GO Solo Travel – Toronto

In conjunction with the launch of my book, I am creating a series of blog posts in service to other women who might be considering solo travel. I am focusing on baby steps right now, places where a woman might feel comfortable getting her feet wet with solo travel. I’ll begin with my most recent jaunt and work my way back from there, keeping up with the new places I am visiting in the meantime.

Why Toronto?

This was my first international jaunt since GOing nomad last year. I was invited to the Archangel Summit, an annual gathering of mission-driven entrepreneurs, leaders, and professionals. I attended the event with about fifty of my fellow authors and our mentor, Dr. Angela Lauria, who was a speaker at the summit. The event is a fundraiser, with entry fees being gifted forward to The Archangel Fund, which is used to provide micro-loans and donations to entrepreneurs and charities making the world a better place.

I considered Toronto a great baby step for my own solo international travel. I could literally drive (or ferry) across the border, so there were no logistical challenges with transportation. The people speak english, and the currency is very similar. I exchanged $160 American for $188.50 Canadian and was delighted to hold in my hands the FAR more beautiful bills of our northern neighbors. 🙂

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Crossing the Border

Crossing the border was simple and relatively painless. Being questioned by a uniformed officer made me slightly nervous, as did the fact that two dogs were loose and sniffing around my car. Justice was more nervous than I was, but we managed. I was asked the purpose for my visit, and I answered that I was headed to Toronto for the Archangel Summit. “What’s the Archangel Summit?” the officer asked.

“It’s a gathering of entrepreneurs,” I said.

“Are you an entrepreneur?” He asked.

“Yes,” I said. “I wrote a book about solo travel for women. I work with women who have a deep inner urge for solo travel and adventure. I help them find their way.” He was satisfied. It was strange and wonderful, answering that question in the affirmative. It was the first time I have ever identified myself as an entrepreneur.

The officer then asked me whether I had medical insurance, reservations and ample funds for my travel. A simple “yes” to these questions sufficed. He finished his inquiry by asking if I was transporting a firearm, tobacco or alcohol. A simple “no” to this question sufficed as well. And thus I was ushered into Canada.

I had been following my GPS and was delighted to hear “Welcome to Canada!” I thought it was so cool when my GPS started speaking in kilometers instead of miles. Then I FREAKED OUT when I saw my first speed limit sign. It was also posted in kilometers. Holy Crow!! I had no idea what the conversion was! I got sick in the pit of my stomach and goosebumps broke out along my entire body. My mind immediately rushed into the worst case scenario. OMGOSH, I’m in a foreign country and I’m going to get pulled over and they are going to deport me cause I didn’t study my math before I went and did something serious like cross the border. Fortunately, my car speaks kilometer too. 🙂 Imagine the wave of relief when I noticed that little inner circle on my speedometer.

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Opting Outside

There are two campgrounds within a 30-ish minute drive to downtown Toronto. (You can find a list of campgrounds and conservation  areas at TRCAparks.ca.) I chose Glen Rouge Campground, which is actually within the Toronto city limits, and my site was backed by the Rouge River. The campground was heavily populated, even though it was the first weekend after labor day in September. My site had a fire pit and picnic table. The washrooms and showers were a short stroll away.

Had it been warmer, I could have taken advantage of the free general admission and discounted swimming at Petticoat Creek Conservation Area. But with daily high temperatures in the mid-60s and overnight lows in the upper 40s, I opted to explore the Rouge Park Trails instead. The trails are dog-friendly and moderately trafficked. Trail running is totally doable on this well-maintained system. The pathway is wide and obvious, fairly flat in most places, with ample white blazes to help you keep your feet. There are several spurs that wander off the path. I followed a couple of these and found they eventually routed right back onto the main trail. The Mast Trail is 5.1 km round trip. The trailhead is located off the parking lot at the entrance to Glen Rouge Campground, and the trail navigation is available on the All Trails app.

