One winter I lived on a frozen lake and watched an ice 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. Shoulda known better. 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 so 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 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 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. (We were lucky Sammy fit, sorry for the cramped space buddy). Car tetris is a real thing when you’re a traveling healthcare professional.
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. These stories were mainly started 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 knew where I was LOL. So. This is for them. But also for anyone wondering if they should embark on this travel life or wondering what there is to do in the middle of nowhere frozen tundra in December. Well I’m about to tell you!
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. But 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.
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’.
Anyway 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. (idk) 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.
Word to the wise, if you’re embarking on a frozen journey (and you’re not Queen Elsa of Arandel)… for the love of God invest in these babies… Cudleduds. You can thank me later (not an ad). I moved to Minnesota Thanksgiving weekend and it took me quite a few days to re-acclimate. 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. 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 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 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… 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 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, whatever) 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. So that might be an option for you. 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.
If you’re ever in Minnesota in the winter, you’ve got to go to Stillwater and see the ice sculptures. I didn’t get to 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 frolic through this foreign land of winter wonder you may overhear some phrases which may cause some confusion. Allow me to demonstrate.
“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’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 I’m over it.
Snow: 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 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 get an unofficial mentor at your assignment whether she likes it or not (baha) who lets you ask her a million questions and helps you more than she probably knows (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 who will say “No. You will do this. You will treat this person and you will get them better. I will help you but gosh darnit you’re gonna do it, dammit.” You will make mistakes. But your 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.
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. I don’t emphasize my “alone-ness” as a negative. Oh contraire… 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. Anyway, I emphasize my alone time on this contract in order to emphasis this: there is difference between being alone and being lonely. Let me say it again for the people in the back.
There is a big difference between between alone and being lonely.
At times living on your own does gets 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 fall into it.
It’s where the magic happens… trust me.