August Journaling Day 5: Travel

So funny enough, I’m writing this on a morning where I’m going to take a little day trip. Feels so apropos. I feel like my relationship with travel has been a true love/hate/love experience. When I was a little boy, we usually took one plane trip vacation most years. I remember going to Disneyland a couple of times, but mostly we went to spring training for baseball in Arizona every March to see the Mariners. As a kid my favorite part of the trip was the flight. I have always had an obsession with maps and I would study them before any trip. I’d try and memorize what cities or mountains were where and when we’d fly down I’d bring my atlas along and try to guess what each city below us was. I loved the takeoff, I loved the view, I loved all of it. Up until the age of 15, all my travel was exclusively in the West. Washington, Oregon, California, and Arizona I believe were the only four states I visited up to 15. Then came Chicago.

When we were 15 our select baseball team finished second in the CABA regional tournament. A win in the tournament would have sent us to Crystal Lake, Illinois for the finals. Our team had travelled within the state and even to Vancouver BC for tournaments, but never anything too far. As luck would have it, one of the teams that qualified couldn’t make the trip so we got let into the tournament. I remember the first thing I thought when I heard the news was that I was going to get to ride in a plane for four hours AND go to the top of the Sears Tower!

Me and my best buddy Chris in Chicago playing ball in 1995

That trip was incredible. It was like a 24 team event and we won the consolation bracket, so we played all the way until the end. I got to go to the Sears Tower and the John Hancock building observation decks. I couldn’t believe how much I loved Chicago. It was so different and so big. Throughout high school and college I was able to travel a decent amount. I got to go to NYC in 1999, San Diego that same year, and back to Arizona Spring Training in 2001. But something happened on the flight home from Phoenix.

We were flying over Utah I suppose (lots of red rocks below us) and there was a strange smell in the cabin. The lady next to me started to get nervous and so I followed suit and got antsy. There was nothing wrong with the plane but in my head I started to get worked up. When we landed I was exhausted because I’d spent the last 90 minutes worried we were going to crash. Two months later on a flight to Las Vegas for my 21st birthday, I was nervous again. Only this time I could legally drink away the fear. Unfortunately that weekend I drank away much more than fear, so by Sunday when we were to fly home, the thought of booze was revolting. Our plane took off and as soon as we cleared the mountains to the West of Sin City, the plane felt like it dropped 500 feet. I immediately clutched my seat as did the elder lady next to me. Her and I looked at each other, sure that we were each going to be the last person either one saw before the crash. Turns out it was just the pilots letting off the engines a bit once we’d gotten to a certain altitude. But I spent the rest of the flight with my eyes closed and a total nervous wreck.

I got off that flight on May 20, 2001 thinking “boy am I glad I won’t have to fly again anytime soon.” I graduated college that next year and took a year off and went to Vegas eight times. I drove or took the train every time. It was twenty hours door to door. Usually stopping in Redding or Sacramento on the way down. My fear of flying became extremely intense and just the site of a plane or thought of being in one would make my palms sweat. A couple years later I had my first diagnosed panic attack and travel of any kind stopped for a few years.

Other than going to River Downs in 2006 and 2007, and Louisiana Downs in 2015 for like three months, I stayed exclusively on the West Coast from 2003 to 2018. I didn’t travel much at all. Went to the Oregon coast a few times, but mostly I stayed wherever I was. I remember making that drive to Louisiana Downs in 2015 and when I mapped out my route, I wrote down every small town that had a hospital along the freeway in case I flipped out and needed to go in. When I was in Louisiana I really didn’t do any travel on off days. I stayed in my apartment. My anxiety stayed bad. And I came home. 2008 to 2018 was the ‘hate’ portion of the love/hate/love of travel. But I didn’t hate travel. I hated my anxiety and I let my anxiety dictate that I was unable to travel.

Going to Gulfstream Park West in 2018 was such a monumental step in my life. I wrote about the call with my mom from there in yesterday’s blog and that was part of it. But on that trip I also saw a ton of stuff on off days and really found my love of travel again. Since that trip I’ve driven cross country 6 times. I’ve gone different routes each time. I’ve been up and down the entire eastern US. I’ve now been to 47 of the 50 States. I somehow missed Rhode Island when I was in New England and have yet to make Hawaii or Alaska. I’ve been to 47 of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the country (missing Charlotte, Raleigh, and Providence). I’ve gotten to several Major League ballparks like Yankee stadium, Fenway Park, Camden Yards, and of course everyone’s favorite Tropicana Field. Have tried the best BBQ in places like Kansas City, Eastern North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Austin, and others.

I really love getting to see the country like I have. I actually look forward to the cross country drives every time. Disappearing into my car for 4 or 5 days, listening to music, eating junkie road food, staying in small towns like Chamberlain, South Dakota or Dothan, Alabama. Eating at the Big Steer in Altoona, IA or Big Bob Gibsons in Decatur, AL. I love getting to have little experiences in all these places. I love when I see or hear a story about a town or place and I can instantly recall a memory in my head of being there or driving through. I love that I have friends in so many states that I can pull over with and have a meal as I pass through. Travel has been one of the great blessings and joys of my life.

In the next ten years I’d love to see Alaska, Quebec, the maritimes in Canada, and maybe go to Europe. Of course, there’s that pesky fear of flying. I did finally get in a plane, albeit a seaplane, in 2019. You can watch the video about that HERE . That experience went pretty well. I was nervous for sure, but I feel like the monkey is off my back. I’m hoping in the last half of 2021 here that I’ll make a flight somewhere on a real airline. Something short. But if my battle with panic attacks taught me anything, it’s that exposure to your fears is really the only way through the fear. And I’m actually excited about the idea of taking that flight because I know the feeling at the end of it will be one of pride and satisfaction. Or a quick death if the plane goes down.