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For a more urban but quaint hike or bicycle option, I loved the Pickering Waterfront Trail. The Millennium Square at the foot of Liverpool Road offers gorgeous views of Frenchman’s Bay and has won awards for its beautiful design. The Waterfront Trail through Pickering is divided into three named sections. First Nations Trail (3.5 km) is the western leg. Monarch Trail (4.7 km) surrounds Frenchman’s Bay and ends at Millennium Square. Peak Trail (4.0 km) runs from Millennium Square to the eastern border with Ajax. Each name has a historical or environmental significance. The trail is pet-friendly.

Millennium Square boasts a spectacular sunset view and stargazing. Dining options include The Waterfront Bistro, The Beach Chip food truck, and Yogen Fruz ice cream shoppe – all with patio seating.

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Coffee Connection

Liverpool Road itself offers ample free parking and a number of locally owned boutique shops, including the OpenStudio Art Café. This adorable coffee shop is where I did most of my work while in the Toronto area. Owned and operated by the utterly delightful MichÚle Bolton, this waterfront area meeting place offers free wifi, specialty coffee and tea, freshly-baked beignets and other delectable treats. MichÚle displays the work of local visual artists, all of which is available for purchase. The Café also features original live art and music events and hosts an open mic night on most Fridays.

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I appreciated the courtesy MichĂšle extended to Justice as well. The patio is pet-friendly for well-behaved pups, and an outdoor outlet was available to juice my laptop and cell phone while I worked. I highly recommend this lovely little gem.

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As far as downtown Toronto goes, I didn’t do much exploring. Parking was a bit costly, and I was busy with the conference activities. I noticed a number of parks sprinkled throughout the city as I drove, and they looked to be well-used. Queen’s Park is one of the oldest urban parks in Canada, a pretty, green oasis bordered by the buildings of the University of Toronto. Glen Rouge Campground did provide a Toronto points of interest map and details on city transit access. More information on Toronto attractions can be found at SeeTorontoNow.com.

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Centennial Trail salute, Spokane WA

Being both a busy woman and a lover of the outdoors, I seriously appreciate public green spaces. City parks and trails can be an excellent way to fit spending time with nature into a hectic lifestyle, balancing the effects of the urban hustle and bustle.

According to proponents of environmental psychology, spending time in nature has at least three positive effects:

  1. Reduced stress
  2. Improved mood
  3. Improved cognitive performance

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My favorite place to meet nature during my busy five years as a resident of Spokane was the Mirabeau access point of the Centennial Trail. This was a quick drive from my home and from my work in our downtown tasting room, but the river running along the valley floor and the tall trees lining the pathway shielded me from the urban noise and made it feel like I was a world away.

This section of the Centennial Trail holds many memories for me, so I paid a visit to offer my gratitude before saying so long to Washington and continuing my journey east.

I took up running when I moved to Washington, and this was my top choice for logging in my miles. Not only was it a beautiful natural area, but the trail was well-maintained and relatively flat. I felt more like a wild animal than a chunky human here, and I could work on my breathing and my form without over-taxing my body and my psyche.

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It was here that I first broke the ten minute mile threshold in a 5k race, completing the run in less than thirty minutes. The race was part of Valleyfest, and it was a huge accomplishment for me.

It was here that I made my decision to run my first half marathon. I had been invited to join a friend in running the Bridge of the Gods, but I had never run that far, and I was wavering in my resolve. I took to the trail that day and found many other women out for a run. One group of three was exiting the trail as I was entering, and they asked me to take a photograph of them, so they could prove to their trainer that they had logged in their miles. “What race are you training for?” I asked.

“The Spokane Negative Split,” the brunette in the pink shorts and ponytail replied. “Are you training for a race?”

“I am thinking about running the Bridge of the Gods in Cascade Locks,” I said.

“Oh, wow! I think that race is sold out,” she said.

My stomach dropped and burned.

“You might want to check on that right away,” she said. “And good luck!”

“You too,” I said. And in that instant I made my choice. I drove home from the trail, logged onto the website and paid my entry fee.

