Blog

String

I withdrew my application with the Peace Corps last week.

2016-10-06-12-57-25-1

Never in my life had I felt such a strong pull in one direction to do one thing. It was as if there was an invisible string attached to my torso, with the other end securely fastened to Banff. Someone on the other end would gently tug on the string while I felt the surge on my chest. There was a sense of urgency as I frantically tried to tie up my life back home as I prepared to follow this little, invisible string tugging on my heart.

I found this feeling is what is commonly written on inspirational signage, tattooed body parts, and social media profiles: Follow Your Heart.

When I was transitioning out of my corporate job, one of the most common questions I’d receive was, “what will you do after your trip?” I’d kindly smile and respond with “we’ll see,” knowing full well I had a plan upon my return, and that was to continue to follow my heart.

I have a desire to start my own business but didn’t feel ready yet. On my quest to find that next step to make me feel independent enough to startup on my own I found the Peace Corps. Peace Corps representatives are often the only American in a village, with limited resources, and vast problems. It was perfect for me. I was someone looking to prepare myself for the many scary situations I’d face being a single woman starting up a company of her own.

My plan was to return from my travels and spend the remaining four months visiting with family over the holidays and wrapping up my life in the United States before departing to Georgia (the Eastern European country, not the U.S. State). There, I’d spend 27 months serving as an NGO Advising Volunteer, immersing myself in the culture, building lasting relationships, and trying to stay warm (Georgia is a beautifully mountainous country with the weather to match).

While I was on the road, immersing myself in the culture, building lasting relationships, and well, trying to stay warm, I learned, I didn’t need the Peace Corps any longer. On the road something switched in my heart and rather feeling that familiar pull to Georgia, it started pulling me toward home, to start tinkering away on this idea I’ve dreamed up.

2016-10-05-16-28-45

Come to find out, all I needed to feel ready enough to become a founder is to be thrown into unknown situations, with the limited resources to problem-solve them. And I’ll be darned; I was actually good at it. I became an expert at asking myself questions.

Kimi, are you lost? Yes. Can you ask someone for help? Yes.

Kimi, do you have enough time to hike this mountain and get back before dark? No. Should you turn around? Yes.

Kimi, do you have the physical strength to pull the loaded Yeti out of the trunk? Surprisingly, Yes.

2016-11-09-11-25-25

While I’m looking ahead at the next steps in life, my road life isn’t over (Hot Springs, AR is my next adventure to bring in the New Year). It’s not like there was this thirst for a big trip and I’m now satiated. Travel is in my blood and my love for Mother Nature and the beauty that surrounds us is only stronger now than it was when I left home.

To all you readers that encouraged me along the way, thank you from the bottom of my heart! I look forward to sharing the next adventure with you all. As Traveling Kimi becomes Founder Kimi the adventures won’t stop but they’ll slow down. For each one I face, I’ll happily put the story to words and share them with you. Before the next adventure I’ll share what I learned on the road, and the endless preferences I have for clothing and gear. Until then, adventure awaits!

 

Glass

Tarantulas, donkeys, sting rays, deer, sea turtles…

file-dec-16-11-17-54-am

The U.S. Virgin Islands National Park was the wildest of the parks I’ve seen yet. The animals and nature were abundant on the island. We needed only walk a short distance away from our camping cottage at Cinnamon Bay to see wildlife living in an environment untouched by humans.

Walking from the beach to our bath house (which sounds much fancier than it truly was in-person) we encountered a grove of holes in the Earth that housed hundreds of crabs. My mom was the first to discover them. When I approached, she whispered “Look!” and I looked up just in time to see them slowly sidestepping into the little holes they call home. Their color combinations were so perfect they could have only come from nature, as they ranged from orange and gray to blue and purple.

The tarantulas also occupied little holes in the Earth, a mere 15 feet from our cottage. We never saw them outside their homes during the day, but I can only imagine how active they became at night, creeping along the beach, hunting for roaches and lizards. Peering into their little homes we’d see glimpses of their black and caramel colored hairy legs.

