On the High Seas

Well, actually, it was more like a flat sea.  For the most part.  My two year journey in Charleston has been filled with a lot of day to day, with a few adventures thrown in.  Gator hunting was a big one for sure, but the topper so far–going out on a shrimp boat.

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I’ve seen these boats from the shore many times in my life.  When I was an ocean lifeguard, I’d see them rolling out on the blue Atlantic as the sun rose higher into the sky while I set my guard stand up for the day.  I’d always wanted to head out on one–because isn’t the sea filled with dreams and dreamers?  Image

We set out at 4:30 in the morning.  The air was damp and cool–it was so early, even the promise of the day hadn’t woken up yet.  But the boat was bright–lighting up the dock as voices of men getting ready for the day echoed against the sound of the engines, warming up for the work ahead.  As we left the dock, I could feel myself relax as I climbed up next to the captain, felt the breeze blow the thick salt air over my face, and listened to the sounds of Jimmy Buffet bounce off the deck.  Surely this was a life I’d lived sometime before, because it felt like home.

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As we headed out, the nets were lowered into the water.  The boat rolled around a little as the power shifted from the engines to the settling nets.  It was dark, but the stars were out, and before long–the first hint of daybreak appeared on the horizon.  We trolled off the coast of Sullivan’s Island, Morris Island and Folly Beach as the sun made its appearance.  I thought of people on land getting ready for work and traffic and noise–and was glad my feet were firmly planted on a boat at sea.

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As the sun rose, the birds appeared, and I noticed the dolphins behind the boat for the first time.  They were with us all day, swimming behind the nets, catching their breakfast.  Meanwhile–a deck hand was cooking up shrimp and grits and biscuits for us in the galley–and the smells were incredible.  From the food cooking to the salt air, combined with the birds calling out, country music on the radio, the water lapping against the boat all as the sun came up–I couldn’t remember a time I felt more at peace.

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We ate as the sun cut through the sea mist and lit the side of the Morris Island lighthouse.  Even the dolphins were reflecting the light of the sun as they surfaced again and again.  Before long, we pulled in the first catch–and it was a pretty good one.  The nets are pulled up to hang over the deck, and when they were released, the catch poured out.  There were a ton of jellyfish, stingrays, a couple of sharks, various fish, and of course, shrimp.  The deckhands start sorting through the pile, pulling out the shrimp, and pushing everything else back into the water.  The shrimp are almost clear when they come out–and some are huge!  As the sorting continued, the nets were put back in the water for another go.

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The day was long, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.  And I’d do it again in a second.  There’s a clarity for me that can only be found when I’m off land.  Working the boat that day gave me a chance to hear myself for once, instead of everyone else.  We were blessed with calm seas and a good catch–and plenty of pictures that will remain frozen in my mind for years to come.

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The Fight for Me

When I moved to Las Vegas, I was fighting a few battles. I had a lot of great friends–but spent way too much time in the bar. And like anything in life, when you do something enough, it becomes a habit. I couldn’t wait to get out with my friends–every night. They were my lifeline as I waded through some pretty tough times. And there’s no doubt–they were great friends.

But after some time, the weight started to come on. No exercise, drinking nearly every night, eating dinners out all the time…as my self respect grew smaller, my waistline grew bigger. I felt like my life was moving in a constant circle–down a toilet bowl. I knew the ending wouldn’t be good unless I got out. So I did.

I talked to my agent who helps me find jobs–and one day she called and said there was a position open at a TV station in Las Vegas. On the outside looking in, someone who’s struggling with too much food, too much drink and not enough self respect probably shouldn’t come to Las Vegas. But to me–it was a place where I could eliminate all distractions (oddly enough) and focus purely on myself. And–I could also gain the experience of living off the coast for a little while. When the final chapters of my life are written–I’ll never wonder what it would’ve been like to live in the West. I did it.

So with songs like “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson and “I’m Movin’ On” by Rascal Flatts playing on repeat in my head, I drove 2500 miles away from all of my friends and family, and arrived in Fabulous Las Vegas. Without knowing a soul.

Talk about quiet time. I settled into work and then got into the business of fixing me. I had to find something that motivated me–and I found boxing. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved the Rocky series. And here I was in Las Vegas, the king town of boxing, and with a chance to be my own Rocky. And there was one more realization that I was finally able to grasp. The fear of NOT taking control of my life became greater than the fear of change. Again…the fear of NOT taking control of my life became greater than the fear of change. So I got to the business of changing.

Many, many days saw me in the gym. Sweating. Learning a new sport. And falling in love with boxing. I actually turned out to be pretty decent at it–let’s just say my parents are relieved I didn’t discover this 10 years ago. I literally sweat–punched–and beat down 70 pounds. No diet. No starving myself. A diet is about denying yourself to achieve an intended goal. A lifestyle change is a gift to yourself–when you give yourself more than you ever thought possible. A lifestyle change–is saving your life. There’s no denying involved. I get so upset when people who need to lose weight (and I’m not talking 10 pounds people) turn to “diets.” Think about this. When it comes to your body and soul, nothing long term comes out of short term options. There are no shortcuts.

That kind of sucks in this day of instant gratification. But you’ve got to be selfish with yourself and truly love yourself to make the change. And it takes a long time. Two years later, I’m down 70 pounds. And when I look in the mirror–I see the real me, or at least the real person I’m becoming. A diet is short. A life change is the rest of your life. And trust me–you won’t feel like a champion every single day. There were days I couldn’t get to the gym because of thoughts in my own head. And I beat myself up for it. But I’ve also learned that if you make the wrong decision once, back up and make the right one the next day. Don’t let bad decisions and bad choices become a habit.

