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Thursday
Jun162011

328 days

Can you believe it took me 328 days to travel across the country? I still can't! This journey isn't over, and in so many ways it's only just begun! 

So often it feels like a wild, farfetched dream. I spend hours going through my blog just to remind myself this extraordinary journey was real. The most real, organic, authentic, scary, crazy, joyous, preposterous, come-to-Jesus experience of my life. Just me and Lulu, alone on the road. No plan. No direction. Hmmm, should I take a left or right? Should I stay in this campground or that campground? In that instant, with that one quick decision, the path of my journey changes forever: who I meet, where I go, what I experience. It's been an Olympic size leap of faith, all the while singing country music at the top of my lungs and smiling until my teeth hurt. I didn't know what it was like to truly live, until now.  


The Beginning:

When I quit my fast and lucrative NYC life a year ago, I never envisioned the unimaginable path my life would take. I couldn't script this if I tried. I had always flirted with the idea of living in California, so I thought I'd finally give it a try (sort of). I'd fly out west, stay with a friend for a few months while touring California, doing yoga. If I liked it, perhaps I'd move. It sounded like a great plan, but something was missing. What would I do with my car, my apartment, my dog? Do I bring Lulu or leave her with my dad? The first piece of the puzzle was easy, she's coming. But what about my car? I suppose I could just rent a car while I'm there, but maybe I should drive?! What a brilliant idea. I'll do a road trip! I've always dreamed of seeing Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, Badlands, etc...  I know the bookends very well: New York and LA, but what's going on in between? I was fortunate enough to travel the world for business, and because of that, I've actually been to more foreign countries than states! Our beautiful country is a wondrous mystery to me. Montana: I've dreamed of meeting you all my life. My heart raced at the thought of seeing the azure blue water of Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park, hiking through the smoldering midst of Yellowstone and marveling at Mt. Rushmore, in person.

The wheels just kept spinning and spinning as my mind whirled with excitement. The idea of being free and alone on the open road, realizing my dreams, was overwhelming. A new plan was emerging and it just felt right. I'll drive my Audi across the country with my best bud, Lulu and I'll get to see all the incredible sites I've always dreamed of seeing. Perfect,... but what about my apartment? I guess I can sublet, as that's what most New Yorkers do. But wait, why don't I just move out all together?! Can I do that? Why not! For the longest time I've wanted to move anyway, so this is perfect! I'll move out and if I decide to come back to NYC then I'll just get a new place. Bingo! Win-Win. Ok, I'm starting to scare myself. Could this idea really work? Could I really pack up everything, unplug and walk away? No responsibility. Nothing holding me back. Just me, lulu and the open road. Why not? What's stopping me? Fear? Fear is the only thing that can possibly get in my way and I'm too excited to let that happen.

Wow. 

I might be fearless enough to head out on the open road alone with no plan, direction or destination, but the idea of a camping spooked me. I camped a little when I was in high school, but the thought of a girl (me) camping alone with a sweet, chunky Chihuahua didn't seem like the brightest idea. And just because I liked camping at the Burlingame Campground with my boyfriend in high school, and my dad gave me the nickname "bag-a-dirt" as a kid, doesn't mean NYC Diana would find the same joy. I think I'll stay in hotels.

I joined every reward program the chain hotels offered. Hotels would undoubtedly get expensive and I needed to stretch my dollar as best I could. Even with "points", I figured I'd spend one month on the road. We all know what happened to that "plan". HAHA

While in Pennsylvania I had this overwhelming urge to stop at REI, the outdoor equipment store, and buy all of the camping gear I could ever possibly need – and not need. I bought everything!! I have no idea why I was compelled to do this (because I was afraid to camp) but I was. Hey you never know? Perhaps the camping opportunity will present itself and I want to be ready when it does. I think I'm honestly crazy sometimes. Suddenly, my neatly organized car was overflowing with gear, gear and more gear. I guess I really didn't need to see out the back window anyway. Right? errrr

At the suggestion of a friend, I made my way to Ann Arbor, Michigan. I never intended to even go to Michigan because like so many ignorant, myopic Americans, I thought of Michigan and I only thought of Detroit (sorry Detroit). Oy, what a fool I was. Domenic could not have been more right. Ann Arbor is a quaint little gem. I loved it. Next Domenic suggested I visit the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore in Northern Michigan. He was right about Ann Arbor so I'm sure Sleeping Bear is just as fabulous!!!

Turning Point: 

On my way from Ann Arbor to Sleeping Bear I had an epiphany: if I'm ever going to camp, perhaps I should buy TWO tents so it looks like there's a lot of us. Surely someone would be less likely to murder a group of people instead of just one, right? I had so many very lucid, slightly manic and irrational conversations with myself on the road, it's scary.

I found my idea to be absolutely brilliant! Of course! Two tents! I'm a genius! My GPS told me there was a Sports Authority in Flint Michigan which was en route to the Lakeshore. Perfect! I made my way to the tent aisle and that's where I met Scott, the man that would change the course of my trip and life forever. Little does Scott now the powerful impact he's made. Someday I'll tell him.

