Is there anything I can say about the past 2.5 years that hasn’t already been said, and then repeated over and over? (No, and that’s part of why I’ve put off writing this post for so long.)
Our lives were, obviously, turned completely upside down in March 2020, and have been in varying states of upside down ever since. We went from living on the road and exploring new places every month to spending indefinite periods in our hometown, sometimes barely leaving the house, and just trying to stave off the feeling that life was on hold.
Since we count late-January of 2017 (over five years ago!) as the start date for this journey we’re living, we like to look back around that time each year. But in January of last year, things were pretty bleak, and we just weren’t really in the mood to do much reflecting. Really, in January of THIS year, it was still pretty bleak – but since I’m writing this a little belatedly, maybe now things are starting to turn around? Or maybe this is just a temporary lull – but even if that’s the case, I’ll gladly take the reprieve.
In any case, at this current moment, it finally feels less depressing to look back on the last two years – our fourth AND fifth years of, well, some traveling, plus a bunch of other things.
Ultimately, I think the tl;dr of this post is that finding gratitude, acknowledging silver linings, and making the most of every situation are the things that have gotten us through these two years – a lesson we’ll hopefully carry forward to whatever other difficult times we eventually face.
So, where have the past two years taken us?
2 countries: India, U.S.
10 states: Massachusetts, Montana, Idaho, Washington, South Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Oregon
We were still in India in late-January 2020, on our third travelversary. At the beginning of February, Ryan headed back to the U.S. and I stayed in India for a yoga teacher training program. In mid-March, I got back to Montana – and just a week or so later, it became clear that we wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.
And it was a full year before we left Montana again, although we explored many different corners of the state in the meantime – and by “explored,” I basically mean we drove to different towns, walked around, got takeout, and did almost exclusively outdoor activities. As you do during a pandemic.
Once vaccines were widely available in the U.S. and we were two weeks past our second dose, we took a celebratory trip to someplace we’d wanted to go for years: the San Juan Islands in Washington (and it was magic!).
And for the rest of the year, we ended up alternating a month or two in Great Falls with a month or two road tripping in western U.S., our approach constantly shifting with current infection and local vaccination rates. And that brings us up to January 2022!
No surprise, two of our biggest highlights of the past two years took place in the beginning of 2020, back in the Before Times.
But honestly, we’ve been fortunate to have some wonderful experiences sprinkled all throughout the pandemic and to find an immense amount of gratitude for all of them, big and small. We’ve gotten to spend lots of time outdoors, do some travel closer to home, build stronger connections to the people in our lives, get more involved in our communities, and continually learn, grow, and become more aware of our impact.
300-Hour Yoga Teacher Training
One of the reasons we went to India was so I could do a month-long yoga teacher training and earn my second teaching credential. I spent the month of February 2020 in Rishikesh, the town at the base of the Himalayas that’s often called “The Yoga Capital of the World.”
Rishikesh is a loud and crowded place, so it was a real blessing to be at yoga school situated up a hill on the edge of town, where it was peaceful and the views were beautiful. We lived and ate at the school, and only had time to go into town once or twice a week (mainly to buy snacks, instant coffee, and toilet paper, which was not provided!).
Six days a week for four weeks, I was up before 5:30 in the morning for our first session at 6:00. We started with an hour of breathwork and meditation followed by 90 minutes of asana, before a break for breakfast. The rest of the morning was filled with a session on mantra and Sanskrit and one on alignment and assisting, which took us to a longer break for lunch. Later in the afternoon was anatomy, then philosophy, and lastly another 90-minute asana practice, before having dinner and collapsing into bed by 9:00. (Still, as far as yoga teacher trainings go, this one was relatively laid back.)
And at the end of four weeks and after teaching four different types of classes and passing assessments in anatomy, philosophy, and Sanskrit mantra, we were done!
Visiting Friends in Boston
At the end of the training, I flew to the U.S., making a quick stop in Boston before heading back to Montana. Visiting Boston always feels like coming home, and even more so after having been out of the country for almost a year and a half.
I relished quiet morning walks through Harvard Square and evening strolls in the North End, ate lunch at Dave’s Fresh Pasta, tried oat milk for the first time (it had just gotten popular in the U.S. while we were gone), and took classes at two new-to-me yoga studios in Boston. And after a couple days on my own, I got to meet up with some of my Peace Corps friends for the rest of the weekend.
