Sometimes you find yourself and your inner strength in the oddest places – for example a dude ranch.
When people asked me how I got to Colorado, the snarky answer is “Well, I drove over 2,000 miles.” The short, non-snarky answer is “a bad break-up.”
While this is an over simplification, let me try to explain where I was emotionally before I decided to quit my well-paying professional job in Boston to go work a summer job at a dude ranch in Colorado.
In the middle of October 2015 I had completed my first marathon, but that didn’t mean anything when the best relationship of my life ended a week later. I was devastated, and ended up in a very bad place for several months. I was not myself physically, mentally or emotionally. I soon realized that the only time I felt good was when I was outdoors and surrounded by nature – hiking, skiing, or going for a run in the snow. And one night while visiting my brother (who seemed to have everything that I thought I would have had in my last relationship), I did some Googling, discovered a small dude ranch in Colorado, and applied to a summer job.
What followed was far outside of my comfort zone. There was the epic 2,000+ mile cross-country journey where I detoured to Niagara Falls just because I had never been (they are right – the Canadian side is better). I stopped by the Indiana Sand Dunes to check off another national park and to get my Annual Parks Pass. I skinned up A-Basin (or rather skinned then rested in rotating 5 minute intervals), while wishing I had a shirt that said “I’m from Sea Level.” I was encouraged by my fellow skiers to keep going, and when I finally made it to the top of the trail, I was congratulated by one skier who had been watching my attempt. He was proud of me for not giving up, even though it seemed like an impossible task for my lungs at that elevation
On a beautiful Saturday morning in May, I drove 10 miles down a dirt road, past five cattle guards to a ranch where I wasn’t even sure what I would be doing for work. I had quit my job, moved out of the apartment that had been home for nine years, and left my friends and family behind to go on an adventure. I wasn’t happy where I was in Boston, and I knew I had to do something completely different to challenge myself. For the first time ever, the woman who always had a plan didn’t have one. It took me over 30 years to realize the fact that I am stuck with me for the rest of my life and no one else, and that I should probably really like this person.
After four months of winging it out West, I have learned a lot about myself and about life:
Get out of your comfort zone
You don’t learn anything about yourself if you keep doing the same things over and over again. Growth happens when you change your environment and your surroundings. I had to remember that I must always be learning and to not be so stuck in my routine. Moving through the uncomfortableness of doing something new led to amazing friends, memories, great life skills and quite possibly a new home state.
When making the leap to Colorado I realized that I had already gone through challenging situations before, including being laid off during the economic downturn and figuring out how to survive living in an expensive city while collecting unemployment. If I had survived that, I could take on anything.
There is beauty in the unknown
“If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.” I have planned so much in my life and when things didn’t work out, it would throw me off. Not having a plan means being able to go with the flow and make it up as you go along. No day at the ranch was ever the same, and I learned that I just had to make it work with what I had at my disposal.
You can find yourself again
Part way through the summer I realized while cooking that I was dancing and singing in the kitchen again. This was huge for me. After the breakup I had lost those simple joys, and it was beautiful when it returned. It took time, but that part of me came back. Sometimes it happens when listening to Taylor Swift and shaking it off with your friends.
Being in nature helps you heal
I lived in the middle of a national forest, where I didn’t have cell reception and the generator turned off at 11 at night. I woke up every morning surrounded by trees, staring out onto the mountains, and being grateful to see so many different 14ers on the horizon. Nature has a way of making you realize how small you are and how small your problems are in the scheme of things. Natural beauty is awe-inspiring and takes your breath away. Being in nature and getting to see so much wildlife made me feel lucky to be alive. I was surrounded by miles of National Forest land and I hadn’t been so happy in months.
Say yes to as many adventures as possible
Life is too short to be unhappy and to not explore the world around you. One morning two coworkers and I woke up extra early to hike so we could see the sunrise over the Rockies, drinking instant coffee as we greeted the day. It was well worth the lack of sleep, and having to rush back to get to work on time.
I also drove four hours and slept in the back of my car just so I could go to the Daddy Of Them All – Cheyenne Frontier Days – because when you are out West, you need to go to the largest outdoor rodeo. I stopped being so scared of doing something different and found the joy in seeking new adventures, which always resulted in a good story.
Failure isn’t a bad thing
The perfectionist side of me always struggled with failure. The ranch taught me that you have to try and it may not always work out, but you learn something along the way – even if it is the fact that roofing is an extra challenging job when two goats are trying to eat you in the process.
Embrace where you are but also recognize that you can change
The biggest assumption I had was that I had one course for the direction of my life and that was all to it. It took a hell of a lot of courage and strength to recognize that I could change my entire life, if I wanted to. A friend told me that he wanted to show me all the beautiful things, and I’m now on a mission to see as much beauty as I can wherever I am at in this world.
Towards the end of my time at the ranch, I stumbled across Bold Betties and knew instantly that this was a tribe of women just like me – kindred spirits seeking adventure and not wanting to be limited in life. My last relationship was with a very outdoorsy man, and I had hoped to learn so many different outdoor skills from him. I refused to let the break up mean that I wouldn’t have those adventures, and so I am committed to checking off my To-Do list of learning how to go backpacking, backcountry skiing, rock climbing and more. I was finally challenged to do something for me. I was initially intimidated by my novice status, but like my time at the ranch, I know I will figure it out. I don’t need permission to do this, and I am awesome in my own right. I seek adventure for myself and the adventure within me.
Or as my new Colorado hat says: