Let’s start from the beginning, shall we? In 1989, I was born a middle child into a middle-class family in Middle America. Yes, I understand it is impossible to be born a middle child. I must have sensed there was a Valentine’s Day with my little brother’s name on it, because I have been an independent child on the move since I could begin crawling. At eight months old, I became bored with crawling and decided to walk. This allowed me to see more of the environment around me and get a bird’s-eye view of the world. At eleven months old, I discovered that taking my strides faster would cut down on my travel time and decided to run. I took plenty of falls, and in hindsight, I probably should have learned how to hit the brakes first. After third grade, I had learned enough in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and decided to move to Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (That is what I told my third-grade teacher, at least).
Chapel Hill is my home. Even writing the words Chapel Hill makes me feel good. When I graduated from high school, I decided to take my academic talents (or lack thereof) to Boone, North, Carolina, to attend Appalachian State University. This allowed me to see the world at an even higher bird’s-eye view, from 3,333 feet. The view of the mountains was great, but the view of a Southern girl from Lincolnton, North Carolina, was even better. I decided to make this girl named Ashley (Ash) mine. It took longer than I thought, and after many failed pickup lines, (such as asking for ChapStick but then proclaiming I didn’t use the stick), I managed to convince her to go on a hike with me. We fell in love in the Appalachian Mountains that day, traveling across trails and rivers and exploring an area of the world neither of us had ever seen. The exploration of new things is quite an aphrodisiac. We graduated from App State, and we decided to move to Denver, Colorado, to begin our careers. It was our dream to travel the world together, but we had to work to make money, so we told ourselves we would work for a year and then leave.
Ash was a kindergarten teacher and I worked in fundraising for a nonprofit called Junior Achievement. We lived our lives similar to many Millennials. Getting through the five days of the week only by looking forward to the weekend. One year quickly became two, and the window to travel was disappearing. I had taken my place in the rat race to ascend the long, steep corporate ladder. As a result of our working lifestyles, our relationship suffered. Ash would wake up earlier than I did to commute to school, and we would not see each other in the morning. After work we would go to the gym. When we got home, one of us would start cooking while the other showered, and then we would switch places. We ate our meals on the couch and watched Netflix, dreading the workday ahead. On the weekends we would go out with friends and try to pack as much into those two days as we could. It wasn’t that we weren’t still in love; it was that we weren’t exploring new things anymore. We spent time hiking, snowboarding, and visiting new places in Colorado, but after two years of the same thing, our lives became monotonous.
Desperate for a change, I landed what I thought was my dream job in an athletic program selling corporate sponsorships. I was leaving an amazing job at Junior Achievement with great people. Ash was absolutely devastated. She didn’t tell me, but I could see it in her eyes. She knew that this was it, our plants were rooted, and we would be in Denver for a long time. I told her that we needed to do this for our future and that we would take a two-week vacation somewhere amazing. She supported me because she knew I badly wanted this job, but our dreams of traveling the world would be put on hold once again. I began my new job and absolutely hated it. I spent the entire day making cold calls. I came home and shared my disappointment with Ash. I have never felt quite as lost as I did that day in January of 2015. I felt like my life had spiraled out of my control. So we made the toughest decision we had ever made: we decided to follow our dreams and travel the world. We decided to risk our future for a happier now.