Ponderings / Ultimate Road Trip

Where in the world is Juantonio?

As I settle back into my life in Colorado Springs, it feels as though I’ve never left. All of my routines and rhythms are unchanged. I’m running my trails and climbing at my gym and cooking my staple meals in my kitchen. Life is peaceful, and though I am not racing out on an adventure for the foreseeable future, I am so grateful that I did. Being back has shown me that you’ve got to get out there; home will always be waiting for you when you’ve had enough. Below are some sporadic thoughts I had on the trip — perhaps not full posts unto themselves, but things I noted to write about.

I am notoriously bad at keeping track of jewelry. Especially as a young teen, I would lose priceless necklaces, earrings, and bracelets gifted to me, much to my mother’s and my dismay. I don’t know why I seem to be careless with jewelry, especially when the jewelry I wear usually are pieces that I treasure.

For this trip, I decided I’d just bring a pair of simple studs for my ears and a necklace that didn’t hold too much significance. Just putting them on before departure, I thought: I’m going to lose these. It’s kind of messed up, isn’t it, that I decided before even setting out that they would not return home? I can’t say why I had this premonition in the first place, just that it happened.

A month into the trip, I misplaced the necklace. This is usually how I lose jewelry — I think I’m putting it in a safe place, but then I forget where that clever place I selected is. I shrugged it off, thinking I’d manifested the loss.

Then on a hike in Glacier, while pulling off my sweatshirt, I felt a stud come out of my ear. It was lost in the dirt immediately, far too small to locate. I’d done it again.

When we came out of the backcountry in Banff, I asked Ryan to help me purchase a new pair of studs — something simple but would remind me of Banff. He knew exactly what I was looking for. We’d power through gift shops, quickly scanning and moving on if we didn’t land on the right earrings. Finally, I came across these little multi-colored bear studs and we agreed — these were the ones.

About a week later, I was feeling in my shorts pockets for any items to remove before washing, when I pulled out a lucky penny and my necklace. I wasn’t so careless after all!

Now the necklace and the bears are safe and sound in Colorado Springs. I’d like to think the experience shows I’ve improved.

Ryan and I were both reading The Hobbit while on the trip. Though Ryan was ahead of me by many chapters, we could still discuss themes once I had dug in a little more. One of the phrases that kept coming back to me was how Bilbo “longed for his hobbit hole” — his cozy, well-furnished abode. Though he was on the adventure of a lifetime, he failed to recognize it for much of the story; he was so uncomfortable and out of his element that he craved familiarity and home.

What struck me about Bilbo’s experience was how differently I felt. I couldn’t quite place why I didn’t long for home, though several traumatic events occurred on the trip. Usually all I want is my family and my home in times of duress. But out on the road, I couldn’t really imagine a place I’d rather be; I wanted to be there, wherever we were. Ryan felt similarly.

Now that I’m back in my “hobbit hole,” I am ever grateful for it. It doesn’t mean I won’t leave it again, but I sure appreciate it more than I had prior to leaving.

While out on a long hike in East Glacier, Ryan and I stumbled upon a mother ptarmigan and her chicks. For several minutes, we sat and watched her call to them as they made their way down the hillside, their little chirps returning her calls from all angles. It was truly a special moment for us. Once we saw them off, I found myself deeply affected; I couldn’t stop thinking of our moms.

I thought about how protective the ptarmigan mother was — how she wasn’t willing to move until she had all the chicks under her purview. It broke my heart thinking that eventually the chicks will grow up and leave her, after all the time she cared for them.

Then it hit me: we leave our moms once they’ve raised us to go off on our own. While they’re the ones who prepare us for the real world, they are thanked by us departing. I was struck by how incredibly painful that must be — to be a mom letting go of her kids, even though she knows they are ready to go. I had enormous respect for Lisa and Doris unlike I had ever had before, and it brought tears to my eyes just thinking of them seeing me and Ryan off to college and beyond.

Moms are incredibly strong. We should thank them for helping us spread our wings.

In Teton Village, I spotted a restaurant called “The Mangy Moose.” Yuck, I thought. Who would want to eat at a place with a name like that? But then it happened again — in Kalispell, a restaurant named “The Salty Calf.” Suddenly, I recalled Warwick’s own dirty animal restaurant: “The Rusty Goat Grill.”

I’m sorry, but naming a restaurant after an animal and tacking a truly unappetizing adjective in front of it doesn’t seem like sound marketing.