Two years down this road, my apartment once again is filled with boxes and smells like cardboard. Things are out of whack all around me–a lot of goodbyes are in the very near future. But one thing that’s not out of whack–me. I’m going home back to my ocean. My family and other “lifers” in my life. I still struggle with this ending to Las Vegas–I honestly couldn’t have scripted it any better–and I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. But when I look back over the endless days in the desert, I realize that good things really do come to those who’ve put in the work. And I’ve put in the work. There are more changes ahead–primarily a switch back from boxing to my beloved triathlon, and getting used to having family and “lifers” around again. But when I drive out of town in two weeks–I’ll be leaving a shell behind, a lot of sweat on a gym floor, and will be full speed ahead with motivation and determination to continue on this path. I gambled in Las Vegas and won. I won–me.

A Strip of Bright Lights

I never imagined I’d live in Las Vegas. Ever. Honestly, it wasn’t even a place I had on my bucket list to visit. I had this image of Las Vegas as nothing more than a row of smoke filled casinos where people came to revel in excess of all kinds–and I just assumed keep my feet in the beach sand, thank you very much. And–my image was spot on. And then some.

The Strip is quite a sight. Bright lights. People of all kinds walking up and down sidewalks turned neon by the lights above. In the summer, an intense heat magnifies everything. The sights, sounds and smells of the Strip are something to behold. There’s an undercurrent of energy that pulses through everything you do. It’s exciting for sure–and I can’t write enough about that energy. The heartbeat of Las Vegas. Everyone who visits here is on equal footing–whether you’re a millionaire cozying up to a table game or a slot machine, or the paycheck to paycheck person sitting next to them–the cards and the dice and the pull don’t discriminate. Everyone has a chance in Las Vegas.

But the images of the city that are out there are designed to make everyone believe they can be THAT person. That big winner. And while yes, you do have a chance to rub shoulders with the famous out here, you have to pay to do it. A lot. Drinks in clubs run anywhere from $10-$20. And unless you know someone who knows someone, you’re going to stand in line a long time to get in–and probably not see anyone who’s on TV. I see it all the time–people who come in town with that special black dress packed or that slick shirt, and they get here and realize they’re just like everyone else. I wonder if they leave disappointed–because except for a very select few, Las Vegas is a bright light, big attitude town–that only delivers in a big way if you have big bucks. But–it’s the potential of the “what if” that brings people in with what they’ve got, and often sends them home empty handed. It sure is fun, though.

However–Las Vegas is also a working man’s town, and this is the town I fell in love with. There are beautiful neighborhoods, and some not so beautiful ones. There are schools and high school football games and UNLV and basketball games and baseball games. There are swim teams and gyms and soccer fields and soccer moms with their minivans and honor child bumper stickers. Turn off the lights, and Las Vegas is no different than any other American city–trying to make it through.

My first Thanksgiving here, I fed the homeless. In the middle of Catholic Charities, I was surrounded by faces of people who for whatever reason–came up a little short on the success meter. But away from the lights, these people were the same faces you see on your street corner, wherever you are… just looking for a break–or dinner.

So, when you ask what’s living in Las Vegas like, away from that one strip of bright lights, it’s Anytown USA. And it’s absolutely beautiful around here–I’ll have more on that in another post. But it wasn’t a bad place to swap beach sand for desert sand for a bit. And I’ll never forget it.

Self Park

This is the first installment of looking back at my Las Vegas journey.–

The first moving company representative arrived at my apartment this morning to do an estimate. Two years ago, the scene was much the same–a few boxes laying around, moving supplies filling up a room, and a lot of wondering about what the future holds. There’s an addictive quality to moving for some… knowing when you land in one spot, it’s not forever, and that horizons and destinations and plans change. Kind of like living on the beach–if you don’t like the weather, give it five minutes, it will change. But I am a very different person than the girl who was packing boxes two years ago. I have survived–and thrived–in Las Vegas, on my own. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Over the span of the next couple of weeks, I’m going to look back at my journey in Las Vegas. Mainly so I can always have a record for myself, but hopefully in an effort to inspire some of you to make that change you so desperately want. Whether its losing weight, changing jobs, moving across the country–you can do it. And now, I can say those are more than empty words–the words come from experience from having done it myself.

So, what was it like, and what did it take to live two years away from my best friends, to go to baseball games by myself, to go to the gym alone, to never have had one visitor from Las Vegas walk in my apartment? It was lonely. But I’m convinced being alone builds character–because it forces you to eliminate all distractions, and listen to that voice. The one inside yourself that can be drowned out by so much as a bird tweet or a passing car. I’m talking REAL one on one time.

I think this point was made clear to me when my friend Bill came to town for a wedding. He’s one of my best friends, and I love his family, and they were all in town at the Wynn. We had a great time, but before I knew it, the night was over. And when your closest friends come to town–while they’re lost in the doing, you’re enjoying the “being.” Being comfortable with someone, even for a couple of hours. Seeing a familiar face. Hugging someone and feeling that connection of home all wrapped up in one moment that passes quickly to them, but gives you ammunition to move forward for another week, month or year.

As I said my goodbyes to Bill and his family, it was like walking out of the family room at Christmas. That one time really stuck with me, because as I was walking out to my car alone, I saw this sign:

And that really hit home. Self park. My entire Las Vegas experience can be summed up in those two words. Self Park. It was time to park my mind and body alone for two years–to see who I really was, to learn all I could, and to achieve goals with no distractions. I wouldn’t change a minute of it, and I’m sure I’ll miss it during certain times ahead.

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write several entries telling you what I learned–and what I was taught while I “self-parked.” I hope you enjoy.

A whole lot of beautiful.

