Last week marked a year since we officially “moved” from Grand Rapids. I have been spending a fair amount of time wrapping my mind around that. Wrapping my brain around all the ways that I see the country so very differently in August of 2014 vs. August 2013. Wrapping my heart around how different my relationship with Chris is this year vs. last. And wrapping my soul around how different I am as a person in one year. My only response is to look back at this past year with deep, deep gratitude.
We set off last year with no idea of what travel nursing meant. No idea where it would bring us or how we’d be changed. In fact, we set out from Grand Rapids with no apparent destination. No contract. No job. We felt it in our bones that we needed to leave so we took a small leap, packed up the car and drove north. After a week of camping and exploring the upper peninsula of Michigan we crossed into Minnesota to spend some time with family.
I was anxious. I don’t do well with the unknown and we were driving about hoping for adventure, hoping for purpose but no real plans for how to achieve that. We arrived on a Thursday into Minneapolis and on Friday afternoon Chris’ phone rang with the call we had been waiting for. Some hospital in a place called Bend, Oregon was interviewing Chris. It was happening.
After he hung up the deal was basically sealed. We spent the rest of the weekend hanging with family and then drove west. Our aimless wandering all of a sudden had ten hour days of driving to it. Our very unstructured days now had everything looking toward this place called Bend. We knew nothing about Bend. We had never heard of it and as we drove through the Oregon desert we thought, “what have we done!”. There is nothing here!
Little did we know that we would fall in love with Bend. The city emerged out of the dessert full of pine trees, a rushing river flowing through the middle of town and more “outdoorsy” folks per capita than I had every seen. Bend was paramount. We had a burning energy in Bend. When not working we spend every moment hiking, swimming, exploring and camping. We fell for Bend hard. It was unexpected, we had no assumptions and it completely took us by surprise. We were shown beauty in Bend. There was space to walk and think and ask questions and trust God. There were breath taking sunsets, the smell of pine spread all over the city and an abundance of good beer.
We tried to stay in Bend, to extend the contract but there was no extension available. We wanted to hold those moments a little longer and weren’t ready to give our hearts to another city yet. On the last week of the assignment a call came from San Mateo, just outside of San Francisco. We said yes, packed up the car and drove like mad to the city.
We arrived in San Francisco on my birthday. I vividly remember how different the city felt from the window of my Scion vs. the plane for the countless times I’d been there before. I remember hotels and meetings and one family vacation in San Francisco, but never living there. Little did we know on that sunny September day that San Francisco had it out for us. Our insanely expensive apartment was a glorified basement garage. Parking was a nightmare as evidenced by a parking ticket and a tow all within a week of each other. I felt like we were in this amazing city that I had loved visiting and but living there was just so hard
The city felt like the popular girl in middle school who was pretty, had it all together on the outside but was still a horrible person to the lowly man on the totem pole. We were certainly the lowly folks on that pole. Eventually though, we figured out how it ran and fell into the “in group” and began to enjoy our time in San Francisco. We walked all over the city, I enrolled in a coding class and Chris really made good relationships with his coworkers. We had friends in San Francisco who were honest and passionate and we clicked with them. We moved apartments and were never so thankful for a parking spot.
We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in that city. My anxiety lifted and I learned how to be alone at night while Chris was at work. The ocean was only a few miles away and we spent so much time walking, reflecting, and relishing what we were doing. It felt right and normal and by the time Chris’ contract was up, we had to convince ourselves to leave. We had set out for a year of travel and staying in the second city we ended up in wasn’t exactly “travel”. So we pushed ourselves onward.
The next contract landed us in Riverside, California. We knew this was not going to be a city we loved and were prepared to drive to LA or San Diego at every chance we got. We stopped at The Salted Pig on our first evening there for dinner and immediately knew that was going to be “our place” during our stay there. Indeed, it was. We went to The Salted Pig multiple times a week for Bacon Popcorn or one of their tasty brews on tap. We went to one other restaurant while there. One.
We tried to find housing and were left with a blank apartment we’d have to furnish or a room in a large Victorian mansion. Privacy seemed like an issue in the mansion but about the effort and cost of furnishing our own place in the vanilla apartment sounded even worse. Reluctantly, we signed up for a room in the mansion. It was the best decision we made in Riverside. We got to know the owners and the house manager. We talked with them often and knew that we could come home late at night to Sal making quesadillas on the stove.
Riverside never felt like it was going to be a long term thing. When I say “long term” I mean it didn’t even feel like we’d be there for three months. And indeed, things felt off and we left after six weeks. It was just too much.
So, what do you do when the world seems off, when north and south seem to be pointing east and west? Buy a teardrop camper and “camp” your way around the country, of course. I went back to Grand Rapids for a work trip and Chris spend endless hours with our camper to get it ready to be our primary home.
We left Riverside a week later feeling so many emotions, feeling so unsure of what we were doing and feeling like we set out traveling to find answers and instead were left with so many more questions. We decided to start off at a campground just north of San Diego. It was the best week we’d had in awhile. I went to Starbucks every morning to work, Chris surfed and I’d join him later. We cooked out of the camper, walked along the shoreline, had campfires and loved our first week of living out of the camper.
There is a funny thing about “growing up”. Our college selves would have thought we were living the dream: camping out, surfing, being in the sun, living simply. Unfortunately our more adult selves felt like we needed a plan. Not to mention camping in California is really expensive. More than rent expensive. After a month of living out of our camper we turned the Scion east and headed back to Grand Rapids.
After driving madly through Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana we made it back to Michigan. We didn’t tell anyone we were coming back. I even lied to my mom on the phone until we showed up at her house on a Friday afternoon completely unannounced. We felt relief. The burning desire we had felt to leave Grand Rapids in July changed to a soothing calmness of knowing the streets and knowing our people.
After the initial fun and shock of surprising everyone by just showing up, we realized that indeed all of the questions and frustrations that we had on the road didn’t just go away by coming back to Grand Rapids. In fact they were made bigger, pressed harder and we had to make some tough decisions. We decided that Grand Rapids wasn’t going to be where we lived at this stage of our lives. We decided we still weren’t done exploring other states and traveling. We decided that we needed to leave. Again.
And here we are in Portland. We have lived here as long as we lived in San Francisco but it feels so different. Chris and I know this is a different stage than travel nursing. There is much less external stimuli than going from place to place. There is space to actually live “real life”, clean the house, plant a garden, own a cat, hang our pictures on the wall.
This city is taking pieces of my heart slowly but surely. It’s not been a mad love affair like Bend were every moment was filled with relentless energy and drive to see it all. It has been a slow realization, one made up of daily routines and simple practices. It has not been a three month timeline but one with more permanence. And this slow way of falling in love with a city is good. It is quiet and calm. And it is needed.