Origin Stories

Travel, grief and self-care: Reflections from a pandemic – Part One

“Try not to become a (wo)man of success, but rather try to become a (wo)man of value.” ~ Albert Einstein

Together Anywhere launched it’s travel app in 2019, in the height of Oregon tourism and optimism. Travel to the state was at an all time high and we were excited to bring a new, innovative alternative to touring around this complex land, connecting travelers to its stories and bountiful nature. 2020 was going to be our year to really test and expand our product and then… well, we all know what happened. First, a pandemic, then racial justice movements (that were long overdue IMHO), an intense election year, and finally, wildfires completely transformed the scope of the Oregon travel landscape. But as a new business, in our minds, if we wanted to survive, we just couldn’t stop trying.

We really tried to move with the changing tides while trying to delicately promote our socially distant friendly app during the summer of 2020. However, all actions felt like one step forward and two steps back. Finally in September, after the wildfires, after many tears, much frustrations, and deteriorating mental and physical health, we gave up trying so hard. We succumbed to the beast of 2020 and settled in to the grief of losing what we so desperately had been trying to “save.” And we are not gone, just recovering and healing.

This post highlights the personal story of TA partner Christy as it feels important during this heightened time of mental health awareness, honoring the passion for this work we do. I (Christy) believe the connection to self-understanding and reflection is required for growth and movement forward. During the first six months of the pandemic, my attempts at perceived success had ultimately depleted my value of self-care. Now, one year later, I reflect on my own understanding of grief and what I learned as a new small business owner trying to survive amidst the grief of 2020. My next post (Part Two) will focus on the journey of grief specific to our changing business over the last year.

The three TA partners (Arnaud, Christy, Andrew) in June 2019 at our launch event on the McKenzie River tour (now much destroyed due to wildfires).

Part One: I’ve been studying grief for a long time. Rather, first I experienced grief, then studied grief, then experienced, then studied… play, pause, repeat. The losses incurred at a young age sent my teenage self into an existential crisis far too early and the search for meaning and purpose were launched, often resulting in self-destructive, then redemptive behaviors. You have likely heard the initial stages of grief: denial, bargaining, anger, depression… I bounced between the symptoms like a pinball for nearly twenty years. It was tiring.

Early on, I found a modicum of healing through music, learning to connect and express my unspeakable feelings through the words and notes of others. In college, my path drifted towards helping others, as the altruism provided a needed distraction from my own, still much broken self. My healing was also supported by wonderful family and friends. But as anyone who has been depressed can tell you, our family and friends still can’t “save” us.

TA partners Andrew and Christy performing at Bear Creek in Scio, Oregon 2015. Photo by Judd Sawyer.

I have only recently determined that it was when I discovered travel – and really, solo travel – that I was able to begin learning how to connect with myself. In my reflection, I recognize that my angry youth and depressed twenties were interspersed with family, friend and group adventures to various parts of the United States, Canada and Europe, providing brief respites from my general apathy and unease.

Then, at 25 years old, I took my first solo cross-country trip I obviously titled my “Journey to the West.” A Midwestern worldview of the big, bad unknowns had kept me from taking the leap into the abyss of what I might discover on the road alone. After all, the world is scary, right? Fuck it. I was ready to be scared. After all, I had mastered the various stages of grief up to this point… denial, bargaining, anger, depression. Unbeknownst to me, a road trip that began as a post-breakup escape, would launch the final stage of the grief journey I had started so young: acceptance.

The digital camera dates this pic to 2005. Would I even stop to photograph commonplace pine trees these days?

When I think about this time, this trip, this birth of independence, I can only now frame it as the most important leap I ever took. Finally, nearly 16 years after that first transformative journey, I am starting to find the words to describe why it mattered so much to me. I guess I had always been programmed to think I was running from myself when, in actuality, I have been utilizing a resource for my toolkit of healing: travel. For me, travel not only fulfills my need to see beyond myself and my own story, it brings me into alignment with the beauty that I miss when I am stuck in the dredge of day to day existence.

My solo camping setup at Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho.

After my “Journey to the West”, many more years of solo and group travel emerged, too many crazy beautiful stories to recount. This self-revolution would also lead me to relocate to Oregon at the age of 28. I love living in a place that can replicate a week long vacation in just a couple hours of drive time. It is my belief that Oregon is one of the most magical places on earth.

Through travel, I have found adventure, passion, growth through conflict and perceived fear, connections beyond my wildest imaginations, and yes, love. It’s a love for self, others, and the world that one does not get to see when in the throws of depression. And during the COVID-19 pandemic, through grieving yet another perceived loss, I had to do what I always do to discover these realizations: travel. Sure, it looks a lot different but it is still possible. More on that next post.

Looking back at these parts of my history, it now makes perfect sense to me why starting Together Anywhere is so much a part of my being. And I also understand why it has hurt so much over the last year. And I also understand why allowing the grief process to occur was necessary to experience in moving forward. The cloud has been lifting and I’m now emerging from my grief. I’m ready to again try hard but this time from a place of passion and purpose versus fear of failure. Yes, success matters but my value matters more. And I’m still traveling down the road, discovering what is next, moving forward with a healthy amount of tragic optimism… And we are still here together, anywhere!

On the road, somewhere in Wyoming, February 2021.

Apparently I’m not the first person to touch on this topic of travel and grief. For further reading: