Today marks an incredible milestone in my life.
Exactly 10 years ago today, on October 8th, 2001, I packed up my ‘93 Honda Accord with everything I thought I needed in life, drove out of my parents’ driveway in Warwick, RI and began my journey to Boulder, Colorado.
It was a powerful turning point in my life that I’ll never forget and I could sense even while it was happening that there was a change occurring that was completely redirecting my future.
No matter how much I loved Rhode Island (and still do), the idea of staying there felt like I could somehow already see my future ahead of me, even if it was just a rough outline of where I would be.
Getting in the car and driving to Colorado on the other hand represented pure adventure and the complete unknown. I took a risk and chose adventure and it’s a decision that has shaped my life ever since.
I don’t normally keep a journal unless I’m traveling, but I must have been feeling reflective because I wrote down some of my thoughts at the time into two mini-essays – one called ‘Finding Myself’ and the other called ‘Surroundings’.
Here’s what I wrote 10 years ago: On Finding Myself:
“In the spring of 2000, I spent an entire semester studying and traveling in Australia and it turned out to be a trip that changed my entire life. Australia wasn't just a cool place I wanted to visit, it was a place that I had for some reason dreamed about my entire life. From the little drawings I would make as a child, to that famous question 'If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?', I always thought of Australia as the far-off place of my dreams...unreachable yet irresistible.
When you're young you set goals and you hopefully accomplish them, but never in my life had I experienced the feeling of a lifelong dream suddenly coming true.
As I stepped off the plane, now twenty years old and already almost done with my college years, I felt a feeling so overwhelming I couldn't possibly describe it, and all at once I somehow realized the importance of making your dreams come true.
I had the time of my life in Australia. I learned things about people, relationships, life and, most importantly, myself. I promised that when I returned home I would never forget the things that I learned and never take a break from trying to make my dreams come true. Believing in the saying 'You only live once' doesn't mean that you have to be reckless or only live for the moment, but instead chase after your dreams so you can never look back and regret not even trying.
As graduation quickly approached I was faced with the obvious question 'What do I want to do?' Job offers started coming my way... C++ programmer, consultant, network specialist...all of them involved skills that I had learned in various classrooms throughout my four years at school as a computer science major. I started thinking that I'd be forced to work a job I didn’t like in Boston or New York in order to make enough money to someday live where I want to live or do what I want to do.
It was then that I remembered what I had felt and learned in Australia and I realized that the only question I really needed to answer was 'Where do I want to be?'”And a few weeks after I had found myself in Boulder I wrote down the following, still reflecting on what I had learned during my time in Australia:
From the moment I looked out the window of the plane as we descended from the clouds, I knew that Australia was a place of natural beauty of a kind that I had never experienced before.
My school's location in Australia was amazing. If I looked out the window of my room I could see rainforest as far as the eye can see, but if I hopped on a bus and headed about 5 minutes in the other direction, I was smack dab in the middle of the most amazing beaches Australia has to offer. Surfer's Paradise is what it's called, but you definitely don't have to be a surfer to feel like you're in paradise. The Gold Coast is known as the spot where the rainforest and the coast meet in perfect harmony, and I can't describe it any better than that.
About three and half months into my stay I had a conversation with a friend from home that opened my eyes to something that I had already known but simply hadn't realized. My friend asked me if I still felt like I was on vacation after nearly 4 months, or if I had gotten used to it and simply felt like I was living there.
I said 'It's hard to not feel like you're on vacation every single day of your life when you wake up and see the things that I see'.
After getting off the phone I thought about that over and over again and realized how much it meant. I had known the whole time that I woke up every single morning in Australia happier than I ever do at home or at school in Hartford, even when surrounded by my best friends.
Australia wasn't just a vacation; I still had a full workload of classes and plenty of other things that I'd normally be stressed about. But, as soon as I had said that line to my friend I knew that the key to my happiness was somehow in the natural beauty around me.
I was waking up earlier, and I felt more motivated than I'd ever felt in my life. It's a sunny day in the Gold Coast over 300 days a year, and it's hard to stay inside, watch TV or be lazy when every day and night feels like a perfect one.
When I returned home I spent the summer in Hartford, working and getting ready to go back to school for one more year. For weeks I tried to keep that happiness and motivation alive, but I felt it slowly ebbing away day after day. I definitely wasn't depressed, but I looked at my surroundings and I knew that I needed something more.
On the way home from Australia I traveled a little bit in California and saw the West Coast of the US for the first time in my life. I started to notice some of the happiness and laid back mentality of the people that I had fallen in love with in Australia and I realized that it all ties back to the beauty of the surroundings.
Just as I found it hard to be in a bad mood or stressed out while in Australia, I found that mentality seems to be present wherever people find themselves surrounded by natural beauty and good weather. As Paul Simon said, “I get the news I need on the weather report”.
A short while before graduation I was talking to a friend of mine that I had met in Australia who was living in Boulder, CO while going to school. I was complaining about how I missed Australia and needed to live somewhere new but that I couldn't seem to find the place that I'm looking for. She listened to everything that I said and every time I asked her where I could find it she responded with 'Boulder'. 300 days of sunshine and beautiful weather? Boulder. Natural Beauty? Boulder. Laid-back friendly people? Vibrant music scene? Hundreds of things you can do outside without spending a penny? Boulder.
