-shirt (the book store was closed) and she told me Wal-Mart, but she also pointed me in the direction of the Oval as the best place to get a few good pictures.

The oval hosts the grizzly statue (UM's mascot) and University Hall, its oldest building.  Behind University Hall is Mount Sentinel, which features the M trail; switchbacks leading up to an M near the top that is common for student hiking.  You can see a picture of the scene here.  The campus was fantastic to bike through because there were so many paths going in several directions, so there was plenty to see.  I got a really great vibe from the campus and even feel now like this could be a stop during my career if I decide to venture away from an urban atmosphere for a while.  A community of hiking and biking is something that I will encounter in Washington, so I may develop more of an interest when my career is ready for the next step after a handful of years.

Driving through mountains is one of those several things on this trip that simply cannot be adequately described with pictures or words.  You'll see my pictures trying to tell the story.  I can also tell you things like how many expletives I used per hour in simple amazement of my surroundings, or how when I was reaching the crest of the road in the mountains I started to wonder if there would be more road on the other side to catch me, or how terrifying I think it'd be to actually drive as fast as the speed limit coming down some of the winding roads in Idaho.

But these things won't do it justice.  You need to see it for yourself.  I have been driving through a National Geographic documentary this week.  Seriously, you need to see it live and in-person.

Like I said, the physical journey has almost concluded.  This week has felt like an eternity in some ways.  I've had so much time with just me and the road this week and it's felt wonderful.  The road and Marie Antoinette (my car) have been my best friends this week, so every morning I've been excited to wake up and spend more time together.  That time ends tomorrow, which I'm sure Marie is excited about so she doesn't have to drive 95 mph ever again.

It's sad to think about this trip ending.  I've enjoyed being a vagabond this week, going with the wind and exploring the United States by myself.  I've enjoyed being unemployed this summer and having time to do whatever I've wanted to do every day.  That time ends and I'm sad to see this unique experience end.  I'm also scared about actually doing exactly what it is I've wanted to do.  There's a certain excitement and joy that comes with the anticipation of an event or major life change, so now that it's actually happening I have a lot of pressure for this experience to be exactly what I've hoped it to be.  I've known that the grass isn't necessarily greener, just a different shade of green, but now it's up to me to make this experience in Tacoma exactly what I need it to be.

In a way that will be difficult, but in another it won't.  This trip has given me a craving for the outdoors.  I'm looking forward to buying some camping and hiking equipment and using it.  I'm looking forward to spending some time on the Puget Sound on a kayak.  I'm excited to bike around Tacoma and see how far I can go.  All of these things I've daydreamed about can be done if I just get out there and do them.  Life is what you make of it.  Opportunities come and go, so we need to choose to take them.  I've chosen to accept this inciting incident and make the move to the Pacific Northwest, so now I have to take the reigns and let the Lord lead me, as they say.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Day 5 - Bozeman, MT

Let me start tonight's post by explaining that I cannot adequately describe the beauty I've seen in this country. Every state is more beautiful than the last.  This drive has been absolutely surreal and I feel so blessed for having the opportunity to cross this country by car.

I woke up this morning in South Dakota and began my trek toward Big Sky country.  It is amazing how distinct each state really is.  As soon as I crossed over from South Dakota into Wyoming, it was a clear change from the rolling green hills to the wild west.  Wyoming was full of pastures and open space for roaming purposes.  Going along with the "small world" theme, I had lunch with a friend (Hannah) of a friend (Jeremy) of a friend (Kallie) in Sheridan, WY.  

As I've described, it's been amazing to see real people living real lives in these locations that I've only heard about.  While I was hoping that Hannah lived in a little 500-person town off the beaten path, Sheridan was a big oasis of a town in a vast western expanse.

As I said previously, each state is better than the last.  Last night, my favorite state was South Dakota.  Tonight's new favorite is Montana.  Pictures and words cannot accurately explain how vast the sky is in Montana.  Imagine being able to see in every direction for 10 miles, then imagine what that clear blue sky looks like above.  At one point I recall seeing a wall of clouds with clear sky to the right that looked like a literal sea.  I crept over the hill to see this ocean of sky, wondering what body of water was approaching.

I remember reading an article that my friend, Dave Mesing, posted a while ago about the experience one has in a town when they ride a bike versus driving.  When you drive, you simply enter your vessel at one end and emerge at your destination.  You see the things in between, but they just seem like scenery on your way.  

The same can be said for traveling across the country in a car versus a plane.  If I would have flown from Pittsburgh to Tacoma, I'd have been there a few days ago and would have missed an immense collection of beauty that cannot be described in this post.  Driving through Ohio, Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana has given a face to these locations.  I've interacted with people who live in these places and learned that life happens here.  People grew up here, worked here, lived here. 

