For the last 5 years I cooked my family’s Thanksgiving meal. I created a menu, printed recipes, made grocery lists and a schedule of how everything would cook to be more or less finished at the same time so we could sit down, say grace and eat. This was my one grandiose culinary act of the year. Truth be told I dislike cooking and otherwise spend the least amount of time preparing meals. The hours that go into preparing a dish, cooking and then serving it seem wasteful compared to the 10 minutes it takes for a meal to be consumed. And that’s not even counting washing and drying the dishes.
Last year I became a vegetarian and broke the news to my family that I would not be cooking a turkey. They could more or less count on me for the sides, but not to expect much because my heart just wasn’t in it. My heart was broken and being grateful over a meal, even if with my family, was the last thing on my mind. If it was up to me I would have chosen to be somewhere else enjoying the anonymity that visiting a new city brings, but instead I stayed for Thanksgiving (and my mom’s sake), cooking sides between alternating Netflix and napping on the couch in my pajamas.
The next day I boarded a plane for Portland, Oregon which would be the first of many planes I would board in the upcoming year. I had decided to boycott Christmas all together, so it was only fitting to travel on Black Friday and skip the stores, the crowds, the deals. Material things could not fulfill what I was missing or come close to what I was looking for. I wasn’t running away from my broken heart, but trying to mend it by rediscovering all of the things that brought me joy.
People had always told me I would fall in love with Portland, and I did. After riding the light rail downtown and checking into the hotel I spent hours walking the streets from Pioneer Square to the end of the Pearl District. Inside one of the local handmade shops the owner advised me to skip the touristy diner I had thought would make a great place for dinner and instead walk 5 or 6 blocks up for the best biscuit sandwich and pie I could ask for. And it was the best. The next morning I drove a rental car from the city down the Columbia River Gorge to the Bridge of the Gods where I hiked 6 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail and walked over the bridge, standing in the middle with one foot in Oregon and one in Washington while looking down on the river. I had just finished reading Wild and heard Cheryl Strayed speak a few months before.
I sampled Portland’s best coffee and beer, met strangers that led me to discover new shops and restaurants, browsed Powell’s and the Saturday Market, bravely turned around when I went down a street and realized I didn’t feel safe anymore. I stood waiting for the light rail to take me back to the airport with hail bouncing off me and returned home with a necessary urgency to plan my next trip.
I have earned the title of planner in my family; specifically planner of adventures. The one who finds the best airfare and hotels, plans out the itineraries just enough to still have an organic experience and leave enough room to just follow the wind. This is a new title that I am still settling into, and one only earned after my life was shook up and I found a deep need to pull up my hometown roots and discover what’s out there. Discover what’s out there not only for me, but in me.
I am grateful for how much joy travel brings me. I am grateful for the new layers of dust or mud on my boots after hiking a new trail, for the water spraying my face when I stand at the base of a waterfall, for the shivers that shake my body when dipping my toes in a new place in the ocean. I am grateful for the experience of travel like the excitement of being at the airport enjoying a pre-flight craft beer, breakfasting on fresh made pastries and handcrafted coffee or tea from the best coffee shops and dining on delicious local fare on outside patios watching people breeze by.
I have just returned from my second Gratitude Trip. This time I took my family with me. We traveled on Black Friday, hiked in the rain, dipped our toes in the freezing cold ocean off the coast of Vancouver, Canada, ate Poutine, drank local beer and whiskey, but most importantly, we shared the joy of discovering a new place together, and just maybe something new in ourselves too.