“Embrace the unknown. Life is truly an adventure if you step aside from desolate complacency.” –Lance Littleton
I’ve had a lot of firsts in the past year. I moved to a new state on my own, bought a motorcycle, flew solo for the first time, and successfully hitchhiked for the first time. It has been one of the most exciting years of my life and I owe it to a lot of things. Though I’ve shaped myself through every year of my life, I’ll start with the most notable event that accelerated my appetite for social and spiritual change and a yearning for adventure. The first big step for me was college.
Attending college away from home allowed me to meet people outside of my niche of friends that I’ve known for years for the very first time. For a lot of us, it is truly a way for us to find out who we are, how we connect with others, what interests are sustainable, and how tough we really are. For me, college was amazing, and I underwent a lot of self-discovery. The friends I met my freshman and sophomore years remain the best friends I have today. I had my first beer and got drunk for the first time in college. I learned how to study hard and find study groups. I ran my first marathon and had sex for the first time. On a habitat trip my senior year, I met a girl and fell in love for the first time. I had a lot of great times in college and I had some lows, but with a tough major, I learned to knuckle down and get through it. I managed to graduate in five years with a C average and got over that first real heartbreak (although that would take a couple years).
After college, I got a job pretty quick with a small engineering firm in the Chicago suburbs, in which I did a lot of consulting work in the city itself. After a season of commuting to and from the city from my home in northern Illinois, I soon learned that a three to four hour round-trip commute would send me to an early grave (those hours did not include driving to and from job sites in the city either). Within six months, I had saved feverishly to make my first couple months’ rent and rent a U-Haul for my first apartment in the city. Like most “new-grads”, I was faced with that all-too-familiar dilemma: “I could have saved money and lived at home for a while.” Eager to start writing the next chapter of my life, I went for it. For me, moving on meant abandoning the safe and comfortable four walls I had grown up in, taking my 23 years of life experience, and applying it in a new and mysterious environment. I found a great deal on a 1200 sq. ft. apartment that shared its proximity with my sister and brother-in-law (Joe) in Chicago.
Living in Chicago was great…initially. I was learning how to “adult”: pay bills, talk with insurance and management companies, take care of myself, etc. My family and friends from high school and college were all relatively close, work with my company was going great, and I had my sister and brother-in-law as my immediate support group. I had survived my first few months, but something was seriously lacking, as I noticed a lot of nuances starting to build up over time. Traffic at most times was horrendous. The people had an air of distance to them on the street, that is until you broke the ice with lighthearted conversation. Above all, there was a stale complacent air about the city that people, especially my age, seemed to accept. People in Chicago love their city for all of its glory, but I loved more than what the city had to offer. I saw myself in five years taking the same L-train with the same people to the same bars, growing older without ever knowing what could have been elsewhere. As the months dragged on, I noticed myself trying to escape the city more and more. I hardly made a presence downtown, unless it was to drink with my friends at the bar on occasion. Most weekends, I was either driving 75 minutes north to visit my parents and friends back home or driving completely away from the city to hike or camp.
I began to question why I was in Chicago and paying big-city prices for things that I wasn’t enjoying. I wanted more than what the city had to offer, but the people around me were complacent with the city’s amenities. I wanted places to explore and people to smile and seek the thrills I sought. I wanted a place to ride a motorcycle and a city to give my future dog room to breathe. I knew there was so much more out there and people who had a lust for adventure just as much as I did. This would lead up to my Colorado vacation.
I didn’t grow up like most kids my age. Though I am a product of the 90’s and watched my Disney movies and Power Rangers, eat the occasional Lunchable, and collect Beanie-Babies, my sister and I were outside just about every single day of the year. If I wasn’t jumping dirt ramps in the woods on my BMX bike, exploring the swamp in the backyard or canoeing with my dad, I was building a fort in the woods or out back playing in the mud (literally rolling around in mud. We were THOSE kids cleaning off with the garden hose in the front lawn). There was one incident where my sister and I were walking back from the swamp through the woods and we heard a splash followed by rapid footsteps. My sister looked at me and yelled “RUN!” As we bolted forward, I lost my boot, but kept lurching forward, fearing a rabid deer would eat me for dinner (6 year old mentality). Seconds later, our dog sprints between us, nearly knocking us over as I stumbled into the mud, reeling over from tears of laughter. I never did go back for that boot.