We wrote messages in chalk outside Elizabeth Warren’s house in Cambridge right after she dropped out of the election, FaceTimed with other people from our Peace Corps group, and took a day trip to Worcester to watch one of our friends compete in a fencing tournament. They even patiently let me drag them all over town to pick up our favorite Boston treats to bring back for Ryan – bagels from Bagelsaurus, cookies from When Pigs Fly, and all the things from Trader Joe’s (RIP, gorgonzola crackers).
Honestly, it was the perfect trip to one of my favorite places, and I’m so grateful that’s how I got to spend one of the last “normal” weeks.
I guess we didn’t have to stay in Montana, or even in the U.S., throughout so much of the pandemic, but it felt like the most responsible choice. We were so fortunate to be in a place that didn’t get hit by Covid until the fall of 2020, and one where many of the things to do and see are outside and naturally socially distanced.
So, we used this time to see more of our home state, spending time in our favorite towns like Missoula and Whitefish and going to little-visited spots like Glasgow and Eureka. We also perfected our camping routine after pitching our tent all across the state.
Maybe most importantly, we spent a month in Butte, a town that’s totally underrated and in no way deserves the ridicule it gets from the rest of the state. We loved learning about its rich history, having close access to great hiking, shopping at the apparently little-known Italian market, sampling the town’s restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops – and doing it all on a budget since Butte is incredibly affordable.
We also made progress on our goal of visiting all 50+ state parks in Montana. Travelers’ Rest surprised us with its extensive history exhibits, and Lone Pine surprised us with its great snowshoeing trails – while Beaverhead Rock surprised us by literally being nothing more than a big rock you can see from the highway.
At some point, we printed out a county map of the state and decided to also try to visit every county in Montana (we’ve been to woefully few in the eastern part of the state); we’re still trying to find something to actually do in tiny Petroleum County.
We might be getting a little out of hand with these, but another highlight of the past two years is that Ryan succeeded in skiing at every one of the 14 ski areas in Montana. From the lodge-less hill at Bear Paw to the heated chairlifts at Big Sky to the wildly-affordable night skiing at Great Divide, he found something interesting at pretty much every one.
Okay fine, there’s one more: Ryan’s also been trying to visit every brewery in the state. The only problem? There are now well over 100, and new ones are opening so fast he literally can’t keep up! Some favorite discoveries so far? Glacier Brewing in Polson and Busted Knuckle in Glasgow.
Starting a Montana Travel Blog
With all the places we’ve gotten to see in Montana – and how much this state has to offer beyond the usual destinations – we finally broke down and started a second site. Since we’re not doing great at managing one site, we should be better at maintaining two separate ones, right?!
Our new Montana travel blog, Montana Discovered, has a handful of posts so far on places we’ve been and interesting things about the state. If you’ve ever wanted to hear about the top things to do in Helena or the best bagels across Montana, look no further!
Getting Involved in Our Hometown
We’ve spent more time in our hometown of Great Falls these past two years than we have since graduating from high school (!). And although much of that time was spent isolated at home, it’s left us feeling a lot more invested in the town we call our permanent residence than we ever have before.
We started volunteering with rescue dogs at the animal adoption center in town, which has honestly been one of the best, most fun, and most rewarding things we’ve done, in the past two years or otherwise. If you love animals, I can’t recommend volunteering at your area’s shelter enough.
And although it’s rough being a progressive there, we’ve been glad to have the chance to be more politically involved in Great Falls. We’ve voted in every election down to the school board, attended various virtual town meetings, and I was surprised to find myself quoted in a local newspaper article after speaking in favor of a proposed LGBTQ+ non-discrimination ordinance at one of them.
I even participated in a protest for the first time ever, supporting Black Lives Matter in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Despite being in a red town, the turnout for the protest was amazing; due to being in a red town, the counter-protesters showed up armed with assault weapons – but things went as planned anyway.
After having had no roots for so long, it’s been nice to be connected to a place and feel like we’re part of something, and we definitely wouldn’t have had that without the pandemic.
Learning & Growing
The past two years have given us nothing if not time to try to become better versions of ourselves – to learn about any and everything, to work on understanding other people’s perspectives, to be more intentional about living in accordance with our values, to unpack the effects of our actions and the impact we hope to make.
For us, that has meant shopping small and local, tipping well, reducing waste, donating to causes we care about, reckoning with our privilege, and consuming more diverse entertainment and media, for starters. It’s been a period of personal growth that we might never have experienced in normal times.
