For more than a decade, I tried to leave Colorado. When I arrived in August 2008, I planned to get my graduate degree and immediately head back overseas to work in international development. Yet somehow, that never happened. Jobs, romantic relationships, friends, the writing community, athletic aspirations, and financial goals all conspired against my inner nomad to keep me in place. So I dug into my acquired life and thrived.
During my time in Colorado, I’ve made friends, lost friends, deepened friendships, grown apart from people, and built a network of acquaintances I respect and value. People I used to be close to moved away from the Front Range and new people I became close to moved in. I finished graduate school, got my first adult job, attempted the life of a freelancer, helped launch a startup that eventually went under, and started a new career as a technical writer in which I found great success and rapid promotion. I arrived married, got a divorce, ran the course of a new relationship from exciting to terribly destructive and toxic, fell madly in love and had my heart smushed to pulp, opened myself to the love of a good man whose affection ultimately suffocated me, and slowly, so slowly, let myself be a tiny bit vulnerable to another man who will probably always exist just a centimeter beyond my fingertips. I adopted a dog who has been my constant, loyal, adorable, supportive companion, and who (despite having outlived his vet’s prognosis) is now very close to dying. I went from barely being able to run a mile to running an ultra marathon up a mountainside. I bought my first place. I had short stories I wrote published. I built a busy, productive, successful, happy, and fun life for myself.
But as we all know, 2020 is the year of upset, anomaly, chaos, and change. So, naturally, this is the year I finally moved on. Although the pandemic has been economically and emotionally devastating for tens of millions of people, I was one of the lucky few whose life improved this year. Right before the United States shut down in March, I was hired into a new role with more freedom—a full-time remote role.
I didn’t realize it at first. I thought I was a Boulder office employee working at home until after the pandemic (if it ever ends). But no, the internal human resources system has me classified as permanently remote, and after a brief discussion with my boss, I began to understand that I could work from anywhere. Meanwhile, over the course of the year, my friends were moving out of Colorado, my romantic interest made plans to move on to his next travel/work gig, none of my writing groups were meeting in person, and almost all my other community connections, routines, and events were on hold or tenuous because of the pandemic. I wanted to cling to the last three incredibly happy years. I wanted the vacations and happy hours and workouts and dates and hikes and races to never end. But they were already gone because of COVID-19, because of circumstance, because of the natural flow of life. My time had arrived.
I had dinner with a friend in Denver the Sunday before I left. The lovely company aside, I felt strange, like I was in a time warp, trying to recapture something I never could. After spending my first seven Colorado years in Denver before moving to Boulder in the summer of 2015, I often felt nostalgic and sad in Denver, and distant, like the things that happened in my life there happened to someone else. The current me didn’t belong there. Boulder was rapidly becoming the same, even though I still lived there. Everything ends. Even if you stand still, the river rushes past you. And why would you want to stand still anyway?
When I drove away on that sunny afternoon in early October, I forgot to take one last look at the foothills in my rearview mirror. At some point on the eastern plains, I remembered I’d planned to, but it was too late. And in that moment, I was set free. I was out in the world once again, endless possibilities and connections and opportunities lay ahead and nothing else mattered. I was one-hundred percent in the present and I felt overwhelmingly relieved.
That unexpected feeling of relief has only increased in the last month. I have unsubscribed from all my email newsletters and Facebook notifications. I have deleted apps and cancelled memberships. The electronic clutter and day-to-day commitments are gone. I work, exercise, walk the dog, read, write, and relax. I don’t belong to anywhere and I’m not obligated to anything. 2,315 miles away from the place I called home for the last five years, I feel freedom. I’m becoming okay with hikes and jogs as slow, relaxing, enjoyable activities, rather than challenges meant to constantly push myself into more intense performance. Okay with being a bit softer, both figuratively and physically. And I also have an enormous sense of relief at being out of the insular, oblivious-to-reality, judgmental, privileged, stifling Boulder bubble and back in rest of the America, observing other lives, being open to other perspectives, and expanding my known world.
However, I have to admit that I’ve eased myself into this new life. I’ve seen a lot of familiar faces. In the 31 days I’ve been gone, 17 of those have been populated by visiting friends. And every time someone is here, we’ve been out adventuring in beautiful places. So I’ve hardly been alone or inactive.
I know it won’t always be like this. I’m planning on living in places that are hard to get to. That’s the point of having a car, and also a wise strategy in the time of COVID-19, which is basically non-existent where I’ve chosen for my first stop. I have no reason to stay within an hour of major airports. So I’ll be in places where it’s not feasible for friends to visit me, and regardless, I would expect the number of visitors I have to naturally diminish over time even if I went to large cities.
I will be alone a lot, and I like solitude. I like my thoughts and books and writing and podcasts and my dog and quiet and stillness. I’m an introvert and I spent a fair amount of time alone even back in Boulder. I can see no one at all for three or four days before I start to crave face-to-face human interaction. I haven’t felt lonely since my early twenties. But I expect at some point in this journey I will feel lonely, especially given the pandemic and the resulting impracticality of going to Meetups in the cities I visit or working in coffee shops and breweries where I can engage in random conversation.
That’s okay. I’m ready for it. Except for the real darkness that will come with the passing of old Trotsky Bear someday sooner than I’d like, I welcome it. I read this quote recently in a memoir from a woman who lived in the mountains north of Boulder and in whom I see a lot of myself reflected.
Lonely is a word that describes what it means to live profoundly. Moving deeply in the world, you let the thousand distractions fall away and you become more authentic, more who you really are.Karen Auvinen (Forty Seasons of Mountain Living)
So bring it on. The crazy hikes up 14ers and crazy races I run make me appreciate food so much more. The camping I do makes me appreciate my own bed and a hot shower so much more. The time I spend alone makes me value my time with my friends so much more. I’m not afraid of loneliness. You can’t experience true happiness if you’re never been really sad.
Maybe I’ll travel for the next three years. Or maybe I’ll find a place that captures my imagination and I’ll settle down in less than three months. Maybe something will pull me back to Colorado. What lies ahead, I have no way of knowing. But for now, I’m perfectly content soaking up this bit of bliss in the middle of Maine.
One final note: I’ve started a new blog dedicated to this adventure: Virtually in America. The primary reason is that I despise the terrible new WordPress block editor. It’s incredibly difficult to use – the simple editing bar is gone, I can’t find what I need to insert, random bars and buttons pop-up all over the place while I’m typing and get in the way, I can’t just type and add what I want without clicking on a million buttons. It’s the worst. You might have noticed that haven’t blogged here lately and that’s largely the reason. I’m a writer and when technology gets in the way of me writing, it’s frustrating. I’m spending more time futzing around with formatting my posts than writing them. I’ll still keep this blog for my writing updates, book reports, and random nuggets about my life, but since I anticipate most of my new blogs will be about my travels across the United States, I’ve switched to a platform that simply lets me type. And doesn’t a new adventure deserve a fresh start in all possible ways?