(a multi-part series)
Let me dive right in…but let’s back up a few years…lol
It was early fall, I was laying across the side of the raft, my face toward the warm sun, drifting through a calm section of the Upper Gauley (a river that boasts class V+ rapids in the fall), staring up at the lush green mountains and listening to the water lap across the side of the raft as it carried my friends and I down the river. I thought to myself, how does one make a living being out here all the time. How can I do this? It was the late 90’s and I barely had any college under my belt. I had zero clue as to what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that I wanted to work outside on the water and among the trees and mountains. My friends and I had been rafting the Upper Gauley for years. Each year I asked myself the same question. I come from a town where you go to college, get a degree, settle down and have a family. I didn’t know of a family that did anything super adventurous. The guidance counselor at my high school was pretty much worthless in helping a student recognize, let alone follow through on a dream that deferred from the small town norm so I was on my own to figure it out and find a way.
It took many years of monumental mistakes, wrong turns, changing majors several times and chasing after a career I had absolutely zero desire to pursue in order to make the decision to just follow my own path.
The year that I decided to change my life was 2006. It was a beautiful February day. I was sitting in math class at the local community college attempting nursing school for the ump-teenth time. Staring out the window I could see big beautiful snow flakes falling outside in the courtyard. Snow flakes so big and fluffy that they need their own zip code. These flakes fell so slow like they were in slow motion and were dancing their way down from the sky. I thought to myself, I don’t want to be in an effing classroom. I don’t want to be a nurse, I don’t want to live out my life in Ohio without experiencing something bigger first. I had dreams damn it and I needed to make them happen! So I promptly stood up and started walking out of the classroom. The professor stopped me and asked, “Where are you going? We have a quiz at the end of class.” I responded, “I understand. Good luck everyone.” And with that I walked straight to the registrars office and withdrew from all my classes. I NEVER EVER felt so free in my entire life. I drove home and immediately started planning my move out west to become a whitewater rafting guide.
I wanted to go somewhere I had never been before. I wanted to experience new attitudes, people, places, natural areas and different ways of living. Don’t get me wrong, I love my mid-west values of hard work and family but my ideals never aligned with the closed mindedness of small town USA. I craved new ideas and fresh faces.
As I was searching the internet I came across a rafting company in Colorado. I have always wanted to live in Colorado. Everything about the place is exciting and beautiful to me. Huge mountains, rushing rivers and cute mountain men! Sign me up! The whitewater training school I found was DVORAK’S RAFTING. This place sounded very intense to me. Just what I wanted! But then thoughts from years ago started drifting in and out of my head of conversations I had with my neighbor David when I was living in Columbus attending Ohio State. David was an older gentleman who traveled a lot. When he was gone my sister and I would cat sit for him and in turn he would bring us home little gifts. I remember telling him how I always wanted to live in California. I dreamed of Yosemite, Joshua Tree and the Pacific Ocean. He said he was leaving on a trip there soon and I was so envious. Upon his return he brought me back postcards that showed different parts of the state. Little did I know but the seed was planted.
My guide school search continued until I found a great friendly company on the Kings River near Sequoia National Park. Zephyr Whitewater. California won out in the end. I saved money to pay for guide school and two months later with only belongings that could fit in the trunk of my car and $500 I set off for the mountains out west. My dreams of living on the river among the trees were becoming a reality!!! The sun would shine upon my face everyday and my “office view” would be amazing. I had never in my life felt so sure of anything, ever.
My family threw me a going away party and gave me gifts including $300 in BP gas card money. (little did any of us know that there aren’t any BP gas stations west of Indiana…at least not then…hahaha)
Finally the day after I turned 29 I packed up the last of my things into my car. I had said good bye to everyone. My mom and I had a moment before she left for work so it was my dad who was the last one to see me get on the road. I get my adventurous spirit from him I guess. When I wake up in the wee hours of the morning and take off on a random road trips, that is my dad. I remember not being able to let go of him. Crying and crying because I would miss him so much and desperately wanting him to go on that cross country adventure with me… after all I am my father’s daughter when it comes to road tripping, among other things. 😀 My fearlessness and take no bull attitude comes from my mother and her mother, Italians…
Finally my dad crying and chuckling said, “You can’t leave if you don’t let go.” So I let go…
“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.