2016-11-17-16-03-49

While hiking up to Peace Hill (to see what remains of a very old windmill) my mom and I saw hermit crabs. Exactly like the ones my parents bought for me and my sisters at The Strand in Galveston. These little hermit crabs seemed far away from home, considering they were atop a hill and not a beach, but perhaps they simply prefer the forest.

While the hermit crabs were occupying the forest, the deer were occupying the beach. Our first night on the island my mom and I drove our Jeep Wrangler (I totally felt like a bada*s driving that thing on the left side of the road) along the beach-side road leading to our camping cottage. Having been warned by campground staff to watch for deer, we skeptically (deer on the beach?) kept our eyes open.

Darkness had fallen, since it was after 5:00 p.m. on the island, and just as we approach our cottage we spot a group of five deer. They were smaller than the behemoths I’d seen in the mountains and surrounding forests but equally as beautiful. Each morning following that encounter we would enjoy our coffee on the beach and look for their hoof prints in the sand.

2016-11-17-10-48-20

In addition to meeting amazing wildlife, we met some not-so-amazing wildlife too. We were anxiously greeted by mosquitoes (potentially carrying Zika Virus) upon boarding the ferry and no-see-ums/sand fleas while on the beach. The great outcome of encountering these two pests was that my mom and I mostly kept to the safety of the water.

Having never been to the U.S. Virgin Islands before, I experienced water that looked like glass for the first time. The water was so still, that when I looked into it, it was like I was looking into an aquarium. Being only waist deep in the water I would look around me to watch the fish lazily swimming in my very own aquarium.

2016-11-18-12-31-57

It looked like someone cut into a slab of glass when the calm ocean water would break into a wave. St. John has a scalloped edge, resulting in a series of bays around the island. The ocean is as still as lake water in these bays and only when the wind picked up or a boat drove by would the water begin to break.

Looking to the sky above the ocean awed me as much as looking into it. Some mornings while my mom visited with fellow campgrounders I’d walk into the ocean, float on my back, and let the water fill my ears. I’d lay lifeless on the glassy water, listening to the crackle of the ocean while it plucked away worry after worry from my mind.

Dancing

I drive 8,906 miles with no incident, get to Dallas, and blow out two of my tires.

2016-11-04-12-39-49

The drive from Arizona to Texas was a long one – it’s a little over 10 hours to drive from the Grand Canyon to West Texas. The road was straight as an arrow, a welcomed change from the endless switchbacks I’d driven just days before in Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks.

While driving from Arizona to New Mexico I encountered a white van with two men inside. I kindly pass them on the left and advance in front of them, to find something catching my eye in the rear view mirror. The gentleman in the passenger seat is dancing. Not the typical grooving to the music we’re all accustomed to at a stop light that involves some arm waves and head bobbing.

2016-11-08-17-33-02

This man was Car Dancing. It was a full body experience, including an animated face of emotion to relay his routine, complete arm gestures, and I’m pretty sure his legs were doing something…to make his torso move the way it was.

Then he got out the props. From out of nowhere appeared a cowboy hat for him to spin from hand to hand and gracefully (somewhat) place on his head to complete his routine. I actually applauded! Unfortunately he couldn’t hear or see me.

What made this scene ever more hysterical was that the driver didn’t seem phased by his Car Dancing Passenger. He actually ignored him, which gave me the impression that Car Dancing Passenger must have given this routine a great deal of practice.

Car Dancing Passenger showed me how hysterical I must look while driving. I, too, have officially mastered the art of Car Dancing. I’ve had two months to perfect my craft, but my true skills didn’t begin to shine until I started experiencing the sun again. I had been in the rainy climate of the Pacific West Coast for two weeks straight. When I first saw the shining sun of Sunny California, I rolled back the sunroof to feel the warmth of it on my skin.