My collecting disagreements with Chicago accumulated to a point late in the summer where I was ready to take a week’s vacation from work. Colorado had been discussed prior when I was drinking craft beers with my dad, Joe, and uncles after a paintball and canoe trip earlier in the fall. My Uncle Paul had done most of the planning and knew of some great places from past excursions, so I let him take the reins and plan out most of the upcoming trip.
It was late August, and my uncle Paul had spent time in Utah with my dad and a friend a week prior to me embarking upon my 14.5 hour, 1000-plus mile solo trek to Denver. I spent my first two days in Denver with an old college friend being a tourist and getting acquainted to a beautiful and lively city. I had two days to “kill” before meeting Paul at our rendezvous point in Durango, Colorado. I’ll never forget the first time I drove westward into the Rocky Mountains. Exhilarating and breathless are weak adjectives at best to describe what I experienced, but driving my turbo-charged hatchback through twisting switchbacks and steep grades made me feel like I was in my own car commercial, hugging the mountain slopes that overlooked the green and vast valley below (And that was just the six hour commute to Durango).
My uncle and I sought a lot of adventure in the nine days that I was in Colorado. We mountain biked Glenwood Springs and relaxed in the hot springs. We camped and hiked Maroon Bells. We visited Leadville and I ran a half marathon the next day, in the highest elevated half/full marathon in the nation. We caught trout in Aspen and Marble, CO, eating some of the best BBQ to date afterwards. We drank craft beer and traveled some of the most scenic roads I had ever driven in my entire life. Somewhere along Rt. 82, just shy of the Continental Divide, we pulled off to the shoulder. Like many tourists, we basked in the irresistible mountain view. I vividly remember having one of those moments where time and place collide, where your own little universe gets shaken up like a Christmas globe, you realize where you truly belong, and where your destiny is calling you to be. Four or five days into the trip, I knew without a doubt that this is where I belong. This is how I want to live and where I want to spend my days, not in a crowded and secluded area in Illinois or settling for a city that is close and convenient because of its familiarity.
It didn’t take long for the winds of change to call my name. The feeling of adventure, excitement and alteration never left me weeks after my successful road trip back to Chicago. To my affirmation (and I think a little to my mother’s sorrow), I made the decision that I was moving to Colorado. Once the news in my family circulated and had calmed, it was time for me to play with my own logistics. Though a daunting task, I was prepared. I didn’t rely on anyone else for my move, although my three close friends were willing to help me road trip the move later in the planning stages. I knew what I was up against and I didn’t beat around the bush to get it done. I saved money from every paycheck. I sold the bulk of my belongings via Craigslist. I applied non-stop for civil engineering jobs in Colorado over the months of December and January, landing one by February. I notified my landlord, bank, utility companies and employer, and got three of my close friends to road trip and help me with my move. This voided the need for a U-Haul and provided priceless memories along the way. We embarked on our journey on March 26th and arrived in Denver the following day.
As I sit at my desk typing this, it has been seven months since my move to Denver. During this time, I’ve joined sports clubs, explored downtown, bought my first motorcycle, snowboarded Breckenridge, hiked some breathtaking trails, and made some incredible friends. I’ve completely changed my life around and I’m finally living out my dream. I’ve done so much already, yet I’ve barely scratched the surface of adventure in Colorado, which is what I love so much about my journey thus far. I have a lifetime of adventure and new places to see here in Colorado, but who knows;I may want to be somewhere completely different in 10 years.
The point is, I’m discovering who I am and where I want to be in life every single day. Most of the photos you see here would have never been and most of the people in them would have been distant shadows had I never ventured out. I’ve had some hiccups in life, but one of the key elements to success is to fail. Failures are lessons. Failures are data. Failure tells us what not to do, which leads to unearthed discoveries. How do we know what we truly want in life if we never discover what we don’t want? Life is scary. Life is hard. But life is much easier and much more fun with a smile, and most importantly, with experience. Go out and meet people. Discover people. Learn what you truly want in life because no one will do it for you. “We only live once in life. But if you do it right, once is enough.” –Mae West
“Life is a strange journey, an interesting one. We learn from first experiences. We grow from first experiences. But we need first experiences throughout the entirety of our life to grow, to learn and to appreciate what we didn’t understand before. Travel often, smile more. Seek adventure. And if you commit to an adventurous lifestyle, you and I can be an experience for someone else.“ –Lance Littleton