Here I am–just about at the halfway point of my two year stint out here in the Wild Wild West. So I figured it was time for an update–and maybe one day, I’ll be able to update this blog on a more regular basis.
All is well out here–despite the fact that I miss the ocean and my family back east every single day. But I’m doing what I set out to do–take care of myself. I’m losing weight, getting into the best shape of my life, and taking it all in with the enthusiasim of a 5 year old at her own birthday party.
There have been two really cool things that I’ve done that I haven’t blogged about yet–and they couldn’t be any more different. And they both embody one of the reasons I moved out west on my own–to embrace adventure and challenge myself. So let’s start with the first cool adventure update of this post.

The girl who loves the water more than anything–actually did pretty good climbing a mountain. Well–it was more of a cliff. And to my flippered feet–it was a razor thin gigantic rock growing out of the earth. And one wrong step in parts–and I wouldn’t be here writing this. And that’s not an exaggeration. But it sure was beautiful. I climbed Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah. Here it is from the ground.

I went with my best friend Christal, who flew in from Florida for the trip. We were accompanied by my work buddy Travis, who grew up in the mountains and climbs like a monkey. I’m so glad the good Lord blessed him with a sense of patience–because we were…well, slow. Or just “careful” as I like to call it. We were both a little nervous and a lot out of our environment at the start of the day–Travis took things a little lighter.

Regardless–it was about a 5,000 foot rock. The trail at the bottom started of with a gentle upgrade, harmless, running alongside the Virgin River.

The trail below

It was beautiful–and we eventually worked our way up to a spot called Walter’s wiggles. 21 VERY STEEP switch backs at about 15 yards a pop. From there, we climbed up to Scout’s Landing–a nice spot somewhere near the top of the tree line where you could turn back before the really cool part started.

About halfway up, before the rocks started

There, the trail turned into a mountain of rocks, with chains bolted in for people to hold onto. On either side in many cases, there was nothing but a sheer drop down the cliff face. The Virgin River–a good size river with rapids at eye level, turned into a little line thousands of feet down. The tour busses running through the park looked like matchbox toys. But the air–it was so clean, and the sky was so blue–not a cloud in sight.

Heading up the rocks


Long Way Down

We all made it to the very top, and the view was something I’ll never forget. Christal did a phenomenal job–despite her fear of heights. I was so proud. And up on that mountain, looking around at all of this beauty that I’d only seen in tv shows. It was so real–beauty everywhere we turned. The trip down the mountain–down the rocks, holding onto the chains, down the wiggles and the curves–led to a very surreal moment for me. Christal took my pack, and I ran the last mile off the mountain. It was mostly downhill, but there were a few uphill spots–and it was wild. The sun had dropped low enough that the canyon bottoms were in the shade, but the huge tops of the rock formations were bathed in golden sunlight. The river was back beside me, and all I could here were my footsteps, the sound of my breathing, and the rapids. We all met up at the bottom, played by the river, then enjoyed a beautiful outside dinner under the shadow of Zion. I’ll never forget the day.



The second big trip took me back home–well, sort of. Back to the ocean. Christal flew out and we took a short trip over to Huntington Beach, California. The drive took us through Death Valley, and some incredible mountainous terrain–probably the biggest mountains I’ve ever been in.

Finally–we got to the ocean. We stayed at the Hyatt Resort in Huntington for for two nights–and it was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered. I’d been to San Diego, but I’ve never been in the (cold) Pacific until that day. I got to get back out on my Custom X body board and ride the waves in the (cold) Pacific. My first trip out–I saw a dolphin surface about 10 feet in front of me. You can’t make this stuff up, people. We rented a cabana and two chairs, and had private beach butler service for the day–which meant we could stay hydrated and even eat lunch–without ever having to leave the ocean. They were the best fish tacos I’ve ever had–by far. A little sand and salt can only serve to make things better.

Home

Home


Beach Butler service

We spent the rest of the time watching beautiful sunsets.


And getting cookie turndown service in our room.

And living the surfer lifestyle.




And unfortunatley–I don’t have a picture of the small child’s sandcastle Christal destroyed. Walking on the beach while trying to take pictures–when you’re coordinated challenged in the first place–can always make for a humours end. Fortunately, when she did fall in the sandcastle, the child didn’t cry–and even asked her if she was ok. Grace upon grace, I tell ya.

The weather was cold by Vegas standards–in the 80′s and 60′s, which meant I froze after living through the summer that has been 1000 degrees at least (or 112, but I never exaggerate.) And I cried when we left–but my time to return to the shore is coming. I just wonder who I’ll be and what I’ll be doing when that day comes. For now, I’m focusing on one day at a time–looking forward to the next wave caught or mountain climbed, and am so thankful I am getting a chance to live in the American West.

Palm tree from my pool


Vegas skyline


Vegas from roof

A Dolphin in the Desert

Hello everyone! First, let me apologize–it’s been a long time since I’ve updated on here.
Second, thanks to facebook, let me welcome new readers–feel free to scroll to the beginning to see how the ocean swimmer wound up in the desert. It’s a pretty cool story filled with pretty cool people.

It’s been so long, I’m not sure where to start. It’s been a great six months out here, although a bit lonely at times. However, I’ve definitely learned that when you get all the “noise” out of your life and you’re free to listen to the Lord’s voice, there’s no telling what amazing things will happen. And if you know me, it’s no surprise that I wound up 2500 miles away from my closest friends and family. Let’s just say that me and God–we’re in a good place right now, but still learning.

So–what have I been up to? I figure I’ll do a quick list to bring everyone up to speed without boring you with my tales of adventure.

Drove 2500 miles across the country.

Inspiring Drive

Got back in the gym for serious training.

Started eating right. Very right.

Had a great visit from my parents and my friend Christal, and discovered low and behold that I’m not the only water being in the desert!

A dolphin at the Mirage Las Vegas

Saw lots of cool Christmas things at the casinos, even though the only time I head to the Strip is when friends come to visit.

Polar Bear made out of flowers at The Venetian

Fremont Street Christmas Tree

Had a few friends come to visit!