2016-11-03-13-45-57

While driving through the Sequoia groves in California I perfected my theatrical dance to Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” and my power packed number for Florence + The Machine’s “Dog Days Are Over.” It made me think about a quote my dad texted me while I was traveling:

Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music

I can only imagine what others think about my Car Dancing but I don’t care, because I’m doing something I enjoy doing. It’s analogous to this entire adventure and how I felt from the start of my endeavor. Others called me crazy for doing what I wanted to do, but they couldn’t hear my music. So long as I’m not hurting myself or others, what’s the problem? Car Dancing is harmless…or at least it was until I got to Dallas.

2016-11-14-11-58-42

I had one day to unload my car, unpack my winter clothes, and repack my luggage for Virgin Islands National Park. While Car Dancing my way home I hook a curb and I hear two loud bangs. I immediately realize that hitting that curb (while probably going too fast) has blown out my two right side tires. After I get over the initial shock of what happened, I smiled to myself, feeling thankful I had insurance on my tires. My second thought…Life Lesson: perhaps I should leave the Car Dancing to long, open stretches of road.

Surreal

I am literally living my dreams and that can be both scary and euphoric.

Ever since that very first time when I was in the Tetons and heard that amazing beast of an Elk bellowing out to his potential mate(s), I’ve felt that very same feeling over and over (more times than I can count). It is a surreal feeling having become content with awe and amazement. Many times I’m hit with the surreal feeling while driving.

2016-11-09-09-26-17

The mindlessness of driving long stretches allows my mind to wander and reflect on what I’m doing. Sometimes that spooky feeling of questioning if my reality is a dream or indeed reality comes over me. While driving through Olympic National Park I faced that same reality warp and when I realized that this living dream is indeed my life, I burst into tears.

I felt like I was walking in a dream while hiking down into the Grand Canyon. Being the first ever hike that involved a descent prior to an ascent, it was a completely new experience for me. The Bright Angel Trail gave me a false sense of ease as I pleasantly moseyed my way down the path, taking in the change of views as the sun rose above the canyon.

2016-11-09-09-19-42

The sun became a maker of darkness as well as light as it shown on the endless bends of stone along the canyon, creating beautiful ever changing shadows. As I made my descent deeper and deeper into the canyon I passed many lines in the stone. It was as if Mother Nature was notching off my progress as I descended to my resting place for lunch.

2016-11-09-09-30-05

As a result of having an early start on the trail I relaxed during lunch and allowed myself extra time for reading my book while lying on a bench. I ate my pepperoni stick (I am now a lover of dried meats for my hikes), and took in the scenery of red rock and desert plants that surrounded me. While enjoying the sound of the chirping birds and absolute quietness at Indian Garden (the end of my descent and start of my ascent) I made a mental note of yet another travel experience I hope to enjoy in the future.  There are camp sites along the trail, near the Colorado River.

Often people tell me I should overnight backpack rather than just doing day hikes. Or run marathons rather than just doing half marathons. Going the extreme just isn’t my thing. I love challenging myself in a variety of different activities and don’t feel a need to take it to the next level. I love spending the day hiking in the woods or to the top of a mountain point, then returning to the comfort of a bed (or the back seat of my car) and hopefully a warm shower. But the campsite at the bottom of the Grand Canyon is an exception.

Indian Garden had campsites with running water and bathroom facilities. Having these amenities at a backpacker’s campsite is very unique and something I haven’t seen since I’ve been on the road.  I can only imagine the utter peacefulness of lying under the stars, in the mouth of one of Earth’s largest canyons. That experience would be truly surreal, until I was faced with the long, steep, heavy climb up to the south rim. No need to question real from dream at that point – the Grand Canyon is over a mile deep.

Ewok

I was in need of a treat to myself before returning to Texas.

2016-11-15-18-07-13

One of my new Canadian friends referred to my adventure as a “roadie.” I liked that descriptor, specifically since it spoke to the road trip nature of my adventure. I was feeling mixed emotions about my roadie coming to an end and my adventure taking me by air. I’ve developed such a sense of comfort living out of my car for the last two months that I’ve wondered how I’ll fare with air travel again.

