One winter in 2017 I lived on a frozen lake and watched a cold sky catch fire every night. I spent that 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. I nearly broke my ankle carrying that boxed wood to my car wearing wedges cause #fashion. No internet, barely any cell service (thank you, Sprint, I’ll deal with you later) and some modernized bunny ears for a few cable channels. (This is where I spawned a love for NCIS: Los Angeles on the ever-coveted Investigation Discovery channel. Don’t judge me). My friend’s parents graciously let me rent their adorable cozy cabin on Norway Lake in New London, Minnesota. There wasn’t a whole lot to do in this one horse town, but for 3 months I was only a couple hours’ drive from some of my best friends in this world. I frequented dive bars and adorable coffee shops. I was immersed as a local in the midwest even though they can spot a non-native a mile away. But immerse myself in it, I did. And after 4 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.
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. Car tetris is a real thing when you’re a traveling healthcare professional. I was determined to fit my whole life in this car. (Turns out you don’t need to pack your WHOLE life for a 3 month gig… more on that later)
Minnesota was my first travel assignment and big girl job as a physical therapist. This came after 4 months of stress and pollen-induced pneumonia and hacking up a literal lung as I walked across the stage to get my $90,000 diploma. 2017 was ending and I kicked off a brand new career and journey that I’m still trying to navigate. I put these stories on paper (microsoft word) to keep my friends and family updated on my life and adventures. A year later and I’ve literally had to make a calendar to share with people because no one ever knows where I am. So… This is for them. But also for anyone teetering on the edge of deciding whether or not to embark on a new adventure. Wondering what there could possibly be to do in a middle-of-nowhere midwest frozen tundra in December. I gotchu, boo.
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 very important. I have 2 words for you. Spotify 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… The best one, 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. Disney.
This playlist came in clutch at the last minute as my eyes suddenly needed toothpicks to stay open. Try being sleepy while belting out every word to Mrs. Pot’s solo during Be Our Guest. Ain’t happenin’.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, the next step is to wake up your best friend’s mom who was so peacefully sleeping while dog-sitting by busting through the door blaring the opening theme to The Lion King. Goes over splendidly. No? Just us? Well, we thought it was funny. 🤷🏼♀️ Anyway, the point is, we made it!
Now, adjusting to life in the tundra after a few years in sunny Florida is quite the experience. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in Pittsburgh and went to college in Minnesota. I’m no stranger to the 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 goose.This wandering soul needs scene changes! So needless to say I had a small panic when and had to replenish my winter wardrobe.
I arrived Thanksgiving weekend and it took me quite a few days to re-acclimate. At the end of my first day at my assignment, I waltzed right out while waving bye to everyone without a care in the world… and without my coat. Regretted that decision immediately.
*Brick of wind hits me in the face*
Me: oh yeah you have to wear sleeves here? woops
If you’re traveling with a dog, you can bet money on the fact that they will take 86 million years go to the bathroom and the more the air hurts your face, the longer they will take. Put a move on it, sparky my nostrils are forming icicles over here. Apparently he didn’t need an adjustment time like his momma. You’ll also find in this new land that dog treats have a whole new meaning. I just about had a heart attack when my neighbor offered Sammy a treat and the damn thing had an eyeball… yep. Freeze dried minnows I don’t ask questions. He loved them. 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 learn things about yourself that you wouldn’t have learned otherwise! I never did go ice fishing but that’s only for my deep-seeded fear of falling into the earth (earth, frozen lake, same thing. BUT 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. Bougie!
Now while attempting to frolic through this foreign land of winter wonder you may overhear some phrases which might cause some confusion. Allow me to elaborate.
“It’s too cold to snow.” (too COLD? To snow?!?! Is that even possible? Yes, it’s 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 19 degrees. I’m sorry, what?*
Might I also suggest investing in not one but two short term 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 is 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 I’m over it.
Winter: 1 Ging: 0
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 still traumatized from my experience earlier that morning.
The first travel assignment is always a learning curve. Especially as a new grad. You already feel like you don’t know anything… I mean, who let you graduate?! But trust me. You know stuff. If you’re lucky like me you’ll get an unofficial mentor at your assignment whether she likes it or not (baha, Steph) who lets you ask her a million questions and helps you more than she probably knows. There will be anxiety. There will be tough cases. There will be times you wish you could give a patient 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 who will say “No. You will do this. You will treat this person and you will get them better. I will help guide you but you are gonna do it, dammit.” Because that’s the only way you learn. And guess what? You will make mistakes. But mistakes make you better. They make you human. No mud, no lotus, right? You’ll wonder why you still don’t quite feel like an adult yet. You’ll wonder if you ever will.
There is a big 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 to do with your newfound “aloneness” and need him to help you 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 because standing upright is just too much right now. I don’t emphasize my “alone-ness” as a negative. I became friends with it. Learned how to walk around with it and when to put it aside. 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 less than a sold-out taylor swift concert. I emphasize my alone time on this contract in order to emphasis this: let me say it again for the people in the back. There is difference between being alone and being lonely.
At times living/traveling on your own does feel lonely. 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. I struggled and I cried and I felt unsure of myself at almost every step of the way. But I learned. And 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 looked up, it felt like the 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 sink into it.
It’s where the magic happens… trust me.