Wanderlust Newbie: It's Not too Late to Find Yourself

Brooke EkelundComment

Overall, Lessons Learned

If you're only wanting to know what I learned from Wanderlust, and what it was like to be a "newbie" you'll only need to read this top section. For my entire story, keep reading.

#1 - Love and Be Loved.

Be ready to be loved and accepted by an entire community of people. You will hug, high-five, dance with, laugh with absolutely everyone. Don't be afraid to come out of your shell, don't be afraid to strike up conversations with people. Don't be afraid to smile and say "hi" to random people you pass on the street.

#2 - A Loose Schedule.

They have a schedule, but most of the time you can join classes last minute as long as you sign in - I was worried about following a strict schedule, getting there on time, and not being on the "roster." The teachers, the festival-goers, they want you to find yourself just as much as you do. So if you're late, just be quiet, and pop in the back :)

#3 - People are Unique.

There are all kinds of people there. Hardcore yogis, yoga teachers, wannabe yoga teachers, hippies, music-lovers, life coaches, families, slack-liners, hula-hoopers, the spiritually-driven, exercise-fanatics, curious travelers, and even newbies who don't quite know where they fit in. Take time to meet different people, each of their stories are wonderful.

#4 - Family Friendly.

Bring your family! Bring your friends! I saw plenty of kids there, of all ages. Kids under 13 are free and can go to classes with their parents. There's lots of stuff you can do in the market, around the vendors.. they can dance to the live music, try hula-hooping, slack-lining... or they can just hang with Mom in the grass.

#5 - Be Open to the Music.

Go to all the different kinds of music! I fell in love with quite a few of the artists that I had never heard of before. Beats Antique and Elijah Ray to name a few... Oh, and DANCE to the music. I felt like I was more part of the community when I was up dancing with everyone. Free your spirit, let go of all your worries... dancing is key.

#6 - Visit All the Vendors.

Aside from getting free stuff, you can learn a lot from each of the vendors. Whether it's about sustainable living, healthier food, the making of Ford cars... they're all super nice and they're not trying to push you to buy anything. Shoutout to the wonderful ladies at Pipcorn :)

Other Things I Learned.

  • Pack properly, research the weather for both day and night.
  • Stay off your phone! I know it's tempting to take photos and videos of your experience, but remember to take time to just enjoy what's happening around you.
  • Bring a journal. Take notes. Write down things you want to remember.
  • Bring business cards. Keep business cards that are given to you.
  • Support the small businesses as well as the big ones.
  • Reach out to those you met, afterwards.
  • Try things you otherwise would have never tried in everyday life. You may pick up a new hobby :)
  • Be nice to the locals (obviously), hang with the locals, talk to the locals, they want to have just as much fun as you.

Ready for My Story?

So this is going to be a long one. A combination of a day-by-day story of my experience, as well as an overall realization that I had about life.. that you too can have. You don't have to read the whole thing, but there are some pretty amazing parts, if you're willing to stick it out.

Here goes nothin'.

Following Signs.

I've been going through some struggles mentally, as of late. Questioning life, questioning who I am, who I want to be and the mark I want to leave on this world. I'm sure at some point in people's lives, everyone goes through this.

I wasn't happy with the way I was spending my time, the person I've become in the last 5 years. I had worked so hard to become independent and staying in control of myself, that I was spending almost all of my time alone and no longer venturing out into this beautiful world. I was stuck on routine.

One day a random boy followed me on Instagram. I decided to look into this boy, as I do with most random people that follow me. Turns out, he's a musician. He makes beautiful music with his band. The happiness that I felt while watching their music, the happiness that they spread to everyone that was truly listening, was a moment of complete clarity to me. I never felt so alive. I was determined to become my better self, to find my better self. So I sent him a message, and here's what it said: 

So I have a story for you, a story with a very simple ending, but I still feel the need to tell it.
Here goes. 
Boy follows random girl on Instagram. Girl looks up boy because she does not know him. Girl sees boy makes music, girl is laying in bed and has time to listen to music. She likes the music. Watches music video. Music video moves her, makes her cry. Girl cries out of happiness, but she thinks boy will unfollow the next day, so she doesn't follow back. Girl falls asleep with a smile on her face listening to music on repeat.

The next day, girl decides she doesn't care if he unfollows and follows back. Boy is cute, girl likes music. It's enough for her. Throughout the day, girl is suffering mentally. She has been going through this for a while, pondering life, wondering why she doesn't do more with what she's been given. Girl listens to boy's music to feel better. She stumbles upon a podcast, listens to this 1 hour podcast and loves what boy is saying.