After thinking about the last leg of my trip from California to Texas I wanted to give myself a little gift and end the roadie with a bang. While on the road it’s easy to treat myself. It doesn’t take an extravagant piece of jewelry or a fancy bottle of wine. Experiences and nature are what fills my heart with joy so what better way to treat myself than a visit to Grand Canyon National Park?

Before I left from California to head to Arizona I wanted to spend time with family in Long Beach. My visit to Long Beach, California would make the third “Long Beach” I would visit in two weeks. The others being Long Beach, British Columbia and Long Beach, Washington.

2016-11-05-19-48-39

During the weekend visit I had the pleasure of befriending an animal that happens to resemble one of my favorite creatures from childhood. He’s built like a bulldozer and has a meatball personality. We instantly bonded as he’d wake me up in the mornings and greet me by joining me on the bed. The only thing he’s missing to complete the ensemble cast of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi is a leather outfit and spear (walking on two legs may help too).

In addition to spending the weekend with an Ewok I had warm family time with two of my favorite people, my uncles. We had a lazy weekend watching movies, sharing conversation over wine, and going out for breakfast. During my visit they hosted a small dinner party for close friends and I had the pleasure of getting to know them better while enjoying some tasty homemade chili.

On the way from the sequoias to my uncles’ house an indicator light on my car illuminated. It alerted me that my oil level was low, so I pulled over at the nearest gas station as soon as I could. My dad, being a car guy, sent me off on my adventure with an extra quart of oil to keep on hand for exactly this circumstance. I was awkwardly fumbling the bottle in an attempt to pour the oil in the engine without a funnel when I heard someone come up behind me. “Want to see a trick?” is all he replies. Smirking, I asked if he means with the car. Sensing my crude sense of humor he laughs and heads to his truck bed to grab an empty water bottle.

2016-11-04-13-33-26

A couple of seconds later American ingenuity makes an appearance with the creation of a funnel out of an empty water bottle. My car was so low on oil I had to go inside the gas station to purchase another quart. Mr. American Ingenuity continued to surprise me with this gentlemanly nature. As I returned to my car I’m surprised to catch him checking the air level in my tires. He continued the niceties by advising me on some warning signs to be aware of since my car shouldn’t have used that much oil.

Even though I’ve resolved to tell myself to expect good things from all people I am always still caught off guard when I witness general kindness and human decency. I was so thankful to have met Mr. American Ingenuity and I made a mental note to pay forward the kindness he showed me to the next person I encounter that’s in need of help.

As a result of the low oil scare I went ahead and had my oil changed while in Long Beach, and made sure to monitor the level for the remainder of my journey. Leaving the comfort of family I headed to the desert for the first time since my a*s kicking in Moab and wondered what it had in store for me this time.

Farmville

A while ago I was addicted to a popular social media game that allowed me to plant and care for my crops on a simulated farm.

As I was driving through California I was stopped at an all-traffic stop that resembled a toll booth. When I pulled up the woman inside the booth asked, “Do you have any plants or fruits in your vehicle?” Being accustomed to reporting guns or weapons to customs, I began to report my bear spray. Then I realized she was asking about plants and fruits…but why? When I reported the couple of oranges and bananas I’d purchased in Oregon, she waved me on.

2016-11-03-12-34-31

That encounter with the “plant and fruit police” became clearer as I continued my drive through California on I- 5 and subsequently Highway 99. I passed farm after farm of the widest variety of plant life in my life. The rows of trees of all sorts: olives, apples, oranges, almonds, avocados, and many others, spanned as far as my eye could see.

The best part of this real life Farmville was the fruit stands. I stopped at the Blossom Trail Fruit Stand to find an assortment of fresh and dried fruits and nuts. The dried kiwis and bananas I purchased at that fruit stand proved to be the perfect road trip snacks for the remainder of my journey.

The abundant and awe inspiring plant life continued as I made my way into Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. While the mileage was minimal (less than 200 miles) the drive from Yosemite National Park to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park took me nearly 7 hours. The switch backs, hills and valleys made for a slow but beautiful drive with many stops along the way to take in the scenery.

