Thursday, September 22, 2016

I Found My Heart In The Back of A Pet Store

Two months before the end of my 22nd year on Earth, I was in my car, driving (as I often did), but this time it was different. I didn’t have to be at work in the morning, or classes on Monday. I had 25 hundred dollars in my bank account, a paper map in my hands, and a bed made in the back seat of Mia, my beloved 2005 Kia.

This was it, I was really doing it. I was taking a cross country road trip by myself and had an entire two months to do it.

I had quit my jobs at an escape room place, and as a test administrator, and personally assisting an author and journalist, as well as assisting an embedded system consultant. I quit my internship at the YWCA. I took my last class of my undergrad career online so it could be on the road with me. I broke up with my boyfriend, and loosely cut ties with the guy I had started seeing shortly after. I didn’t renew my apartment lease, and had packed all of the belongings that wouldn’t fit in Mia’s rear end, away in a storage unit.

I had worked hard for this. For the last four years, I had juggled multiple jobs, yearly unpaid internships, countless relationships, 18-21 semester hours, many mini-mesters, and a cumulative 4 point 0.

I had no job waiting for me when I got back, and no long-term plan. But I didn’t care. All I could smell was freedom…  And roadkill.

The first stop of my epic journey was an organic farm in upper Wisconsin, where my cousin worked. He got me room and board for a week, in exchange for my daily commitment to working on the farm.

That was the most exhausting, bug bitten, sunburnt… and rewarding, week of my life. I went to bed every single night too exhausted to regret quitting a comfortable life, and woke up every morning, too late pressing snooze (a few times) to even consider the other ways I could be spending  the summer right after college graduation.

On day seven, I took the last shower, did the last load of laundry, and ate the last healthy breakfast I would have for a while. I packed up my car, said goodbye to my cousin, and the new friends I had met, and hit the road.

Onward to Minnesota, then Iowa, then the dreaded Nebraska drive, and to the Colorful Colorado, with only my audiobooks, journal, and crappy virgin mobile phone to keep me company.

The first time I caught sight of the snow-capped mountains, I let out a literal gasp. Never, in my life had I ever witnessed such massive nature-made magnificence.

I bee-lined to the mountains, which as anyone that has been near these mighty landscapes knows… can actually take a while. Apparently the mountains in your eyesight are further than they appear.

By the time I had arrived to the horseshoe mountain in Fort Collins, the sun was casting shadows on everything around me, and I was too exhausted to do anything but park my car and climb into my backseat for the night.

The next day I awoke to the rising sun, reflecting on the body of water that surrounded me, almost completely. I had driven right into the valley of the canyon, engulfed in the beauty that only the mountains can offer.
Where I Woke Up

I let out a laugh, took a video, and prepared for the unknown day ahead.

I was getting a little lonely. All of my Colorado friends, family, and friends of friends and family had fallen through on me. Either busy or not answering my calls.

While on my way to the Rocky Mountains for another solo cruise, I saw a pet store in Loveland. I drove passed it, trying to ignore the strange pull I felt in my heart. There is no way I needed a ginnypig, hamster, puppy, bunny, or snake to keep me company… That would be absurd. Two months on an unknown, largely unplanned adventure with another creature? No way.

But for some reason, my brain failed to communicate this logic to my body, because suddenly I was making a u-turn in a gas station parking lot. I drove the two miles back to the pet store, parked and stepped inside.

I browsed around, eye balling the hamsters and smelly ferret, when I heard it… The unmistakable sounds of whimpering and squealing newborn puppies. My heart leaped and I wondered toward the sound, like a zombie sensing nearby brains.

The first picture I
 ever took of Rocky.
Long story short, when my eyes connected with the oldest, ugliest, and least pure bred dog there (appropriately and cruelly named Monkey Face), my heart did a 360 flip and promptly melted in my chest. That was the day I met my trip companion and soon to be best friend, Rocky Road Trip Slevin.

My little companion and I.
We spent the next two months crashing on the couches of friends and family, sleeping in the backseat of Mia, visiting national parks from Wyoming, to Washington, California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah, picking up a pine cone in every state we stopped in, making friends with nearly every stranger (and stray) we met, and saying yes to (almost) every opportunity that was presented to us. I learned how to surf, went deep sea fishing (getting pinched by a crab, that I promptly revenge ate that evening), and discovered who I wanted to be a little more every single day I was on the road, and every single journal entry I wrote. The formerly abused Rocky learned how to love and be loved by her adoring owner (ahem, me) and by every passerby that looked upon her little scruffy face.

My anchor. <3
This pup taught me that sometimes logic doesn’t prevail, sometimes the biggest adventures arise when you just follow your gut.

I found myself while traveling cross country on an epic road trip, because I found my heart in an unlikely place… in the back of a pet store in Loveland, Colorado.

Given As My First Toastmaster's Speech on September 22, 2016.

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