I arrived in Bozeman, MT, tonight with some daylight and a desire for a coffeeshop, dinner, and a beer.  Bozeman is an awesome little college town, hosting Montana State University.  As I rolled up to the coffee shop (Wild Joe's Organic Coffee and Tea), I was immediately asked if I had a doobie to spare.  Sad to say, I didn't.  I guess if you roll up to an organic coffeeshop with your life packed in a Honda Civic and a bike strapped to the back, you can expect to be asked about having pot.

I had dinner and a couple beers at the Montana Ale Works, which was a cool ale house with some good food and a packed house.  The beer selection was fantastic, including mostly local Montana brews.  Dinner and beers were great and I rounded out the night with an old friend; Pabst Blue Ribbon.
Tomorrow I have a place to stay at Gonzaga in Spokane, WA, so I've got about 6 hours of driving tomorrow before 5 more on Monday to arrive in Tacoma.  I'm so thankful for safety and smooth sailing so far.  Thanks for your prayers and I look forward to another enjoyable trek tomorrow. 

Before I call it a night, let me try to explain how valuable a GPS, smart phone, and good stereo are on a cross-country roadtrip.  I don't know where I'd be or even how much I'd be able to handle this trip if it weren't for these modern amenities.

I leave you with this tonight: These places are real.  I've driven through the documentaries.  You absolutely must see this country.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Day 4 - Rapid City, SD

Today was easily the most enjoyable day of driving I've experienced.  Not only that, it was certainly the longest at about 10 hours and 600 miles of driving from Minneapolis, MN, to Rapid City, SD.  I'm sitting in a plush hotel in Rapid City right now, for which I am very thankful because I've slept on a couch, floor, and futon since my trek began three days ago.  I'm looking forward to dinner and a beer before a big, comfortable bed takes my exhaustion away.

My journey from Minneapolis was accompanied by the city's own The Hold Steady.  I listened to Stay Positive three times in a row without boredom.  The album is so good and there is something amazing about listening to a band singing about the city you're traveling through.  It was cool to roll up Hennepin, knowing that Craig Finn sings about living on this very street on "The Sweet Part of the City" from their latest release, Heaven is Whenever.

Before that, though, I must gather my thoughts.  South Dakota has been my favorite state, thus far.  The vast expanse of space is simply impossible to explain with words.  Some described SD has a very boring state, but I was constantly amazed by the miles and miles and miles of space to become bored.  SD is so lacking of people and places that any time you saw one or the other it was reason for excitement.

I was racing against the clock, in a way, which made the drive more exciting.  I am thankful that Marie Antoinette (my car) could handle driving 85 mph for most of those 600 miles.  My only goal was to leave Minneapolis around 11am and get to the Badlands by sundown, which would give me about 8.5 hours.

Jack Kerouac kept me company with On the Road for a significant portion of the ride.  This is an absolutely perfect audiobook for a road trip because Kerouac continues to travel back and forth across the United States, finding work and characters along the way.  A book like this gives me motivation to take advantage of every opportunity and make the trip memorable.  It's been a safe trip to this point, staying with friends and keeping to major cities, but the next few days will be traveled through Big Sky country without a familiar face in sight, so adventure may be right around the corner.

This transition in my life has shown me equally that the world is a very small and a very large place.  I've made connections with people in Tacoma that I'd never expect, which makes the world feel small at times.  On the other hand, driving for hours along a near-empty highway across what didn't seem like an enormous state has reminded me that I am a very small person in a very big world.  Looking from side to side on I-90 gave your eyes massive amounts of green and space to devour.  Look upwards and it is simply sky.  For the most part, that sky was cloudy and dark, which I was thankful for because it was so hot the previous two days.

I stopped in Sioux Falls, directly between Minneapolis and Rapid City, for lunch.  I made an incredible realization here that my urban mind never really thought about.  People live here.  Not only do people live here, but people probably love it here.  South Dakota is home.  They work here and shop here and their kids play baseball here.  It so often seems to me that life does not happen outside the city, but it does.  People love the open spaces and farm country.  It was simply amazing to be in this small city in the middle of nowhere and realize that people call this place home.

As I approached the Badlands, it was a race against the sun.  It was setting and my time was growing thin.  To avoid beating around the bush, I barely made it.  The Badlands come out of nowhere.  You're driving a couple miles away from the interstate then, all of a sudden, there it is.  These colored mountains stretching for miles and creating magnificent terrain.  They reminded me of the little painted desert in Arizona.  I rolled up listening to The Wild Hunt by The Tallest Man on Earth because the album reminds me of these big expansive spaces.

I didn't have much time, so I snapped a bunch of pictures.  The sun was setting quickly and darkness was falling.  My car was the last remaining at this pullover spot and the depth of the night was setting in.  I was moved to tears when I realized the enormity of God in this place.  The landscape changed so drastically over a 20-minute time period from when I arrived to when the sun was gone and I was on my way.  The pictures tell a better story, but still don't do justice to this natural wonder.

