Guest Post by Rosalynn Frederick, Founder, Youth Travel Fund
Rise up nimbly and go on your strange journey to the ocean of meanings.
The stream knows it cannot stay on the mountain.
Leave and don’t look away from the sun as you go, in whose light you are sometimes crescent,
sometimes full. – Rumi
A few weeks ago, I returned from a 5-month journey of a lifetime. On March 23, 2013 at 10am, I stood with my feet in the Pacific Ocean in Grover Beach, CA. A few minutes later I took the first steps of a journey that would carry me across 16 states and 3,000 miles … A journey that would show me the amazing beauty of the nature and geography of the United States and the people that live there … a journey that would take me beyond the outer limits of my comfort zone emotionally as well as physically … a journey that I hoped would start a new chapter in my life.
I decided to run across the country for many reasons. One reason was that I felt a longing for a change in my life. The career of Spanish teacher that I had embarked upon 7 years earlier had led me to a place where my life felt unfulfilled and heavy. There were so many things I enjoyed about being a Spanish teacher – working with kids, speaking Spanish, the economic security it provided, the vacation time, the creativity of lesson planning – but I no longer felt inspired.
Being a teacher took over my entire life. I never felt like I was prepared enough or had enough time to prepare. The planning and grading overshadowed everything I did and weighed heavily on me. My vacations were not relaxing because I was constantly stressed about the work for school that was undone. I felt burnt out. Although I respect and feel so passionate about this career path, I don’t know if it’s for me. I never quite figured it out … if that’s even possible. But one thing I did know: the life I was leading didn’t make sense to me. I needed a change.
I think the seed for this journey, the USA Run for Youth Travel, was planted when I participated in my first travel experience as a teenager, an independent individual- a trip to France and Spain. It was during this trip that I realized that the world outside Columbia County, outside NY state, outside the United States, was within my reach!
I still remember the name of the hotel where we stayed in Paris. I remember the hotel room. I remember head-banging to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody with everyone on the tour bus. I remember buying a black leather motorcycle jacket with my friend Mindy in the Plaza Mayor, in Spain. I remember seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. I have so many vivid memories from this 10-day trip, it’s amazing.
In college I traveled to Spain, again. This time living there for 4 months. After college, I decided to join the Peace Corps and spent 2 ½ years doing service work in Niger, West Africa. Living and working with the people there was an experience that changed my life. It gave me a valuable new perspective of life.
In Niger, I saw life stripped down to basics. No electricity, no running water. I saw people living on the edge of a desert balancing a thin line between life and death on a daily basis, year after year. I saw people hungry and thirsty. But amidst all of this I saw something much deeper. I saw that despite our differences in culture, appearance, and lifestyle, we had so many things in common as human beings. I went there thinking that I was going to meet people that were so different than me in every way and I left realizing that we are all human beings, sharing the same, basic human characteristics and needs. “People are People,” as the Depeche Mode song goes.
As I continued to travel (I’ve now visited a total of 14 countries), I began to appreciate the world we live in more and more for its diversity and beauty – in people and landscape. And being very shy when I was a child, travel gave me a sense of confidence in myself. I sensed that I could navigate my way through new situations, face challenges, problem solve, and relate to people that at first seemed foreign to me, instead of being intimidated or scared.
Travel had a deep impact on me as an individual. I truly believe that the experiences I had traveling around the world, showed me that I was capable of undertaking a challenge that at first seemed out of my realm of capabilities.
The idea to run across the USA came to me when a school trip to Costa Rica that I had been planning had to be cancelled. Being so passionate about travel myself, I wanted to ensure that more young people had the opportunity to travel in high school. When I realized that the cost of travel was out of reach for so many students, I wanted to do something that would help young people be able to afford the trips I knew they would benefit so much from.
One of my favorite quotes, by Howard Thurman, an author, educator, and civil rights leader, says:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
What this new path would allow me to do was exciting. It brought together so many things that made me come alive. Traveling is one of my biggest passions in life. Working with young people to give them opportunities I have been fortunate enough to have- another. And I felt called to do it through running, yet another one of my passions.
All of a sudden, I felt inspired by the possibilities that opened up before me and I wanted to be an example to others, to show as many people as possible that we are capable of shaping our lives and doing the things that we love. And that if this means stretching ourselves and questioning our limitations, facing doubts and fears, and taking risks, if it’s important enough to us, we are capable.