Scott half smiled with confusion and curiosity as I laid out my brilliant, slightly irrational plan – while still looking very New York City with Lulu's head peaking out of my shoulder bag. He glanced around for cameras, flummoxed by the fact I might actually be serious and he's NOT on Candid Camera. He reluctantly asked where I was headed and that was it – my turning point! It just so happened his wife and kids were currently IN the Sleeping Bear Lakeshore CAMPING! OH MY! My heart raced. If his wife and kids are camping, and he's here, 4 hours away, then surely it's got to be safe! OMG, this is it. I'm going camping!! He told me all about the Timberline Campground, in Benzonia, MI a short distance from Sleeping Bear. His sales pitch was so good you'd think he was making commission. Maybe he did, not sure. I asked him to take his break, sit down and tell me every detail. He literally pulled up a camping chair, sat down in the aisle and wrote down everything. He even told me the bathrooms lock and smell like Pine Sol! What, camping bathrooms that smell like Pine Sol? And an organic garden?! I'm sold. I'm doing it! I'm camping! 

My journey took a wondrous, dynamic turn that day. I may never have camped if it wasn't for Scott. I am eternally grateful the universe brought us together. If it wasn't for my "two tent" epiphany near Flint Michigan where Scott happened to be working that day, I may never have discovered my true self. People come into our lives for a reason. Always be ready for a miracle. Life is a miracle.

I camped for about three straight weeks empowered and inspired everyday by new obstacles. I couldn't believe how happy I was! The camping subculture is so uniquely special. When I look around the landscape, I don't see religious beliefs, political views or financial status – I see people just like me. We are all so different, yet so similar. We are bonded by a common thread: we love and appreciate the outdoors. We thrive on adventure and love the comraderie of camping and in my case, the challenge of camping! We are grounded by familiar values and embrace the simple peace only found in nature.

Upgrade:

After three weeks in a tent, I quickly realized my trip was going to take a heck of a lot longer than I ever envisioned and I needed something better than a tent if I wanted to keep from being mauled by bears (which almost happened in Whitefish, MT). After many hours of research on the internet, I stumbled upon a picture of the "teardrop" camper popular in the 1930s. It was love at first sight. I had to have one. Through faith and serendipity, I found Brad, the wonderful man selling his 2004 mint condition teardrop in southern Michigan. Teardrop owners are a fanatic bunch – I know because I'm one of them now! People are usually hard pressed to sell their little vehicles of wonder; however, Brad was selling his to buy a newer model. Lucky me!

Camping: there's no better way to see and experience this country! Instead of staying in hotels, which I felt was disconnecting and only skimmed the surface of my potential experience, camping allowed me to weave myself into the fabric of America and truly BE present in each moment.

I stand in humble awe of the incredible people I've met. Take time to leave your little bubble and explore. I've experienced a new world through an unfiltered lens. Not everything has been perfect and not everyone has been worth remembering, but collectively, all of my experiences good and bad, embody this life-changing adventure and make me appreciate my precious life, our beautiful country and all of the uniquely special people in it.

I care more about what really matters, and less about what doesn't. 

More adventures to come! Wheels are spinning again. Ut oh! :)

We stayed in hotels in Pennsylvania and Ohio. This is Lulu all warm and cozy on a comfy bed at a Marriott in PA. If only she could talk! I know she's still wondering why I moved us into a tent! lol

First tent attempt didn't go so well. I had such a mental block trying to get this one together! It was so hard to process the fact that I have a college education but couldn't figure this out! 

Look at this busy campsite! There must be multiple campers here! lol 

Lulu adapted to tent life well!!! :)

I was so proud of myself that I washed my clothes in a bucket with Woolite and rigged a clothesline. Who have I become!! lol So hilarious to go back through all of these early photos! I had no idea at this point, that some campgrounds have laundry facilities on site. Ah, I've learned so much. 

Built my first fire - by myself (with the help of the internet!) lol I had to google, "how to build a campfire"!! I swear. So painfully funny. Now I can build one without asking Jeeves. :)

I'm smiling in the picture, but I spent this night sleeping in my car because it the worst lightning storm ever! 

Very proud of my stylish rain tarp. This was my intro into the camraderie of camping. Unbeknownst to me, my neighbors were spying on me the entire time I was setting up my tarp! They must have been entertained because it was such a farce! They were so proud when I actually got it up, they came over and invited me for a cookout and cocktails! I was soooo touched. :) 

Tent camping was such a fun, surreal time. Especially when Larry, the friendly, genuinely nice man I met on Mackinac Island would drive his Mercedes to the campground to pick me up at my tent so we could go to the yacht club! From tent to yacht club. So so funny!

My camping neighbors!

My same camping neighbors took me fishing because I told them how much I loved it! Bob made me a little ziplock bag full of dried bananas and raisins, as my fishing snack. I love dried bananas now and think of that fishing trip every time I eat them! And yes, that is a fish on my line. I caught the smallest fish in Crystal Lake.

My new bear proof tent "on steroids" --- so I don't get eaten by grizzlies!! This is one of my first nights in my teardrop!! I love my camper so much it's ridiculous!!! And it is in fact bear proof! As you may recall we had a visitor in Whitefish Montana that tried to break in -- with us in it! Errrrrrrrrr

My custom 10 x 10  tent! I took very detailed measurements of the camper, so the tent could be made to attach directly to it! I faxed the info to the tent company and had the tent delivered to me in Montana, so I had a place to sleep while my dad was visiting! As you may recall, my dad begged to stay in a B&B after one night in the camper! lol If you look through the screen you can see the camper door opens right into the tent!! Very cool!! :) 

Another view of the tent! 

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