How to celebrate your birthday on an island

I suppose if I’m doing a solo trip, I should celebrate my birthday by myself as well. I decided to make the day special and find a place I thought would be memorable. Having heard good things about Koh Lanta, I decided to book my own bungalow on the beach and relax for a couple of days.

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At the end of the walkway was the beach. Ahhhhhh!

Koh Lanta was headed into low season, so many of the shops were closing but the town still provided a nice afternoon for a birthday shopping spree. I had snacks at a super nice Thai family’s roadside restaurant and did a lot of smiling and head bobbing with the owner’s 90 year-old mother. I still have no idea what we were trying to talk about but she seemed like a dear.

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My actual birthday was spent in an open air hut on the beach taking a 2-hour yoga class taught by an intense Scottish yogi. It was rather surreal and something I wanted to do while in Asia. After yoga, I wobbled over to an adjoining café for muesli, yogurt, and an Americano followed by a Thai massage. Beach life in Thailand is so great. Everything you want is usually within a 5 minute walk of where you are staying. Life literally consists of a swimsuit, sarong, bare feet, and sunglasses for days at a time.

Feeling the need to do something productive and because I was wildly missing my dog Nellie, I headed over to Lanta Animal Welfare, a rescue and care facility for the island’s pets. They head a huge sterilization program for the island, as well as offer treatment, adoption, and education about animals and their care. After taking a tour of the facility, I walked Carrot, one of the dogs available for adoption, and chatted with a volunteer, also a solo female traveler who was taking a month to work at the shelter.

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Here are some of the other cuties. Seeing them just made me want my dog more 😦

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I spent several dinners and happy hours at Time for Lime, a cooking school and restaurant that sponsors the shelter. The food was amazing, drinks delicious, and view, well that was priceless. I guess if you were to have a birthday by yourself, this was the place to celebrate.

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And then it hits me….

Oh wow, I’m in Thailand. Leading up to the trip, the day of the trip, and mid-flight of my trip, people kept asking me if it hit me that I was flying around the world for a solo adventure. Well, no, not really. I kept thinking it would. Every time I went shopping for travel gear, I waited for that feeling. When I said goodbye to my family and boyfriend, I waited. When I said goodbye to my brother in Cali before boarding my international flight, I waited. When I landed in Krabi, I thought “this is it!” But still, no feelings were different other than exhaustion and “what the hell am I doing?” And then this happened, Koh Phi Phi.

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Mostly known for its epic parties, blue waters, and Leonardo Decaprio’s “The Beach,” Koh Phi Phi is visited by swarms of people and scoffed by serious backpackers for being “too touristy.” Not sure what I would think, I decided to book a 4 Island tour that would include all of the highlight of the area. In the end, after booking through 2 tour companies, both ended up being cancelled as they were overbooked. I literally was 20 minutes out from being picked up when a lady rushed into my hostel to refund my money (I was wildly impressed she took the time to find me). I was slightly bummed but decided to take it as a sign that maybe a speedboat tour wasn’t a good idea. I walked across the street, booked a ferry ticket, and in 15 minutes I was on a ferry to the island. Two hours later, we pulled up to the island and are immediately dumped into a rat maze of stalls, bars, and cheap rooms for rent. There was no beach in site. After 20 minutes of wandering, I find “The Beach” (actually the party beach) which was mostly a pool of trash and super hot water with several people passed out. “Um, this can’t be where I’ve seen so many epic pictures” I thought. Wandering back through the rat maze, I find a map and directions to another secluded beach about 30 minutes in the opposite direction. I literally hiked through a jungle and just when I thought I wouldn’t see any fabled Phi Phi beaches, this popped out before me….

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Yes!!! I literally threw my stuff down on a rock and jumped into the waters. All around me, schools of yellow fish swam. The water was so clear, no snorkel mask was needed. I had never seen anything like this before. Dorothy was definitely not in Kansas anymore. As I lay in the water, watching the blues turn to green and the long boats whizz by, I suddenly realized, “I’m in Thailand! This is what I’ve worked so hard for these last 3 years! OMG, I’m really here!” Best. Feeling. Ever.

Take Flight and Live!

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Finding my fight

Where do you find inspiration? Sometimes we have a story we want to share but just don’t have an idea how to bring up. It feels awkward or uncomfortable. The only thing to do is blurt it out with no introduction. This is one of those stories.