I did some of my best thinking here, so I also used the trail for walking. There were times I spread my blanket on the shoreline of the river and wrote in my journal or just stared into the sparkling water. It was here that I came to brainstorm new business ideas. It was here that I came after the shocking death of a close friend.

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It was here that I labored over my life’s purpose on New Year’s Day. I had been feeling unfulfilled in my work and was reading Napoleon Hill’s thoughts on the concept of drifting. The park was a dazzling winter wonderland, and the trail was covered in snow. I enjoyed complete solitude and clarity as I plodded through my dilemma one footprint at a time.

Today I come to say farewell to what feels like a dear friend. I took off my shoes and did some rock scrambling with Justice down by the water. I brought my journal and my camera to capture some last memories. I rolled up my jeans and slid my feet into the cool water, listening for the calling birds. I watched a critter sunning itself a few feet from me and a family in kayaks floating by with eyes closed and faces upturned.

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I am passionate about helping more women experience the benefits of being out in natural places. Being too busy is simply not an acceptable excuse. The more hectic your life is, the more important it is for you to spend time alone with nature. You owe it to yourself first, and when we care enough for ourselves we have more to give to those we love. Need help with this? Email me at sequoia1011@gmail.com.

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The Centennial Trail runs 37 miles one-way from Spokane, Washington to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. It has numerous access points, each offering a new adventure. The trail is pet-friendly and popular with runners, walkers, bicyclists, tourists and locals alike. Several city parks and serene water features are accessible from the trail. It truly is a gem and worth a trek.

Turning my project back into a #journey

I caught myself in the mirror, and the sight surprised me. I stood there, squared into the reflection, my eyes wandering over and taking in what I saw before me. This is not the old, familiar image anymore. I can hardly believe this is me. I move a curious step closer, take a deliberate breath, and then I slowly let it out again. I see the face of a 44 year-old woman attached to this body, the lines of consternation and time are evident but graceful. I am drawn further in toward the mirror, toward the reflection of this face, tilting my head and regarding her more closely still. Deepening laugh lines play at the corners of my eyes. I smile and make them come alive again.

“You are doing this, Sonya,” I say out loud to the person behind my eyes. You are really doing this. I gaze deeply into her and catch the glimmer of the person I always wanted to be. I knew she was in there. I didn’t think it would take this many years. I didn’t think it would be this hard. I regard her carefully, looking even more intently into her eyes.

Bloodshot? I take a step closer, until my nose is almost touching the mirror. I tip my forehead forward, now looking from under my lids, rotate my head to the right, rotate my head left, and back to center again. I lift my chin and draw my eyelids wide and back. Tiny red rivulets run from the bright white outer edges toward the morning blue center. Why are my eyes so bloodshot?

I had turned this trip into WORK.

I have a dream

I have dreamed of being a writer all my life, and now I am chasing that dream with all that is in me. This trip is not a year-long joyride. It is serious business, and it has a deadline – Thanksgiving. I am reinventing my life, and there is no time to waste. I’ve leveraged everything I’ve got, so I’ve got one shot to get this right. My future is on the line, and I went all-in on the flop.

With so much at stake, I defaulted into tackling this trip like I had tackled every other lofty goal in my life. I was using all of my familiar masculine energy: being driven, gritty, strategic, relentless; wrestling my dreams into submission. I demanded the most of myself every day, marching my way across the country, monitoring my pace, cracking the whip at my to-do list. Morning pages – crrrack! Affirmations – sssnap! Hike the canyon – pop!pop! Fuel your body – crrrack! Choose the next destination – sssnap! Drive on – pop!pop! Make camp, Bunk down, Day complete, Now sleep! I said SLEEP. EXECUTE, SoldIER!

I had regimented myself to maximize my odds for success. I hated it when my circumstances would not comply with my regimen. I was frustrated if Justice was moving too slowly, or if she was stopping and sniffing too often. I was irritated if the McCafe did not supply the public outlets I needed to charge my laptop. I lamented when the Internet did not reach my campsite. I seethed when a technical hiccup erased the newsletter I had spent two hours working on.

