Wherever you go, go with all your heart.
I am a child of the Universe. A traveler who enjoys the journey, yet still can be a bit incredibly impatient at times. A curious explorer and lover of cultures and the weird. A creature of un-habit. I believe nothing is impossible, and I derive energy from people, the sunshine, and the mountains. I love BIG and work, play, and hug hard. An eternal optimist, I strive to find the good in every situation and I am fascinated by human behavior.
I am a professional traveler through life. Seriously. Wait, aren't we all?! During the day in the winter months I travel with the White Circus around Euroland as the Press Officer for the U.S. Ski Team (men and women's alpine), which keeps me busy, on the road, and weird. During the day I'm also a dreamer, a mobility and movement enthusiast, a bloody mary connoisseur, a sparkle pony…and I moonlight as a superhero. I'm writing my first book of tales from around the globe “#vagablonde” and living life fully and wholly. Thank you for joining me on this journey.
Be a disruptive woman. I am.
But I’m not extraordinary. Really. I’ve never have thought of myself in this way, and I don’t think I ever will. I wear the same clothes multiple days in a row. Like, literally, right now. I’ve been wearing the same wool camp socks for the last week straight. I call it “homeless chic.” I’d like to think I just know what I like. I dream a lot. Multiple times a day. I drink too much espresso. I have a mad love for cheeseburgers. I still sleep with the blanky my grandmother made for me when I was born. My favorite color is alpenglow. I can be a handful. I’d say I’m simple…but that would be a lie. I’m not. I make mistakes. And then I learn from them. And sometimes I make mistakes twice. I am far from extraordinary.
I do, however, like to notice extraordinary things, and tackle extraordinary missions. Asked recently about how/what I create in life, my answer came quick and was quite simple, “I’d like to think my art – my superhero power – is creating connections between things and people.” What I didn’t add is that I like to make people smile...and that my favorite moments in life have been those in which I’ve witnessed a shift in someone’s facial make-up when the corners of their mouth turn up just slightly followed by a transformation of the course of their day. I love. Hard. And with my entire heart and soul. People are a source of energy for me, which is a great thing when I surround myself with positivity. Creation of something from nothing was a challenge I’d be quick to accept.
If you were to stop for a moment and think about what you wanted to be as a child and reflect on where you are now, what would come of it? I was never normal. I always wanted to be an explorer. Quick to travel down the exact opposite path all of my friends were taking led me to trouble, or adventure depending on how you look at it. I chased after my big brother on the ski hill, skate rink, pavement…everywhere. I approached situations differently than most and never thought anything was impossible. And so, I’d be an explorer when I grew up. Because, after all, there wouldn’t be any other way.
In college I created my major: “Gender and Media in Contemporary Sport”. That was a mouthful when interview time came. I continued my competitive ski racing career - which had started when I was 7 years old - throughout college and also met my first love: foreign travel. First to live in Sweden, and then to study abroad in England and travel to Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Germany, Czech Republic, and beyond. I was hooked. I was definitely an explorer. I distinctly remember the moment in my university career when my advisor told me “Soon, you will settle into a routine. When you graduate, you will start your career, wake up every morning, go to work from 9-5, work out, eat dinner, sleep…rinse…repeat.” I am convinced he was telling us this to stir something up from within that would rise above the routine. Reverse psychology. It worked for me. Routine sounded appalling to me.
But it soon began…I was sucked in. Wide-eyed, Pollyanna-positive-like, and ready to conquer the corporate world, I looked at every situation with an open mind and an annoying amount of positivity. Before I knew it, though, I was in falling down the deep black hole that is routine. Corporate America swallowed me up and regurgitated me. Consumed my soul. 80-hour work weeks for what?! More money? I didn’t care about money. I wanted experience. I wanted to live and work abroad. Awareness was my savior. I made changes in my life to get me there. Got out of a long-term relationship. Started seeking counsel from everyone around me. I had 50,000 coaches like Akeelah and the Bee. I learned more in that formative time of my life than I ever realized. But I was insanely impatient. I am far from extraordinary. All I wanted was to jet. I wanted the world to be my playground…and experience its foreign sounds, smells, and sights. One failed opportunity led to another and to another and yet another…and then it happened. I moved to Prague in 2009 to lead marketing for a group of independent boutique hotel/hostel fusion properties. In the meantime, I met a boy. And said boy was just as jazzed as I was about my experience, even though it meant long distance for nearly two years. That’s what happens when you surround yourself with individuals who share dreams, passions, and inspiration. They’re supportive. So, I moved to Prague.
