Friday, August 21, 2020

Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 1

Soaking in nature, Lafayette State Park
Wearing IllumiNITE Vigor Singlet
and Stretch Eclipse Headband

I just got back from a two-week respite. Sixteen glorious days of no work, no Internet, no phone, and mostly, no people. The first part of my vacation was spent in solitude on the Cape; the second half was spent with Mike in the White Mountains. I decided to divvy up this vacation recap post into two parts because each week felt entirely different, and there is so much to talk about—so much I've discovered about myself...again.

I've been taking solo vacations for the past ten years. I started taking them because I was actually terrified to be a woman alone in the world. I knew exposure therapy was the only way to cure that, so I started off small—a trek to Cobleskill, New York, for a weekend exploring Howe Caverns and built my solo-travel bravery up to Scotland, a country I've never visited, to run an ultramarathon in the remote wilderness.

What I love most about my solo vacations is they often come up unexpectedly—an urgent impulse to escape the world. The calling for solitude starts weeks, sometimes months beforehand, and a mystical, faraway place lingers somewhere in my bones until it possesses me so strongly I must go. Magically, when this urge to escape takes over, a serendipitous opportunity like the Kintyre Way Ultramarathon presents itself to me.

But with this time of COVID-19, I couldn't imagine such an opportunity. Plus, I'm working from home and my social lifestyle has settled down to such a domesticated routine, did I really need to escape the world? Didn't quarantine already provide that escape? This is also the first time in twelve years that I've been in a significant relationship. Did I really want to leave my partner? The calling for solitude pulsed, coursing through my bones in a restless pattern. I ignored it, but it didn't ignore me.

Remembering collecting seashells
by the seashore when I was a little girl
My sister is getting married in October. As the maid of honor, my responsibilities include all the celebratory pre-wedding parties: bridal shower, bachelorette, sisters getaway (am I missing something?). But COVID-19 had messed all that up. Until I remembered a friend of mine had a cottage by the sea that she rented out. I sent her a message. Is your cottage available this summer, despite COVID-19? She responded that it was and asked if I wanted the rental for me, for a writing retreat. She's a writer like me so her response is a typical writerly response. But it startled me. No, I wrote. A girls' getaway for my sister who's getting married. But then I thought about it: a solo writing retreat by the sea. Then I joked about it to Mike.

You should go, he said. You should write. The very next day, I booked the cottage for eight days.

Writing spot for the week; first day,
it took 5 hours to write my daily goal
of 2,500 words; by week's end,
I wrote 4,100+ words in just 4 hours

West Harwich, Cape Cod

I shut off all notifications on my phone so that no one could get through to me via text, email, social media, not even by phone call. Only Mike could get through in case of an emergency. I packed my bag with only essentials: my bathing suit, a couple pairs of shorts and tank tops, my IllumiNITE tanks, shorts, headband, and multi-wrap (which doubles as a face mask!), sports bras, flip flops, running shoes, my computer (for writing only), groceries for the week, wine, and a large stack of books that took up an entire backpack. Upon arrival, I instantly fell in love with the cozy cottage and found my writing spot immediately.

The first day of solitude always feels strange, electric, as if the outside world is pressing in, trying to keep its hold on me. But after a much-needed twelve-hour rest, I fell right into my creative zone, and words flowed out of me. I wrote 15,000 words of my novel rewrite; I wrote a letter to a friend who was just diagnosed with a serious medical issue; I wrote a letter to Mike pouring out my soul about everything and anything; I wrote a letter to Future Sera, reminding myself how much I need Sera Time. And I walked everywhere.
Enjoying a glass of wine while listening
to Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling

I walked to the beach and back. I walked to the bike path two miles away and then up and down the bike path for miles, taking in the beauty of the marshes and nature conservatory around me.

I read those books I bought. Six books to be exact. I "read" audiobooks as I drove to the cottage and as I walked the bike path. I read hardcovers and paperbacks by the sea and in my private backyard and on the couch and in the bed.