Week 13 #1000Miles1Year #50States

Week 13 of my project (to log 1,000 foot-miles across all 50 states in 2017) took me into Texas. I contemplated the state mindfully, deciding where I wanted to concentrate my time and attention. I had never been to the Gulf area, so that was quite appealing to me. However, Texas is a BIG state, and I knew that the deeper I drove in, the longer it would take to drive back out. Did it really make sense to go all the way south to the border? I calculated my drive times and fuel expenses for several route options. It was entirely illogical to splurge on my resources and spend my time in the Gulf. But my heart argued with my head.

North Padre Island

I arrived in Corpus Christi, crossed over the Intercoastal, and continued several more miles out to where I would camp. It was a beach site, located on a thin stretch of sand, nestled between Mustang Island and Padre Island National Seashore. Under adverse weather conditions, this tiny strip of land would be fully submerged under the mighty Gulf waters. But today is far from adverse. It has been sunny, the temperature in the upper 60s, a persistent coastal current streaming over the shoreline. The orb of the sun is hypnotic, embarking on its descent behind the dunes, kicking up pinks and purples behind her. I study the high tide line and pitch my tent beyond it, spreading out my footprint amid the grassy dunes but maintaining a direct sight line to the sea.

The shifting sand is a baby-fine granule and feels silky under my feet as I load my sleeping bags and pillow into the tent body. Rain is not expected tonight, so there is no need to cover my quarters with the nylon fly. The mesh top alone offers a 360° view of what will soon be a starlit sky.

I bemoan the fact that my camera battery is dead, as my last three McCafe stops did not yield a single public outlet. Shame to miss photos of this amazing place, so I snap a few with my smartphone instead. Internet and cell service are totally sketchy here, so I sigh, and settle into the tent rather unplugged. I face south toward the crashing waves, sit up tall and cross-legged, and finally breathe in deeply, purposefully, trying to let it all go. Here I am, Gulf Waters. What do you have to teach me?

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#Sunriser

I rose with the sunrise the following morning, raised my head and my phone to catch a photo or twenty. I have spent leisure time on other beaches, Atlantic and Pacific, and I was anticipating the pacifying, rythmic echo of the waves crashing one after another: ka-churrrrr, ka-churrrrr, ka-churrrrr… But the waves sound entirely different today. Here the wind is blowing so relentlessly that there is no lull between the crashing of the waves. The current just pummels the shoreline continuously, so the waves ROAOAR more like a constant whirring jet engine. My tent concaves politely under its pressure.

I decide to spend the whole day right here and log our miles strolling up and down the beach. As the sun continues to rise, and with it the temperature, I throw the rain fly up and over the tent body, snap it firmly into place, velcro it tightly to the tent poles, and tie back the sides, creating a little cabana for myself and Justice. I envision reading and writing to my heart’s content in this retreat from the heat. This will be a productive day.

The wind increases early and steadily. Seawater hangs thickly in the air, such that I taste its saltiness when I lick my lips. The fine-grained sand is picked up easily and carried swiftly by the current, so a layer of grit clings to everything it graces. My sleeping bags are covered in it. My glasses, cell phone, lantern and car windows are filmy from it. I cannot bring any books or writing materials out into this. Work is thwarted once again. I spin the hair around my face and pin it into tiny buns to keep the ragged strands from blowing into my eyes. The dazzling sun, the warm, moist gale, the roaoaring waves lull me into near listlessness. I finally find the time to meditate, something I have been meaning to do for weeks.

A turning point

This time was a critical turning point for me. Obliged to slow down and truly drink in paradise, I frankly realized I had turned this epic journey into a project. I had even started *calling* it a project! And I had assumed the project manager mode instead of allowing myself to be a journeyman. I was not really nourishing myself. I was not giving myself time and space to be present, to be impacted, to be changed.

There were things I wanted from this journey, other than a career change. Beauty. Creative. Spirit. To become more connected, feminine, and free. To find my voice, my message. Where was I making time for these?

