Wednesday, June 10, 2015

An Explanation and Recap of My Journey So Far

Welcome to Summer's Epic Journey! This is a photo and video blog about my epic cross country solo road trip.

Let me introduce myself. I am Summer Slevin, a 22 year old from the Midwest with a gypsy soul... Here I am right here:
I graduated from Illinois State University in May 2015. I graduated with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, although I still have two classes to take online and get back credited to my degree. 
Before I graduated I was working four jobs and interning while attending school full time.
I also maintained a cumulative 4.0. I'm a hard worker. I've held more than 15 jobs and 5 unpaid internships through college, never taking a minute break.
This last year I interned at the McLean YWCA and I was sure that I would be able to get a full time job there after graduation. I had a meeting with the CEO and submitted a detailed job proposal. Three weeks later, just days before graduation, I received an email back stating that they would be not be taking on any new employees due to the governor's recent budget cut proposals.
This email left me with a feeling of hopelessness. I had quit all of my other jobs and turned down an alternative full time position in hopes of working at a non profit and making a difference in the world. I had not signed an additional year lease on my apartment, just in case, and my lease was up May 8th. I had also recently broken up with my boyfriend and was not completely unattached.
What now? 
May 8th came, I walked across the graduation stage with tears in my eyes and my family proudly cheering me on.
This was the next stage in my life. I have been going to school for my entire life, and now what?
I moved my things out of my apartment the day after graduation and moved all of my belongings into a storage unit. My friends offered their beds and couches to me, but here I was... A jobless, homeless, single college graduate.

My grandparents passed away in January at the age of 94 apiece and their memorial was in late April. That's when the idea started.

I love my family more than anything. The Slevins are amazing. All very intelligent, hilarious and motivating, but located across the country, making our visits short and infrequent. 
It had always been a dream of mine to visit them, and most of my cousins and aunts had offered me a place to stay if I did.

My cousin Drew was the first to spark my idea. He mentioned working at an organic farm in upper Wisconsin. I sprang at the option. "Could I work there, just short term?" I asked. He told me that he didn't see why not. It was a community farm and they had visitors and volunteers all the time.
This lit fire to my imagination. 

The idea did not start to become a possibility until I got that email making me aware of my unfamiliar situation. 
I had some money in savings and I didn't have to start paying my student loans back until 6 months after graduation.
This Could Work. I thought.

So I started to plan.
I gave myself a leaving date. June 1st.
I would stay at friends' houses until then. My best friend Elizabeth loved having me stay with her, and we had a blast. We drank beer and swam and watched Netflix.
Another close friend, Brittany, made me a copy of her house key and while she was out of town, I had the place to myself.
I have the best friends one could ask for.

So I planned and reached out to relatives and friends, giving them a tentative itinerary and requesting temporary hospitality. 
The plan was falling into place.
This was going to be an epic journey.

I would start in Osceola, Wisconsin and work a week at Philadelphia Community Farm with my cousin, volunteering in exchange for room and board.
Then I would head west. 
I would visit my cousin in Denver, then head up to Seattle, where I've always wanted to go. I would stay with a friend in Portland, an Aunt in Fort Bragg, a cousin in Davis, friends in Houston and Charleston, and family in Massachusetts. 
I put aside $1,000 for gas and $1,000 for miscellaneous needs. I kept $2,000 in savings for bills and emergencies. 
And then June 1st came, and I went!
I said goodbye to my beautiful best friend, Elizabeth and hit the road to Wisconsin.
I had to make a pit stop for cheese in Wisconsin, of course!

I decided to use paper maps for my journey to make it about the ride, not the destination
and to take away some of the distractions of technology.

Day one after a long day of working the fields and hiking the woods!
Feeling satisfied with where I am... And no, there were no trains coming.
I arrived at the farm at 9:30pm on Monday, June 1st.
Here are some of my farm adventures below:

The farm donkey, Burrito. 
Burrito is pretty affectionate. Here he is laying his head on my chest.
Its okay that he's filthy... I'm pretty dirty myself.
Burrito is all smiles... I think he likes the attention.
Here is the farm dog, Namo. He's a great guard dog, 
but an even better cuddler.
Everyday we had amazing farm fresh homemade meals. 
It was probably the best I have ever eaten. YUM!
One of the farm interns, Yingqi, and I got 
some vines from the greenhouse to wear like Peter Pan. ;)
We are helping the peas grow by untangling them from one 
another and putting them against a fence.
This may not seem like fun (and it's really not) 
but with good company, anything can be a blast!
On Thursday, my cousin and I made dinner for the house, 15 people in all!
We made my favorite go-to meal: spaghetti, salad, garlic bread, and cookies.
Top it off with coffee and Spotted Cow beer, and you've got perfection!

