The Galapagos and “finding the words”

I want to write about the way I was M O V E D by the Galapagos.

Sometimes I wonder if I will ever lose that AWE that I have for traveling, if places will start failing to impress me somehow… and maybe that sounds like a silly concern but it’s crossed my mind even though it’s never happened. I was moved in a new way, in a way that felt different yet familiar, in a way that has still left me coming up short at expressing the trip since I’ve returned. My first few days worth of reactions looked like me crying as I told friends how amazing it was. Then, that familiar feeling I get where I try to explain my travels or experiences and I’m unsure how much people want to hear because there always comes a point where I get glazed over looks… usually… people can only hear so much of something they cannot comprehend. “It sounds AMAZING”, they’d say! But you cannot explain it.

How do you explain being surrounded by HUNDREDS of schooling hammerhead sharks? What it’s like as the current rips past you at 3 knots and you’re holding onto rocks and army crawling across the bottom until you find a safe boulder to hide behind, out of the currents grip, just to await a theater styled view of predator sharks coming up from the deep? How do you explain the feeling you get when you look into their eyes as they come within a meter’s reach just to realize you aren’t what they’re looking for? Because I still haven’t found a way to express the way it made me feel even though my primary expression was squealing joy through my regulator. How do you express being humbled by your place in an eco-system and what it’s like to stare into the eyes of something that’s evolutionarily perfect, that hasn’t had to evolve for as long as we’ve known them to exist?

How?

How do I explain what it’s like to hang my feet over the side of the boat while we’re underway and that it’s my favorite place to be onboard? There’s something about dangling your feet while the salty spray mists up at you, with your favorite music in your ears and the sun beating down. That FEELING had almost lost me and I was E M O T I O N A L about it all. Sometimes the grief of a remembrance can be haunting even when it feels so comfortable.

How do I explain what it was like DIVING AGAIN after almost 2 years out of the water? Because it was like a coming home… a voyage back to the part of me that is made of salt water, sun kissed skin, and damp dreads that never dry. The part of me that knows as soon as my head sinks below the surface, I am free. Nothing else has ever mattered to me when I’m underwater except what’s right in front of me… I leave the problems of the surface exactly there, on the surface. The ocean gives me the opportunity to energetically cleanse myself and I feel at HOME with the sound of bubbles in my ears. I’ve logged over 3,000 dives and this trip reaffirmed for me that the ocean has only become a bigger part of me after all this time. But how do I explain this to you if you have NO IDEA the world that awaits you under the water? …and the TIME it takes to spend enough time in that element, and to be able to see so many species, and travel so many places that you could potentially see and experience what I have? Because maybe it suddenly dawned on me… the things I’ve seen that are indescribable! Words fall short for feelings because life is meant to be lived and all these moments leave me awe-struck.

How do I explain the way it felt to reconnect with a friend I met scuba diving when I was 15? We felt like we were young again as we explored, laughed and danced underwater and had our MIND BLOWN with pods of dolphins and killer whales? We coined the phrase, “we live here now” and spoke broken Spanish to the crew and did the Macarena sopping wet on the dive deck after one of our favorite dives. I got to remember where I was then and where I am now and the in between became so clear to me for the first time… all these experiences and MOMENTS are always leading me to my current situation with more knowledge, awareness, and instructions for moving forward. I got to sit with the FULLNESS OF MY LIFE on this trip and it was a perspective I needed.

How do I explain the SISTERHOOD of geeking out about diving with my lifelong friend and a new one who joined us? How do I explain what it’s like to share my passion with other women who share the same one? How do I explain those looks of KNOWING that happen underwater, through a mask, without words but that simple KNOWING of understanding… the, “how the fuck is this our lives right now?” Of it all? How do I explain what it’s like to meet and fall for a new human who matches my experience level and enthusiasm for diving? When I’m polyamorous and am already SO IN LOVE with other humans but still have space to love more? How do I share with you that I fell for our dive guide on the trip, that we shared knowing looks as instructors and guides underwater… and that it lead to writing notes and kissing under a deck of stars? That we geeked out over equipment and technical diving and found our similarities while we talked about dive instructor life and travel? That I got to experience a new connection with a person who knows a HUGE part of me intimately, because we have that in common already, and bonding over it was SOUL FOOD for both of us? How do I explain that to you?