It was all too easy to stumble. I am all too good at being a project manager. I have no idea how to just let go and be a journeyman. What if I get it wrong? What if I miss some critical detail? What if Thanksgiving comes and I just end up broke, with no leads and no dream because I neglected to create and execute a viable strategy?

Then again, what if I gain the whole world and lose my soul? Isn’t that what I have been searching for? And wasn’t the land calling out to me?

I am venturing into new territory, on so many levels. I don’t know how to do this. The person I have always wanted to be is right here, making her debut. But I can’t make this happen. Intuition tells me this only comes about when I allow myself to be unmade. I need to stop following my regimen and start following my bliss, and permit that joy to do its own special work in me. It does not need my planning to accomplish this. It does not need my execution. It needs me to be more open, receptive, and paying my attention to Beauty. Creative. Spirit.

Back to my #roots

Pop is worried about me. He has been watching my video logs on YouTube, and he says I am getting too skinny. He thinks I should be eating more rich foods and drinking hot coffee in the morning. He suggested I take a library day to review my goals. He begs the question: How are my present personal sacrifices being leveraged for my future happiness?

My future father-in-law is totally sweet, and I appreciate the sentiment. We have lived very different lives, and I am sure it is difficult for him to imagine why I would be driving alone across the country, imposing mean conditions on myself, chasing a dream that is still largely undefined. You may be wondering the same.

As fate would have it, I am entering the American Plains, a region that holds my roots and many childhood memories. A goal review at this time, in this place, is perfect. We are nearing the end of the year’s first quarter, and I am thus about 25% into my project. Looking toward the future, I take time to remember where I came from – small town USA.

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Agriculture is the basis of Carnegie’s economy, the main production being cotton, wheat, broomcorn, cattle, hogs and poultry. Here, cotton is scattered about the park playgrounds.

My kin on my mother’s side moved to Arizona from Montana when mom was still a young girl, and the family lived modestly as grandpa continued farming and beekeeping. My kin on my father’s side lived in Kansas and rural Oklahoma, where my grandmother had a cellar and canned her own vegetables and preserves.

My earliest memories are walking my sandles through rusty-colored dirt, chasing the baby horned toads because the big ones scared me, staying in the old converted school bus on grandpa’s farm, making mud pies and a delicacy I called “piccolosherie” from old can tabs, pebbles and other items I could scavenge from about the neighborhood. Did you know that if you trap a grasshopper in your hands, it will spit on you?

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My grandmother’s home in Carnegie, population >2,000.

I grew up an army brat, and my family moved frequently. When my father was stateside, we lived on the army bases. When he was abroad, we often lived with family. He would send pictures and postcards from his foreign duty stations. I was beguiled by the images of these iconic structures and exotic landscapes, and I wanted so badly to be there myself. I was jealous that my father got to visit all of these amazing places, while I was stuck at home, day after day, with the same old dirt and rubble and horned toads and spitting grasshoppers.

At least we got to move around when he was back stateside. Each new duty station brought a new adventure for me. I got to go snow tubing on the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I got to tap my toes in real blue grass in Kentucky. One time our family actually got to accompany my father overseas. We lived in Germany for a year, and I thought it was the most magical experience imaginable. Though we lived on the base among the other American families, I attended a Host Nations class at school, where I got to learn practical German and practice what I learned on field trips, like going to the market and trying to buy tomatoes for the evening’s dinner salad. I was hooked.

Our military life ended when I was in fourth grade, and we settled back into Carnegie, Oklahoma. I thought it was utterly boring. I thought I would be stuck in that place for the rest of my life. I spent my summers at the park and the swimming pool, running around barefoot, sleeping outside under the stars, going to the pow-wows and rodeos, anything to bring the sparkle of life to my dull, brown world. I spent my winters devoted to school. We qualified for free breakfast and lunch, and I worked hard to earn good grades and ignore the fact that the other girls rode horses and wore leg warmers and I did not. I believed if I got smart enough, I could make the kind of life I really wanted for myself.

