Nearly a year ago, I was dreaming of the Pacific Northwest.
I’d stir in the night, reeling from images of gentle rain and dense forests and cool, misty air in my Southern lungs.
Of course I’d been there for just a moment–just a flash in the larger scheme of life. But as I flew home from that fateful trip last September, I vowed to return one day–for no other reason than because I’d gotten a taste for it and already craved more.
The months after that plane ride were some of the darkest of my life. (Perhaps, though, I’ve given them too much weight in this blog of mine, as those who have read from afar have asked, “Were you really okay?” To which I say, yes, of course. Post-grad life and career uncertainty and a sharp, sudden heartbreak simply knocked me on my ass, and I had to remember how to stand again.) But in the midst of those gray, winter days, my hope was cast upon the Northwest.
I sent a message to my best friends in March, finally declaring my intentions for Seattle. For Portland. For anywhere up there, really. As weeks passed, my closest confidantes saw my plans change again and again.
I’d move there. No, I’d just visit. I’d drive cross-country! No, I’d fly. I’d wait for a travel companion! Scratch that–I’d go alone, damn it.
And finally, it was settled.
Somewhere I found the courage to book the trip. Ten days. Solo. Portland. Cannon Beach. Seattle.
I received a few too many questioning glances from well-meaning friends and family members. “You’re going ALONE?” they’d ask, concern dripping from their words. “Yes,” I’d answer simply. “Just me.” And I think maybe the solo-female-traveler part of the story deserves its own post, so I digress for now.
I had almost no expectations for this trip, except to wander. And wander I damn well did. I flew into Portland with nothing but a couple of bags and a hunger to see and taste and experience everything I could.
Along the way, I met a few of the most hilarious, humble, fun-loving people I’ve ever encountered, and we meandered through the city together for two days. One warm August evening, I gazed at them–all of us two beers in–and felt as though we’d been friends for years. As the hours passed (and the liquor flowed), I didn’t want to leave.
But all travel has an end, and our paths inevitably split after Portland.
My next stop was Cannon Beach. Needing a touch of home, I cranked up a little country music and wound my rental car through stunning forests and valleys, arriving at the charming coastal town late one afternoon. (I chose to ignore the tsunami evacuation signs lining the streets–actively forgetting this New Yorker article I’d read just weeks before.)
I checked into my hotel, grabbed a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie, and settled into coastal life that night with a bread bowl of clam chowder.
If I could have stayed there for a month, I still don’t think I’d want to come home. It was a quiet, lovely little town with sleepy streets and open windows and a local library where people were actually sitting inside reading the newspaper.
I strolled along the beach and watched families play near the tidepools. I ate sandwiches in bakeries and drank countless cups of coffee and hiked along cliffsides and turned to face the Pacific Ocean again and again, gasping in awe every single time at the evergreen trees against a backdrop of glittering, impossibly blue water. I stood, open-mouthed and humbled, unable to decide whether I should photograph the scenery or just stare, finally settling on both.
The morning I had to leave Cannon Beach–devouring an herb frittata and a chocolate croissant (I promise I hiked a lot), I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude. Staring out the window of the hotel cafe, I gave thanks. Not just for the trip, but for this part of my life.
The part where I can travel without worry. The part where I’m free and healed and whole again. The part where the things that hurt me just months prior were distant memories in that tiny cafe.
The part where the goodness of life overtakes me.
The part where I now write letters to a man I’m absolutely crazy about.
And, thinking back, that was probably one of the best mornings of my life.
A simple breakfast, all alone, a thousand miles from home.
But so much to be thankful for.
With a final farewell view of the Pacific coast, I drove back to Portland, boarded a train to Seattle, and was off to complete the trip.
The last time I’d been to Seattle, I was close to tears in the backseat of a car, unable to ignore the notion that something was incredibly wrong between myself and the man sitting beside me.
This second time, I took photos through train windows, beaming, new love blossoming within my chest.
And Seattle stole my heart too, just as I thought it would.
Somewhere amidst markets and ferries and parks and the best Asian food I’ve ever eaten, the city dazzled me.
So much of this trip I remember without chronology–simply moments that flash back to me in delicious bursts of memory.
A slice of fresh peach.
Live music by the water.
Laughter with the bartender.
Free cake from a friendly barista.
Sailboats at dusk.
A night time ferry ride.
Pasta with generous hosts.
A Space Needle sunset.
Until finally, a quick ride to the airport–cutting it far too close.
And with that, I flew home just as I had the year before.
Transformed by the journey, not just to the Pacific Northwest, but the long, winding path I took to get there all over again.
And this time, I loved the return.
This time, nearly everything was blissfully different.