If there’s one lesson I’ve learned this past year, it’s that sometimes you have to change your life, and sometimes your life changes you.
Last August, just five months ago, I packed my entire life into my car and drove approximately 4,500 miles from Tallahassee, Florida, to Nikiski, Alaska.
To say it was the biggest decision of my life would be an understatement. To say it was a decision made on a whim would be true as well – to an extent.
I had lived in Florida my entire life, with the last five years being spent in Tallahassee. I was a year out of college, and I knew the next chapter of my life was already being written. I was getting the same feeling living in Tallahassee that had gnawed at me before moving out of my hometown. It was time for me to move on.
I’m a wanderer at heart, and staying in any place for too long has always given me a strange anxiety, a sense of stagnation. It was like I was missing out on something, but I didn’t know what it was.
I was also terrified of what the next chapter would look like, mainly because I had no idea myself. Luckily, when I actually decided to leave, I realized I had always known where to go. The problem was just that I had forgotten.
Part of me decided a long time ago that I would end up in Alaska. The seed was planted early on as I grew up hearing stories of my uncle carving ice into incredible sculptures and building schools in remote villages whose names I’d never be able to pronounce.
When that same uncle bought me a plane ticket up to Alaska as a high school graduation gift, the stories became reality, and reality exceeded all expectations.
I camped under Denali for Memorial Day weekend, fished for halibut in Homer, watched the Mount Marathon runners in Seward and got lost on the Williwaw Lakes trail. The last one was a lot more fun than it sounds, except the part where our dog got in a fight with a porcupine … and the part where we stood face-to-face with a giant bull moose.
A couple years later I visited Alaska again for my cousin Cara’s wedding, and as the plane was touching down in Anchorage a thought, unprompted, forced its way to the front of my mind.
No place had ever made me feel that way before, so obviously I’d be a fool not to follow the strange new drive that I found within myself. Once I was back in Florida, however, that drive was quickly cast aside. All the little things in life began to pile on and slowly covered up my dream until eventually I forgot it was even there.
Fast forward two years, and I was deciding with my roommates if I was going to stay in Tallahassee for another year. That wasn’t an option as far as I was concerned, but for some reason I couldn’t think of any others.
Then one day I was staring at the eagle sculpture carved out of moose antler sitting on my shelf, and the drive was back with a vengeance. I knew that the time had come for me to head north – for good.
Even though I had been telling people for months that I’d be moving to Alaska, reality didn’t set in for me until I was about halfway through Wyoming. Thinking about the friends and family I had left behind, people who I had shared my life with for so many years, my emotions surged over me with the force of every hurricane I’d ever lived through and I started crying and laughing all at once.
I was heartbroken knowing that it would be a long time before I saw any of them again. At the same time, I felt the weight of my stress and stagnation lifting off of me with each passing mile. I knew in that moment that this move wasn’t just the biggest decision I had ever made – it was the best.
I spent three weeks on the road, and those were hands-down the most amazing three weeks of my life. I visited my sister in Tennessee and got to watch my nephew’s first high school football game. I stayed with an old friend in Colorado and we hiked through the Rockies.
I realized that Kansas is just as flat as everyone says it is. I left my heart in Billings, Montana, of all places, and I discovered that the Canadian speed limits are much too slow for my impatient American sensibilities, even after the unit conversion.
I grew up taking 12-hour car rides to Tennessee every summer to stay with my dad, so spending eight or nine hours a day in a car with nothing but my road playlist and the occasional audiobook to keep me company was something to which I actually looked forward.
For one thing, it was a really great playlist.
As I wandered through the middle of the country, mostly alone, I felt more like myself than I ever have. Maybe that’s the life for which I’m destined, and if I end up living out of an RV 30 years from now, I don’t think anyone will be surprised.
I left Tallahassee on Aug. 1 and made it to Anchorage on Aug. 23. My cousin Cara welcomed me when I arrived, this time holding her adorable twin babies instead of a bridal bouquet. Two days later I was pulling in to my uncle’s driveway in Nikiski, and at family dinner that night my cousin Ben said something to me so simple – yet so poignant – it made my head spin.
It removed any doubts I still had about this move being the right decision. Everything made sense, and everything felt right.
He took my hand and said: “Welcome home.”