The Goal: Fly across the country by myself
The Why: Confront my anxiety of being in new places without others to fall back on for support
Thank you for sticking around for the conclusion to my California trip experience – if you’re just finding this blog, please head over to Leavin’ on a Jet Plane: Part 1 to catch up.
This last post will focus on my free time on the Central Coast, travel day issues, and my plan now that I’m back home. If you have any of your own solo travel stories to share, I would love to hear about them in the comments section!
Day 3 into 4
I was riding the Zen wave after my last group session when I gathered up my luggage and prepared for what I thought would be an easy Uber trip down to Santa Cruz from Scotts Valley (about a 15 minute drive). Unfortunately, something was malfunctioning with the Uber app and all I saw was a “Looking for drivers” message and no cars in the area map…for almost an hour I tried restarting my phone and resubmitting the request, but nothing worked. Ok, world – first test of my recently strengthened bravery skills.
I ended up asking one of the 1440 staff for help and I’m not sure what he did, but within 5 minutes I had a driver on his way to get me. Lesson learned: JUST ASK FOR THE DAMN HELP ALREADY.
My second Uber driver was super nice and very California – a 63 year old vegetarian and daily meditator who visits New York City every few months to visit his elderly mother. It was a great transition into the “real world”, although my next stop was keeping the peaceful vibe going pretty well too.
It was my first time using Air BnB and my hosts were extremely welcoming, along with with their lovely home. Private room full of amenities and homey touches, plus an outdoor garden space complete with the perfect spot to get sucked into a book – I could have stayed here for weeks! Unfortunately, I was only there until the next evening so tried to take advantage of my time as much as possible. At my host’s suggestion, I ended up walking to a traditional Hawaiian restaurant just a few minutes away that served up braised pork, macaroni salad, white rice, AND a sushi roll made with Spam – yep, you read that right.
Local and organic it was not, but what a delicious way to end the day. I spent the rest of my night reading outside, doing a little yoga, and journaling before going to bed. Maybe it was a combination of these things, but I ended up having the BEST sleep I’ve had in months and actually felt rested when I woke up the next day. I could get used to this!
I ventured out early and walked to another restaurant suggested to me about 20 minutes away near the coastline. The area felt very safe and I had a good time strolling around without any real schedule or agenda. I popped into Cat and Cloud for a quick breakfast and chai latte, finding out that the barista has a friend in Vermont (“Is that the state with only one area code?”). In fact, the whole place felt a little like “Burlington by the beach”,
so I was pretty happy. It was an easy walk from there to find my first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean, although the clouds and cool air of Santa Cruz in the morning wasn’t encouraging me to take a dip. There were plenty of surfers there who felt otherwise! I really liked how there was a wide path along the whole coast for walkers, bikers, and LOTS of dogs. You could head down to the sand on long staircases built to come down off the cliffs, and I finally was able to at least get my feet in this new ocean.
I spent some time at each spot just taking a few minutes to appreciate where I was and all I was seeing. I brought my journal along to capture any thoughts that may come up, but I still need to practice this more so it becomes a little more natural. I think we have all gotten more used to sharing our thoughts on social media rather than putting them into something personal and reflective, without any “likes” on the line. Although I was taking plenty of pictures, I really tried not to use my phone more than to send a quick text back home. It was much harder to stay away from scrolling when I wasn’t at 1440, but I at least I was trying to be more conscious of my habits.
I spent a few hours just wandering along through the neighborhood and honestly had to stop myself from looking creepy by taking pictures of all the interesting homes and landscaping. In Vermont we have lawns with grass, but the drought conditions and unique vegetation meant lawns look WAY different than back
home. It was really interesting to notice all the differences and remark on just how diverse our natural world is (and hopefully will continue to be…).
All in all, it was a very peaceful but interesting leg of the trip and I got to practice another skill that I often struggle with – letting go of that feeling of not fitting in. As it turns out, the people in Santa Cruz are way more apt to be walking around in exercise clothes and sneakers than a nice top and jeans. Soooo I had to quiet that inner voice that says “See, you should have worn something else” whenever I met someone on the street. Much as I did in the airport security line, I tried to quiet it by reminding myself that I’m not actually the center of everyone else’s universe and I’ll never see these people again, so what does it matter? The only thing I should have been worried about was being dressed too warmly because as soon as noon hits, the clouds all disappear and it is nothing but SUN the whole day!
I wanted to get the tourist experience before I left Santa Cruz, so I took the bus over to the Boardwalk area and I was NOT disappointed! The Boardwalk is full of people, food, rides, shops, and a great stretch of the beach. I actually didn’t feel out of place being by myself and enjoyed just walking around and taking things in without having to worry about other people wanting to walk faster or ride the rides or wait in line for something I didn’t care about. I spent a couple hours there total, mostly in a souvenir shop because I can’t decide on anything – another skill to practice!
I headed back up to San Jose so that I could spare myself an hour long drive at 3:30 am for my flight the next morning and again had a great Uber driver who was fun to get to know a little. He was originally from Mexico and had started driving for Uber a few months ago to earn better pay than at his job at a taxi service. Although he didn’t speak a lot of English, we bonded over country music and scenic roads. Again, you never know someone’s story so sometimes it pays just to ask!