Each day, I woke up to silence, strong black coffee, and a simple breakfast of peanut butter on toast and a bowl of strawberries. I felt a strange luxury as I slipped into the same familiar clothes every day to write and then the same cozy IllumiNITE athletic wear that carried me all through town on my walks.

I read.
I wrote.
I walked.
I sat by the sea.
I read some more.
I walked some more.
Occasionally, I wrote some more.
Each night, I fell asleep listening to an audiobook.
Each day, I fell more in love with words and the new
vast worlds they brought me.

Being solely in my head with no one to talk to all week brought the nostalgia of a simpler time I couldn't quite place. But it comforted me.

I always feel larger than life, and integral part of the Universe
when I travel solo and wander places I'd never see otherwise
Every time I travel solo, I wonder: What am I really looking for? Where am I really going? The physical destination hardly matters; the real destination is me. My thoughts, my company. But why?

It wasn't until I arrived back home from this solo vacation that it dawned on me during the walk in our neighborhood that Mike and I take every day. Sometimes, we talk nonstop about everything under the sun; other times, like this time, we walk in silence just marveling at our existence, enjoying a quiet solitude together. In this silence, a memory bubbled up.

Serenity found on a 6.5 mile walk on a bike path
from West Harwich to Dennis on Cape Cod
I was a child, somewhere between the ages of eight and ten. I was in my bedroom writing a story, completely in the creative zone. A knock came on the front door, and then my mom stood in my doorway. My best friend stopped by. Do you want to go play outside? my mom asked. Not wanting to hurt my friend's feelings, I begged my mom to tell her I wasn't feeling well or I was grounded or I was in the bathtub—anything to not have to leave the comfort of my solitude and creativity. Another memory flashed, the same scenario, only I was reading a good book; another similar memory flashed, but I was playing with my stuffed animals, creating entire worlds and lives for them. I know you're not really sick, my friend said one day, when I tired of being in my head and longed for company again. She didn't understand, and my childhood self couldn't explain why I needed that solitude. But I desperately did. I still do.

This memory brought an epiphany: These solo vacations bring me back to a simpler time, a time before instant access to everyone through the Internet and cell phones. A simpler time when being outside all day, every day, meant no one had access to me until I returned home. A simpler time when I spent hours lounging in the grass with a book; other times, racing my bike down the path, the wind hugging me, whispering that nothing else matters but this very moment. Vacationing alone brings me back to my childhood, when I was completely and utterly in my head, my imagination running wild, my curiosity of the world still innocent enough.

He fluttered his wings so loudly, I jumped. What is this insect? I discovered
it was only half an insect. I didn't have my phone to film it. The next day,
 I took a photo. Zombie cicadas in 2020? What else is next?!

Mike and Sera wearing IllumiNITE Multi-wraps
Sera in IllumiNITE Mockingbird short sleeve shirt (now final sale)
After eight days, I packed up my belongings and drove back home. But I dwindled in my head, sharing with Mike all I discovered with my novel and on my wanderings and the stories I read. After washing a week's worth of laundry and getting a good night's sleep in my own bed, I once again packed up my belongings, exchanging the books I read for new ones.

Mike and I set off to spend the next five days in Lincoln, New Hampshire, where everything is green and vast, and anything is possible.

Stay tuned for Thickly Settled: Slow Down, Part 2, where I go from lounging around all day to nearly plummeting off a mountainside, three-thousand feet above ground. In the meantime, I'll share with you a sneak peak video of what's to come.

ME; Is there a bear in there?
MIKE: I'm positive there's no bears.
ME: Why don't you sit in there first?
MIKE: I'm pretty sure there's no bears.

Everyone who knows me knows I'm petrified of bears! Did I go inside the cave?

Do you ever you feel the need to escape the world? Where do you go and what do you do when solitude calls you? Leave a comment below. I'd love to hear your stories!

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