And how do I explain the grief that simultaneously accompanied my joy? How do I explain that the day I left, I found out my friend was brutally murdered by police in a hospital while seeking mental health help? Because I actually cannot explain this… but I can tell you I cried the whole time I packed and drove to the airport and got my COVID test… the whole flight and in between… I was that girl you look at in an airport and think, “poor thing! Why is she traveling right now?” But what they don’t know is that my autopilot is movement so even though I don’t remember packing, some things are second nature to me! So, I managed to get myself to Ecuador despite a van breakdown on the way to the airport and an emotional breakdown due to the loss of my friend. I managed to get there even when I doubted that I could because I knew I needed to do what I do best. I knew that my SOP is movement and travel and I knew that my best chance for healing was to go remember what it means to be alive! So, I did that. I did it even though I don’t know how I did. But how do I explain what that was like when it was all a blur, until I arrived a few days later and finally saw my friend’s face, and felt the water move underneath me again as the boat pulled out of the harbor? That was the moment that I started to remember again… that was one of them.

How do I explain that being rocked to sleep on a boat is my favorite? That I was conceived on a sailboat and born in the summer and that my father owned a marina so when I wouldn’t stop crying he’d put me in the boat and take me around the lake and I’d finally settle down? How do I explain that I am water and that I feel more grounded and safe in my body below the surface or in the sky than I do on the ground in this world and this society? How do I explain that to you? You- who maybe knows me, or who thinks they know me?

How do I explain that I have SO MANY PARTS OF ME, and environments and places that I thrive in and feel alive in, but yet… there is no one in my life that has fully witnessed me in all of these environments? How do I explain the beauty yet loss that I feel in that? Maybe I write so much because I want you to FEEL what I feel and experience the pieces of me that light me up! I want to share it with you so you can witness me and feel inspired to find the pieces of you that drive you into joy. I’ve always been driven to joy, not duty. I think it is our duty as humans on this earth to make the most of the experiences we are given, to be the authors of our own lives, and to realize our dreams by showing up in the world knowing that what lights us up is where our gifts are.

How do I explain that there are so many layers I have to process for every experience? That sometimes I need to sit with things for months as I re-live it with new lenses to see the full spectrum of my experience? How do I tell you about the grief that I unpack with every goodbye and the way a place changes you, taking a new piece every time but also breaking you open to new love and possibilities? How do I explain that it takes so much out of me to be fully present that I sometimes need to spend days hiding in my van by the water somewhere, writing like crazy, so that I can find the words to express the how and the WHY of it all? How do I explain this to you?

Do you see what I mean? I’m finding that these experiences, these moments, these journeys, are multilayered. I’m finding the beauty and juiciness in trying to express the way I am MOVED by these places. The Galapagos brought me back to myself, a version of myself that I love, that I’ve missed. It brought me back to community and love, and the joy in sharing your passions with people you value. But mostly, this trip brought me back underwater. It GIFTED me back into the water! And I’m proud that I took the risk and made the commitment to make something happen that’s always been a dream of mine. The Galapagos reminded me of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. I’m sure you can understand that?

So here’s a reminder… to book the trip. To buy the ticket. To not wait until next year or (insert some subjective timeframe in the unscheduled future)! I reconnected with a friend on the west coast a few weeks ago. He echoed to me a journey he felt he needed to take to Guatemala but he also echoed his doubts, the inconvenience of the timing, and other variables I cannot remember now, but I looked at him and told him to “book the ticket”. I said, “all the details and logistics can be figured out afterwards but just.book.the.ticket” because once you have the date and the ticket, everything else will fall into place. But that’s just me! I’m obviously not much for waiting since I believe in living my life now but I learned a valuable lesson lately in the circumstances of my most recent travel- I was reminded the day that I left, how short life can be when I found of my friend’s tragic death. I was reminded of our impermanence, and I was gifted with the perspective of travel and the strength to get myself there, despite the circumstances.

