In the northeast section of this country lies two entities. They belong to the same state but they may as well be on different continents. If one of these entities had their way, in fact, there would be a lengthy split and new lines would need to be drawn up on a map. Waze and google maps would need to invent new software just to update the navigational re-arrangements.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am here to confirm to you that there are indeed *two* New Yorks…
There’s New York City…
And then there’s the rest of the state…
I did two contracts in the state of New York over the spring and summer of 2018. I took the train to New York City once for a weekend to see my cousin in a dance showcase. I learned what it means to be in love with city life and country life at the same time. It’s impossible for me to choose or to tell you which one is better.
I like to describe my time in New York in three’s.
Spring was spent wayyyyyy upstate (like, Canada, upstate).
Summer was spent in “central” New York close to the Pennsylvania border
(if you’re confused by geography, just go to New York and you’ll be even more confused. NYC is a lot further south than you think)
And one magical weekend in between was spent in the city that never sleeps.
One taught me love, one taught me patience, and one taught me that you never, under any circumstances, mention the term “almond milk” to dairy farmers.
Before we dive into the hip happenings of Carthage and Elmira, I’d like to update my list of “things I’ve learned about moving”. When you move every 2-4 months, this list becomes you’re #1 how-to guide for surviving the transitions between contracts. Sort of like “How To Lose Your Sanity in 92 Days.”
You can throw as much of your crap away as you want during each transition and it will never be enough. How does one accumulate so much!? I come from a long line of pack rats, that’s how. Thank you, mother. I swear my car is the Mary Poppins bag of vehicles. I even got a new car that was supposed to be bigger and this gypsy caravan still looks like a can of Pilsbury rolls about to bust as soon as you press on the seams. Things have been known to fly out when I open the doors. You’ve been warned. Might want to stand back a little there, Jason. (I give names to people I don’t know. The guy pumping gas looked like a Jason.)
Whilst moving in to your new living quarters, might I suggest unpacking everything you’ll need for the first week all at once. Put away your clothes. You can even hang some up if you’re feeling particularly adult-ish. Go to Target. Set up what you need. Do not go to sleep on sunday night with your room still full of an unpacked life. It’s what I did in Minnesota and I did things drastically different when I got to New York. The stress level goes down immensely, trust me.
Until you have to re-arrange furniture.
You think you know how to unfold a futon…
Now for the nitty gritty…
*nitty gritty dirt band gif*
The town of Carthage, New York is nestled between dairy farms, the high peaks of the Adirondack mountains and Lake Ontario towns that put a Nicholas Sparks cover to shame. It’s home to Amish families, coyote families, civil war battlefields, and a very selective society known as the “46-ers”.
On the 46-ers A 46-er is anyone who has climbed all 46 of the high peaks. Not all at once, they’re not THAT crazy. You strap on a backpack with stuff that weighs more than a set of triplets and climb for hours or days. The views are spectacular but considering at that time I couldn’t even climb 3 flights of stairs without my lungs and glutes burning with the flames of a thousand suns. *gif* I didn’t think this was a great time to attempt this. I did however start training for a Tough Mudder (more on that later) so that counts for something, right?
On the Amish I have to say, Amish folk stay out awfully late for living a simple life. Quite a few times I heard the *clomp clomp* go by around midnight and I thought “hmm some kind of late night Amish rager? I’m intrigued. Tell me more. Where da party at?” They also have their own parking spots to tie up the horses in case they need to make a walmart run. I have no idea why I thought this was so endearing but this just adds to the charm.
Also, I was serious about the whole “don’t mention almond milk to dairy farmers” thing. Seriously. Don’t do it.
Speaking of dairy… for the love of all that is holy, go to a Stewart’s and get a milkshake… or 5… I won’t judge 😉
On the scenery: If the sea life is more your style, drive about 45 min to an hour west/northwest towards the thousand islands or Lake Ontario. You’ll find a couple of water towns called Alexandria Bay and Sackets Harbor. Alex Bay is a town of ferries and islands shaped like hearts. You’ll find a real live castle built by a baron in the 1800’s as a wedding present to his wife which he then called Heart Island. Sackets Harbor is a bit smaller but take one stroll down the brick sidewalks along the bays that open into Ontario and you’ll never want to leave. You may even stumble into a gypsy shop tucked away behind the light poles and take an hour to just be in your element. You’ll also stumble into old battlefields that you may not fully understand the logistics of. But how humbling it feels to stand on a blade of grass that was once covered in gun smoke and heavy boots.
If you want to take a longer drive, head up to Tupper Lake to the Wild Center. Sit on a giant man-made spider web. Stand inside a bird’s nest and look out over the Adirondacks. Walk through a literal enchanted forest.