When I was a junior in highschool, life was awful. I don’t know why. I really feel like I woke up one day stuck in a giant, black sucking hole. No single event started this spiral so it was really hard fixing an issue that had no cause. This went on for months and it was getting to the point where I was going to graduate, go to college, and make some really crappy decisions. I was in one of those critical moments where my life was going to be altered and I could end up being a person I wasn’t supposed to be in a place far from where I was supposed to go. I was a hot mess of anorexia, bulimia, major depression, and contemplating suicide. Life was not going to get better. I was sad and alone with very little hope. I knew my parents were having a rough time watching this and they were also unsure what to do. I had no interest in going to counseling and really didn’t think anything would change me at that point. My parents were at a total loss but they knew I loved the outdoors and needed a challenge, both physically, emotionally, and mentally. For years I had read Backpacker and Outside magazine (yeah, my love for life in hiking boots started early) and had seen ads for different schools that taught enthusiasts how to climb, backpack, camp, and be guided into wild parts of the world. While I had casually mentioned this to my parents, there had never really seemed like a good time sign up for one of these schools. Until now. Enter Colorado Outward Bound School in Leadville, Colorado. While this wasn’t a place for troubled teens, there was no way one could spend a month in the wilderness camping and climbing, completely isolated from the world, and not experience some type of change.

This girl from Kansas suddenly found herself on the side of a 12,000 foot ridge in the middle of the Rockies, struggling under the weight of a 60 pound pack, gasping for air and energy, and wondering if being airlifted home was an option. Having spent months earlier wrecking my body with eating disorders, I really wasn’t the picture of fitness. Every day was a miserable, exhausting process of hiking and climbing for hours, unable to breathe, and trailing so far behind the group that one of the instructors would get stuck hiking with me so I wouldn’t get separated from everyone else. I couldn’t wait for lunch when I could inhale some cheese and crackers and then lay down and nap while everyone else enjoyed the scenery. My body was pissed. I was pissed. I hated feeling this weak. Finally one day, I think the instructors got tired of drawing straws of who would get to hike with me and so they put me up front to lead the group up the side of a mountain. Up to this point, the group had been lead by two guys, one a quarterback and the other a soccer player. They could go all day and not break a sweat. I could hear the silent groans of the group knowing we wouldn’t get any distance covered since I was in the lead. As I made my way up front, my chest was pounding. I could feel this surge of energy and suddenly I wanted to prove to myself and the group I could do this. Within seconds, dirt and rock was tumbling all around me as I carved a path out for the group. My legs and breathing settled into a rhythm and my eyes were locked on the top of the ridge. I could hear the group behind me making shocked comments wondering where I had been hiding this whole time. Pretty soon they were asking me to slow down. I waited until I heard the football and soccer player ask again before deciding to slow my pace. When we took a break on the ridge, everyone joked around that if we needed to get somewhere fast during the rest of the trip, they would just stick me up front. I knew there was a huge smile on my face but what others couldn’t see was all the screaming and jumping up and down that was going on inside of me. I was back and ready to fight. Our month-long trip was capped off by a 13 mile run up the 13,736 foot mountain, aptly named Mount Champion. I had never run before so the fact that I did a double challenge like this absolutely blew my mind. I came home a stronger, happier person who was ready to tackle the future.

Back in Kansas, the giant black hole that had engulfed my life was suddenly reduced to a grey rain puddle. It’s funny how when you’re happy, blue sky’s are everywhere. I was more confident having returned from Outward Bound and was suddenly making new friends and becoming more outgoing. The mental battles were still there but now I had a better support group. I loved how strong I had become living in the mountains hauling my possessions around so I wasn’t about to lose my muscle or my endurance. I started eating again and taught myself to take pride in being strong and building muscle instead of finding pleasure in how I could make size 0 pants bag from me. This was going to be a process that would take years to overcome and I needed to start learning. My interest in fitness and wellness started when I was about 6 years old at Christmas when I got my first pair of sand-filled weights, sweatband, and workout cassette. When I decided to become an exercise science major and get my license as a personal trainer, things just felt natural, like this was the path I was supposed to take all along.

I’ve gone back to Leadville many time since Outward Bound to camp, hike, and climb. One mountain, Elbert, has always eluded me. We were supposed to climb it during Outward Bound but had to change plans last-minute. Elbert is one of the tallest 14ers in the lower 48 states and on my summer adventure this year, I wanted to make it happen. This was my way of remembering where I have been and what I’ve done since my life changed in those mountains. I am very proud to say here are the views from the top….

My inspiration of mountain climbing might seem cheesy at first but it makes me think of everything that I went through in highschool and college. It was years of hard work making my body strong again, finding happiness, and conquering mental demons. Learning how to climb and finishing Outward Bound is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done physically. Beating my battle with depression, eating disorders, low confidence is the hardest thing I’ve ever done mentally. Staring at a jagged, sharp, towering slab of grey rock, sometimes so high up it’s hidden in the clouds, makes me think of how I’ve conquered my impossible. Whenever I’m at a point where I want to quit or I am wondering if it’s worth the work and misery, I think of the mountain tops I’ve sat on, and the absolute euphoric peace of knowing I made the right choice to keep fighting.

Dear World

If you’ve never heard of Dear World, check them out for some amazing inspiration and stirring photography. They were part of the TedxKC event I attended a few weeks ago. Take flight and live has been a great mantra for me in the last year. It has helped me make decisions and live my life differently. I’ve experienced more, felt happier, managed my stress better, and my body is feeling great despite my hectic schedule. I have nothing but excitement for my future.

What inspirational quote has changed your life?