Diving has always been my first love. I spent 2 years with little scuba diving in my life and I got to finally go do a trip FOR ME! Not for customers, not for my boss, not for work… FOR ME. And I’m still riding the highs of that trip 6 weeks later (as I publish this). I’m still searching for the words in what are only feelings and memories, a mixture of sweet and salty. Physically, I’m in North Carolina. But MENTALLY, I’m still face to face with a Galapagos shark, cheers-ing non alcoholic drinks post dive with my girlfriends, smoking cigarettes in between dives with my scuba lover talking sharks, tech gear, and a shared love of diving. Mentally I’m still dangling my feet over the bow, headphones in my ears, watching dolphins chase the horizon as the boat moves between the islands. The part of me that longs for bare feet, wet bikinis and the hissing sound my scuba tank makes as I turn the tank on… THAT PART of me, is still there. That girl will always be the biggest part of me. That’s what I learned in the Galapagos, THAT’s what I remembered… that I am MANY THINGS, but mostly water.

Roadtripping in my 83′ VW Westy (Adventures with Mosey)

It’s been 3 weeks now since I left on my first big road trip with my 1983 VW Westfalia, which I have lovingly decided to call Mosey. Mosey seems like a great name because so far, she isn’t in a rush, and doesn’t want to be. It fits. And if you remember, I learned how to drive a manual 6 days before I took off on my cross country road trip because, you know, why not? So we are currently sitting in Portland, Oregon and I just dropped Mosey off at the auto detailers. She is in desperate need of a full inside/outside detail after coming off the Playa from Burning Man. The extremely fine dust from the desert finds its way into everything, and I still keep finding it in various places despite having done all the laundry and de-dusting all except Mosey.

My journey started out in my hometown of Crosslake, MN after spending a few weeks visiting and catching up with family as it had been a year since I was home. I was heading towards Reno to pick up a friend of mine who was flying from Brazil post Olympics and joining me for Burning Man. I gave myself 5 days to get there just incase something went wrong. I also didn’t want to drive at night because I still wasn’t the most experienced stick driver. I wanted to avoid putting myself in a situation where I would be stressed so ample time seemed necessary and would allow me to go at my own pace. To avoid climbing mountains as much as possible, I opted for a longer route which put me through North Dakota, Montana and down into Utah. I cruised flawlessly to Dickinson, North Dakota the first night and popped up the Westy top to sleep. I woke up freezing in 35 degree weather on the border of ND/Montana. The next night I stopped in a small town just before leaving Montana and slept again. Day 3 put me cruising into Salt Lake City around 9 PM and I was planning on climbing up to Park City to stay with a friend for the night. About 70 miles out I was cruising down the freeway and I started to feel this light shaking coming from the back of the van, so I pulled over on the next side road and when I was coming to a stop all the lights were up on the dashboard and the oil light was flashing. It was almost 9 PM at this point and I decided to check the oil like my dad had taught me, but I was frustrated and I couldn’t get a read on it. I added a little bit more just to be safe then called my Dad.

As I’m problem solving with him and our voices are raised 2 small kittens come out of nowhere and are meowing and following me around. You know me and kittens… so the conversation is going something like this,

“Yea, I know dad, but what if I added TOO MUCH oil”

“Lauryn, listen to me, let the van cool down before you check the dipstick again… Lauryn, are you there…?”

“OMG DAD, THERE ARE 2 BABY KITTENS RIGHT HERE! awww, they’re in the middle of nowhere, Dad SeRiOuSlY…”

“Lauryn, forget about the damn kittens, I don’t want you in the middle of nowhere stranded so talk to me.”

“Yea dad, okay but what if something happens to them? How did they get here!?”

