Out in the World

I am not one to avoid alone time. I love alone time. Whether it’s being at home writing, reading, or binging TV, or out running errands, shopping, or being outside. I relish it. Part of being an only child for the first 15 years of my life. You figure out how to be cool with being by yourself.

Even traveling alone is wonderful. Something about making your way through an airport, figuring out transportation in a new place, exploring a strange city, meeting with clients on their turf – it has always energized me and bolstered my confidence. If I can figure out how to get around (insert city here) by myself, I can do nearly anything! That is, until COVID.

I’ve traveled since COVID, yes, but never alone. I’ve had internal company meetings out of town, but I’ve been surrounded by colleagues. I’ve been on a couple of vacations but I was with my husband and the girls. I’ve been on Girls Weekends, but I was with girlfriends.

In January, our company announced that it was time to get in front of clients again. In person. I started talking about how I’d soon be visiting clients. I plotted out trips in my head – one out west, two out east. I had a vague idea of going “in the summer.” I even started vocalizing this to the clients I intended to visit. But I didn’t book. I started telling my husband he should come with me out west, that we could drive to Vegas, it would be gorgeous. But I didn’t schedule dates. Thought about how I’d get to all of my east coast clients, even tried to figure out multi-city fights, but it was overwhelming. Until a colleague asked if I’d join her for a meeting in Arizona (one of the places I’d been saying I planned to go), I made no move to actually make a plan. And now I was forced to do so – relatively quick.

Last Sunday I flew into Albuquerque. I arrived to cool temps, partly cloudy skies, and a city that felt completely foreign. For some reason I’d assumed it would be just like Phoenix, a city I’ve been to many times since I was a kid to visit family. Turns out, it is not just like Phoenix.

My hotel was across from an outdoor shopping area, half a block from Target, and a four minute walk to Starbucks. It would be a good two days. My plan for Monday was to attend my meeting, get the result I’d hoped for, finish my day in the hotel working, and then spend the late afternoon and evening shopping in the outdoor mall and grabbing dinner in one of the many restaurants in the area. Not far off from what I would do if I were home.

Early that Monday morning I ordered a Lyft to get me to my meeting. I was picked up by the loveliest woman. We chatted the whole ride and towards the end, I asked if she knew of a place I could walk four-ish miles and be safe by myself late afternoon/early evening. She came up with some recommendations but then said “oh! If I were you, I’d take the tram to the top of Sandia Peak and hike up there!” She gushed about how beautiful it was and how good the hiking was. Told me there was a restaurant up there too with a magnificent view. She was so excited about the prospect of me going, she asked me to text her if I decided to go.

After a successful meeting (mission accomplished), I spent the remainder of the day working, and then had a decision to make. Shop (at stores we have in abundance here in the Twin Cities) or, do something very out of character, and venture to a tram, a mountain, and a hike that I would never normally do by myself.

I chose the mountain. As it turns out, the tram is the third longest in the world. It took around 15 minutes to get to the top of the mountain. Once I was up there I asked one of the women working what a good hike would be. She recommended going north, up to the Kawanas Cabin. As I entered the woods, an older guy was coming out, and he said “what brings you out here…alone?!” I rattled off a response about a super helpful Lyft driver and having time on my hands. It didn’t occur to me (then) that, perhaps, I wasn’t actually prepared and/or smart to be doing this alone?

So I ventured into the woods by myself with chapstick, credit cards, my driver’s license, a dying phone, and one small bottle of water. And that is it. I did see a large stick that someone had left at the entrance and scoffed a little to myself – like I’d need a walking stick. Ha!

In the beginning of the hike, I was awe struck. It was gorgeous. Then I ran into snow. A mother/daughter duo came my way and said they’d slipped and fallen in the snow and were now being very very careful. I asked how far the cabin was, thinking I was close, and they said I probably wasn’t even half-way there. We wished each other luck and kept going our separate ways. In order to avoid snow that was now common on the path, I climbed up the sides under the trees, ducking low to avoid hitting my head on the branches. I didn’t want to slip and I didn’t want to get my shoes muddy because they had to go in my suitcase for my flight the next day.