Girl continues to listen to music and starts to slowly feel better throughout the day. Girl looks into shows, really wants to hug boy for making her feel so much better about her life. She wants to experience the music, feel the music. Looks into a spontaneous trip to Wanderlust in California. Asks friend to go. Girl and friend find out they can't afford it. Girl becomes sad, listens to music again. Forgets she is sad.

Girl realizes how grateful she is for boy following her. She is grateful for being introduced to such a positive person, one who could change her outlook on life. Girl decides to thank boy.
Long story short, thank you :) 
For giving me a glimpse of the happiness that life has to offer, and the belief that I can give anything if I just believe in myself. I hope you travel to Minnesota one day. I would love to experience the happiness that you've spread to so many other people.

Boy and band very moved by this story. If girl and friend can make it to Wanderlust, boy and band will put girl and friend on list. Band believes in miracles. (Sign #1)

After this message, boy likes a bunch of girl's photos and comments on a random old one of my friend Katie and I.

His comment:
Boy has friend who likes friend - is this friend? (Sign #2)

The crazy thing is, girl didn't even THINK to ask Katie about going to Wanderlust. So girl asked her. As it turns out, Katie is already going and offers girl a free place to stay if she can make it out there. (Sign #3)

(Sign #4) Girl's Mom buys her a plane ticket using her own miles.

Now girl can afford to go to Wanderlust.

Normally, this would be like any other travel story, any other experience. But I don't go on trips on my own. I don't travel on my own. I don't talk to people I don't know. I don't go to classes on my own. I always have a friend with me, someone I can lean on if I don't know where to go or don't know what to say. Katie was already in California, and already had her schedule set for classes and dinners, so I was going to be on my own for most of the time. The idea of all that alone time, wandering by myself, totally freaked me out.

But I went anyway.

Day 1: Travel.

I don't Uber often, (I don't even think I've ever done it alone) but I decided to take an Uber as my first step of letting go of control. I usually like to drive because then I can control my time, control my destination, control the music I listen to, etc.

His name was Stephen, he prides himself on the fact that he is the "cool" uncle. He's on Snapchat, so naturally we should assume he's cool :)

He was the coolest, friendliest, nicest, funniest guy ever! We chatted about my trip, about music, about all the things. All-around nice guy! Definitely a great way to start the trip. If you ever get a chance to drive with Stephen, you probably should.

Before my flight, I had about 1.5 hours to kill, so I sat down at a restaurant by my gate, ate a whole pizza and had a glass of wine. I made a conscious effort to stay off my phone and be mindful about what was going on around me. I tried to smile more, and be open to anyone who wanted to chat with me. Turns out, people don't like chatting with people they don't know, especially in airports. So much for "Minnesota Nice." I think one of the waiters noticed though, he gave me my second glass of wine "on the house."

I got in line when they started boarding the plane, and this nice guy wearing a big, bulky, white, Christmas-themed sweater started chatting with me. Super awesome dude named Emmett. We decided to try and switch seats so that we could continue chatting on the flight. We chatted the full 3 hours of the flight (also unlike me). Turns out, he's from Wisconsin, lives in Salt Lake City, UT and is a designer for a personal clothing company. Oh yeah, and the reason he was wearing the sweater was because it was his Grandpa's and he likes to "stand out." I gave him shit the whole time for sweating because it's the middle of summer and no one wears sweaters in the summer.

Once the flight was over, we exchanged numbers in hopes of staying in touch, hugged, and parted ways. I was proud of myself... for being so open to chatting, making a new friend and for doing something "unlike me."

This flight was much shorter (only an hour) but I sat next to an adorable little red-headed German lady. I still wanted to be open to chatting with new people, so we talked for most of the flight. I learned that she is from Germany and moved to Reno with her husband years back. I also learned that her husband passed away and she is now taking the time to travel the US and travel Europe. She was just returning to her beautiful home in Reno from a 10-day Cruise in Europe. How cool is that? Definitely adding a European Cruise to my list of places to travel.

We parted ways, no numbers exchanged, but the stories were enough for both of us.

I was a little anxious getting off the plane because I had to go find my shuttle and had under a half hour to do so. I hate asking random people questions, but I figured I would be less anxious if I could just find the office of the shuttle I was taking. So I decided to suck it up and ask someone, and it was harmless (obviously). Found the shuttle with ease, the guy in the office was super nice and chatty, but told me to go wait by baggage claim because we were waiting for one more person.