“Lauryn, focus for me, okay?”

“Yea, yea, okay… awww they are following me!”

You get the picture, right? So this went on for about an hour and involved the van deciding it no longer wanted to start. Once Dad calmed down, I calmed down because we feed off each other like that, and I decided to limp it to the next town. Because my phone wouldn’t pull up GPS on data, my dad walked me through options as I drove. It was driving fine once I got into 4th gear on the freeway but it didn’t like to shift and wanted to turn off in 1st and shake violently between gears. I thought it was going to spontaneously combust and all I kept thinking about was if anything was worth grabbing as I exited quickly. Maybe my passport because I’m attached to it, water might be a necessity to survive… wait, WHY am I surviving?

As I pull off on what promises to be a large Chevron Travel Plaza where I can sleep for the night and see how she runs in the morning, I am instantly greeted by slow moving traffic due to a county fair that’s happening. I started laughing like a crazy person thinking to myself, “you’ve got to be kidding me” as I’m stuck in stop and go traffic and road blocks diverting me elsewhere with a van that doesn’t want to shift gears and oil lights that keep flashing while I look like I’m either drunk, confused, or terrible at driving a stick. One or 2 of those may have been true regardless… Needless to say, I make it back onto the freeway heading for the next exit and as I’m putting my signal on to exit all the lights go out and I realize I’m losing power quickly, as I now have no signal lights or headlights. GREATTTTT. But I made it to a gas station, popped the top off, and slept it off until I could call AAA in the morning and arrange a tow to a place I’d found in Salt Lake City that works on old VW’s. I spoke with a guy named Wayne who came highly reviewed online. He told me he’d be able to look at it by the end of the day but was closed on weekends and couldn’t guarantee anything. But he was friendly and the best bet I’d had after calling about 15 places that morning. I ended up getting a good recommendation for a tow in this family owned business called Archibald Trucking. They picked me up promptly, a father and son, and we talked the whole 60 miles to Salt Lake about life, traveling, and speaking different languages. As Mosey was being loaded onto the tow truck I was snapping a photo with my phone and it dropped, smashed on the gravel, and then refused to even turn on. I immediately just laughed and wondered if this entire day was going to continue like this. I now had no wheels, or house, or phone- yahoo! The Archibald men let me borrow their phone to call my father and let him know what was going on. These guys turned a bad situation around, I’ll definitely tell you that much! Great service and great guys.

Once I got to Wayne at Wayne’s Vee Double U Repair, we unloaded Mosey and I signed the payment receipt for the Archibald’s. They told me that Wayne mentioned to them that he was going to turn me down for today but since I’m pretty cute, he went ahead with it anyways! I guess sometimes you can’t argue with that! Wayne, being a charmer and a lifesaver that day got me back on the road within 4 hours. After I spoke with him, I took a taxi to the nearest T-Mobile, got myself a new phone and a friend in the manager who insisted I send him Burning Man photos and gave me massive discounts on accessories. Once I got back to Wayne and he told me it was only the ignition coil, for less than 200 dollars and a new bumper sticker sporting Wayne’s business and a promise to send photos of Mosey at Burning Man, with the sticker, I was on my way again! These guys were all lifesavers that day. I gave Wayne a big hug and he waved to me in the rearview as I peeled out of the parking lot.

The rest of the trip to Reno went off without a hitch. I picked up Marko, thrift store shopped, got last minute stuff and prepared to hit the road, driving over night into Black Rock City. Marko had it in his mind that he wanted to dye his hair platinum blonde and the owner of Junkee (the best thrift store ever!) overheard us and offered to do it for us, in her amazing apartment, right upstairs. So we dyed Marko’s hair until midnight and then embarked for the Playa.