Cassie at the Wynn


Bill at the Green Valley Ranch and Casino


Derek


Diane

Went skiing.

Took Kyle to doggie school. He was a star!

Superstar Kyle at doggie school!

Started boxing.

Christal after one of my workouts on a visit

Went horseback riding in the desert.

Horseback riding at Red Rock


Never thought I'd be here!

Hung backwards over Hoover Dam.

Hanging over the Hoover Dam

And am constantly amazed everyday at the beauty that is around me. Not a day goes by that I don’t get in my car to drive to work that I am nearly moved to tears by this country out here. Even though it’s so much different from what I’m used to, and given the fact that the closest thing I get to a salt-water fix is by filling up my sink and dumping a bunch of Morton’s in–I’m ok out here. I really feel I have a solid understanding of why I’m here, and what I’m supposed to be doing. Seriously–whoever thought moving to LAS VEGAS of all places would be designed by God to make me stronger, more centered and more open to His plan? Take a look….

Lake Mead, about 25 minutes from my house


Snow on Mt. Charleston


Red Rock Canyon

Ok, now that the quick recap is done, I just got back from a CRAZY trip back to Florida to compete in my 8th consecutive St. Anthony’s Triathlon. And what a story. So sit back, fasten your seat belts (You’re going to need them) and get ready for a wild ride.


I left Las Vegas on the redeye–first time for me–at 1:45am. I was so excited to see water as we came into Memphis–not to mention trees–that I took a picture.

Mississippi River

We went through a thunderstorm somewhere over Oklahoma that left me a little white in the face, but we landed safely around 6:30 am CST. We were supposed to take off around 8:30am for Tampa, but alas–it was not meant to be. I had been up for nearly 24 hours at this point–so after a “minor” meltdown I got it together and grabbed a turkey sub and grabbed a quick nap after it became apparent we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Sometime around 2:00pm, I met a couple in the terminal who will most likely be lifelong friends of mine. Ginny and Claude. Wow. I think they were hand-placed by God just for me. They were headed to Tampa for a conference. And man did we share some good laughs at a relationship that formed near us, and a crazy lady who got her self-proclaimed “oral gratification” by eating mini pecan pies. HILARIOUS. After sitting around for a few hours, we finally learned the delay was for a broken flight attendant call button.

A call button. They flew in a part to fix it from Atlanta. It didn’t work. They flew in a part from Denver. It didn’t work. Around this time, Claude and I went up to the ticket agent and got rebooked on the last flight out to Tampa that night at 8:30 or so. And thank God for Claude who led me through that process–because after several more hours of laughs in the Memphis airport, we got on that plane.

And what a ride that was–we flew through the same storm system that dumped the deadly tornado in Mississippi. I’ve never been on a more rough flight–lightning flashing all around, and the sound of thunder banging outside. I made my peace with the Lord, but we safely touched down in Tampa–minus clean underwear–sometime after 11pm.

It had to look like this.

Christal and another awesome friend Amy picked me up at the airport, and took me to my hotel. Christal had called ahead, gotten permission to go in the room, and had my refrigerator stocked with everything I would need for the race. Did I mention I have amazing friends?
Jonathan showed up the next morning–he’s been to 7 out of 8 races, and we counted down to the start.

But–the delays weren’t done yet. THE SAME STORM SYSTEM that had followed me from Vegas to Oklahoma to Memphis and to Tampa was stirring up waves in Tampa Bay, so I had to wait while they changed the swim course around a bit. Finally–it was off the beach for the triathlon. The swim was fantastic, but the bike…. the winds… wow. It was all I could do at times to stay ON THE BIKE. I started making up songs and singing them out loud to the tune of the wind whistling through my spokes.

By the time I hit the run, I was pretty beat. But despite a slow pace and some cramping issues, I finished. Thank you Jesus! Another St. Anthony’s in the books.

Finisher's Medal 2010 St. Anthony's Triathlon

After visiting with friends, eating some nice meals with great people, and running around town–I had to catch a 5:30am flight out of Tampa on Tuesday, which I promptly missed because of a long security line. Delta rebooked me, and I was headed for Atlanta at 11:10am–more turbulence that turned me a nice shade of pasty white, and finally at 3:30 PST, I touched down in Vegas, went to work, and was home by midnight.

It was a whirlwind adventure filled with a lot of trials–but I have to tell you, it was all worth it.
To my parents–thank you for your love and support that helps me chase these wild adventures wherever they may be.

Hoover Dam with Mom and Dad

And to two of my best friends–I couldn’t have done it without you guys. I love you both so much for supporting me, my dreams, and believing in my potential.

Jonathan and Christal waiting by the finish line

So now–I’m back home, I start boxing again in the morning, and I’m excited about the next chapter of this Western Journey. I miss the water, my family and my friends, but I know that God has me here for a reason–I know what that reason is, and I’m trusting Him to guide me every step of the way.
Turns out being a Dolphin in the Desert isn’t so bad after all.

A dolphin at the Mirage Las Vegas

Homeless for Thanksgiving

Well, it’s been a while. I’ve been taking time doing “me” things–mainly getting used to the fact that I live 2500 miles away from everyone I know. I’m swimming again…

My workout pool

And I’ve dropped more than a dozen pounds…

I’m about to start climbing some of the local mountains after the holidays…

Lone Mountain, Las Vegas

And without a doubt–I’ve lost that pretty suntan I picked up in the Virgin Islands. And I’m very white. But that’s ok too.

So everything was going great–and then bam–here we are standing at the edge of the HOLIDAY SEASON. Gasp! Where did the time go?
And while it’s time for most of you to eat a lot and shop a lot and eat some more….

….and shop some more and then open presents and then eat leftovers while drowning in a food coma in front of a football game… I’m here to tell you–be thankful. Because chances are you’re doing it with family.