2016-11-04-10-07-56

I stayed in the heart of the “Land of Giants” at the John Muir Lodge. Now having stayed in a lot of different woods, I’m able to compare their differences, and the sequoia woods had a much different feel to them. The trees are so large that it’s the perfect setting for a storybook scene with giants and oversized animals. Looking into the distance of the forest full of giant tree trunks I could picture a larger than life character like Paul Bunyan and Babe, the blue ox running through them.

Everything about the forest was manly and taking a deep breath of the woods’ musky sweetness made me feel like I was getting a dose of testosterone. The names of the largest trees in the forest kept with the consistency of the manly theme. General Grant, the widest tree on Earth at 40 feet wide, was rooted only a couple of exits down the main road from where I stayed and only 45 minutes from him is the biggest tree on Earth, General Sherman.

The grandeur of the Generals was like nothing I’d ever seen. While they didn’t seem as tall as other trees I’d seen, the size of their trunks and branches was so impressive they almost appeared fake. The Fallen Monarch is a tunnel that’s been created through a fallen sequoia and helps give perspective to these impressive creations of nature. Walking inside a tree made me feel smaller than ever and I found myself touching the bark to make sure it was real.

2016-11-04-10-04-42

Using some extra rope from my gear I measured the circumference of one of the trees next to my cabin. Even the nameless tree within feet from my cabin measured in at 28.2 feet in circumference. The simple act of measuring the tree gave me a true sense for its size. It took me nearly 15 minutes to make my way around the large trunk and maneuver my piece of rope around it. I had to measure it by tying my rope to a rock and throwing it around the large trunk one section at a time.

2016-11-04-11-41-07

General Sherman holds the world record as the biggest tree on Earth not for his width, height, or age but rather the overall volume of his trunk. As I stared up at him in awe of his size and how much space he took up it amazed me that just miles away are fields of tiny fruit trees that are dwarfed by his size. It seemed to me that the land and soil there must be magical for it to create such amazing plants, both those abundant with fruit and those the size of giants.

Time

I woke up in the middle of the night in Tofino with an “oh sh*t” moment.

What has felt like two weeks has truly been two months and much to my dismay, time flew by while I was giggling like a child and flirting with cute boys. So after one of my play days at the beach I was rudely awakened to my looming deadline that will mark the end of my road trip (and solitude) of this adventure. I was on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada and needed to be in Dallas, Texas, USA within 10 days.

2016-10-31-10-23-00

The last U.S. National Park I’ll see on my adventure is a drastic change of pace from the mountains and requires me to take flight in order to see it. It’s the Virgin Islands National Park located on the island of St. John. The park has a campground where you can literally sleep on the beach, just feet away from the crashing waves of the ocean. It will be the first time in two months I’ll have a traveling companion, too.

While catching a flight from Houston I’ll be joined by my mom on this adventure. We’ll celebrate her birthday and spend our time doing fun (and free) activities that I’m used to, namely hiking, and something newer to me, snorkeling. While I’m looking forward to the change of scenery and companionship, I do miss the mountains and wonder about the next time I’ll visit them.

After visiting my sister’s property in Oregon I made my way to the first of the three final U.S. National Parks I’d visit on the mainland before my departure to the island of St. John.

Yosemite National Park is one of those bucket list parks. I’ve been hearing about it for months and leading up to this adventure a common question from people would be, “Will you see Yosemite?” They’d ask me with such a look of eager envy, that it piqued my interest to see what all the fuss was about.

2016-11-02-15-18-30

I now see what all the fuss is about. The mountains are made of white, gray granite and the glaciers that passed through them made incredibly unique configurations of the stone. It reminded me of the dear-to-my-heart-park, Zion National Park. As the stone wasn’t red sandstone, the formations of the rock are similar, and the park has an energy that many of the other parks lack. It’s clear the tourists there are checking off one of their bucket list items. With iconic mountains such as Half Dome and El Capitan looming over the Visitor Center located in Yosemite Valley, it’s easy to take great photos of them, even from the parking lot. There isn’t countless signage warning campers and hikers of bears (my bear spray was actually banned in the park) thus giving it a safe feeling.