When Burning Man was over Mosey started right up and we made it through a 8 hour Exodus until we hit the pavement, then another 3 to Reno afterwards where we stopped at the GSR Hotel to unwind, shower, and enjoy a pool party for a few days. I planned on getting a full service and detail for Mosey when BM was over but didn’t want to stay in Reno any longer. I was craving nature and water. I hit the road for Lake Tahoe to visit some friends and pulled up to my friend Brian’s house at about 5 PM. I got a good night sleep and woke up in the morning with plans to drop off all my laundry at the laundromat in town, which conveniently had a self service car wash right across from it. I was parked on a very steep incline outside Brian’s and when Mosey fired on and I put her into reverse we were almost out of the driveway when I put her into 1st gear she shut off then refused to even turn over. Okay, strike 2, here we go! I got her into the shop for a detail and a diagnostic Friday morning but they didn’t have a chance to look at her then and I got her back Monday at the end of the day. The guys were awesome, it was only some sparks and wires, and she was running great. As I thanked them and pulled out, 5 minutes down the road at an intersection she died and wouldn’t turn on. I called them back, Justin came out and got her started to head back to the shop once again. Turns out the battery (good ole’ Walmart Special) from 2014 was not hacking it anymore so we replaced it with a good battery and I made it overnight to Portland, Oregon.

But of course, NOT without a hitch! The navigation app Waze decided I was going to avoid highway 5 almost entirely for 700 miles, take only backroads, in the middle of the night, and continuously climb elevations up to 7,000 feet while avoiding small foxes and rabbits like I was playing one of those weird arcade games where animals come out of no where. On these older vehicles, there are actually no dashboard lights so driving in the evening is tricky anyways. I keep a small flashlight next to me to check speed and sometimes use Waze as a backup since it’ll tell me my speed on the app itself. About 300 miles in my data kicked off and no longer worked so I resort to pulling over and consulting my atlas under flashlight, on the side of the road. Because my data wasn’t working, I was also forced to listen to all of 3 radio stations available for about 4 hours- country or overly religious channels. After getting angry about my options in music, I eventually decided silence was better. Then came a series of tumbleweeds which made me think every single one was an animal that I might kill or visa versa, so now the full moon was paying tricks on my eyes, my data wasn’t working, and then lo and behold the speedometer has decided it doesn’t want to work either! So now I’m tired and decide to roll down the window so the moving air can keep me awake, and the handle breaks off! SERIOUSLY!?! I think I now officially started cackling like a crazy witch at this point. I had to use a screwdriver to control the window manually for the rest of the journey. But I made it around 1 PM the next day!

Whew, alas, here I am enjoying a wonderful breakfast and surviving in vegan heaven, or Portland. I have spent the last 2 nights with my best friend and am flying back to Minneapolis tomorrow morning. My grandpa passed at 93 years old 2 months ago and his memorial service is this Saturday. We have lots of family and friends flying in and my parents were starting to worry that I might not make it back in time if something happens with Mosey and I on the way. Since I can keep Mosey safely with my friend, Marti, I will fly back home for the weekend and then come back here afterwards to continue my journey when I don’t have a deadline. Because Mosey doesn’t do deadlines, she Mosies, such is our journey…

I have had so much fun driving her around and have decided that this type of journey is different than any one I’ve ever taken. I talk to her, scream when we hit checkpoints, get lots of laughs as I bump the sound system and scream at the top of my lungs at stop lights, and get praised at gas stations for taking the journey in the first place. People love it, I love it. The breakdowns are going to happen, regardless. So I guess being stranded in various places teaches you patience and understanding. So much already and more to come! Thank you everyone for your supportive texts, snaps, videos, and karma. I LOVE YOU! If you are in Minneapolis, let’s try to see each other Monday night before I fly back!

Love,

Lauryn & Mosey

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converting to the #vanlife

I’ve been wanting an old VW van for years now. Two summers ago I started looking online a bit more seriously but of course it was still just out of curiosity. I had been entertaining the idea of having one so that when I came back to the US to visit I would have something to live in and travel in. Flash forward to March and I get a message saying that my dad and a buddy of his had purchased a mint condition ’83 Westy from Colorado. My dad’s friend Peter mostly wanted it for tailgating U of M football games seasonally and my dad just thought it was a fun thing to have. I almost lost my mind when I got the photos and saw the new purchase! Since I now had free reign to use it as long as Peter wasn’t needing it I decided that I would drive her around when I came back towards the end of the summer.