The driver (I think his name was also Stephen), came and found me once he was ready and we searched for Rebeca (the other girl riding out to Squaw Valley with us).

Once we had all our stuff ready to go, we boarded the shuttle and began our 1-hour drive. Rebeca and I chatted about everything you could possibly think of. I learned she was heading out for a girls trip (sans-children) with some high school friends that she sees a few times a year. I also learned that she was a Creative Director at a small advertising agency in San Francisco, but decided she didn't like the agency life and decided to freelance from home. We also chatted about health, Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Chiropractors and "finding yourself" in life. She was wonderful. Had a lot of insight, a lot of things to say, and was super open about me asking her questions about everything.

We were staying at different hotels, but hoped to see each other again. She wished me luck on finding myself and my trip, and we parted ways.

I have to point out that when I first got out of the shuttle, Magic Giant was performing. (Sign #5) It was like a scene out of a movie for me. Perfect visuals, perfect audio. Probably in slow motion too, based on how tired I was.

Katie had a class up in High Camp (the top of the mountain, Gondola transportation required), so I had to wait for her to get back in order to get into the room. I was so tired at this point that I sat down in a comfy chair in the hotel room and cat-napped for a half hour. I managed to venture outside for a little bit and get some fresh air, but I didn't go far because I didn't know how big the village was.

I wish I would have found a place to put my bags, so that I could venture out a little further into the village (you'll find out why later).

After about an hour, I finally met up with Katie. God it was so good to see her. After a long day, what I needed was a familiar, friendly face like hers.

I got unpacked and we got ready to go out (normally I would have said no, I don't like being out late, staying up late, it messes with my "routine"). We made it into town at about 10:30PM (12:30AM Minnesota time, yuck) only to find out that pretty much all the restaurants had closed their kitchens. Luckily there was an Indian food truck over at Rue Boheme open. So we grabbed some Indian food, went to an Irish bar and had a glass of wine (weirdest combination of things, don't you think?) When we got in there "We are the Champions" was playing on the jukebox. Haha I look back and laugh at all of these things, nothing seemed in place.

We chatted about her week, about what I'm going through, and about what we wanted to get out of this trip. I'll spare details because Katie's story is her own. I will say that there were a lot of "firsts" for me.. first time thinking about some things, first time admitting things... Definitely a deep conversation to be having at a loud Irish bar, with wine and Indian food.

While getting ready for bed, I got really annoyed with myself and realized something I need to work on. Now I know routine is good for people, but all in moderation, right? Anyway, I started to notice all the things that I HAVE to do before I go to bed. And if I don't do them, I will get out of bed and start my routine over again. Can you say... "Control Freak?"

Day 2: Wanderlust.

I started my day at 7:45am (right when Katie left for her 8am class) I wanted to get up and have somewhat of a routine in the morning so I could feel comfortable starting my classes on my own. So I skipped class #1 (which ended up getting rescheduled anyway.)

I couldn't bring myself to leave the hotel room for class #2, for no reason whatsoever. I was stuck in my own head, swimming in my anxious thoughts. So I started journaling. It bummed me out because I knew I was skipping class to journal. I didn't want to go out in the world, I dreaded interacting with people.

I then started to cry and I sent a text to Katie because I knew that she was between classes at the moment. I told her I didn't know how to fix this... She said "You don't have to know how, it will all come to you and fix itself. You're doing exactly what you should be doing. Keep being honest and feeling it, and the answers will come... Nothing bad will happen." (cue more tears here)

So I decided to start trying to work through my anxieties and I made a list of all the reasons I was afraid to leave the hotel room, followed by all the reasons why I shouldn't worry about them. I'll write out the worries, but spare you the reasons why I shouldn't be worried.

Here's a glimpse into the mind of the socially anxious:

  1. What if I can't find registration, I still need to register?
  2. Where do I go after registration? A class, a hike by myself?
  3. What if someone talks to me and I have no idea how to relate to them? Or what if they don't like me? What if I don't like them?
  4. What if people judge me? What if it's obvious... how broken and out of place I feel?
  5. K if I wear my contacts... what if they make me cross-eyed throughout the day? I won't be able to journal much if I wear them because my eyes over-correct themselves... What if I get a stomach ache? What if I get tired?
  6. What if I mess up in my classes? What if I go to the wrong class? What if I'm publicly asked a question? What if I look dumb when I'm doing Salsa Lessons later today? (part of a class I was signed up for)
  7. During the sing-a-long musical hike, what if I have to sing too? Does everyone sing? How comfortable is everyone else?
  8. What if I can't force myself to get out of this damn hotel room without Katie? 