On the wildlife The seagulls are GIGANTIC. Idk what they’re eating up there, but they are the kings of the North, I can tell you that right now.
Let’s circle back around to the coyotes, shall we? At the end of this contract I had to move out of my AirBnB and my friend Shannon offered to let me rent her family’s camper for my last month two miles down the road. If you’ve never heard a pack of coyotes wooping their way slowly towards your campground, it’s one of those sounds that you don’t have to ever have heard before to know what’s about to happen. One minute we’re laughing around the firepit roasting marshmallows and the next minute I hear these bellowing hollers echoing in the distance.
We look at each other.
Me *innocent city girl*: “What’s that???”
Shannon: “Grab Sammy. NOW.”
Don’t have to tell me twice.
*gotta go* gif
This was my “become one with nature” contract. I had never been hiking or to a state park or around so much dirt and animals in my life. I may have lived on a farm as a toddler but the majority of my life was spent in the concrete jungle of the Steel City (black and yellow, baby) Don’t get me wrong, I used to love a good campfire and a ride on the 4-wheeler at the cabin but real camping? Bears? Coyotes? No ma’am. Um, how does one “nature”? I thought I’d be bold when I got upstate and when the weather warmed up I ventured out to one of the state parks with the intent on getting my hike on.
I could do this.
I could be one of those people.
I was tough.
I took one look at the sign at the entrance with the big bear and tips on how to not get eaten and I said NOPE.
I knew I had to ease myself in to this lifestyle. City Ging left country Ging in hiding for just a little bit longer.
Now on to Elmira.
A summer spent under waterfalls and in grape fields of the 100+ wineries of the Finger Lakes. (Boy, do New Yorkers love their wine. My kinda people *gif*)
Elmira is a Mark Twain soul stuck in an industrialized body.
Seriously, Mark Twain spent his summers writing novels on a farm there. Nowadays there’s a prison on the corner and it may have a few streets you wouldn’t walk down at night alone. But what city doesn’t?
And every now and then a street art festival will close down the roads and smother the pavement in bright-colored chalk.
You can make your way up the winding turns of Harris Hill and pick from a plethora of trails to hike…
Hop on a hang glider or fly in a plane without an engine.
Never quite figured out the plane-with-no-engine adventure thing. They lost me at “So there’s two planes. One with an engine. And one without.”
You can take a drive to Buttermilk Falls, Watkins Glenn, and Taughannock (still can’t pronounce that one but once you get to the top of the overlook you’ll be speechless anyway so it really doesn’t matter)
If you go to Buttermilk let me warn you about the stairs in the beginning.
There are thousands.
Okay I may be exaggerating.
But there’s a lot.
You’ve been warned.
Also make sure you have enough water because you could get lost like my friend and I did and walk way too far and end up at at a clearing in the woods with a bunch of vacant tents and think “hmm. I’ve seen this in a movie before…”
It was fine. We found two other people who took the same wrong turn we did and we had a nice conversation about our travels.
In the midst of all that adventuring, I did something incredibly terrifying for me. I signed up to run through 5 miles of mud while scaling walls and crawling under barbed wire.
And now that you know all about my extremely honed wilderness survival skills, I would also like to touch on my suburb athleticism as well. I mean I am Serena Williams, people. HA.
Let’s cut the crap.
I was never someone people used the term “athletic” to describe. I “played” softball (bring it in, everybody) *no crying in baseball gif* and really was only good at tennis because it didn’t require any throwing or catching with my hands. I was more of a dance/cheerleader girl. I got exercise-induced asthma in high school when we did conditioning drills during tennis practice and almost threw up on my teammate. I once showed up to a 5k during PT school with Starbucks in hand fully expecting to walk and not phased at all by the judgey mc-judge-ersons.
*what like it’s hard gif*
When my dad found out I signed up to do a Tough Mudder he said: “Oh like… to watch?” NO DAD to participate. Thanks for the confidence.
My enemies will know I never back down from a challenge. (JK I don’t have enemies, I love everybody!) My friends that I signed up to do this with were equally concerned about our respective fitness levels but they kept saying things like “Oh don’t worry!” and “We don’t have to be in shape! We’ll just have fun with it and wing it!”.
I don’t like being bad at things. And if I agree to do a thing, you’d better believe I’m gonna be a badass at that thing. What’s all this “just for fun” crap… I’m a capricorn, baby, we don’t do fun.
Well, I did the thing. I couldn’t walk or open my car door afterwards and my legs looked like I spent days trying to scale the wall of that underground prison in the 3rd Batman movie. But I did it. And that beer they give you at the end really is the best tasting beer you will ever have.
I did something so terrifyingly out of my comfort zone that I almost backed out multiple times because I wouldn’t have been able to handle it if I failed.
Let me say this. I have never felt stronger than I did during and after that race.