I hit the hiking trail up to Glacier Point later than planned, and made it to my car at the trailhead just as the sun was setting behind the valley. At one point I stopped my car to attempt some sunset photos in the valley and to watch the water fall over a mountain top, when I heard rustling in the leaves. That’s when I looked to my right to find a herd of deer grazing in the field, so I averted my attention to watching them with equal fascination and relaxation. Feeling their calm nature standing only feet away from me put me in a sort of relaxed trance.

2016-11-02-13-19-39

My final stretch of drive to make my way out of the valley brought me to a Park Ranger vehicle, parked to the side of the road. It was clear there were two individuals inside and they were parked with their headlights beaming into an open field. With my curiosity piqued I pulled over on the road to look in their direction, hoping for another raw encounter with wildlife. It wasn’t a scene of wildlife; it was a scene of nature and time. It was sunset and one of the most beautiful pictures I’ve ever seen in my life. The sun set with brilliant shades of orange and it was as if someone was drawing a shade slowly above it. The moon shone brightly above the white halo remaining from the sun, and brought with it varying shades of blue and navy.

At that moment I envied the Park Rangers to be able to see such a beautiful showcase of Mother Nature’s way of progressing time. Often when we’re given something great in large doses it diminishes the perceived value. It was clear these Park Rangers, even with their easy access to beautiful views still cherished the moments. Thinking of that made me smile.

2016-11-02-18-39-10

Seeing the Park Rangers also made me realize, I’m like them. While I’ve been on the road for nearly two months, seeing some of the most beautiful destinations of North America, it still feels new to me each time. Every instance I encounter deer or a waterfall I’m stopped in my tracks, nature begging me to savor the moment. With all the variables Mother Nature gives me, no two moments witnessing her are the same.

Cleopatra

Driving the PCH was as beautiful as the Icefields Parkway, only rather than seeing glaciers I saw the ocean.

I saw more deer in Olympic National Park than in any other park. My experience seeing wildlife on the side (or middle) of the road is nearly an everyday occurrence. It seems I’ve developed some sort of “Animal Whisperer” skill, too.

2016-10-28-14-12-00

While driving along in the park I saw a beautiful and massive female white tail deer begin to cross the road. My slow driving made it easy for me to stop for her. Only this time, different from past times when the animals would simply stand in the middle of the road or run across without seeing me, she paused as if she was waiting for me.

Not knowing what to do in this situation I instinctively waved her on, like I would a motor vehicle. Afterwards I rolled my eyes at myself. But much to my surprise, she proceeded to cross the road after I did this. Is it possible nature and the creatures in it are picking up on my vibes and now returning the favor? I took that as a sign that Mother Nature and I are now tribesmen.

2016-10-30-12-19-48

Making my way south from Olympic National Park was easy. One of the most sought after driving routes in the world runs the length of the western United States and the only thing you need to accomplish it is time. Stretching all the way from Washington to California (the most popular stretch being that along California), the road is literally on the cliff’s edge overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

My sister and brother-in-law (who reminds me so much of Joe Rogan with his dry sense of humor that you can’t help but love him) purchased some land in Oregon a few years back. I remember when she first told me about her land I wondered, “Why Oregon?,” Now I know why. Oregon is absolutely beautiful. Having both mountains and the beach, it’s truly the best of both worlds. The climate there is wet but mild with sunny skies.

My first impression of Oregon was a warm welcome from, surprisingly enough, Google Maps. Out of all the state or country border lines I’ve crossed, the Oregon border was the only one that triggered: “You’ve now crossed a state line. Welcome to Oregon.” From that moment on I could feel myself having a bias for the state.

My second impression of the state was a strange encounter with a gas station worker. Having driven something like 5,000 miles I realized I’ve developed some idiosyncrasies related to my car. I have few consistent things in my life right now. But one of those few things happens to be refilling the gas tank in my car. So when a gas station attendant sees me attempting to gas up my own vehicle he asked me, “How can I help you?” I warmly said hello and that there are no worries here, I’m simply refilling the gas in my car.

