I've always been the type of person who gets an idea in my head and then gets hung up on it until I've done it. It's a combination of innate stubbornness and the grit I learned from 17 years of competitive swimming, and a couple months ago that idea was that I wanted to climb a mountain. I was inspired first by my friend Madison, who flew to Japan to climb Mt. Fuji, and then later that weekend, the topic of climbing Mt. Whitney came up in the car as a few friends and I drove to the beach to swim. My friend Kristine was telling me how it's almost a rite of passage for Californians who love the outdoors and when I realized that the following weekend was Labor Day Weekend so I'd have three days off in a row, it seemed like there was no way I couldn't not do it.
I didn't know very much about mountain climbing, so I started reading forums I found online and emailing a retired guy who had recently completed the trip with his wife. When I asked if he thought it would be possible to do without much training besides a daily yoga practice, he wrote back a long, two-part email about how while the fitness component is there, it's more about the mental place you have to get to to handle the 99 switchbacks and the altitude sickness that affects nearly everyone. He explained that people die on Whitney every year, most by lightning or falling, so you have to be smart about tracking weather conditions beforehand, knowing that the altitude will make you woozy while you're up there.
Kristine had told me how you need a permit to climb Whitney, and that they're issued six months in advance but many are never claimed so a lot of people will make the 4-hour drive from LA knowing there's a good chance you'll get one by just showing up the morning of. I was so excited to have my solo Cheryl Strayed adventure that I stocked up on backpacking necessities from REI and drove up that Friday after work. It had felt so much like the universe had conspired for me to climb Whitney that weekend that it didn't really cross my mind that I wouldn't get a permit, until 3 hours had passed and I was still sitting on the floor of the ranger station after losing the permit lottery twice. After dealing with the Labor Day crowds of people who were equally anxious to get their permit and get on the mountain, I decided to do a smaller, 14-mile overnight hike called Meysan Lakes and try again for a Whitney permit on Sunday morning.
The hike ended up being harder than I thought it would be, and my legs were so sore the next morning that the only reason I tried the Whitney lottery again is because of my stubborn streak, and I was a little relieved when I didn't get it for the third time. A few weeks later, my friend Ryan invited me to join his backpacking crew for a 24-mile overnight trip to Rae Lakes, where I quickly realized my pace was a lot slower than everyone else's. Fortunately, they were patient with me and I found that while 'doing the Cheryl Strayed' is great for clearing your head, having others push you as you go helps you to cover more mileage. I still really wanted to climb Whitney and since it's almost the end of the season where it's still safe to climb it, we decided to try again last weekend, knowing the weather would be a little colder but the crowds would be gone. We got our permit this time, and summited just before the hail and snow started coming down. I know that I probably could have physically climbed Whitney when I first got the idea two months ago, but sometimes the universe/mother earth/whatever you want to call it has to step in and remind you that you have to do a few things before you get there.
I can't think of a better metaphor for how my job hunt has gone than my experiences leading up to climbing Mt. Whitney. I decided several months back that I was ready to be done with my road trip and re-enter the real world, and since then, have spent my time floating around California looking for the right position. It seems like the more I try to force an idea, the more it resists, and the experience of finding the right job has taken longer than I expected it to [people keep pointing out that job-hunting is a lot like dating, and I agree, but I'll save that for another post.] After my gig working on the Malibu Tri ended, I started to get bored and frustrated and I wondered at what point do you draw the line between seeing your dream through and just being stubborn. One thing that I took for granted was how much easier life is when you have a built-in community and family nearby, so I told myself that if I didn't find the right job soon, I'd head back to Portland for the holidays and continue to apply to jobs in California in January.
Fortunately, Sean, the dad of the family I've been living with, listened to my sob story and immediately rejected it, pointing out that I've known that I want to live in California basically since college, and the line in the sand that I was drawing wasn't real, or at least it didn't have to be. I was in the middle of interviewing with a few different companies in Southern California and Sean encouraged me to just keep trying until I found the right fit. He suggested that I drop the attitude that this was it or nothing, since that vibe can come across in an interview and anyway, he reminded me that I was welcome to stay with their family for as long as I needed so I wasn't actually desperate.
To say that I'm grateful to have people like the Morreales in my life is an understatement, because I did end up finding the perfect role for me not long after Sean's pep talk. It always seems like life hands opportunities to you like that, like the minute you're about to give up, you find exactly what you were looking for. I start my job as Social Media Manager for YogaGlo in Santa Monica next Monday and I'm super excited to get started on some of the creative challenges that we've been talking about throughout the interview process. A big piece of what I learned I was looking for in a job is creative freedom, along with the fulfillment that comes with sharing a product that makes peoples' lives better. I found it [woot!], and I also found a place where I feel valued as an employee and respected as an adventurer [before I was even offered the job, the CMO asked me to text her once I knew if I'd gotten the Whitney permit since that's a bucket-list item for her, too.]
When I left Nike last year, I gave myself a year off, mostly because that sounds like a nice, round number, and taking a year off to travel is a conventional way of explaining to people what you're doing. I never really had a plan for how long I would actually do it, knowing that I could just keep going until I felt like I got what I wanted out of it, or that if I wanted to quit, I could just drive home and my mom would be ecstatic to have me back. What's funny is that today happens to be the one-year anniversary of my last day of work, so even though I felt like I was ready to return to the real world several months ago, I ended up fulfilling that nicely-packaged one year of travel/early retirement/whatever you want to call it.
Looking back to my original blog post, it's hard to believe a year has gone by. I remember telling my friends that mostly what I wanted out of the trip was more time spent drinking coffee on the beach, and I don't think I had any idea of how much more I would learn about myself in addition to getting that. It's just like climbing Mt Whitney - while technically I could have flown to California to drink that coffee on the beach as soon as I got the idea in my head that that's what I wanted a year ago, I needed to have all the experiences in between to get to this place where I am now. Drinking coffee on the beach.