Another selfie with Burrito! He's all smiles.
Me on top of the beautiful water falls at Philadelphia Community Farm.
Just ignore the dirt on my butt. :P

The waterfall in all of its glory.
I got this ice cold fresh water from the aquifer right off the waterfall!
Philadelphia Community Farm needs to market this water! It is so good!
I went for a hike at Interstate National Park.
What a gorgeous place.
It amazing me how many beautiful places exist in America!
On Saturday night, the farm had Open Mic Night!
It was so cool and everyone got to jam!
There is so much talent on that farm!
On Sunday morning, Lindsey led us in meditation and yoga.
It was honestly the best yoga class I've ever taken.
On Monday morning, I got some pictures with my cousin, Drew.
Here we are being those serious farmers... All we need is a pitchfork.
Here's the family resemblance.
I had such a wonderful time!
He is such a great cousin and a hilarious, kind and hard working guy.
What a great person to look up to! :)
But alas, it was time to hit the road to adventure once more!
On Monday, June 8th at 9am, I was back on the road!
Next stop: The Great Lakes, and then Minneapolis to visit a friend.
I asked a stranger to take my picture.
Here I am on a beautiful beach on Lake Superior.
What a way to spend the day!
My toes in the sand, a beer in my hand and total freedom and peace of mind!
I couldn't ask for anything more.
This is my good friend, Waldo.
He attends a law school in Minneapolis and is completing an internship there over the summer.
We've known each other since freshman year of high school
Waldo showed me the sights, including this 
beautiful tucked away graffiti tunnel.
I loved this beautiful reminder of the temporariness of life.
Especially while taking an epic trip such as this!
We watched the sunset over this beautiful and breathtaking 
dam then went back and made dinner.
Sushi and steak! Eating like royalty!
The next day it was time to leave this beautiful city 
and get back on the road to the next adventure!

Upon suggestion, I made a pit stop at
 Zombie Burger in Des Moines, IA.
I needed this ice cold beer to go with my delicious milk shake!
This trip has brought the love of beer out of me!
Yesterday, I drove 530 miles and got bitten by over 40 mosquitos!
But honestly, this breathtaking Nebraska sunset made it all worth it.
This beauty is what it is all about!

During my drive across Iowa, the NPR affiliate in Bloomington, WGLT, gave me a call and asked if they could interview me about my trip.
They're doing a segment called "On the Road". This really got me excited.
Who knows what opportunities that will bring!
This brings me to today! 
Wednesday, June 10th, 2015.
Day 9.
Over 1,500 miles into my cross country road trip.

I have always loved cemeteries. They are so well kept and peaceful.
It is hard to feel anxious with such calmness surrounding you.
And I have met wonderful people at these unlikely locations.
Today, I went to a beautiful national cemetery in Western Nebraska.
I took in the beauty and said some well wishes to those that these fine people
left behind.

So what have I learned?
Well, for one thing, I have learned what little growing carrot tops look like and how to differentiate them from the weeds!
I don't have anything against Nebraska (besides the mosquitos)
but I've driven across the whole state, and this is what I have seen.
But more importantly, I learned what I am capable of.
I am 22 years old and taking an epic cross country road trip by myself!
I have worked hard and saved money and now I am doing what I have always dreamed of doing.
Anything can happen from here. I don't know what even this afternoon brings, but I know that I will make the best of it, as I generally do.
I am used to being in control, and although I still maintain a sense of control on this trip, this is the least control I've ever had. I am letting fate decide what will happen next.
I am saying yes to any opportunity
 that arrises. I am taking advantage of the peace of mind that being alone brings. 
I am meeting strangers with amazing stories.
I am sharing acts of kindness, and using my life as an example to others.
I am just being.

This is the most unfamiliar and unpredictable thing I have ever done, but I have never been more sure of anything in my life.

I am at peace.
I am exactly where I should be, where I want to be.

I am the person I have always wanted to be.
Who knows what the road ahead will bring, but I do know that it will be an epic journey of self discovery and enlightenment and I am ready!

Here's to the future!

I'll keep you updated about my travels.

Next stop: Boulder, Colorado.