It’s up to YOU! #NewYork, New York

🎼 If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere!

New York, in my mind, is the epitome of manifesting your dreams. Like starlets to Hollywood and guitar pickers to Nashville, the brazen are drawn to the struggle, the hustle, and the nearly impossible odds of New York City. Madonna Louise Ciccone was 19 years old when she moved to New York with only $35 in her pocket. The iconic move was a revered theme in fantasies of my own.

New York is where the serious get serious. When you come to New York, you are telling the universe you are ALL IN. It has a mystique about it, grit and glimmer at the same time. It was a place I personally never dreamed of. It was too big for me – too bold, too daring, too audacious.

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And yet I found myself here, just by following my feet.

I think it is fitting that the universe would take me into the heart of Manhattan. As big a dreamer as I have been, I was afraid to go *too far*. I was afraid to be too gutsy, too defiant… too reckless. I wanted more from my life, but New York was over the top. I was content to settle for professional, the daily grind, careful to be grateful for every little scrap that came my way.

I was mouse, nosing around in the kitchen, scurrying for the crumbs, staying hidden in the corners, making my nest in the walls. I had the smallest, squeaky voice that was rarely really employed. I dreamed big dreams, but they were always confined in some way, unable to grow beyond my whiskers and my little nose.

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But this mouse somehow found herself in New York City, as a driver even!, in the company of an artist, a fashion designer, a performer, and a producer. I felt the heartbeat of ambition in my bones. The grit and glitter fluttered in my belly. Sultry pulses sweat through my skin in the heat of the night. I dared not, but destiny drew me anyway, whispering it is bigger and sooo much better than you let yourself imagine. And you are welcome.

I strode the streets and drank it all in. I saw roots that broke up the concrete and buildings that scraped the sky. I saw beauty and grime, drive and despair, and I loved it all. I was a mouse among the masses, eating my cheese. Not just any cheese either – Raclette.

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This all began with a single decision – to strip myself down to the barest essentials, seek out wild places, and uncover the primal truth of who I really am.

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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 Michèle Bolton, this waterfront area meeting place offers free wifi, specialty coffee and tea, freshly-baked beignets and other delectable treats. Michèle 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 Michèle 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.

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.