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The rodeo and the pow-wow were the highlights of my summers in Carnegie.

I became obsessed with the spelling bee. I found out that the national competition was held in Washington, DC. If I could make it to nationals, I would get to go there. Words were now my very best friends, my ticket out of town. I took home the practice book, which was a thick pamphlet of stapled papers containing column after alphabetical column of words, words, words. I studied those columns of words all summer long, dreaming of climbing the stairs of the Washington Monument and sitting in the giant lap of Abraham Lincoln himself. That winter, I won my school bee and was runner-up the regional bee. I made it to the state competition in Oklahoma City, where I misspelled the word dishwasher. Well… I was never a very good one. 😉

A couple of years later, my family moved to northern Virginia, and my dream of DC became a reality after all.

It took several months of concentrated effort to remove the southern twang from my voice. Adapting myself to a changing environment was exciting, and I was relieved to distance myself from that dull, dirty existence I once knew. I was metropolitan now. I ate seafood and took a foreign language. I saw cherry blossoms on the Mall and masterpieces by Monet. I wore dangle earrings and saved my money for two months to buy a pair of white jeans and a t-shirt by the Colors of Benetton.

Such would be the motion of my life over the next thirty years.

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Mural on Main Street in Carnegie.

 

Ironically, the pursuit of my dreams has led me back to my roots. Connecting with the land, sleeping under the stars, finding inspiration in the song of the whippoorwill… I missed the meaning in those simple messages long ago. I am learning to listen more carefully now, wearing messy hair and dirty feet once again. My southern twang is gleefully returning to me. Finding my message and my authentic voice is a journey whose time has come.

I don’t view my present circumstances as a sacrifice. I am living in my happiness. A simple life is not necessarily a mean one. I am discarding all of the distractions and discovering what is truly important to me, as the cotton gin separates the fibers from the seed. I am becoming ever more grateful for every small pleasure, like hot coffee and linen napkins and grasshoppers.

The grasshopper is both grounded and free, connected to the earth yet able to fly with the currents. With a single thrust of its strong hind legs, grasshopper takes flight with a leap of faith, not knowing exactly where it will land. I believe it is imperative for me to do the same. I may not know exactly where this leap of faith will take me, but I trust myself to ride the wind.

The *softer* side of New Orleans?

I came to New Orleans thinking this would be a fun place to log the Louisiana leg of our #1000Miles1Year challenge. I first visited New Orleans when I was in my 20’s, a young professional attending a convention with a few dozen colleagues over Halloween. I remembered the city as being sultry, electric, and pulsing with daring enthusiasm.

Twenty years later, now a solo female traveler with a pup in tow, I felt uneasy as I entered the city. New Orleans has a reputation for debauchery; as though the dark and the dirty make their home here. Where will I run? Will it be safe? What if it isn’t? What was I thinking???

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New Orleans can be seriously intimidating to a first-time visitor. The French Quarter streets feel incredibly narrow as you creep along in thick traffic. The sky above is squeezed between second-level balconies protruding from many of the buildings. Cars are parallel parked, mish-mash style along the street-sides, sometimes impossible for two vehicles to pass each other in between. Crowds of revelers roam the iron jungle with plastic frothing cups. A shop front displays Mardi Gras masks with creepy pointed noses and a sign that winks “Deurty Boys.” You get the sense that everything existing here is intent on invading your space.

I almost drive right back out. The little voice in my head was screaming, “Absolutely nothing in me wants to be here right now!” But I knew that was really just fear trying to take the wheel, and the something that kept me was the mantra that *fear is not my master*. I was intent on pushing beyond my discomfort and taking in the sights and sounds of this city.

A little sleuthing eventually uncovered a hidden gem called the Bywater District.

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I wouldn’t exactly call it soft, but The Big Easy has a more sophisticated side. Just beyond the French Quarter is the Bywater District. I first discovered Crescent Park, a 1.4 mile manicured masterpiece that hugs the mighty Mississippi River. With ample free parking and gates open at sunrise, Justice and I safely logged in our miles here every day. The park is popular with runners and dog walkers, but never really crowded at any hour of the day. There are water fountains, port-o-lets and a fenced dog run too. We stretched out our runs just east of the park to the Poland Street Port, where massive ships dwarf the dock as they gently come to rest.