There were a few more listed, but I already seem crazy to those who've read this far, so I'll spare you. I then felt better after listing my reasons why these were not things to worry about so I made a list of goals for Friday.

F R I D A Y  G O A L S:
(all of the italicized ones were checked off the list throughout the weekend)

  1. Get a Haiku from the Haiku Guys.
  2. A Moment with Magic Giant. (that Salsa thing I mentioned)
  3. Wander alone.
  4. Tribal Sessions. (another class/event)
  5. Smile.
  6. Friday Uncorked. (event with Katie later in the day)
  7. Take the Gondola.
  8. Breathe + Meditate.
  9. Lay in the grass.
  10. Meet someone new.
  11. Accept + embrace myself.
  12. Mala beads.
  13. Try a new sport, like hula-hooping or slack-lining.
  14. Try a new food.
  15. Go on a hike.
  16. Take a nap.
  17. Try Henna.
  18. Climb on the metal jungle gym.

So here we are at 11:05AM... I still could not pry myself out of the hotel room. I had no freaking clue why not. All my stuff was packed and ready for the day, all my fears addressed + dismissed. I needed help, I wanted yet another sign. I didn't want to waste another second letting my fears and social anxieties hold me back from living life. I didn't want to be stuck in this place (mentally, as well as physically) any longer.

I ended up going out with Katie at about noon. It felt better to see the village in daylight with her, to truly understand where everything was. I was with Katie for only about 40 minutes but I felt better about being alone after walking around with her. 

I conquered some of the things on my list while she was out doing her thing. It felt okay, it felt weird. I didn't really know what to do with myself. I felt like I couldn't sit still for super long. We saw the Magic Giant guys before she left. She told me to go introduce myself... but the thing is... this experience is more about me and finding myself, rather than meeting them. So I didn't go meet them yet. I also feel like if I tried to force it, it would just make me anxious. I felt like if it was meant to happen, it would happen. All part of the journey right?

I sat briefly for each of the 3 "A Moment with Magic Giant" sessions at the Ford Zen Den. They did acoustic sessions followed by Salsa lessons. I couldn't bring myself to go up and say hi. My excuse was that their music kept making me cry (and it did).

Listened to Elijah Ray for a bit. He had the whole street dancing, everyone was doing their own thing. Clapping, singing, moving to their own personal dance style. It was fun to watch. I do wish now that I would have participated. Next time... :)

Before I met back up with Katie, I met a lady named Sheri Fisher. She and I were just looking for some shade and ended up chatting for a decent amount of time. I told her my story (all the signs as to why I was there) and what I was going through, she told me about her sons and what they were going through. A similar situation to mine. Towards the end of our conversation, I learned she was a Life Coach. Ugh. (Sign #6) She gave me her card, and asked me to update her on how the rest of my weekend went. That moment felt really special to me, like we were destined to meet. I teared up, cried a little after she left for her yoga class.

After Katie got back, her and I wandered around for a little bit longer and then headed back to the room to get ready for Friday Uncorked. An event where a bunch of local wineries come for wine tastings... headed over there at about 6pm. We met some wonderful people from various companies (wineries, natural foods, natural drinks, etc.) One of my favorite people that we met there was Doug Hackett, a wonderful man that took over his winery from his grandmother. He was with 2 other awesome people (Krystalin, cant spell...... and Conor). Anyway, Doug glittered us up with glitter sticks and told us that we couldn't walk around sans-glitter. Haha. He was wonderful (I ran into him again a few more times, which I'll write about later). 

After the Uncorked event, we went over to Rue Boheme and chatted with some vendors, made some friendship bracelets and attempted to play Jenga. I was approached by 2 women to do a photoshoot the next day. They told me I was beautiful, they loved my attitude and my "look." (I didn't end up going back for this, which I felt terrible about, but I was just too busy! I was flattered though...)

While we were sitting + making bracelets, we saw one of the guys from the band at the vendor next to us. Decided not to say hi and just continue with what we were doing. A girl and her mom sat down next to us, they wanted to make bracelets too. Turns out, the girl and mom were Brian's sister and mother. We discussed the "In the Wind" hike that we were going on tomorrow, and did our best to convince them to go with us. Katie even offered to carry Brian's sister because she had a bad ankle.