I climbed higher, and higher, realizing that I probably should have brought more water. And maybe I should have charged my phone before going up there because the battery icon was red. And possibly hiking alone, with no supplies, and a nearly dead phone wasn’t exactly the smartest thing to do. I was starting to feel more out of breath as I got higher. Finally, there was a side path up to what I could see was a bit of a meadow. I climbed up and stumbled upon this view.

I spent a few minutes taking pictures because…it was glorious…before heading back to the path and continuing to the cabin. I finally got to a sign that indicated the cabin was up a hill to my left. I looked up that hill, dotted with many piles of snow, and thought ‘do I really need to go to the top?’ I’d taken the third longest tram in the world to the top of this mountain, I’d managed to hike even higher still through snow, I found a scenic place to stop for pictures, wasn’t that good enough? I pondered for a good five minutes – was my making it to the top the important thing here? Did that make or break my experience?

I mean of course not. But I had to continue up or I would have regretted it (like I regretted not grabbing that walking stick I saw).

I scanned the hill, trying to determine the best way to attack it. It was steep, filled with trees, and the easiest paths were covered in snow. I made my way up and I was clearly getting to an altitude that made it harder to breathe. It took me probably ten minutes to get there, but finally, I made it. A little dizzy, with a small headache, and breathing like I’d run a race. But the sun was shining and the view was spectacular. It was totally worth the extra hike up.

After catching my breath, basking in the sun a bit (it had been pretty chilly until I got to the top), and taking in the view, I turned around and hiked back. The hike down went much faster than the hike up. Truth is, I heard a noise behind me and decided it was probably a bear, and that my best course of action was not to look back but to hurry the f-ck up. I knew the tricks for getting around the snow, I remembered where the woman and her mom fell, and I made it down rather quickly without incident (or bear sitings). When I got back to the building where the tram dropped us, I decided food and water would be a good idea. A couple on the tram on my way up had said the restaurant up there was wonderful, but booked solid. People took the tram up for the sole purpose of going to the restaurant, and they had no room for walk-ins. If I hadn’t just hiked two miles at the top of a mountain, alone, I may have just took the tram back down on their word. But it didn’t look too busy and I was hungry. I asked if I could have dinner at the bar and they let me right in.

I sat there for nearly an hour, with dinner and a $27 glass of Pinot Noir, marveling at myself. Typically if someone told me I should go to the top of a mountain and hike I would have enthusiastically said I would and then promptly switched to something more familiar. I am not an adventurous person. I would have stuck to the plan and spent hours going through stores I can see any day of the week when I’m at home. But I didn’t, and I sat there sipping my wine completely impressed with myself. Impressed with the view. Impressed with the success of the first day of my trip. And impressed with the wine (SO good).

I think COVID made a lot of us forget what we’re capable of. Stuck in our houses on Zoom for years on end has created a new smaller reality. One that includes a lot of athleisure wear, and a world that has shrunk from the one we knew before. I used to travel, I used to conduct client meetings in-person many days a week, FFS I used to wear 3.5″ heels almost every single day. I had a confidence that isn’t gone per se, but it’s definitely been shelved, for several years.

But getting out into the actual world, meeting with clients that I’ve so far only met on Zoom, having fascinating conversations with multiple Lyft drivers, doing things that are outside of my comfort zone (which has also shrunk over the past few years), all of these things have brought out a joy and spark that I didn’t realize I was missing. I’m not saying I’ve been sad, or lonely, or anything of the sort – but now that I’ve been away I do realize how contained and small my world has been.

I went on to two more days of meetings out west – more flights, more Lyft rides, more in-person meetings, and all of the forced in-person interaction that travel requires. And I came back a better version of myself. Or, perhaps, a version that is more similar to who I was pre-COVID. My world and experiences have been very contained and small. My day-to-day doesn’t vary much to the extent that even the geography of my life is small. Not much room for personal growth and true reflection when 90% of your time is spent in your house or within 15 miles of it for three full years.

In a little over a week I hit the road again. This time to the East Coast where I’ll be renting a car and traveling to see clients in Maryland, Virginia, and North Carolina. It feels like another chance to explore and be a part of the world at large. Another opportunity to see what I’m made of and what I can accomplish. More moments with other humans – learning about them, their perspectives, and what their worlds are like (in real life as opposed to on screens through filters). Human connection outside of Zoom and my neighborhood – what a concept!

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