It was an odd realization that this was my first weekend trip alone – ever. Having just finished up a month of training at Northeastern University for my new job as an International Coordinator, I wasn’t ready to head back south without one more weekend adventure to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.
I was excited. I knew it would be great for me in a regaining-my-independence and enjoying-life-solo kind of way. But it also dawned upon me that since I left my parent’s house at the age of 17 for college, weekend trips to the mountains or trips around the world were always accompanied by family, friends, fellow travelers, or a partner.
Taking me, myself, and I somewhere new was exciting, but it’s strange when you notice how the mind finds all of the reasons to not doing the thing you most want to do. As I was making in-the-moment decisions about my weekend with no one but myself to please, I noticed a little whisper in my ear providing me with the excuse to do whichever cockerel/chickenshit/cowardly thing felt the most safe.
It was in these following instances that I had to remind myself of what I had learned so long ago – that very few remarkable things come from cruising in the comfort zone.
As I was driving back to my hostel after a beautiful golden hour hike up the Flume Gorge, I saw a restaurant in the small town of Lincoln, New Hampshire. It was Greek, and the last several weeks had been spent meeting students who I will be supporting during a semester in Thessaloniki, Greece. I had been taught a couple of very basic Greek phrases, and begun to learn about the city that will become my home. I’d also been eating dining hall food for the past month – delicious dining hall food, but dining hall food nonetheless.
As I debated stopping for dinner, an anxious stream of thoughts in my mind told me it could be awkward to eat alone. “Is the place packed?” “Are people dressed nicely rather than being fresh off the trail?” “What does one even do or look at when they eat out alone?” I’m no stranger to solo Chipotle and coffee shops, but this was different.
Again on Sunday morning, I was carefully picking a hike that would be easy on my knee (I’ve been recuperating my knee after a recent injury) and one that would be protected from the blazing sun. I met some nice folks at a cafe that morning who recommended to me the perfect hike: Franconia Falls. I blindly typed “Franconia Falls” into my GPS and arrived at an over-packed parking lot. “Is this even the place?” “It’s soooo hot.” “I didn’t even bring a backpack with me to Boston – is my Patagonia sling going to do the trick?”
I noticed these whispers in my mind. And then I did my best to shut them down.
What happened when I ate at The Landmark II restaurant? I introduced myself to the owner and asked if he was from Greece. Upon telling him that I would be working in Thessaloniki this fall, the biggest smile fell upon his face and he proceeded to give me the name and phone number of his son who lives in Thessaloniki and works part-time at the institution I will be working closely with: The American College at Thessaloniki. I also ate a delish Greek salad and the best meatballs that I’ve had in a very long time.
I hiked to Franconia Falls that Sunday morning. And I realized the beauty in hiking alone: I can go as fast as I want. There’s no one to pace yourself with, to consider when you’ve rested long enough and it’s time to turn back. No one to inform of your bodily functions when you need to take a pee in the woods. I realized the wonderful flow in my mind as it hopped from thought to thought – reflecting upon life lately: the wonderful people I’ve met, the opportunities that await me, and ways in which I want to continue to grow.
There used to be this song that I loved the lyrics to. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros sing the words “Home is wherever I’m with you.” For years I bought into that lyric. Whenever I traveled to new and foreign lands, so long as I was with my partner, it did feel like home. A home away from home. A home that was safe and complete, yet unlike a home filled with stability and faces of loved ones, this was a home full of a promise of unknowns. The more I think about this song, the more and more I sing a new lyric in my mind. “Home is wherever I’m with me.” Because I am enough. I have the brains and a body to do anything my heart desires – me, myself, and I. Including weekend trips to the White Mountains of New Hampshire.