I was a young college freshman at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park, California. I was working as a nanny for a travel nurse, making $15 an hour. $15 an hour is a lot now for an 18 year old, and it was a heck of a lot of money back in 2004. I was paid in cash, so I saw all of that $15 an hour. I had a boyfriend who was attending West Point in New York. He played for Army football. We had been dating since we were 16 and were trying to navigate a long distance relationship and also enjoy college on our own. Round trip plane tickets from California to NYC back then were about $200, non-stop. During my freshman year of college I believe I flew to/from NYC 8 times to attend Army football games, spend time in the city, and hang out with other Army girlfriends.
It was during my freshman year of college that I fell in love with the city. I fell in love with traveling. I was a kid who knew very little, but what I did know was how to travel successfully and I knew that I loved it. I absolutely loved to travel. I loved putting myself outside of my comfort zone. I don’t know what my parents thought of me back then. To be honest, I remember my dad taking me to the airport in the city many, many times to catch a red eye flight to New York. The city wasn’t as busy back then. Either that, or he was a lot more chill because it’s hard to get him to even pick me up in the city now! He was a lot younger though. A 43 year old dad, taking his 18 year old daughter to fly across the country to see her boyfriend. My dad has always known I am different and cannot be contained, even when he didn’t know he knew it.
My trips to New York City were not simple. I would fly into JFK in NYC, get on a shuttle bus that would take me to Grand Central Station and then hop on a train that would take me out of the city, along the Hudson River, 45 minutes-ish away to a small train station across the Hudson from West Point. That train station was Garrison. If I was lucky and my timing was right, I’d be able to catch a boat ferry from Garrison to West Point. If I missed it, I’d rely on a cab (if I could get a cab out there) or a fellow Army girlfriend who was also visiting around the same time to get me to West Point. My boyfriend was just a freshman which meant he didn’t have a car and sometimes it even meant he’d only have a few hours to spend with me.
But me traveling to New York wasn’t just about him or the time we spent together. It was about traveling. I had been forming an addiction.
After my freshman year of college I decided to make visiting the east coast a more permanent thing. I applied to transfer to the University of Massachusetts and was accepted. Mom sure wasn’t happy about me moving so far away. But I moved anyway. In September of 2005 I flew out, alone, with 5 suitcases. A driver picked me up at the airport in New Jersey and took me to where my car was waiting. I’d shipped it out. I spent the next year as a transfer student and explored the entire east coast every single chance I got. Boston, Massachusetts. Newport, Rhode Island. New Haven, Connecticut. Portland, Maine.
That year flew by. It was a good year. That summer, the summer before my sophomore and junior year of college, I applied to attend Semester at Sea. Semester at Sea is a study abroad program in which students from around the United States (and a few other countries) get to live on a ship that is a floating university as they take a full semester worth of courses (on the ship in classrooms) — all while traveling the world. My Semester at Sea itinerary included Ensenada, Mexico, Hawaii, Japan, Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Burma, India, Egypt, Turkey, Croatia and Spain.
I was once again outside of my comfort zone, traveling. I was 20 years old. The 3.5 months I spent living and traveling with Semester at Sea were the most formative years of my life. I was introduced to a world I knew very little about. And I was able to learn about that world by being immersed in it. Writing this now, I tear up, because I am endlessly grateful for my time on that ship and in those countries. I can still smell the streets of busy Chennai, India and I can still close my eyes and relish in the awe that is the Great Wall of China. I can remember the feeling of stepping off the ship into a new country and striking out on my own with other college students. We were young, but we were brave. I can remember staring up at the Great Pyramids of Giza at sunrise and how it felt to travel the Bosphorus in Turkey.
As amazing as Semester at Sea was? It ruined me. Since that semester abroad, I have been unable to sit still. I don’t get to travel outside of the country as much as I’d like (thanks to unending student loan debt), but for the life of me, I cannot sit still for too long. I crave change. I have another addiction: to adventure.
After college ended in Massachusetts I moved to San Diego where I lived for a year and a half. After that, I moved to Colorado after visiting and falling in love with Breckenridge during a Semester at Sea reunion weekend. That was 2009.
Miraculously, from 2009-2015, I stayed put. It was a weird time in my life. I was in a dead end relationship. I lost myself during those years. I hate thinking of that time. But in 2015 when I ditched the dead beat boyfriend, I became me again, and me went right back to craving change.
In the span of 6 years from 2009-2015 since leaving San Diego and settling in Colorado I’d worked, gone back to school for a second bachelor’s degree and landed my dream job at a busy downtown Denver hospital. In 2015 I was newly single and was living the day to day grind. And once I ditched the boyfriend, I realized that that life wasn’t really for me, so I took my first travel nurse job. Back to California. Back to the bay area. I was hit with reality fast and hard — California was hard! Living in a big city, without my Colorado mountains, was hard! So I finished my travel nurse contract and headed back to Colorado, back to my old job at that busy downtown hospital. I kept up that hospital life for about another year before going back to travel nursing. I’m still a travel nurse today. I take contracts that last about 3 months, give or take, and then I’m on to the next contract.
Last year my nursing career brought me to Alaska for three months. And then it brought me back to Colorado. And then to California. And now it has me back in Colorado. I am very lucky that I have a career where I have unlimited job prospects. Travel nursing has given me the opportunity to work and make good money, all while not sitting still.