Life abroad wasn’t easy. As an adaptable individual who was finally enabled to do what she wanted when she grew up (re: Explorer), transition was rough. There were days I wanted to escape back to the states. It didn’t take long for Prague to take my heart, though. And I fell deeply, deeply in love…with its cobblestone streets, its architecture, its charm, its quirks, and most of all – its people. That’s why my favorite Czech word is Zmena. It means change. I learned to appreciate the process and not merely yearn for the end result. I traveled all over Europe. Oftentimes, by myself. A special place called Cesky Krumlov became my second home. I wanted to see new places, yet constantly felt a pull to existing places that I knew.
Working in the hostelling industry, I soon realized that it really was the people that made a place. And community is totally my thing. I am endlessly surprised by the effects of human connection and the importance thereof. I was an expat, which is so very different than a traveler. If you’ve ever lived in a foreign country, you understand this sentiment. At the end of my nearly two-year journey, I couldn’t imagine leaving. I felt a pull back to the states in the form of a man whom I loved and who had proposed to me. I was leaving to get married. It brought back the painful memory of the single, most awful notion to me: routine. I was scared. No…I am not an extraordinary woman. I am, at times, selfish.
But aren’t we all a little bit selfish? I traveled back to the states to be entirely consumed by another kind of love: the love of a man. And with the good, came an even harder transition. Zmena. I was in a place that didn’t feel like “home” anymore. In fact, no single place really felt like home anymore. A child of the universe. I was forever changed. The world was now my playground. I had caught the travel virus and I was passionate about being this kind of sick. I resolved at that moment that I wouldn’t let it end.
Thrust back into a world that felt more foreign than my Czech Republic home, I made the one decision I had promised myself I wouldn’t make: I went back to agency life. And, yet again, it swallowed my soul. Whole. What killed me most inside is that I knew fully that this life was a life so many yearned for: a work environment boasting brilliant and talented people, an inspiring group of individuals who loved me and cared about me, and more. But it never felt quite right. Something was always missing and these words were never truer: "No I am not where I belong. So shine a light, guide me back home." I’d escape the everyday routine and travel to faraway places in daydreams until I could escape to faraway places in reality. And escape I did…to foreign lands as much as possible. Copious amounts of curiosity. Perpetual exploration. That’s my jam.
As is often the case when your mind and heart are open to the universe and its gifts, curiosity and exploration soon led me down a path that made my soul feel alive. Through a series of serendipitous events, I found Ethnotek. The journey began as a “Tribe member” myself. My grandfather bought me a pack for Christmas, and shortly before Christmas passed away. As we were memorializing him on Christmas day, my grandmother handed me a box telling me that my grandfather had my name and “This gift is special, because grandpa actually picked it out himself. He looked at your list and told me he couldn’t spend $100 on a scarf, so he spent $150 – over our gift limit – on this pack.” Utilitarian as he was, this made me smile. I also felt a visceral connection to this brand, and the pack meant something to me that it wouldn’t mean to anyone else. I’d carry it with me on the Inca Trail…my grandpa would travel with me. Special. And so I shared my story with Ethnotek, not knowing who they were or where they were from…and they shared my story. Turns out owners Jake and Josh were from Minnesota. We kept in touch and they told me to keep my eyes peeled for textiles in Peru. I traveled there and ended up visiting a remote village – the Amaru village – learning about Quechua dying and weaving process. Serendipity. And, I felt what Jake felt when he visited villages in Sa Pa, Vietnam. I felt connected to these people, and their practice of handmade craft. A craft that is, unfortunately and sadly, dying. This was my calling. This was my home.