So that's the end of today.  Tomorrow I trek through Wyoming into Montana.  My timetable will open up and I'll be able to stop more without worrying about timing.  I look forward to that.  This trip has been amazing and I could type more and more about it, but I'll save some more reflection for tomorrow.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Day 3 - Minneapolis

My third day of traveling started in Milwaukee, WI, and landed me in Minneapolis, MN.  I took a tour around Marquette University with Jamie this morning before heading out.  Marquette has a beautiful campus with a mix of very old and very modern buildings.  It's has a great, warm urban/residential vibe and a lot of beautiful landscaping and architecture.

The road was a lonely place today and I was struggling to stay focused and alert.  I made a few stops to keep things fresh, but the 90 degree heat was weighing on me.  As I drove across Wisconsin, my one goal was to hit Eau Claire and drive down the streets Justin Vernon used to inhabit before Bon Iver.  The town was great little suburban spot with families and a quaint downtown area.  People were walking around downtown in bathing suits while carrying inner tubes for spending the hot day on the river.  I set my Bon Iver album on a street corner and took a neat little picture.

I'm visiting with my friend Rachel in Minneapolis and staying overnight with her boyfriend, Jon.  They go to North Central University in downtown Minneapolis.  It's a nice little urban campus within walking distance of a lot of cool spots.  We had dinner at a brewery a mile or so away with plenty of outdoor seating, then walked down to the water for my first view of the Mississippi.  Minneapolis is pretty picturesque and offers plenty of bike lanes all over the city.  I'm definitely jealous of how bike-friendly Minneapolis and Milwaukee are, combined with their flat terrain.  Those are definitely two things that Pittsburgh was lacking.

Tomorrow and Saturday are my longest days of traveling.  Tomorrow I drive about 10 hours to Rapid City, SD, with a stop in Sioux Falls on the way.  I'm hoping to hit the Badlands right around dusk to get an amazing sunset.  Thank goodness for gaining an hour when I change time zones!  Tomorrow is definitely Rapid City or bust, but the following day I'll have some options as far as how far I'd like to push into Montana.  Today is the last day I'll see a familiar face until I hit Tacoma, so it's going to be an interesting few days of traveling.  I'm enjoying the trip, but will definitely be looking forward to the end pretty soon.

I'm extremely thankful for this trip, though.  I can't believe I'm actually taking a solo trip across the country.  It's been fantastic to see so many states that I wouldn't have seen otherwise and to really interact with people in these cities that I'd only seen in pictures and TV.  Cities like Milwaukee and Minneapolis aren't necessarily "must-see" locations, but they're great American cities with real, genuine Americans that remind me what this country is all about.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Day 2 - Milwaukee

Day Two was more of a physical challenge than the first, for sure.  I was on the road for much longer; about 7 instead of 3.  Today's journey had me saying farewell to the Prats girls and heading towards Indianapolis before venturing north through Chicago and into Milwaukee to visit Jeremy and Jamie Ault, who have recently moved here for Jeremy to start his fellowship with Marquette.

I didn't hit the road as early as I should have, but thank goodness that I didn't account for Central time because I got an extra hour and took time to stop for lunch at Bub's north of Indianapolis.  This place was featured on Man vs Food on the Travel Channel for their burgers, so I had a quarter pounder and it was delicious!  The seasoning was fantastic and medium rare was certainly the proper temperature for their juicy burgers.  They provided group games at each table for entertainment and offered a picture on the wall to anyone who ate the Big Ugly one-pound burger.  It was touristy, but I'm a tourist, so lay off.

Indiana kinda sucks.  It's bigger than you'd think and pretty stinking boring.  The most interesting part, however, was a sea of windmills.  I'd have to estimate close to 1000 windmills in a 10 mile stretch.

Thank goodness for audiobooks.  I was listening to On the Road by Jack Kerouac for most of the trip today. As I began to approach Chicago, I listened to my favorite Chicago band; Fall Out Boy.  I went through their whole discography, which kept me alert because I was wailing every note right along with Patrick.

Arriving in Milwaukee was a nice result.  It's great to see familiar faces.  Jeremy, Jamie, and I rode bikes around the city to dinner and had some beers.  My favorite cheap beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon, is a local product so I had to have one.

Nothing too insightful today, unfortunately.  I'm pretty tired and hoping that my body holds up.  I will say that it's been a blessing to have places to say and to possibly have a connect in Montana so I may only need to get one hotel on the whole trip.  Also, I mentioned my desire to Skype to Lindsay and she gave me a web cam that Mike got for her and didn't work on her computer!  One less thing I will need when I get to Tacoma.  Thank God for these simple blessings.

Minneapolis tomorrow!  Maybe stopping in Eau Claire, WI, on the way to say hi to Justin Vernon.