Sister asks us why were at Wanderlust and I said Magic Giant. She was so excited that I was there for them, so I told her my story.. (a shorter version, of course). After I told her, she said it was meant to be that she just happened to sit down and talk to us, therefore she HAD to introduce us to her brother. (Sign #7)

So Katie and I got up and walked over to Brian. Brian's sister said something like "I want you to meet these girls, they're from Minnesota!" And he goes to Katie first, she says "Hi, I'm Katie" and he hugs her. And then he comes over to me and I say "Hi, I'm Brooke." And (I shit you not, probably one of the best moments of the weekend) his eyes get super wide and he goes "Oh my god, are you... are you.. GIRL?" I nod and smile and he instantly scoops me up into a 30 second most loving, embracing hug. After he finishes hugging me he's like "Z... Z! Come HERE!" Z (short for Zambricki) comes over and Brian goes "Z, this is Girl." Same thing. Most happy, ear-to-ear smile, Zee picks me up and hugs me for even longer than Brian did. And Brian goes "I have to text Austin, I'm texting Austin." Sends Austin a text that says something like "I just met Girl." (Austin = Boy) They tell me how happy they are to meet me and we sit and chat for a bit :)

Later on we ventured over to the Main Stage area, losing Brian and Z. Katie and I decided to continue doing our own thing. We grabbed wine and went and danced to Beats Antique (amazing music, by the way). Austin came and found us later, gave us the biggest hugs and told us how happy he was to finally meet "Girl." We ended up watching/listening to the music the rest of the night with them. We Hula Hooped with 1 person, 2 people, 3 people, maybe even 4. (didn't go so well). We carried light-up Jelly Fish. I danced with a random man who was TOTALLY groovin' and doing his own thing. We had a back massage train going with like 5-6 people, we were sharing ponchos, dancing and twirling like the world outside of us didn't exist. We met Charis and Wilder that night too, friends with the boys. Charis is a yoga teacher at Modo Yoga in LA and Wilder does photography/cinematography for MG. Super talented, lovely people, both of them.

At the end of the night I ended up crying and hugging Katie, I was so blown away by this whole day, I just had to let it out. It was in this moment that I truly let go of who I was before I came to Wanderlust. I no longer cared about what people thought, I no longer worried about what people would think, I no longer felt anxious about life. I felt happy... and at this moment I truly felt like I was becoming a better version of myself.

Austin joined us and consoled me for a bit, he didn't know I was crying when he walked up to us. He told me he would have never known about what I was going through, or the person I was and that this was the only person he knew. He said I could always be this person if I continue to believe in myself. He said he was amazed by my free spirit and my sense of happiness that he experienced.

After we discussed going on the "In the Wind" hike on Saturday, we parted ways with them. On the way back we met one of the yoga teachers (I think?) at the festival + we were doing yoga in the middle of the street. He was critiquing us, we were doing stretches, it was the weirdest thing. Probably only something you'll see at a yoga festival :) We then promised to go to his yoga class at 8am (yep, didn't make that because we didn't go to bed until like 2:30am).

Honestly, this was one of the best, most life-changing days in my entire existence. I felt like a brand new person and I was only halfway through the weekend.

This was the condition of our feet after our night of dancing. Don't want dirty feet? Wear close-toed shoes next time. Womp womp.

Day 3: Wanderlust

Saturday morning I woke up at like 8:30 to shower. Follow that damn routine of mine. Also, I was a teensy bit hungover and we didn't have class until 10, so I wanted to sober up a bit.

We took the Gondola up for our class, met a nice man (who was also late for class) who was a doctor of some sort, but did yoga and traveled most of his time off.

The class we went to was Gratitude Journaling: Beginning & Advanced Practices. It started with some meditation, which was definitely nice for the hangover. The meditation was definitely a wonderful way to start the day. It reminded me to be mindful with everything that I do, and to not let my thoughts take over the beautiful (both large and small) moments in life.

The gratitude journaling part was interesting. I didn't know what to expect/learn from it. I've never done it before, but I think it's an awesome practice to introduce into my life and I'm going to strive to do so weekly.

One thing that I thought was interesting about the class was that most people listed quick, top-of-mind things that they were grateful for, and the teacher kept asking us to dig deeper. I struggled with digging deeper because I had started at somewhat of an in-depth level.

Photo by Katie Miller

Here's where I started: (2-3 minutes, 3 things you're grateful for)
1. Having the strength to let go of my fears and anxieties to come to Wanderlust spontaneously.
2. All the support I am receiving after admitting my personal fears and anxieties.
3. My mind and body for physically and mentally making it here.