2016-10-30-17-19-57

According to him there are two states in the United States that require full-service gas stations and those are Washington and Oregon. Believe it or not I had never, until that moment, been to a full-service gas station. I had no idea how they worked but the idea of someone else putting gas in my car gave me anxiety. What am I supposed to do while he’s completing this task for me? Should he fan me with a banana leaf while he’s at it? Perhaps someone else could feed me some grapes?

I felt ridiculous letting him do this for me so I actually tried to talk him out of it. I can imagine he probably thought I was a Grade A Hippie Bit*h, trying to do his job for him. But until that point putting gas in my car had become some sort of ritual. I’d get the gasoline started, go inside to use the ladies’ room, fill up my Yeti tumblers with coffee, discard any trash in my car, sometimes make a sandwich for lunch, press “Yes” for a receipt, and lastly click the gas cap until it clicked twice to ensure it was secure. That was my ritual and it was always completed in that order…every time.

But then I thought twice about it and thought, if this kind gas station attendant wants to make me feel like a princess, who am I to stop him? Now, where are my grapes?

Booyah

It was time for me to leave Canada.

2016-10-28-07-41-55

Driving from Tofino to the ferry station in the beautiful city of Victoria was full of mixed emotions, a feeling I’m finding hasn’t left me for the last week. The ferry station in Victoria wasn’t like the one in Vancouver and there was little to do there to kill time before U.S. customs made their appearance (some 90 minutes after my parking my car).

So I enjoyed a currant scone and tea while watching hydro airplanes fly into the terminal, located just across the water. It was fascinating watching the little planes land on the water, one after another like ducks, to be corralled at their final destination. The easy feeling it gave me helped mentally prepare me for my looming encounter with customs. This time I was prepared with specific answers and information about my money (dwindling by the minute), job status (unemployed), how I take my coffee (black) or whatever else they wanted to know about me. I’m an open book!

I finally get my visit by a very handsome Latino U.S. customs guy (why, hola; me gusta mucho). He goes into the song and dance about me being a long way from home and asking me what brought me to Canada. When I reply that I used to be a Marketing Director but that I quit my job to travel to Canada to go hiking he says “that’s cool.” Seriously!? Thanks Mr. Hermoso U.S. Customs Guy. He goes on to ask me maybe two more simple questions before dismissing me for further traditional processing, no waiting room for them to check if my tent is a meth dispensary.

My easy dealings with customs (this time) proved to be a foreshadowing for an amazing remainder of the journey. I encountered my first U.S. National Park upon driving a mere 15 miles from the ferry dock in Port Angeles, Washington. Olympic National Park touched me in a different way from the other National Parks.

2016-10-28-13-02-30

The park is unique in that it has coastal, mountainous, and rain forest climates all within one park. I drove in around 3 o’clock in the afternoon not knowing where I’d be sleeping that night. My tent has been soaked since I pitched it last and with continuous rain since I’ve been along the west coast, I haven’t had the required dry air or time to let it out (it’s now a science experiment). So I went into the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, walked up to the kind Park Ranger and said, “Can you please help me find a place to sleep tonight and tomorrow night?”

She was up for the challenge and came up with the perfect plan for me to see the expansive park (it takes 3 hours to drive from north to south). She described the park as a spoke and wheel, and that imagery and subsequent experience driving the roads has stuck with me. There are roads that go around the park but few that make circles once you’re in the middle of it; it makes driving to see sights time-consuming. So her plan for me was to stay on the north side one night (Lake Crescent) and the south side the second night (Quinault Lake).

2016-10-29-14-05-50

During my stay on Lake Crescent I experienced the Olympic Mountains and some of the most amazing forests I’ve ever seen. The trees are so tall you have to crane your neck in order to see their tops. The ground cover of the forest is full of bright ferns and the trees are covered in mosses of varying brilliant shades of green. Some of the mosses even have unique orange coloring. It was like a scene out of Avatar (or Fern Gully if old school animation strikes your fancy) as the trees, ground cover, rocks, and rivers would leap out at me.