So for us “adventure type people” who like experiencing new things–those new things can sometimes leave us far away from those we love. And while that’s a choice I made–it doesn’t mean it’s easy around this time of year.

No matter though–I’ve decided to beat the holiday blues–by helping those who are really alone.
On Thanksgiving, I got myself up and dressed, and got in my car, and drove to a homeless shelter. In the middle of the inner city. Alone. And let me tell you–the experience just plain blessed my socks off.
Now I’m not telling you this story so I can get a pat on the back–I could care less about that. I’m telling you this so we all can remember those who don’t have a warm home to be loved or lonely in. These were the people I served.

And let me tell you–multiply that picture times 20. I didn’t take pictures of them individually, because after all, they’re not zoo animals.
But I did serve them Thanksgiving dinner. Pumpkin pie, to be exact. It was my job to hand out slices of pie as they came through the line. And if they wanted two, I gave them two. And if they wanted extra whipped cream, I piled it on. And most of the guys working with me–well, most of them were homeless too. Serving their version of family.

And there were no fights, no harsh words, and more “thank you’s” and “God-bless you’s” than I’ve ever gotten in a single day.

So this holiday season, if you can find the time, look up your local homeless shelter and go donate some time. Because your time will be the only present these people get. I had a great Thanksgiving, 2500 miles away from home, in a new city, in a sketchy part of town, surrounded by people who most won’t even look in the eye. And when the day was done–I promise you–they blessed me more–and even fed me a great Thanksgiving dinner.

One of the best Thanksgiving dinners

Fish Out of Water

It really hasn’t been that long. But it feels like a lifetime! I’m writing my first blog post from my new home… in the desert. There’s so much to tell. So much all of you have been asking me on facebook and Twitter. So grab a drink, sit back, and enjoy the journey. I sure have so far.

THE DRIVE

I had no idea what to expect when the moving truck left my driveway in Largo, FL. All I knew was that I was going to a far away place and that nothing was going to be the same. And that was a good thing. Although I did shed a tear or two as the truck pulled away. (For some reason, that country song “There Goes My Life” was playing in my head…)

Pulling away

Pulling away


Anyway, that night I had my going away party at my hangout, AJ’s. Everyone showed up, and it truly was a special night. My dear friend Jonathan even made the trip up from Fort Myers. And let me tell you–the night was awesome. I played darts, danced and at the end of the night, I cried. Big time.
Saying goodbye to the guys

Saying goodbye to the guys


So, that was that. And it was time to close the book on that chapter of my life. One more dip in the ocean with my friend Christal, and then it was time to turn my back to the water and walk away. That was one of the hardest walks of my life. But, I’ll be back on the water one day. Until then….
Saying goodbye to the water--for now

Saying goodbye to the water--for now


Before I knew it, it was time to hit the road. The looooonnnggg road. Christal agreed to do the trip with me, so we loaded the car with a dog, a cat, a navigation system (this comes into play later) and us… and I zeroed out the odometer and pulled out of the driveway.
Loaded down

Loaded down


Getting settled

Getting settled


We left around 1:15 in the afternoon, and flew up Interstate 75 towards I-10. It was uneventful, and we spent the time settling in. Before I knew it, we were turning left on Interstate 10. And it would be a loooong time before we turned off. There really wasn’t much to see on the first stretch. About the coolest thing we saw was this convertible Bently. Not like you see those everyday!
Rollin' next to a Bently

Rollin' next to a Bently


We made our way into Alabama, and missed getting a picture of the state line. So when we stopped at the welcome center to let Kyle pee, Christal walked up to the sign and took a picture. Looks kind of like it’s hanging in the dark, doesn’t it?
Nice shot!!

Nice shot!!


We weren’t stopped for long, and came up pretty quick on the town of Mobile. Mobile, you were not nice to us. (Sorry if you’re from there–I’m sure it’s a great city.) We figured I-10 would just carry us on through town. Wrong. We crossed a few bridges, saw the USS Alabama in Mobile Bay, and then went through a tunnel. And when we came out, I-10 was gone. GONE. And at this point, the little lady in the GPS wasn’t helping much–we went around in circles FOUR TIMES. Finally, after driving on a residential street that looked like it was from the 1920′s (in the dark, mind you) we pulled into a gas station to ask for directions. Finally–we were back on the right path. We blazed through Mississippi. It was dark, so I couldn’t see it.

But according to the GPS, we were surrounded by water. And it was only about 40 miles across the state down where we were, so we were here…in no time.

Louisiana is a cool state. We did the bypass around New Orleans, and stopped for the night in Lafayette. And my good friend Jason from years ago found a beautiful hotel where we could stay for the night.

So began the first night of THE ROUTINE. I pulled up, checked in and Christal waited in the car with the animals. Then, I unloaded the three suitcases, the litter box, the litter, the cat food, the dog food, the GPS, and the important paperwork while Christal walked Kyle. Then, I took the luggage up and came back down to get Lacey the cat. And you know what? It worked–beautifully. However I learned something–Kyle is TERRIFIED of elevators. They were glass so you could see all around, and we were on the fourth floor. And he had to be pushed in, and then hunched down on all fours. Other than that, he handled everything like a champ. He didn’t bark ONCE in a single hotel we stayed in. So, that first night, we slept. Like ROCKS. I drove more than 800 miles that day. We got up the next morning, got a crawfish poboy at a cool restaurant, then hit the road.

Can you say YUM?

Can you say YUM?

TEXAS

The second day found us pushing into Texas. Neither of us had ever been, so we stopped at the welcome center.