Now for the 5-minute free-write:
I am grateful for all the support I have in my life. For my mom, for my friends, for my cats. For having a home to go to at night. I am grateful for the love that people offer me. I am grateful for the ability to be open to receiving this love and grateful for those who openly give it to me. I am grateful for those who have stuck by me through these hard times and for those who have lovingly offered me a place in their life. I am grateful for being young and generally healthy/able-bodied enough to make these changes happen. I am grateful for life. I am grateful for me.

5-minute "In-Depth" about what was written previously:
I am grateful for having the strength to make it here to Wanderlust. For believing in myself and my "get-up-and-go" attitude about this whole experience. I am grateful for being sane + stable enough to take this journey. Being strong enough in my belief that I can change. And I can fix this. For having the strength to admit that I have problems and the strength to take steps to make the change. To know that this will be and is extremely hard, but taking one day at a time, one step at a time, one thought at a time, one person at a time, one problem at a time. I am grateful for the strength to know that it will take time but that I can do it.

Lastly, Being at Wanderlust, "Falling in Place"
A place to stay - Katie
A plane ticket - Mom
Wanderlust tickets - Money/Job
Slow at work - Olson
Uber here - Stephen
Austin to write back to my original message that started this whole thing.
A supportive friend - Katie
Plane ride - On-time and safe arrival.
Shuttle - Driver, safe arrival.
My willingness to drop everything and go.
I am grateful for everything falling into place and working out for me. It truly means that I am ready to change and that I am ready to become my new self.

She then gave us tips on how to continue this practice on our own and how to put a plan into place for ourselves. Overall, a wonderful class.

After the class we took the tram back down the mountain and went to grab some food. WAITLISTED. So we went to look/research Mala beads. I didn't buy any because I think I needed more time researching them first. I believe they could be a positive source of strength for me, so I definitely have that on my list of "to-do's."

I bought Katie and I lunch and coffee to try and give a little thanks for her letting me stay in her hotel room for free. I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully thank her for what she's helped me through. While we were eating.. there was a man in a watermelon costume doing AcroYoga in the street with some random people. In case you were wondering...

After lunch we went back to the hotel to get ready for the "In the Wind" hike with the MG boys. I had to do a lot of convincing for Katie because she had to skip her yoga class for instructors. I felt bad about it, but I wanted her to enjoy some of the happiness that I knew we would get out of this hike.

I have to say, that at this point, each time I saw Austin, Brian and Z, I thought that it would be the last time that they truly "cared" to spend time with me. They have their friends there, the people they work with, they have fans... I thought that they assumed that I was "just another fan." I didn't ever think that I would be spending time with them again like we did on Friday night.

But Austin messaged Katie and I, asking where we were for the hike. It felt special. Like the guys actually wanted us there, and cared if we showed up.

Anyway, it was an emotional hike. But this time, for me, the emotions were happy ones. I'm not even sure how to fully explain what I was going through. The guys played all the instruments. They played walking forwards, walking backwards, they played while others sang along, they played solo, played without singing. It was wonderful (have I said that word enough?) It was also perfect because the hike was called "In the Wind" and it was really freaking windy out that day. Lots of people were concerned that they'd close the Tram/Gondola because of the high winds.

Meant to be, I tell yah.

I let everything go, I could feel my anxieties building up that morning, so it was nice to breathe in the fresh air and listen to music that brought a smile to my face. I need to learn to let my anxieties pass through. I tend to let them build up in my core and I can feel them just sitting there, getting heavier as the day goes on.

Katie had her moment with them as well. Again, her story to tell... I'm just happy she came and realized what kind of impact they could have on her life too. It just proves that I'm not alone, and they've touched more lives than just mine. A few tearful moments for the both of us.

After the hike we snagged a group picture overlooking Lake Tahoe and the guys decided to do a "Tram Jam" on the ride down. Here's a clip of the fun sing-a-long from the ride down. (People need to put their damn phones down sometimes!)

Once we got down the mountain back into town, we hung with the guys for a bit, chatted with Charis about Modo Yoga. I've started making a list of yoga studios that I want to try out (Modo is one of them, for sure). I've been wanting to join one, but there are just so many to choose from! And different styles of practice to consider as well... Before we left them I really wanted a photo with all 3. I didn't get that, but Austin and I took some photos. My mom said I look so happy in the photos that she actually asked if I was in love. HA, I laughed at her and told her he was engaged. But I'll take that as a compliment, thanks Mom :)

We bummed around town for a bit w/Austin, ate a little food, laid in the grass, chatted, watched Wilder sleep. Um the most adorable, peaceful napper I've ever seen. At this point in my journal I was actually writing about how talented Wilder is and how he makes me want to pursue my photography skills more. I wrote "You can tell he's so happy and living life to the fullest, while doing what he loves. I should reach out to him when I get back... I will reach out to him when I get back." (And I totally did - pat on the back for me!)