2016-10-29-15-20-08-1

It was raining while hiking to see some of the waterfalls in the park. When the rain had stopped, I threw my hood back, stood in the middle of the trail, and looked up to stare at the tree tops. I could hear the loud thumps of rain on the ground all around me and stared around puzzled to hear rain without seeing rain falling from the sky.

All that remained were the fat pools of water that were released from the leaves of the trees. As I looked up, I watched as one of those fat pools dove quickly toward me to land square on my forehead. I’m hit with such force it throws my head back ever so slightly. Until that moment I had seen the height of the trees but the force of the rain drop let me feel the height of the trees. It was as if the tree itself had touched me and said, “Booyah, I’m that tall.”

Realization

I finally see what everyone’s been talking about.

2016-10-26-15-17-17-1

Towards the end of the two-hour long soak in Hot Springs Cove, Tofino I was thankful to become a third-wheel to two of the coolest people I’ve met to date. They’re a couple of guys exploring from Quebec and having been on the road since June we had plenty to talk about sharing stories of our travels across Canada. The Explorer Guys are living the life I’d love to live with a life partner one day; they travel beautifully together and it’s clear they truly value being in nature and the person they’re sharing it with. They bought an RV and fixed it up to travel in and ultimately sell when their journey of Canada is complete. It’s beautifully renovated and has a retro, chic feel.

We hit it off and ended up grabbing drinks immediately upon docking the boat at Tofino. While enjoying deep discussion about topics such as discrimination, racism, and travel, they opened my eyes to something new to me.

2016-10-26-13-17-54

At the end of our soak at the Hot Springs Cove there only remained the three of us. We were instructed to be back at the boat at 4 o’clock. With the cove being in a quiet and remote location on the island, it required us to start our half hour-long trek back to the boat. I offered they walk in front of me so I wasn’t holding them up with my shorter strides. While enjoying a great hike to stretch our newly warmed legs, we also continued the conversation all the way back to the boat.

Later, over drinks, one of the Explorer Guys mentioned he’d made note that I was a single girl, alone in a remote, water alcove on an island with two strangers. They could have overtaken me or harmed me with me being outnumbered. He inquired if the reason why I asked them to hike in front of me was because I was being alert and careful of my safety. This statement completely surprised me and made me think differently. When he asked me the question I had to smile at his kind and thoughtful consideration for my safety. It proved my first impression of them was not wrong.

His statement was also a revelation for me. Indeed, no, the thought hadn’t crossed my mind that I was single and alone with two unknown men, on a remote island. I didn’t fear my safety at all. Perhaps this is the bravery everyone keeps telling me about. Even strangers, when we’re striking up conversation in a parking lot (the latest instance happened at a fruit stand) will say “You’re brave!” when they find I’m alone. It has continued to puzzle me until my conversation with the Explorer Guys. I used to reply “Am I?” and now I reply “Yes, I am.”

Once I assess the situation and it passes all my internal safety checks, I proceed with my life. I have a set of rules I’ve lived by while being on the road, I plan on writing about later, but so long as I’m living within them and the individual(s) I’m speaking with pass my gut check, I carry on conversation.

2016-11-07-08-39-07

I’ve encountered people who don’t make me feel safe or that my gut gives me a little nudge that something may not be right. I simply remove myself from the situation (one example of this was a man who made me feel weird at the Hot Springs Cove; soon after I dismissed him, I met the Explorer Guys). I find you can tell a lot about someone by looking them in the eyes. Being on my own I’ve become a great observer of people. I’m much more attuned to body language than I was before and most importantly reading someone’s thoughts through their eyes.

For the first time on this adventure I understand why people have continued to call me brave. Even I have awed myself on this trip a few times. Afterwards I’ll think, “I can’t believe I just did that.” Little things that would have given me anxiety in the past seem like an everyday occurrence to me, now. I may be a small, single girl, alone in this big world but thinking about that makes me feel strong and empowered, not weak and vulnerable.