10,000 mile wilderness


Not all those who wander are lost. ― J.R.R. Tolkien

Early one morning at the end of May, I got in my car with my cat, back seat/front seat/trunk packed to the brim, and left my 3-year home of Portland, Oregon. A little more than a month earlier, I lost my most recent job doing inventory for a tech company, and my lack of real sadness over this told me it was time for a new adventure. Thankfully, I had just the thing in the works. 

Like most people, losing my job sent me into a bit of a frenzy. What do I do next? How fast can I find another job? How do I afford my bills? The uncertainty quickly snowballed into mania. Over breakfast with my pastor, he asked me, "What's keeping you here?" 

"A lease," I responded. Half-joking, half-serious, we both laughed. Since renting my first adult apartment at 23, my name had always been on a lease, I'd never been late on rent, and the notion of breaking a lease was way, way, way left field for me. Still, I knew with this answer the time had come to do something new. I talked with close friends, explained the situation to my landlord, and quickly decided to leave the northwest. 

The thing I had in the works — yeah, that's me moving to South Korea in less than 40 days. In January, after dealing with the holiday season in a for-profit company, I decided I needed to start looking for something different. Turns out, teaching English was right down my alley. I enrolled in a TEFL (teaching English as a foreign language) program and started researching where I wanted to travel. South Korea spoke to me in several ways. A close friend had taught English there for several years. A seminary classmate was from the country. And life in an Asian country was exactly the kind of "totally different" I felt my spirit yearning for. I finished my certificate program, applied to EPIK (English Program in Korea), and was accepted. All this was in the works before getting my pink slip. 

Wherever you go becomes a part of you somehow. ― Anita Desai

Ogden, UT. Denver, CO. Beresford, SD. Merrillville, IN. Terre Haute, IN. Tucker, GA. Avon Lake, OH. Whitestown, IN. Chicago, IL. Since the morning I left Oregon, these are some of the many places I've called "home" for periods as short as a night or as long as a month. All driving, by the way, which prompted the title of this post. My 2010 Kia Optima has driven me nearly 10,000 miles in just under three months, a feat I never dreamed of accomplishing. My back has been sore. My butt hurts. My center console is filled with receipts from gas stations, chain restaurants, and department stores where I had to buy something I forgot I needed. These thousands of miles have indeed impacted me, blessing me with memories captured only by my mind's eye. 

Both in reference to my summer road trip and my move abroad, some people thought I was nuts. Thankfully, many more people offered me affirmations, calling me brave, adventurous, liberated, and countless other adjectives. Really though, I just wanted to spend time with my friends and family before I leave the country. Knowing I will be on the other side of the world from those I've called home so far in life, I wanted to store up memories, conversations, experiences, hugs and kisses, tears and laughs. These are the people I've stayed in touch with since leaving the Midwest, and my heart longed to be with them one more time before I go. So I ignored the naysayers and embraced this new side of myself, free-spirited, goofy, spontaneous. 

A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving. ― Lao Tzu

This is my first post after making some changes. From "finding the balance" to "michael meanders". From being overwhelmed by the seriousness, severity, and drama of life to resting in little moments, saying "yes", and telling my anxieties and fears to piss off. Wilderness changes you, a reality attested to by so many others before me.

I could have said no, worked myself to the bone trying to make ends meet in Portland, and been miserable until I left the country. I didn't.

I could have let fear and worry cripple me, refusing to ask for help when I really needed it, failing to give those who love me the choice to show up in new and amazing ways. I didn't. 

My wilderness isn't over yet, but with less than 40 days until I leave, I want to be intentional about it. I want to pay closer attention — to everything. I want to be more intentionally kind, more mindfully grateful. I want to notice each of my 10,000 steps, 115,000 heartbeats, 29,000 blinks, and 23,000 breaths. I don't know where this whole adventure will take me, and that's alright. Being in the wild isn't always easy, but damn it's amazing. 

photo credit: NASA Marshall (via Flickr)