Texas Welcome Center

Texas Welcome Center


And you know how they say everything is bigger in Texas? It’s true. Trust me. From the grasshopper on the sidewalk that was the size of my foot, to the ginormous mosquitoes that swarmed Christal while she walked Kyle… HUGE STUFF, PEOPLE. My goal was to get through Houston before 4:00 rush hour. The road opened into about 12 lanes, and I looked at the clock–4:30pm. Ugh. The Houston skyline opened beautifully and could be seen all around the beltway. I wanted Christal to get a picture for the blog–but… well, it’s one of the largest cities in America, and for the moment, she was camera challenged. This is one of the shots we got of “Houston.”
Houston through Christal's eyes

Houston through Christal's eyes


Although there was no great picture, we did make it around town in 20 MINUTES! Don’t tell me God wasn’t on our side. 20 minutes around Houston, and that was the big event of day two. The east Texas countryside rolled on… and on… and on… and for the first time on our trip, we were rolling up and down little hills. We drove through San Antonio that night (delayed because the cajun food wasn’t friendly to me) and pushed on. We called my dad, who had found a Days Inn in Sonora, TX. We were about four hours away, so we left San Antonio around 8:30pm and decided to go for it. And that’s when America started changing. I have no pictures of it, but all of a sudden, we were going up BIG HILLS in the dark. Our ears were popping. The car was shifting gears going up. The speed limit was legally raised to 85mph! And I had to hit the brakes going downhill to keep from going 95. We couldn’t see anything, but we could feel it. Texas was getting BIG. At one point, I looked up. And there’s nothing to describe the amount of stars we saw. I opened the sunroof, and I felt like we were in space. The moon was so close, it looked as if we could touch it. It was awe-inspiring.

We had set the GPS for Sonora, TX. And we were closing in on it–according to the little woman in the computer. Boy was she wrong! She kept telling us “Arriving at destination. Arriving at destination.” And unless Sonora was on top of a mountain we couldn’t see, we were no where near a town. The little lady finally gave up, and finally shut up. And the GPS simply read… ROAD AHEAD. I thought that was very considerate of her to tell us there was a ROAD ahead. DUH. SERIOUSLY? Turns out she was about 40 miles off. We finally made it to Sonora, pulled into the hotel, went through the ROUTINE, and fell asleep quick.

(sorry it's blurry)

(sorry it's blurry)

BIG MOUNTAINS

The next morning, we got up, and could tell something was different. I asked the front desk, and we were at about 4000 feet in elevation. Crazy. We loaded the car, snapped a picture, and headed out.

Getting ready to leave Sonora, TX

Getting ready to leave Sonora, TX


And wow. What a drive. There were mountains and hills and wide open spaces I’d never seen before. And God bless Christal–she can’t get a picture of the Houston skyline, but she can really get some shots of WIND FARMS in the distance. I’d never seen those before either. Most of that day was spent with our mouths open. Here are some pictures for you to enjoy.
Near Sonora, TX

Near Sonora, TX


Wind Farms in the distance

Wind Farms in the distance


Texas Wind Farms

Texas Wind Farms


BIG TEXAS SKY

BIG TEXAS SKY


The rail system is alive and well in TX

The rail system is alive and well in TX


Arizona mountain sunset

Arizona mountain sunset

This is how much Kyle enjoyed the beauty.

Nothing to it!

Nothing to it!

We got up the next morning, finished driving out of Texas, and blazed a quick trail through New Mexico. (Beautiful state!)

Sign says it all

Sign says it all


Kyle and me in New Mexico

Kyle and me in New Mexico

That night, after getting stopped at border patrol (You can see Mexico and their big flag from I-10), we pulled into Phoenix. And if you’re ever traveling with animals, take note: THE HILTON IS PET FRIENDLY! I never would have guessed. But after calling a number found on the website by my dad called bringfido.com, we wound up in a suite on the 10th floor at the Hilton in Phoenix, with two balconies that overlooked downtown. AND–there was a valet and bellhop who did THE ROUTINE and parked my car. After days on the road, it was such a blessing.

Looking down 10 floors in the Hilton

Looking down 10 floors in the Hilton


Got it made at the Hilton!

Got it made at the Hilton!

DAY FOUR

Turns out the previous day was only a prelude of things to come. Day four’s trip took us from Phoenix to Las Vegas. We finally said goodbye to Interstate 10 (what a GREAT interstate) (except for in mobile) and got on Highway 93 north. Folks, I recommend this drive to everyone. After you leave Phoenix, Highway 93 opens up and climbs into huge mountains. I’ve never seen anything like it. Pictures don’t do the beauty justice. Christal and I drove for at least an hour without saying a word, just driving, taking pictures, hanging our mouths open and wiping tears from our eyes. It was that beautiful. No sign of civilization, no towns… just this endless highway twisting and turning and climbing through the most beautiful country.

Highway 93 in Arizona

Highway 93 in Arizona


Unbelievable.

Unbelievable.


Desert Mountains on Highway 93

Desert Mountains on Highway 93


Check out the view in my mirror

Check out the view in my mirror


And all of a sudden, the road turned, and there in front of us: Hoover Dam. What an amazing engineering feat. I never understood what was so great about a big dam, until I saw it. We stopped three times to take pictures–each view more spectacular than the last. And on Hoover Dam, right on top of it, you cross from Arizona into Nevada.

Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam


At Hoover Dam with Christal

At Hoover Dam with Christal


Hoover Dam

Hoover Dam


Lake Meade flowing up to Hoover Dam

Lake Meade flowing up to Hoover Dam

After taking the pictures, we hopped in the car, and were in Las Vegas within the hour. 2464 miles from driveway to driveway. A truly amazing experience.

LAKE MEADE
Now even though I’m in the desert and feel like a fish out of water, it took me less than 24 hours to dive in.
We took Kyle swimming in Lake Meade our first full day here, and it was beautiful. This will definitely do for now.