Alaska was a weird time. I had visited Alaska twice before moving– once in summer and once in the dead of winter. But living there during winter was another story. Anchorage is Alaska’s biggest and busiest city and it is gross in the winter. It’s dirty. It’s icy. There is a fair amount of crime considering its smaller size and there are a lot of homeless people. On top of that, I’d never lived anywhere where real winter takes place. And real winter is hard. Very. Hard.
The front range of Colorado i.e. Denver and Boulder, has mild winters. Storms with snow sometimes, 65 degrees other times. But the average winter day in Denver or Boulder seems to be about 45-50 degrees and partly cloudy or sunny. The sun is out a lot. When it does snow it melts within a few days. The streets stay pretty clean. And if you don’t know, now you do – the Boulder area is very safe. It’s clean. It’s wealthy. And the homeless count is very low. The region in and around Boulder is known as the “Boulder Bubble” for a reason. It is like no other place I’ve ever lived. I’ve been spoiled. Since 2014 I’ve called this area “home” almost exclusively. Leaving this area and moving to Alaska in the middle of February and being faced with winter and a harsh new reality was tough. So I stayed for three months and then when another job opportunity came up, I left. Back to Boulder, back to the bubble, back to what I knew and was comfortable with. This time, instead of facing life outside of my comfort zone, I did what I don’t normally do, which is actually run back to my comfort zone.
It was there in my comfort zone I stayed for a while until Ben, my fiance (I guess I skipped over that part. I have a fiance. He’s awesome. He also loves to travel. One of the best (but scariest) things about Ben and I together? We love change), got a job in the mountains of Colorado. So we moved to the mountains of Colorado. Another rude awakening! The mountains of Colorado are beautiful — but we don’t ski or snowboard, and every single thing about life here revolves around skiing and snowboarding. Our bubble in fact did burst. Life in the mountains is like life in the part of Alaska where we lived — except way colder, way more snow, and way more people. We finally got our Colorado winter. And do you know what I say to that now?
Holy. Freakin’. Cow. Life in Alaska wasn’t so bad, after all.
Now going back. In early fall I started to miss Alaska again. I blame it on the whole “cannot stay put” thing. Once life starts to get normal, all of a sudden you’re like a dog who sees a squirrel and is out on his daily walk, but keeps looking in the other direction at the squirrel while his owner is trying to get him to pee. OH LOOK, MEMORIES OF ALASKA! OH LOOK, I MISS ALASKA.
In early fall, on the balcony in my just outside of Boulder apartment, before relocating to the mountains, Ben and I sat outside with the dogs. One of us brought up Alaska. And we’ve been utterly doomed ever since because we miss it. And because for the first time, we were able to admit to ourselves that we put unrealistic expectations on our previous time there. And because going from the Boulder bubble to Alaska was freakin’ hard. The Boulder bubble isn’t real life, and we know that now. I was faced with that even more from December to February when I lived in the central valley of CA for a few months. Where homelessness and crime and no access to safe parks for a 34 year old woman with her dog is a reality. At least in Alaska, I had unlimited public lands access. Un. Limited.
Sorry, back to that day. 8 weeks or so after that day we got engaged. And here we are months later, still talking about Alaska, and getting married in 5 weeks.
When my Alaska boss texted me last week, asking if I wanted to come back to my old job, I chuckled as I handed Ben the phone. What in the world? I asked. God, what do you have planned now? Why am I the way that I am? Why did this text message make me excited, instead of stressed or annoyed?
This time the bonus they’re offering me to come work for them three days a week is big. Real big. It was big a year ago. But this time it’s even bigger. On top of that, they’ve raised my hourly rate. Nurse salaries in Colorado suck, to put it mildly. Working in Alaska for the salary they’re offering would bring home more money on one salary than if both Ben and I worked full time in Colorado.
Did I mention Ben likes adventure too?
Two nights ago Ben and I were at the condo in the mountains. Home. Where it still seems like winter even though it’s spring. We’d spent the day talking about the job offer. We’d spent the day looking at houses online. We spent the day talking about what we’d do differently if we went back to Alaska. We spent the day talking about how we would not live in Anchorage (because we disliked it so much). And we spent the day talking about how above all else, we still want an Alaskan summer, since we didn’t get that last year.
And then he left for a few minutes to go pick up a suit he’d had dry cleaned. While he was gone I made the executive decision to accept the job offer. With a few clicks of the computer mouse and one online signature later, I took the job.
Ben was surprised when he got back. His smile was pretty big, too. He likes adventure as much as I do, and what better way to start our marriage than with another big, crazy, Alaskan adventure?
I don’t know why I am the way that I am. Why when other 34 year olds are settling down in one spot, I dream of settling down wherever the wind blows. I blame 18 year old Jenn who traveled to New York City 8 times her freshman year of college, roaming around Grand Central Station, people watching. I blame 20 year old Jenn who traveled to so many different countries and who became addicted to travel, to change, and to resisting the norm. Twenty year old Jenn who learned there is a whole world out there, and you can’t experience it by staying in one place.
I don’t know why I am the way that I am. But I feel lucky that at some point my motto in life became, “Go where you feel most alive,” and that I actually can live by my own motto. Where being alive means feeling happy, scared, excited, regretful, sad. Where being alive means I get to feel all of the feelings while going to all of the places. Where being alive means I get to make mistakes, and then make them again or where I get to succeed, and then succeed again.
We get married May 3rd. We leave for Alaska May 9th. Come what may.
Pictured above: Eagle River, Alaska. Where we will be living this time around.