I once lived on a frozen lake and watched an ice cold sky catch fire every night. I spent a winter watching old movies in front of a real fireplace. I carried that firewood with my two bare hands through the woods…-y scented boxed firewood aisle of Target. Cause I’m outdoorsy, y’all. There was no internet, barely any cell service (thank you, Sprint, I’ll deal with you later) and a modernized bunny ears system for a few cable channels. (This is where I spawned a love for NCIS: Los Angeles. Don’t judge me). My friend’s parents so graciously let me rent their adorable cozy cabin on Norway Lake, but New London and Willmar, Minnesota are not towns famous for their tourism, let’s just say that. I was only a couple hours’ drive from some of my best friends for 4 whole months. I went to dive bars and adorable coffee shops. (Oh Lulu Beans, how I miss you). And after years of driving myself to the brink of insanity in PT school, a little downtime and comfort snuggled up with a blanket and my dog was much needed if I’m being honest. I drove 22 hours and 43 minutes from Florida to get to this sleepy central Minnesota town in a 4-door clown car with my best friend and a tiny dog. (We were lucky Sammy fit, sorry for the cramped space buddy). Car tetris is a real thing when you’re a traveling healthcare professional. Shout out to mah best frand for flying all the way to Jacksonville on Thanksgiving day just to road trip it back with me. True friendship.
Minnesota was my first travel assignment and big girl job as a physical therapist. After 4 months of stress bronchitis/pneumonia and hacking up a literal lung as I walked across the stage to get my $90,000 diploma. Thanks, lungs. 2017 ended in a flash and yet started this brand new career and adventure that I’m still trying to navigate. I started this blog mainly by request to keep my friends and family updated on my life and adventures. It’s been a year and I’ve literally had to make a calendar to share with people because no one ever knew where I was. So this is for them. But also for anyone wondering if they should leave everything behind and take on this travel life… how do you do winter in a frozen tundra?… how do you spend a summer New York?
Frozen tundra, you’re up. New York, you’re on deck.
Let’s start with the essentials. The number one thing you need to pin down before you start a major road trip. Listen up, guys. This is important. I have 3 words for you. Road. Trip. Playlists. There’s your classic 90’s hip hop, your 80’s rock, your belt-it-out-car karaoke… I have some pretty dope ones if you need any ideas. Anyway, those are all great choices but the one that’s gonna keep you awake as you’re rolling into your destination town at 4 in the morning after driving all day and night… that’s right, people…
Thank you to Alix for coming in clutch with this at the last minute when I didn’t think I could make it one more mile marker. Try being sleepy with this crazy in the passenger seat belting out every word to Mrs. Pot’s solo during “Be Our Guest. Ain’t happenin’.
We rolled into town after a few pit stops way past the middle of the night dopey and delirious blasting the opening theme to The Lion King. Alix’s mom was dog sitting for her and probably in her third REM cycle at that moment. She really appreciated our enthusiasm. No? Just us? Well, we thought it was funny. 🤷🏼♀️ Anyway, the point is, we made it!
Now, adjusting to life in the tundra after years in sunny Florida is quite the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to undergrad in Minnesota so I’m no stranger to cold and snow but Florida seemed to have flashy-thinged that part of my memory. (Any Men In Black fans out there?)
I realized when I accepted the assignment… “where are all my winter clothes??” I’m pretty sure I chucked them in the dumpster the day I moved to Florida thinking I’d never be in below 65 degree weather again. Silly me. So needless to say I had a nice panic and had to replenish my winter wardrobe.
“You mean winter, as in igloos and eskimos and penguins and ICE?!”
Word to the wise, if you’re embarking on a frozen journey and you’re not Queen Elsa of Arendelle… for the love of God invest in some Cuddl Duds. Just google it. You can thank me later. It took me quite a few days to re-acclimate, let’s just say that. At the end of my first day at my assignment (which went great, by the way) I waltzed right out waving bye to everyone without a care in the world… and without my coat.
*Brick of wind hits me in the face*
Me: Oh you have to wear sleeves around here? Woops.
If you’re traveling with a dog, you can bet money on the fact that he or she will take 86 million years go to the bathroom in your newfound frozen tundra. Put a move on it, sparky my nostrils are forming icicles over here. Apparently he didn’t need an adjustment time 😒. You’ll also find in this new land that dog treats have a whole new meaning. I just about had a heart attack when Alix’s neighbor offered Sammy a treat and the damn thing had an eyeball… freeze dried minnows apparently. I don’t ask questions. Sammy loved it. It’s what the kids are into these days.
All that being said, even if you’re not a winter person like me (let’s all laugh together) wintering somewhere can be a whole new experience and you may even grow a little! Gasp! I never did go ice fishing but that’s only for my deep-seeded fear of falling into the earth (earth, frozen lake, whatever) *ICE!* That whole lake I lived on was covered in ice fishing houses and it was so cool to see. From afar. On solid ground. Anyway I give props to those guys. Personally, it’s not a good journey for me. But ice fishing is taken very seriously by Minnesotans. Some of those little houses they put out there have fireplaces and tv’s and couches and men have been known to watch an entire day’s worth of football inside an igloo while fishing. Apparently it’s a thing.
If you’re ever in Minnesota in the winter, you’ve got to go to Stillwater and see the ice castles. Yes I said ice castles. Castles made of ice. That you can walk in. Pure magic. I didn’t get to go this time around because of scheduling but I definitely would put it on my bucket list for future visits. Stillwater is an amazing little town and one of my favorites to visit no matter the season. Check it out!