Finally, after hearing all this, the soon-to-be graduate in me was afraid to ask…What about finding the cool, creative job that I'm looking for? To which she replied, 'You might as well start packing'. I was convinced Colorado was too landlocked for me, too cold and too desolate (what did I know?) so I made her a deal that I'd come out to Colorado for a week but that I'd be coming with the highest expectations so she was almost guaranteed to fail.
All that needs to be said is that I found what I was looking for in Colorado. I love hiking and camping in the warm weather, and I love the snow during the winter to fuel my passion for skiing. Sure, I love the beach and I'll miss the ocean but that's what will make visiting home that much more special. I know that New England is a special place and instead of taking it for granted, I will someday be able to look at it in a whole new light.
Every day since I made the decision to move, I'm glad that I stopped and asked myself 'What do I want in life?' and when I finally answered that question I didn't stop until I had found the place that I was looking for.”
Usually when I read something I wrote even a few years ago, all I can think about is how much my perspective has changed or how different I feel from the person who wrote those words.
The changes we all go through in our 20’s and 30’s are typically pretty drastic. So it’s amazing to read words that I wrote 10 years ago and be able to do nothing but nod my head in agreement.
Moving to Boulder wasn’t actually as easy as I hoped. I quit a job I loved (doing web design for non-profits in Hartford) and moved out only a few weeks after September 11th. As a result, the entire economy was in chaos and I couldn’t find a job no matter where I looked. When I could convince someone to hire me I put my computer science degree to work delivering pizzas, dishing out Jamba Juices and surviving on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ramen and often nothing more than a big bowl of rice.
My first year in Boulder was the first time I felt the feeling of real poverty in my life and I’ll never forget it. Being a broke college student with a school cafeteria was one thing, being broke out in the real world when paying your rent had to take priority over things like eating was a whole different world.
I was at an undeniable low point in my life and yet somehow I was simultaneously as happy as I’d been since I returned from Australia. Happy because I was going through it all surrounded by mountains, scenery and a community of people that made me feel fortunate to be there and to be alive much more vividly than the personal trouble I was having.
I’d hike to the top of the mountains overlooking Boulder and think about how badly things were going for me from a financial perspective and yet the moment I looked out at the view it would all wash away and seem trivial. I was determined not to give up, not to crawl back home or ask my parents for money, and I believed that everything would work out if I just stayed in Boulder and kept trying.
And it did.
One friend led to many friends. Unemployment and underemployment led to a tech job with a medical company that I would keep for 6 years and helped me find stability and steady pay. Friends from home and college moved out to see why I loved it out here so much. And very soon Boulder wasn’t just a place I was checking out to see if I liked it, it became home for the last 10 years of my life.
There was a very distinct domino effect that brought me to Boulder and where I am today. I’m sure it’s not something most people would be interested in but I want to pay tribute to it here. As I’ve already said, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my time spent in Australia and my good friend Kalyn Denno who convinced me to come out and visit Colorado. But I wouldn’t have ever met Kalyn if it weren’t for my friend Shrim Bathey who handed me a brochure one day for a school called Bond University in Australia (“Come live and study where the rainforest meets the coast!”). I had already been applying to a number of different schools in Australia but that fateful run-in with Shrim was what set all the pieces in motion. Shrim also agreed to be my road trip partner the day I loaded up my car and began the drive out to Boulder, a trip that took us through National Parks, Middle America and everywhere in between with a destination in mind (“Boulder or Bust!”) but no plan at all after that - a rite of passage if there ever was one.
To bring it full circle, it was my friend Kalyn who not only brought me to Boulder but would eventually introduce me to her friend Brian Weinberg, and together we first discussed the idea of finding a hammock we could use for camping. This is the Trek Life blog so in case it’s not obvious why I’m writing about all of this here: I can say with 100% certainty that there would be no Trek Light Gear if it weren’t for the events and the people that led to my move to Boulder.
It’s an amazing feeling to be able to pinpoint the pieces to the puzzle that have shaped the last decade of my life. And I can’t think of a better place to share them then right here – this blog, and the fact that any of you are reading it, is a testament to everything that’s occurred since I got in the car and drove West.
A big Thank You to everyone who brought me to Boulder, including my parents who initially thought I was crazy but without whom I clearly wouldn’t have had the opportunities that led me here.
And another huge Thank You to all the friends I’ve made out here who have made it one hell of a place to be a 20-something, a 30-something and counting. Natural beauty and great weather are two of the keys to happiness I’ve mentioned time and again, but in the end they’re nothing without great people to share them with.
I’m still running Trek Light Gear out of my living room/kitchen/office. I’m still trying to ‘make it’ and turn this passion into a self sustaining business that will pay the salaries of other people who share the same passion. Am I happy? Absolutely. Am I exactly where I want to be in my life? Not even close, but that’s only because I’m dreaming big.
When I left my steady job to work full time on Trek Light Gear and went from a reliable paycheck and career path to a daily struggle and a completely unknown future, I knew that I was packing up that ‘93 Accord and doing it all over again. One adventure leads to another and if there’s one place I know where things have a simple tendency to work out for the best, it’s Boulder.
Here’s to the last 10 years and the next decade of adventure to come.