I found out about 2 months before I got back stateside that it was a manual. Something my father failed to mention in the beginning, surely on purpose because there is no way he could forget that I still couldn’t drive one because he tried to teach me when I was 15. He came home from work one day and said, “meet me in the car in 10 minutes”. When I opened the driver’s side door he was sitting in the passenger seat with a full face snowmobile helmet on. Haha, really funny Dad! I probably stalled it about 5 times just leaving the driveway and about 8 miles down the road stalled it out on a left hand turn, got stuck in the middle of the road, panicked when the cars lined up, and bailed into the backseat in a fit of tears and stubborn teenage hormones. Dad had to get out of the car, walk around to the drivers seat, the whole while wearing that ridiculous helmet and waving at the traffic apologetically. I refused to ever try again because it was “too hard” and I “wanted an automatic”. Today I would kill for that Subaru Outback, but 15 year old me thought differently.

So what’s a girl to do when she gets her dream van at the age of 28 but it happens to be a manual? Well put her pride away, laugh, and get behind the wheel obviously! Then naturally a week later take it across the country to Burning Man in Nevada! Nothing forces you to learn quickly like a cross country roadtrip! So I’m back in the States, finally stumbled across some BM tickets, and now have 3 days until I embark. My boyfriend taught me how to drive a 6 speed jeep deep in the jungle of Mexico, so I was a little bit familiar and knew the basics already. But nothing had prepared me for this old lady! She’s a finicky 4 speed with gears that can be very tricky to drive, let alone find! As my father told me, “if you can drive this thing, you can drive anything”. I have spent the last few days practicing on hills, taking mom to lunch, driving to friend’s houses, and just generally driving around trying to get comfortable. I’ve learned that I tend to drop the clutch much too fast, which has gotten some laughs and cheers when pulling out of busy gas stations with 2 hops and a peel out before we start rolling. I’ve been laughing uncontrollably when I have to wave people around me because I can’t find first gear and it’s still revving itself in neutral. Oops!

I spent yesterday driving around with a girlfriend who knows how to drive a stick and learned living in a busy city. It was raining out and we spent the whole day doing laps through town and parking in my parents or my brother’s driveways. We would just hang out in the van, laugh, and talk about all the things we could do to it. I’ve got a solid list going to get her Burning Man ready and it all hit me yesterday how absolutely amazing and in love with the van I am. I’m still trying to come up with a name for her but we are convinced it’ll come when ready! I’m doing the drive out by myself and since I don’t want to drive at night, and am trying to avoid the majority of mountains (although I will have to cross the Rockies at some point, regardless) I’m feeling comfortable with my planning and giving myself ample time to get to Reno where I’ll pick up my buddy from the airport. I have friends along the way to stay with and can pull over and sleep in the bed anytime I need to. It’s beginning to feel like home and I haven’t stopped smiling for the last 2 days!

Today we take the first big haul 45 minutes out of town to Brainerd, MN to stock up at Fleet Farm and Home Depot. The girls have been helping me come up with a list of “van necessities” along with totes to get organized. So we are going shopping and I’m sure we’ll have a lot of laughs along the way in stop and go traffic as I maneuver the van around town less than flawlessly. Wish me luck!

Since I’ve been back in the States I stopped in San Diego for 5 days to visit my sister then flew back into Minneapolis where my parents picked me up and we spent 5 days in northern Wisconsin at the cabin on Lake Superior. It was such a nice way to unwind. Now I’ve been back in my hometown for the past 10 days catching up with family and friends and now packing for Burning Man. It’s gonna be an adventure, I’ll tell you that much! Don’t forget to follow me on instagram @theramblingmermaid and snapchat at smilelotsplz. I will keep you up to date on all the funny things that are going on, as well as my progress on the van! Much love.