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The neighborhood streets have names like Piety, Louisa, Dauphine and Desire, a bold and soulful stroll with houses dressed in royal blue, pastel pink, lime green, purple punch and every other imagining. White lights and gold beads and red tinsel adorn the otherwise staunch, ornamental wrought iron fences, balconies and doorposts. A sign reads, “No Air BnB! Save our neighborhood.” The locals voice concern that their treasured, quiescent lifestyle will be impugned by the more typical NOLA party animals. There are a couple of Bed and Breakfast Inns that welcome guests to the Bywater District, and they exhibit a debonair grace and sophistication. The Maison de Macarty is an 1860s Victorian home, listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It features six guest rooms in the main house, two private cottages, ensuite bath facilities and a mineral water swimming pool.

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The Bywater District also has its own share of amazing eateries with convenient, meter-free street parking. The Satsuma CafĂ© is a great place to start the day, featuring fresh juices, breakfast and lunch dishes using local and organic ingredients. On the patio, a decorated seamstress bust stands next to a guest in a top hat, the sight of it just quirky enough to satisfy your appetite for the unusual. A few blocks down, The Joint offers true wood-smoked meat, landing it on top ten BBQ lists in publications from Bon AppĂ©tit to Zagat. In 2008, The Joint was featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” and folks still line up to dig in, with middle-aged professionals in button down oxfords seated at the bar next to free spirits sporting dreadlocks and nose piercings. Next to the shabby Bargain Mart is the classy Oxalis, a whiskey-focused gastropub where you can enjoy Happy Hour specials on small plates and drinks like the Sazerac, a local New Orleans variation of a cognac cocktail in a glass spritzed with absinthe.

I was delighted to spend three days exploring the heart of New Orleans without the debaucherous crowds and tawdry commercialism. Pets are welcome at all of the establishments mentioned above. As day three drew to a close, I concluded my visit at Piety Wharf. With iron pillars and concrete benches, Piety Wharf inspires with inscriptions that evoke the true spirit of New Orleans, like “Freedom: To move at will, to strive with confidence, to dream with a real expectation of achievement, and to be regarded with respect.”

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Atlanta #cityscape from Piedmont Park

My friend, James Loving turned me on to city runs when I stayed with him and his wife, Pamela a week ago. The hook: the run from his house in Richmond to the Virginia State Capital was a six mile round trip, and he claimed the route was rated one of the prettiest streets in America.

I thought I would hate it. Let me clarify. I thought I would hate the distractions but maybe enjoy the scenery. I have to get into *the zone* when I am running, otherwise it is just all guts and no glory. All I could think about was all of those people and crosswalks and traffic. I pictured myself having to yank Justice out of the headlights, maneuvering around the suits hogging the sidewalk, and having to stop dead at every red intersection.

There was nothing at all in those imaginations that appealed to me. But having never done a city run before, I was intrigued. State capitals are usually designed to impress the dignitaries and tourists alike, and there is so much history alive in Richmond. With a name like Monument Avenue… how could I NOT run it? So what if it was distressing! It would be a unique experience.

I LOVED IT. And Justice was great!

The people and vehicles were actually quite courteous. I think it helps to have a cute pup in tow. Justice garners attention and adoration everywhere she goes. I’m just along for the ride, really.

I decided I MUST include city runs in my #1000Miles1Year challenge (run/walk/crawl via ilovetorun.org). Coming to Georgia in week four of my project, Atlanta was my number one pick. My fiance, Edward and I used to rendezvous there from time to time when he lived in Virgina and I in Florida. Some of our favorite memories are in that city.