Austin left us at one point to do some promo stuff, so we parted ways. Definitely thought it would be the last time I hung out with them (again) and I was totally content with it. But I think we actually formed a beautiful friendship with them, I think they actually cared to see us again.

All the people there were so nice, so welcoming and actually genuine about it. They're open and honest. They're actually interested in you, in your life, and in your happiness.

One thing I realized about the MG guys is that anytime someone gave them a pat on the back or said "nice job, love your music" they would break away from whatever they were doing to thank that person, to hug and talk to that person. They really care about everyone. So rare, but so special.

Katie and I headed back to the room to get ready for the night. This was going to be a huge test for me starting at about 6. Katie bought tickets to the Farm to Table dinner, which was about 3 hours long. I would be eating dinner, going to a show, and meandering about on my own for the entire time. SO, after I finished packing and getting ready, I headed over to the Uncorked Wine Bar to get a glass of wine by myself. I wanted to join in on some random conversations but everyone seemed to be in deep conversation and there were no more spots at the bar, so I sat down at a table by myself.

I quick had a glass of wine and tried to appear open to conversation. No such luck, so I chatted with the bartender about where she was from and how long she's lived here. After my glass of wine I headed over to Rue Boheme for the Magic Giant show.

I tried to chat again with the girls from Pipcorn, but I was too nervous about being alone that I had a hard time holding conversation and we ended up cutting it short. Whelp, at least I tried, right?

So the show started and I stayed in the back at first. That's pretty typical "me" behavior, even when I'm with someone. I never really allow myself to feel the music, I never let it run through me, I just take it all in. I tried to remind myself "slow and easy... one step at a time."

Music started picking up, the crowd got more excited and I decided to join in once the dancing crowd doubled in size. I thought to myself, "there's a perfect path for you to walk into the crowd, it's opened up for you, now stop thinking and just go." So I went.

Pretty proud first step for me, but I still wasn't dancing... I was doing the side-to-side sway thing. The thing is... I WANTED to join in. I wanted to dance. So I started small, started slow.. I finally got to the point where I was full on jumping up and down, left to right. People were tripping, people were catching each other, high-fiving, laughing, spinning in circles... dancing with complete strangers. It was quite a beautiful sight. The evolution of comfort and the evolution of the sense of community within the crowd.

I'm glad I joined in though because there was one point where everyone started kneeling (turns out they were trying to let the people in the back see the more "intimate" acoustic circle that was happening.) Only, we were so close together that once people started kneeling, we had to lean on each other, hold each other, rely on one another to hold everyone else up. We all had our hands on each other's backs, around each other for support. I have never felt so free and alive during a music event.. or any event really, with a friend or even in a small group. We all trusted each other, and loved each other.

After the show, I wandered back over to the Uncorked event to see my new friend Doug from the night before. I caught them just as they were cleaning up for the event. I had mentioned earlier when I saw them up at High Camp that I would stop by because I really enjoyed their company. Plus... Doug offered me a free glass of wine and some glitter art :)

So, luckily when I got there, he had one glass still hanging around on the table, just enough wine in his last bottle and he hadn't packed up his glitter quite yet. Meant to be, yet again.

Anyway, I told Doug my full story and what I was struggling with and he told me that I have one of the most beautiful spirits he's ever seen. He told me I had a confident soul and he put his hands on my back and my stomach and said I just need to let "that" go. It gave me chills because he had no clue that's where I held all of my anxiety. He could just feel from my presence that I needed to release and let go of whatever I was holding on to in my core.

He then asked me to go out on the town with them that night and I had to decline because I promised Katie that I would meet up with her and watch Stephen Marley perform. He told me that if our paths were meant to cross again on this journey of mine, that they would. He then bowed/curtsied, kissed me on the cheek and we parted ways.

I didn't see him again, but he touched my soul, and I will always remember it. He's another one that I met, that I want to stay in touch with (thank god for his business card).

After we parted ways, I wandered through the village on my own, totally confident, saying hi and smiling to people. I ventured back to the hotel to come down from my dancing high and to eat some pizza. I hung around there for about a half hour and waited for Katie to return from her dinner.

So almost 4 hours on my own, and I survived! Also, as it turns out, she needed her solo experience as well! We exchanged stories and talked about how happy we were and made our way back into the village.