Back when I was getting laid off by Clif Bar, I had a series of panic attacks that always resulted from breathing too hard. I’d be out on a training run, usually with Ryan (he’s my “speed coach”), and once my breathing got labored to a certain degree, I would start panicking. It felt like something horrible was about to happen, when in reality, my body was just working harder than normal.

I thought I had shaken this affliction in the months since, but I was wrong. While camping outside of Glacier, Ryan and I did this run up and down the hill to our campsite, Ryan Road. It was 3 miles roundtrip, and the perfect burn. On our last day at this site, we decided to do the loop one last time, and I think both of us knew we wanted to push it a little.

The way down was fine, but as we started back up the hill and my breath became erratic, I could feel the panic setting in. It’s OK, I told myself. You’re just chasing Ryan up the hill. You’re supposed to be out of breath. It wasn’t enough. By the time we reached our site, I wanted to cry and I couldn’t tell why. I took several laps walking around the site to bring myself down and managed to quell my worries. The human psyche is a frail, frail thing.

There were a few instances while Ryan and I were in Canada that one of us would use the phrase, “When we go home…” — in this case, “home” referred to the U.S., not Colorado Springs, nor Colorado, Warwick, or New York. It was kind of funny to think of “home” as one large expanse south of us, and I suppose in our case, it was. Though we had mapped a general route, with our set-up, we could go anywhere. Be anywhere. Call anywhere “home.”

With further reflection, though, we agreed that home really is where the heart is, as cheesy as it might be. Colorado Springs is home to Ryan because not only does he live there, but so does practically his whole family and most of his friends. In contrast, home is both Colorado and New York to me. While my family is across the country, many of my closest friends and lots of “chosen family” are in the same state as I am. Were my family to visit or even move to Colorado, Colorado would become the resounding answer to “Where is home?” It’s all about the people, less about the place.

I came up with an analogy on this trip that I’m unreasonably proud of: Mountain Project descriptions are like astrological readings. They are simultaneously descriptive and vague enough that any route you look at may or may not be the route you’re viewing on the app.

I am convinced we entered the Twilight Zone in early July. It was in a Safeway in New Mexico. Typically, I am a “King Soopers or die” type of gal, but we needed a few items, including chips. Ryan is the king of salty snacks, so I left the decision to him. He spotted a family-size bag of crispy tortilla chips. “‘Juantonio’s’?” I smirked at the bag, questioningly. “Juantonio can’t be a real name. I mean, I suppose it’s something like ‘John-Anthony.’ But still.” The chips looked pretty good, though, so we bought it.

Well, since that moment in the Safeway, we never found Juantonio again. The chips are still in most markets — but they’re called “Juanita’s.” I have damn near lost my mind seeing Juanita’s everywhere, because I know Juantonio’s exists somewhere. I started to wonder if the name difference somehow plays into demographics. After all, Kroger goes by many different names depending on where you are: King Soopers in urban Colorado; City Market in mountain town Colorado; Smith’s in Wyoming; Fred Meyer in Idaho; QVC in Washington.

I have done some research behind this Juantonio/Juanita discrepancy, but I ultimately don’t want to know. Now I understand why people love conspiracy theories.

A month later, I am still reminiscing about Tim Horton’s in Canada. I have been a Dunkin’ fan my whole life, and Tim Horton’s is essentially a Canadian version, with key differences. The food and drink offerings, while not identical, are incredibly similar. However, at Tim Horton’s, you can truly dine in. They give you your coffee in a ceramic mug, your donut on a ceramic plate. When you enter Tim Horton’s, there are undoubtedly several groups of people seated, enjoying their breakfast and coffee together. It makes me actually laugh to imagine the same sight at Dunkin’. Dunkin’ clientele is way too busy for that. Just give me my damn coffee because I’m already late. It’s just further proof that Canada is and always will be superior to the U.S.

The longest stint Ryan and I went without showering on this trip was probably 10 days. Ten days, when you are as active as we are, allows you to get sufficiently smelly and hairy. I think since both of stunk, it didn’t really bother us, though the eventual shower was quite welcome. Before long, we really became comfortable with not knowing when our next shower would be. So much so, that I think I’ve become too comfortable. Though I am once more living in a house with running water, I went four days last week without showering. It just didn’t seem necessary? We’ll say I’m saving the planet, conserving water.

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