Water Boy

Water Boy


Playing catch in Lake Meade

Playing catch in Lake Meade

THE JOB
So, tonight, I’m settled in with a week’s worth of work under my belt. And I LOVE IT. I feel a warmth at my station, and I LOVE producing again. My anchors are great to work with, and so far, there seems to be no bitterness or backstabbing in the station. In fact, one of my directors has an MMA fight next weekend, and people are going. It’s been a while since I’ve seen that kind of support.
As for me, my neighbor here in Michael Firestone–a world known Michael Jackson impersonator. Google him. I met him walking the dog.

I enrolled today at UNLV as a recreational athlete. I have a UNLV identification card and the whole works. Their pool facility is amazing. Now I just have to use it and get my butt back in shape. Who knows when that next triathlon will be?

IN SHORT…
God was truly with us on this trip. We hit no major rain, no traffic jams and had no incidents on the road. My movers with Allied were amazing, and all my stuff made the journey in one piece. I’m in a beautiful apartment, and am excited about the road ahead.
My mom and dad were amazing through the whole drive–my dad scouted ahead several times, which saved two tired people a lot of extra work. And Christal was amazing. Having her for a road partner couldn’t have worked out better. I know without a doubt we’re both looking forward to doing the trip again someday… on another Interstate… headed back to the Atlantic. Maybe another road?
i40

Until then, I’ll go to the Pacific, ski in the Sierra Nevada, check out what’s around Vegas and do my work, and my working out, like a champion.

Changing Face

When I started this blog not so long ago, I had no idea what stories I would tell. I was ending my journey at the TV station in Tampa, and knew I wanted to change a lot of things. So I walked out the door of that place on March 31st with no job to go to, but a feeling that there was “something” that must be done. So what did I do? I took a trip just for swimmers and triathletes and went to the British Virgin Islands to live on a yacht and swim endless miles across some of the most beautiful water on earth.
Virgin Islands Swim Vacation April 2009 108
And I as I was staring at all of the fish and coral and rays and turtles surrounded by mountains rising from the sea, I set my mind to thinking. (If you go back to the beginning of this blog, you can read about how the blog got its name, and the details of the trip.)
It was an amazing, life changing experience. (Thanks Mom and Dad!) But how? I had no idea. So I came back with plans to get in the best shape of my life, spend some time traveling the world, and maybe become a missionary. Or work for the Peace Corps. Or bum rides around the world and live on couches of kind strangers while we sipped fruity beverages and discussed tales of our different worlds. Ahhh… the things we plan when we have no plans.
confused_yyyqwera_bp
Did I do it? No. Did I get in better shape? No. Did I travel the world aside from the Islands? No. Did I become a missionary? No. Although I did sip a few fruity beverages.
I learned that when you have no plans, you have no structure. At least I don’t. I did spend time at the beach. And of course you’ve read about my swimming lessons with the kids. But basically, I thought about doing a lot of things but realized money is hard to come by when you’re not working. So I ate bad food because it was cheap and I slept late because I could and I stayed up late because TV after 2am is surprisingly entertaining.
roseanne-show
And I put a lot of distance between the person I was…and the person I wanted to be. I wanted to be superman, someone’s hero, an adventurer, a dreamer. And I realize now that I can be those things–but I have to have structure to do it. So, somewhere around mid-summer, I put my job search first. TV? Maybe. Back to school? Too expensive. Working for a non-profit? No salary. Open my own swim school? Too expensive. I had an excuse for anything and everything on why it wouldn’t work, instead of why it might. So, I had to change course. Or Change Face.
And after my 3+ years of management in television news, I realized something. I missed creating. I missed doing my thing. I wasn’t a fan of watching others do their jobs and having to make sure the spelling was correct. So, I called my agent. There was one place I wanted to be, and one place only. Wilmington, North Carolina. Working for this station.
WECT_TV_Logo (1)
I wanted to put on my old shoes relatively speaking and head back to North Carolina. Where my grandmother and grandfather and parents weren’t far away. Where the coastlands give way to the cotton fields, which gives way to the Piedmont, and then up into the mountains. I wanted to see the sunrise over the Atlantic. Surf MY spot. Fish from my old pier. I wanted to go back to my home state.
north-carolina
So, get this. I GOT THE CALL. I was in the running for the News Director position–something that opens up on average every ten years–at WECT! That was it! All the searching was over! The music was playing! The sun was shining! It was mine! I could feel it in my soul! Close to my family, surrounded by friends, running through the surf…. can’t you see it? I could. And then…I couldn’t. After making it to the final cut, I didn’t get the job. And once again, I had zero direction. I was upset. And then–I wasn’t.
I told the Man upstairs that if Wilmington was where He wanted me to be, then GREAT! And if it wasn’t, I’d trust HIM to put me where He wanted me to be. And for once, I said it while I was in the running for the position I wanted, and I BELIEVED IT when I didn’t get it.
And then, the phone rang. And a tv station in this place was on the other end of the line.
vegas
Seriously? Are you kidding me? So I listened to what they had to say. And you know what? It sounded good. No–it sounded GREAT. I’m a night person. They wanted a solid voice in the newsroom–at NIGHT. I love to produce! They wanted a nightside producer! Sounded great so far… so, I left on a jetplane. And I flew over this.