I’ve always thought of “home” as a relative term. The only time I’ve ever really felt at home is when I’m traveling. Bizarre as it is, it’s the truth. Until I found Ethnotek. I knew I was home. When passion collides head on with career it’s a thing of magic. A very small percentage of people in this world work to make this happen. We get stuck in a never-ending cycle of convention and complacency and comfort. And there we stay. Hell no…not me. I arrived at Ethnotek and never left. My journey led me to ownership and – eventually – full time employment as well. I celebrated my entire last week in the structured, corporate world by wearing leggings of all different patterns and colors. I have never felt so free. Never felt so at home. I haven’t and won’t look back. I have arrived.
This is not the end of my story. It will twist and turn and I will explore unfamiliar nooks and crannies of the world. I will be uncomfortable, I will be stretched and I will find epic pee views wherever I travel. The one thing I do know is that it won’t be fueled by passion and lacking exploration. I will always travel, but I will no longer escape. I will always journey and wander, but I will do so with intention. I will always take the beaten path, but I will soak in my surroundings and learn as much as my brain will allow. And then I will share it with whoever will listen.
I will always be disruptive. I am not so sure about extraordinary. Come wander with me…
Story Addendum, Saturday 30 May, 2015:
I originally wrote this piece for my friends at Dirt Barbie Adventures last year when they asked to feature me in an “Extraordinary Women” column they have on their blog. I kind of giggled—and maybe even blushed—when they asked me to contribute, but I wrote the above piece regardless. Since then, obviously a lot has happened. I moved my life with Tom from Minneapolis to Dallas last May. I was a time of struggle emotionally and physically for me, as I was suffering from extreme panic attacks and anxiety. I was sad. I was unhappy. And, most of all, I was confused. One week after moving to Dallas I started a solo journey of self-exploration. I traveled to L.A., back to Minneapolis and then onward to Europe. While I was in Europe, I was let go by Ethnotek…a company that I cared intensely about with a Tribe that was my family. This happened over Skype while I was in my favorite small village in the world, Cesky Krumlov. Fitting, seeing as though this was where Tom proposed to me. It felt like the entire world was crashing down on me. Suddenly, something I was so sure of was taken from me. And I had nothing. Instead of wallowing in despair, I chose to move forward with a clean slate. I’d come back to the states with no car, no husband, no home, no job, no insurance…but full of hope. I recently wrote a story about my journey for Elephant Journal. It was a crazy summer. I traveled over 25,000 miles in just a few months—to places like Sarajevo, Istanbul, Prague, Amsterdam, Squaw Valley for Wanderlust, and beyond. I lived out of a bag and I loved it. My guardian angel of a friend came down to Dallas and helped me pack up my life into a 10’ Uhaul moving truck and schlep it up to Salt Lake City, where I slept on couches of the community I had built through traveling to Salt Lake for, ironically enough, Ethnotek Outdoor Retailer adventures. Then I moved into an old polygamist compound with a bunch of ski bums at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Canyon and lived in a gypsy room with no door. My best friend in Salt Lake Ana employed me at her landscaping gardening business and I had plans to write my book, #vagablonde. And then a gig fell into my lap. I was offered a job with the U.S. Ski Team to manage the PR/media for the men’s and women’s alpine teams on the World Cup circuit, aka the “White Circus”…definitely a dream for someone who had grown up in the ski racing community and with an extreme passion for the sport of ski racing. And all of the pain began to melt away. Movement healed me. Movement hiking in the sunshine and the Wasatch mountains, and then movement on the road in Europe with my Audi named Gita-Jan. I made connections and laughed and danced and wore a unicorn mask and crazy leggings and learned and grew immensly, and sometimes cried too. One year, three new addresses, four new countries and thousands of miles in the air and on the road later, and I am healed. I am happy. And now I’ll be visiting a fourth new country in the last 12 months: India. I can’t wait. My adventure starts on June 2nd—one year to the date I arrived in Dallas and my thoughts were jumbled and all awry. I shaved my head and am starting anew for my 32nd year on this earth. Death and rebirth. India, here I come.
What are you afraid of? There’s nothing to fear. We’re all fighting battles daily. The most important thing to remember is that YOU ARE (STRONG) ENOUGH. R.M. Drake said, “Tragedies will always be found in the things we love. And if we are not willing to see the beauty in losing something that means the world to us, then imagine how terrible it will be to live for them. We must always welcome the end of all things. For sometimes, knowing nothing lasts forever is the only way we can learn to fall in love with all the moments and all the people that are meant to take our breath away.” I believe that.