Did I climb those walls without help? No. Did I have the mental strength on my own to keep going when I wanted to stop? Absolutely not. I had people. And even the strangers became my people. Everyone is your people during a Tough Mudder race.
So guys, listen to me.
Do not ever underestimate your power.
I typically get questions from strangers about my traveling lifestyle. I’m met with different reactions when they learn that I move every 3 months and that my entire life resides in my car 75% of the time. Some are jealous, some are impressed, and some can’t fathom putting themselves in this vulnerable of a position. Of leaving their safe zone of comfort.
A woman once said to me after hearing my story:
“That doesn’t leave you much time for a life, though, does it?
“What do you mean?”
“Well… you don’t have a husband or kids or anything.”
I said “Lady… with all due respect… I’m living my best life”.
Of course some day I want to “settle down”; Fall in love and have a family. But I refuse to put a timeline on my life. I refuse to settle for less than everything I deserve. And speaking of liberating… fellas, let me tell you: if it ever gets to a point where I’m blasting Breakfast After Ten with you in mind, you’d better accept the end. There ain’t no comin’ back from that, sir.
If you don’t know who sings Breakfast After Ten, we can’t be friends.
Sidebar: My close friends know I could write an entire book on my (mis)adventures in dating. But that’s for some other time. If you vote yes for a “Ging’s Dating Mishaps” post, leave a comment and I will consider. Maybe Ellen will turn it into a sitcom. Poor souls *idk/laughing emoji*
I found my power this summer. I discovered strengths I never knew I had. I lost my fear. I did all the things.
(Doing ALL the things all at once would soon come back to bite me in the tookus but for now let’s just say I had the time of my life this summer.)
Finding your power looks different on everyone. For some, it’s terrifying. For some the process can be painful. It’s an exhausting climb to the top of the mountain. It can feel like getting lost in unfamiliar territory surrounded by a pack of wolves.
And for others, it’s incredibly liberating. It’s getting to the top of that mountain and looking back at the blood, sweat, and tears you dropped like bread crumbs while stumbling your way through rocks and muck just to realize you’re still standing.
Sometimes it’s wandering aimlessly in a literal enchanted forest of a wildlife park in New York.
It’s getting lost in the Met somewhere between Medieval Europe and the time when they made all the penis statues.
It’s running a trail in a state park trying to follow the powdered dots on the pines that are supposed to lead you down the right path. And getting lost anyway but ending up at the top of the most beautiful open field with mountains in the distance while you try to catch your breath.
It’s going from the lung capacity of an infant to NEEDING to run to clear your head.
It’s single serve frozen pizzas on a weeknight because you just can’t (DiGiorno ‘cause I’m bougie).
It’s drinking peach bellinis at 11 AM watching sailboats slide through the finger lakes; when the server sits you at the end of the dock cause she knows you like that, guh.
It’s waking up at 7 in the morning to check out a new hiking spot (who am I?!)
It’s activating and de-activating dating apps a million times ‘cause you a independent woman who don’t need no man but also can’t cook worth a damn but also ain’t got time for nobody’s drama, ya dig?
It’s booking a flight to a traveler’s conference in Vegas where you know NO ONE and leaving 3 days later a changed person; feeling so inspired that you truly think you can conquer the world now; with new friends that you may as well have known for 3 decades. *shout out to the dream team*
I learned to love hiking. I learned to love the feeling of my lungs burning and every muscle on fire as I pushed myself to get stronger.
It’s all your money after gas and groceries going to plane tickets because part of your heart lies in every corner of this country.
I started to let myself daydream of what my life could look like someday living on a farm raising babies and horses. Or living life like Serena Van der Woodsen hailing ubers and strolling through central park to get to work and living in hipster coffee shops.
This is why I can’t stop traveling. It’s not finished. The slow and quiet work has not been done. Each place I land takes a piece of my heart with it when I leave. Each assignment leaves me daydreaming about what life would be like if I stayed there. How can I stop without seeing it all? How can I stop when there’s still plenty of my heart to leave sprinkled around? It’s like choosing to love a person anyway when you just have this feeling that it’s not forever. You know a chunk of your heart will get chipped away but you leave it unattended anyway. Tell the guards to take a coffee break. Inviting this place to take what it needs and leave you with the rest. You can make more.
What I’ve learned is… this is my safe zone. Traveling is my comfort food. I will continue to let myself get lost for as long as I can and want to.
Halfway through my time in New York, I remember my friend Caitlin calling me. I was likely driving through some mountains or maybe passing a horse and buggy. I usually make my phone calls on the road. It’s my time to catch up with people in between belting out Beyonce and jamming to Stevie Nicks. The conversation usually starts with: “Heather! Where are you?”
On this particular day I said:
I’m not entirely sure.
Somewhere in New York.