At this point in my journal, I wrote "I have never considered moving until now." I love my family and picturing moving away from them is heart-breaking. But I also realized that I use them as a crutch. I'm not creating a world or a life for myself, because I live in each of their lives, especially my parents.

So after Katie and I finished our storytelling, we headed over to the main stage for some more dancing and Stephen Marley. I'm not a huge Reggae fan, but Katie is. I'm glad I went though, the crowd was such a different type of experience from the night before, and the music was wonderful to see live.

About halfway through Stephen Marley, Austin messaged us looking to hang out again. Surprised and delighted.. but he met up with us, and we danced our asses off for the rest of the show. He wrapped us up in his poncho and swung us around and around. Group hug dancing is the best. So much love.

Following this was more back massage trains, of course. I don't know why I felt so free and confident with these guys, but it just rubbed off on everything else for me. I hope it lasts, I hope it's me and not them. I believe that this is who I am, and I want to live it.

We went over towards the night club and I found a hula hoop (hello new hobby). I finally managed to learn the rhythm and do it on my own. Austin and Katie showed me up, of course. But I don't care, I did it. So proud of myself.

We played rock soccer with Wilder, rock hacky sack? Not entirely sure what it was. Probably not the safest thing to do with a rock.. Also, I'm no good at it. It was just fun to do weird, random things where no one asks questions, they just join in.

At one point, we all laid on the cobblestone/brick road and did 4-5 person AcroYoga? Kind of... with a complete stranger haha. Again, with the trust thing. He trusted us to hold him up.

We then wandered into the night club thingy and went outside to hang out and chat by the little fire pits. Chatted happily with more strangers. Katie spotted Stephen Marley and I tried to convince her to go say hi to him. Everyone has their own pace.

There was one point though where we had 8 people in a circle, some random ones I didn't know, some I did know. But we all put our heads together and our arms around each other, chatted, danced, swayed to the music. (Lots of hugging and circle dancing this weekend, I know, it was wonderful). We were all just keeping each other warm and laughing about random things.

We left the night club and walked back down the road. Wilder and Katie were walking together and Austin and I were walking together, trying to hunt down a real campfire. Austin put his poncho around me, and in that moment, I felt loved. I felt cared for. I felt like I was truly, 100% understood. It's like he helped me let go of my old self throughout the weekend.

We walked back to their bus (after failing to find a campfire), they wanted to go to sleep. I don't blame them. Long freaking day. Austin took my #, wanting to remain friends and gave me a necklace. He messaged me later and said:

"Anytime you want to remember who you were this weekend, just look down at your necklace. You can be whoever you want to be. Thank you again for making such a huge impact on boy and band."

A memory, an experience, a life-changing weekend that I will forever remember. That I will always cherish. And I vowed to myself that I will always strive to be that person, because that is who I am. I am confident. I am loving. I am happy. I am open and honest. I am accepting. Accepting of everyone around me, and most importantly, accepting of myself.

Glad you made it through!

Thanks for taking the time to read! If you want to know any other details (not sure if I left much out) feel free to reach out to me in the "Know" section of my website :)

I also made a list of life goals after experiencing this trip. I will probably be adding to it, but here's what I have so far:


  1. Join a Yoga studio.
  2. Reach out to people (old friends, new friends) 3x/week.
  3. Sign up for Ukulele lessons.
  4. Get rid of all of the stuff in my house that I don't truly need, stuff that doesn't add to my happiness.
  5. Spend quality time with cats (sans phone).
  6. Gratitude journaling 2x/week.
  7. Blog 1x/week.
  8. Buy a hula hoop. Learn to hula hoop.
  9. Bike on my own.
  10. Coffee shop on my own.
  11. Lake Calhoun on my own.
  12. Look into moving. Then move there!
  13. Don't be afraid of feeling afraid.
  14. Tattoo of experience.
  15. Quit all the things you hate.
  16. Do all the things that you love. All the things that feel right.

So far..

  • I bought a hula hoop!
  • Started looking into moving.
  • Reached out to most of the people who gave me their business cards.
  • Made a list of places to travel.
  • I'm smiling more, saying hi to more faces, both the familiar, as well as the unfamiliar.
  • I'm caring less about what people thing and caring more about what makes me happy.
  • I'm staying off my phone more (less games, less social media).
  • Reading more.
  • Journaling more.
  • Watching less TV.
  • Playing more Ukulele.
  • Engaging in more conversation, asking more questions (key to holding a conversation and showing people interest).

It's only been a week, and I'm still as happy as can be :) - Next steps to unfold soon.

Photos by Katie Miller