As someone who always spent more time making lists of books than actually reading them, I’ve also read more since the start of the pandemic than I ever have before in my life, which has been a major silver lining for me. And I even finally got into listening to audiobooks (if you need a recommendation: Born A Crime by Trevor Noah).
The explosion of online events has been another positive to come out of this whole situation – maybe not one any event organizer would have chosen, but it’s made learning about practically anything so much more accessible. From activism to writing to anatomy, we’ve loved the learning opportunities Zoom has made possible.
Connecting with Friends & Family
The toll it takes on our relationships is one of the biggest downsides to living this on-the-road lifestyle – and who would’ve thought a pandemic might actually improve that? While the past two years have been isolating in so many ways, it’s also somehow brought us closer to a lot of the people in our lives.
From the virtual happy hours spawned during the stay-at-home period to the group chats that became infinitely livelier when nobody had anywhere to go, we’re still in much more regular contact with most of our friends than we were before.
Being in the U.S. also gave us a chance to see family and friends whose visits we would’ve otherwise missed, many of whom we previously hadn’t seen in years. And between connecting more to our old friends in Great Falls (despite seeing them in-person only sporadically) and becoming an intermittent part of the local yoga scene, it finally feels like we have a real community in our hometown.
I could never have imagined that, in the midst of sometimes-crippling isolation, we’d actually come out of the pandemic with stronger relationships.
A New Chapter in Teaching Yoga & Beyond
Another shift that’s been totally unexpected is the way the past year has opened a new chapter for me in teaching yoga and expanded what I teach.
Last spring, I passed the certification exam to become a personal trainer, and it gave me a new understanding of anatomy, movement, and overall health that has changed how I practice and teach yoga (hopefully making me a better teacher!). It’s also led me to develop something of a new niche, fusing principles of yoga and personal training to help people with pain, balance, mobility, and general well-being.
A last-minute invitation to teach at the Front Range Yoga Festival last summer gave me my first chance to try that out, and it ended up leading to teaching opportunities in Great Falls, in Helena, and on Zoom, all of which were entirely unexpected.
While I was initially a little wary of teaching online, it turned out to be an incredibly special way to connect with students from all over. And as much as I loved the actual teaching, sometimes just chatting with them before or after class was the biggest highlight of all.
Road Trips Galore
The travel we have done in the past two years has been exclusively on road trips, which is one of our favorite types of travel anyway. In our biggest trip since the Before Times, we got to spend about two months last summer driving through seven states, including two that were new to us: South Dakota and Nebraska.
For us, those two months were some of the most “normal” of the past two years. We were back on the road! And since we were already vaccinated and Covid was at a low, we could do more and with less concern.
Some of our favorite memories from that trip? Staying a while in Denver for a housesit, finding the most interesting things about places like Scottsbluff, NE, and Driggs, ID, and visiting a handful of national parks – including Mesa Verde and Canyonlands, which now easily rank among our favorites.
In these annual review posts, we usually detail both the highs and lows of the previous year, to be transparent and share the reality that life on the road is in no way all fun and glamor.
But this time, I hesitated to write the lowlights section at all. We’re all fully aware of the negatives of the past two years – from Covid and racism and climate change and attacks on democracy to the people who deny that any of those things exist. And while we’ve certainly been affected by the same isolation, uncertainty, frustration, and fear as everyone else, I don’t really think you need me to spell it out. But there’s one thing we need to mention.
In early 2021, Ryan’s dad passed away after a years-long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. While it was an incredibly painful period for his family, we’re so thankful we were at home when it happened, instead of on the other side of the world.
The Next Year
As I write this, we just left the U.S. for the first time in over two years and are currently in…
I feel like even putting this in writing will jinx it, and I half expect our plans to get dashed within minutes of hitting publish. But, if all goes according to plan, we’re just a few days away from embarking on something that’s been a dream of ours for years: walking the Camino de Santiago. From Lisbon, it should take around a month, walking 12-15 miles a day, sleeping in a new town every night, and finding who knows what along the way.
Am I worried we’ll contract Covid during the Camino and be sick someplace in the middle of nowhere? Yes. Am I truly working on letting go of useless worry? Also yes.
We’re planning to spend the next 6 or so months in Europe, before heading back to the U.S. in the fall to see family, attend a yoga conference, and who knows what else?
Have you been able to find any highlights in the past two years? Tell us about them in the comments!