My last night in California was a mellow one, considering I had walked well over 2 miles during the day and had the sunburned nose to prove it. On my second Air BnB hosts’
recommendation, I finished out my Food Tour at an authentic Mexican restaurant a short walk away. I’m not even sure how I managed to eat 3/4 of this chimichanga, but it must have been all that walking or something! After my feast, I headed back to my room at the condo and prepped for my travel day. I knew my anxiety would be a little higher, but assumed everything would go as smoothly as my first travel day and tried to get a decent night of sleep…neither of those things ended up happening.
Everything started out just fine when I got my last ride of the trip over to the San Jose airport, just 5 minutes away. Security was pretty easy and I had time to eat a regular breakfast at one of the cafes. My 6:30 am flight left right on time and within about 4 1/2 hours I was officially back on EST and landing in Atlanta, GA. I thought I had about 2 hours to grab lunch, charge my phone, and get ready for my flight up to NYC. Then I started getting updates on my Delta app about delays in NYC due to weather…
As it turns out, a storm system over NYC wasn’t moving on and flights to and from JFK, LaGuardia, and Newark were all getting delayed or cancelled. My connecting flight from JFK to Burlington suddenly went from a 9:15 pm departure to 1:55 am and that’s when the anxiety reallly started ramping up…only to keep increasing when I found out my 4:00 pm flight from ATL wouldn’t be leaving until 8:00 pm. I’m not proud to say that my response to all these changes was to basically have a breakdown in the middle of the airport. Oh, but what about all that meditation and journaling I just spent 4 days doing? Yeah, that was right out the window when the stress response kicked in. I went right back to my old habits of obsessively looking up flight changes (which my JFK to BTV flight did at least 6 times), scrolling through Facebook, Googling “what happens if you miss your connecting flight”, and seeking comfort from people back home. In short – I was a mess.
In the end, I spent over 6 hours at the Atlanta airport and besides having stiff muscles and a lighter wallet, I wasn’t in any serious catastrophe. That’s something my therapist mentioned once – “Is it a problem or is it a catastrophe?”. People with anxiety tend to leap to a catastrophic mindset where whatever is happening that is unpleasant, inconvenient, unexpected, or negative turns into THE WORST THING EVER. So I tried to remind myself that I would get home eventually, but the long days of schlepping my luggage around and not sleeping in my own bed were wearing on me.
I spent the entirety of the 2 1/2 hour flight in Panic Mode over the very real likelihood that I would miss my last flight and have to spend the night in NYC. I ended up looking at hotel listings, sleep options at the airport, and even Greyhound bus tickets that could get me back to Vermont faster than waiting overnight for a flight. I was frustrated when the in-flight WiFi wasn’t strong enough to update my Delta app every 5 seconds, even though every time I did check it, it still said 11:00 pm departure. When the plane touched down, I only had 30 minutes before the scheduled departure, and seeing as I was in the 35th row, I wasn’t going ANYWHERE for at least another 15. As I stood in the tiny row waiting for anyone to start moving, I was panic-texting Brian and my Mom about how I wasn’t going to make the flight and didn’t know what to do. With 10 minutes to spare, I was that person sprinting through the airport with my luggage, even over the moving walkways which I typically am PETRIFIED of. When I got to my gate, I didn’t notice many people around and thought they must have already prepped to leave. At that minute, I heard a young couple asking if anyone else was going to Burlington and I immediately felt a surge of hope. I’m sure those people felt a surge of “this woman is unstable” as I ran over to them, sweaty and sleep deprived, and joined in the Vermont-bound group. It turns out that Delta had moved the flight last minute to leave at 11:40 pm and I could finally take a deep breath (and run to the bathroom…). I did manage to run through a meditation session on my phone while the plane was getting ready to head out, but I was a little disappointed in myself for not using that as a resource throughout the day. It showed me that I really can’t change everything from just a few days away and that my nervous system still has a mind of its own. The important thing is I landed in VT, was greeted by Brian, and was able to sleep most of the next day away 🙂
Back in VT…
So now what?
It’s really easy to feel like you’ve made progress in a retreat that is set up for personal growth and reflection or in a city where you don’t nobody so there aren’t any expectations. I knew it would be a challenge to keep up with things like daily meditation (still not there), yoga (working on it), journaling (once or twice?), and time in nature (that I have managed, weather permitting!). But the overall takeaway from my trip was a new guiding phrase: “Just Show Up”. That’s what I did when I was nervous to meet my group mates, take the drumming class, or sign up for this thing in the first place. I wanted this trip to be a stepping stone where I could say “Hey, I DID manage to fly across the country by myself, so doing ______ isn’t so bad”. Most people would find it easier to make a doctor’s appointment than flying across the country alone (and only on your second air travel trip ever) without this experience, but what can I say – I’m a hands on learner!
So I’m moving forward through my goal list and other opportunities in general by just showing up and seeing what happens. It’s still hard for me to quiet the voice of perfectionism, but remembering that mistakes are ok AND expected is something I’m continuing to practice. To help me out, I try to think back to the drumming circle at 1440, where one person’s “mistake” was meshed into the collective sound so that you couldn’t even tell it had happened – the community had your back. I’m working on strengthening my unique communities and relationships and finding more people to connect with through shared interests and activities. If I can do that in 2 1/2 days with total strangers 2500 miles from home, then why not here?
Until next time and the next goal!