Now while attempting to assimilate into this foreign land of winter wonder you may overhear some phrases which might cause some confusion. Allow me to demonstrate.
“It’s too cold to snow.” (I’m sorry, too COLD to snow?!?! Is that even possible? Yes. It is possible)
“It’s warm enough to play in the snow.” (wut?)
“I just flipped someone off and they flipped me off with their mitten” (my personal fave)
“Oh there’s no wind today, it’s not so bad out! *as I look down at my dashboard that reads 9 degrees. I’m sorry, what?*
Might I also suggest investing in not one but two snow shovels. Ya know, in case your only one is in the shed which happens to be inaccessible due to a frozen padlock and it’s 6 in the morning and you have to shovel half your driveway with a push broom and then give in and wake up your 85 year old neighbor to borrow hers. Hypothetical situation, of course. An hour and a half hypothetical situation. At 6 in the morning. Okay okay I’m over it.
Shout out to the person who took their snowblower to my entire driveway that day that maybe or maybe not brought me to tears when I came home from work and saw it. You da real MVP.
The first travel assignment is tough. It’s scary. Especially as a new grad. You’re alone, maybe traveling halfway across the country (or all the way across the country), you already feel like you don’t know anything… I mean, who let me graduate?! But trust me. You know stuff. It’s just afraid and hiding. You’ve got to coax it out. If you’re lucky like me you’ll find yourself an unofficial mentor whether she likes it or not (baha) who lets you ask her a million questions and helps you more than she probably knew (if you’re reading this, Steph, I love you). There will be anxiety. There will be tough cases. There will be cases you wish you could give to someone else because you’re new at this whole being a “real” PT thing and don’t want to mess it up. Wait, I’m not a student? No one’s gonna sign my notes? It’s called imposter syndrome, people and it. is. real. But hopefully you have someone like I did who will tell you: “No. You will do this. You will treat this person and you will get them better. It will be uncomfortable and I will help you. But you’re gonna do it, dammit.” Because guess what? That’s how you learn. Learning is uncomfortable. Growing is uncomfortable. You will make mistakes. But your mistakes make you better. They make you human. No mud, no lotus, right?
I don’t emphasize “alone-ness” as a negative. Oh contraire… Although frozen tundra (or a first travel assignment in general) may make you feel a little isolated, it’s not a bad thing and you’ve got to put yourself out there. I formed great relationships with my coworkers. We went to piano bars and dive bars and… restaurant bars… I’m sensing a theme here. That’s what you do in a population of less than a sold-out Taylor Swift concert. Immerse yourself in the culture, people. That coffee shop I mentioned earlier changes their coffee flavors weekly and presents each drive-through cup with a festive sticker cover. I stuck them on my travel mug and they’re somehow miraculously there to this day. (whatchu puttin’ on those stickers, LuLu, gorilla glue??) Anyway… I have an entire list of hilarious quotes uttered in my office throughout my 4 month gig that I started writing down because I was cracking up daily. I read them out loud on my last day and we all cried from laughing so hard.
I emphasize what alone time I did have on this contract in order to emphasis this: there is a difference between being alone and being lonely. Let me say it again for the people in the back.
There is a difference between between alone and being lonely.
Sometimes “alone” is dancing to Elvis in a house full of Christmas. Sometimes it’s calling your dad because you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing in this chapter and you need him to make sense of your life for a quick second. It’s deciding to go outside and bask in your surroundings by lying down in that cold crunchy snow to make a snow angel for the first time in 10 years. It’s stopping mid-run from your car to the front door to look up and appreciate how HUGE a sky full of stars looks when you’re far away from city lights. And somehow it seems even more beautiful when it’s freezing outside but you’re choosing to stand in it because you just can’t tear your eyes away. At times living on your own gets lonely, sure. “Alone” can morph into “lonely” in a hot minute. But sometimes you need to be alone to find yourself. This assignment started a journey of meeting so many beautiful souls and true friendships to come that I couldn’t even imagine at the time. Sure, I had an advantage because I already knew people here. But I was still very much afraid and very much unsure of starting out this new life. I struggled and I cried and I doubted myself almost every step of the way. It’s tough to be away from home. Especially when shit goes down and you’re not there to fix it. But I also got to turn 30 with my best friend. I got to watch my other best friend’s 3 year old daughter that I never get to see dance her cute stinkin heart out in her dance class. I got to spend Christmas Eve and Day with two of my many “second families”. I celebrated New Year’s Eve with hot chocolate and a dance party with a 3 year old… whose parents may have played a game of “let’s swipe for Heather on Bumble” after the little one went to bed. Hilarity did, in fact, ensue. Sorry, blokes. Alix and I went to a fancy piano christmas concert by Lori Line and pretended to be… fancy. If you know us, you know this was just good acting on our parts. (Thanks for the tickets and trust in us to behave ourselves, grandma). I played in the snow like a kid. I made countless inside jokes with new friends. I learned. I grew. I put on my big girl (snow) pants and learned how to be my own angel. And sometimes when I stepped out into that air that took the breath out of me and I took a second to look up… it felt like that sky was catching fire just for me.
So go where you’re unsure.
Do the things that make you uncomfortable.
Stay there for awhile.
Close your eyes and fall into it.
It’s where the magic happens… trust me.
“I sat inside a room with nothing in it and realized it was still full. This is how I knew I was enough.” ~Rudy Francisco