Grand Canyon from my airplane

Grand Canyon from my airplane


I’d never seen it before–and WOW. And I landed in Vegas and I walked outside and it was hot. But not humid. And I went to my station and met people who seemed to be really genuine. It felt comfortable. Not forced. And perhaps moreso than any interview I’ve ever been on–they wanted to know about me as a person. Bottom line, it felt like a good ol’ hometown station. Regular live newscasts. Doing what I haven’t done in a few years, but loved when I did it.
So, they sold me. And I said yes. And so now, I’m in the middle of packing up my life and moving to a place where I’ve spent a grand total of about 20 hours. And where nobody really knows my name. And the station had help selling me, because of this:
photo credit:  inetours

photo credit: inetours


And this:
GRCA_GrandCanyonHDR
And even this is not too far away.
The Pacific Ocean

The Pacific Ocean


So I think back to what I wanted in the beginning of the summer. Adventure? I’ve got a big one in front of me. Change? It’s happening as I type. A new place to get rid of memories of tough times and create new happy times? I’m finding it in the most unusual place–Las Vegas.
They call Vegas Sin City. But it also has another name–you can research it if you don’t believe me. It’s called The City of Second Chances.
Las Vegas
I left a management position at a top tv station in March. I’m going to a smaller station in a smaller market to produce. Some may see it as a step down, but the way I figure, it’s a step up. A step to making those changes. To do what I love to do, and to be a leader doing it. For the first time in more than 3 years, I cannot WAIT to get to work.
So, Changing Face. I’ve done it, and I know I’ve been in His hands the whole way. I never would have picked Vegas, so this definitely isn’t of my doing. And I want to give a quick shout out to my Mom and Dad, who’ve been tremendous–TREMENDOUS–in helping me get here.
So I leave Tuesday. I’m driving with a friend across the country. And a dog. And a cat. 2000 MILES across the country.
overpacked
I’ll take lots of pictures. And I’ll leave my ocean behind for just a little while. The next time I write a blog from this computer, it’s going to have a different theme, because this one, Changing Face, is well underway.
Stay tuned for tales from a Fish Out of Water.
The OceanKid is going to play in the Desert.
See ya’ll soon.

Just Do It!

Well, hello my friends, hello. (Everyone, sing along!) It’s been a while, and for that I apologize, but there’s been a lot going on! Today’s article is more for the ladies, so guys, I’ll say this.. men can get breast cancer too, so don’t be afraid to ask your doctor to check you out. Ok guys, you can now leave if you’d like. I’ll wait.

Waiting…

Waiting…

Waiting…

Ok, that should be plenty of time. Things have been going fine…swimming lessons are about wrapped up for the summer, I’m on the verge of getting back into television (and possibly moving to a very exciting place–more on that later) and I’ve been spending quiet nights at home cooking dinner and playing Monopoly!
monopoly
And I’m here to tell you–it does wonders for the creative soul when you play the game by yourself. Although I do have a friend that comes over sometimes and is subject to my constant beatdowns. But, I’m not here to bore you with tales of Boardwalk and railroads. It’s time to get serious and talk about breast cancer.
breast-cancer-awareness-ribbon
A couple of months ago, I felt a lump in the shower. Given that I hate going to the doctors office, I let it slide. Even though my own mother is a survivor, I pushed it to the back of my mind. Until I read the story of a guy who lost his wife to the disease. He blogged about every step of their journey–about how Susan had breast cancer, they beat it, then it came back in another form. Reading that blog caused me to pick up the phone and dial the doctor. Besides, I was sure it would be nothing more than a quick check, peace of mind and a $15 copay. Yeah, it didn’t turn out like that.
The doctor felt it too. Someone said something about it being a 50/50 shot as to whether it was cancer. So off I went to get a mammogram. And ladies, it didn’t hurt! Now I’m not going to say it’s something I enjoyed, but it really was no big deal. If you’ve never gone, here’s what the machine looks like.
Mammo machine
They load your sisters up into it one at a time, press down, and take a lovely picture. And it’s a picture that could save your life. My mammogram showed a couple of issues–one in each boob. (I’m not a big fan of the word breast–makes me think of chicken.)
chicken_breasts
So, then it was off to have an ultrasound. Another easy test. It’s no different than what you see pregnant ladies getting on tv, except it happens on your boobs. Here’s a picture…
ultrasound machine
No pain, and they’ll let you watch the monitor. It’s very cool to know the inside of your boobs looks like this….
BreastUltrasound
I know. Exciting, right?
So, I had my chest “wanded,” and it showed stuff too. One spot in my left, and one in my right. And they didn’t look quite right. So, the next step could have been a breast (ahem chicken) MRI. However, I learned that insurance doesn’t like to pay for breast MRI’s. Hello–someone please fix this. It’s another step that could help determine if a woman has cancer, and it should be available to all women if necessary. However, in my case we skipped the MRI.
question-mark-button-thumb3049741
So, I lived with a sense of anticipation for a couple of weeks, while my pictures from the mammo and ultrasound were sent to a really cool breast cancer center. And yesterday, I went in for another mammo and ultrasound, and this time, they did a core biopsy.
And I’m here to tell you–IT DID NOT HURT! (Guys, if you’re still with me, here comes more details.)
They stuck an itty-bitty needle in the area to deaden it, and that felt like a pin prick at best. Then, I watched on the ultrasound machine as they stuck another needle type thing in my boob–and again, IT DIDN’T HURT–and clipped 5 pieces of tissue.

Core biopsy needle.  No pain.

Core biopsy needle. No pain.


Those went off to the lab, and I got a band-aid and went home! No pain at all. I’m a little sore today, but I’ve had much more aggravating headaches over this whole thing.
bandaid1.jpg
And today, I got the call that it was benign. So now, I’m ready to move on to the next phase of my life with no sense of fear, no wondering what that lump is, and no stress from talking myself out of doing what needs to be done.
thumbsup
So ladies, and men, JUST DO IT. Go get that mammogram. It doesn’t hurt, and it doesn’t take any time at all. And even if there’s something there, the next diagnostic steps are easy too! And if it does turn out to be cancer, at least you know you caught it early, and you can fight knowing you’ve already won the first battle–by getting checked.
And if you need more motivation and inspiration than what you find on my blog, go read through this blog. It could very well save your life.
Click here to read an amazing story.

Click here to read an amazing story.


Thank you to God for giving me patience, my family and friends who supported me, and to the support I got from this organization in keeping me motivated on twitter.
livestrong_band_001
And a special thank you to Elden and Susan Nelson for sharing their story.
Go get checked.
Just DO IT.
And Win.