Still, I was chicken to take to the streets alone. I Googled “safe places to run in Atlanta” and Piedmont Park topped the list. I chided myself for not having the guts to run the streets, but I chided gently, as I am a recovering perfectionist. “This is not exactly a city run,” I told myself as I sat cross-legged on the floor and scrolled through the Google hits. But the reviews touted beautiful scenes of the cityscape, a lake, sculptures and other objects of interest. I decided it was a good compromise. The address *was* in the city after all.

The trail maps showed three distinct loops – the active loop, the lake loop and the meadow – together totaling 2.5 miles. I figured we could run it twice. Or, if it was really pretty, we could run it once, collect the camera, and walk it a second time to play with some photos.

Turns out dogs are not permitted on the active loop, which is like a dirt track oval. I had to get creative to reach even 2.3 miles on our run. But it was indeed beautiful, and I could hardly wait to get my hands on my new camera.

Justice and I did another two miles walking, taking in the sights and having fun with digital film. It was a gorgeous day. It was everything I hoped for. I even got sun-kissed.

Coddiwomple

verb
To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. (English Slang)

I completed my #walkabout #roadtrip just before the first of the year. I had traveled ten weeks and 10,641 miles. The urge to find myself had been fulfilled, I had found a suitable locale for my next adventure, and I was ready to unleash my creativity. My intent was to settle in the Asheville area, find a job and start writing my memoir. I was still dedicated to camping and boondocking, and there were plenty of outdoor options to satisfy me here.

My fiance, Edward and I planned to be reunited for the New Year’s holiday. Curious about my experiences and wanting to share in the spirit of my new lifestyle, Edward booked a treehouse for us on Black Mountain. The private, covered deck with a port-o-let, cell connection and intermittent 3G service was his way of easing himself in. I was proud of him. After all, it was December in the mountains and we would be sleeping outdoors. I was anxious to introduce him to Asheville. I toured him around the city and the country. We sampled the local public houses, took in a little of the art and music scene, and explored the land of waterfalls. I was in love with this region, and I hoped he would fall in love too. After six long years of long distance dating, we would soon be planning a new life together. I was certain this was the right place for us.

Then my heart took a left turn on me. Not a turning away from anything, but a turning toward something. This happens more often than I’d like to admit.

A new challenge came knocking, issued through ilovetorun.org, found random on my Facebook feed. It was the shiny gold medal that caught my attention, with the words “2017 – 1000 Miles” emblazoned on it. Ooooooh, what’s *that* all about? One click took me to the challenge, which was to run/walk/crawl one thousand miles in one year. I did the math. That’s about twenty miles per week. I am already putting in close to that. Joined!

Sometimes my fitness gets relegated to the back burner, when a time crunch forces me to re-prioritize my priorities. I felt this challenge would help me stay focused on my physical goals as well as my creative ones. A healthy body makes for a healthy mind.

The following day, Justice and I explored around Dismal Falls and put in a run along the forestry road. The new challenge was still fresh in my mind, and I was invigorated by it. Justice looked so cute, with her muddy little paws trotting alongside me. Justice! Justice is putting in her miles too! I had created a Runkeeper account for her months before, as she nearly always accompanies me. She deserves a shiny gold medal just as much as I do! I giggled at the thought of that bright, beautiful medal around her neck and decided then and there that we would complete this challenge together. I smiled so satisfied as our feet turned over and over, side by side.

I thought about how rich my life had become since I had taken up running. I thought about all of the beautiful places I had churned my feet through. In fact, since the first of this year, I had run in Alabama, North Carolina, and now Virginia.

Cue the epic music score. My next hair brained idea is rising…

What if we ran those one thousand miles through all fifty states? I did the math. That’s about one state per week. It’s only the second week of January. I am already doing this. OMG I am already doing this! I only needed to decide to keep doing it. A flood of elation surged through me. It was as though every step I had taken had led me to this one. I knew in an instant that this was the perfect project for me. Images of my #walkabout flashed through my head. My heart soared. It wasn’t over after all. It was just beginning.

Coddiwomple
verb
To travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination. (English Slang)

Suddenly my future is unknown again.