I didn’t know what to expect from this journey or how to fully prepare for it. I will say that once I started planning for it, a path began to form and I just kept walking down it. What I mean by this is that there was a kind of momentum that kept moving me forward. Not to say that everything was easy or smooth. But I knew I was moving in the right direction. I felt a sense of purpose. I also knew it was going to be an experiment the entire time, with uncertainty and doubts along the way. But it didn’t scare me away. I was determined to make it happen, despite my fears.
I have come to see the journey in 3 parts – one for each thousand miles that I covered. The first thousand miles took me through the southwest, CA, AZ, and NM. This was the adventurous part.
During this time I explored the desert and woods, I forged trails where there weren’t any, I came face to face with cows in their own pastures, I scaled canyons and experienced the culture of the Navajo Nation and other native communities. At times I felt like I was in a different country or even on a different planet. On the open road, surrounded my miles and miles of sky and desert, I felt free! On the Navajo nation I viewed canyon land that seemed to stretch out for thousands of miles. I seemed as if no humans had ever left their mark on it. It was breathtaking!
The second thousand miles took me through the Midwest, OK, KS, and MO. First of all, I never knew KS was such a big state. In fact, I didn’t know much about any of these states. If the first section was an adventure, this section was like a job. I was more accustomed to life on the road and, at this point, I was no longer running on trails in the woods. I was running on highways and paved roads. And instead of canyons and cow pastures, there was traffic and civilization!
And it was during this time that I was introduced to the worst running conditions I have ever experienced: High heat and humidity. It was through KS and MO that I ran almost all of my highest mileage days, almost 2 weeks of 30+ mileage days … in absolute misery. I was drinking upwards of 13 liters of water a day during this weather and still feeling depleted. I was out on the hot pavement for 8-11 hours a day, sweating nonstop under the weight of the hot humid air. It felt at times that my head was in a pot of boiling water or like I was running through hot soup. During these days it was all about the mileage. I was serious and focused and determined. I felt it was my job. But I cried many mornings before hitting the road in anticipation of the day ahead. These days were some of the toughest days of my life.
What kept me moving forward during this time were 3 things: a) my mission to promote and raise money for the Youth Travel Fund, b) inspiring others to not give up on their dreams and goals, and c) the people who had contributed to the trip and who were supporting me and believing in me.
At times when I thought I couldn’t go any further, I would just picture these faces, bring to mind their enthusiasm about my endeavor, and remember words they had spoken to me. I didn’t want to let them down. They had believed in me and that made me believe in myself. A wonderful community of people across the country made this journey possible and made it possible for me to accomplish my goals. I COULDN’T have done it without them!
The third thousand miles is difficult to describe, but I think this is where the true mental aspect of the endeavor came into play. My body was tired, having sustained shin, foot, and hip injuries- and my shins and hips still weren’t fully recovered. Injuries caused a mental stress that I found difficult to deal with. I didn’t know if I should push through the injuries or if I would be causing myself permanent damage if I did so. Running through pain made it difficult to enjoy what was going on around me. But I didn’t want to give up.
At this point, I felt like I had come too far to give up. It was all about my mentality at this point because my body would have quit at mile 2,000. But my mental state was also weak. I was deep in a mental and emotional state of uncertainty. I doubted myself, I questioned who I was, I questioned my motivations, my health, my future, my past…
By this point in the journey I had had the pleasure to get to know a handful of other “crossers”, people who had completed, or were in the process of completing, either walks, runs, or bikes across the country. Talking to these people on a regular basis was invaluable. They had an important perspective to share with me. They were going through what I was going through, or had been through it, and SURVIVED! They helped me to stay focused and positive. Their spirit and accomplishment inspired me.
The last 400 miles was all about family and friends. They came to support me at a critical time. Often at the end of a long journey, it’s that last little part that seems to be the most painful. It drags on because you are so close, you can almost taste it, but you still have miles to go. I got through this last part by having friends and family at my side. They distracted me and provided the support that allowed me to truly enjoy the last few weeks of the run, despite the state my body and mind were in.
And now I’m HOME! I’ve imagined being home so many times over the last 5 months. It’s almost surreal to actually be living it. I know it will take a long time for me to process the entirety of the experience I just went through, but at this point, it almost seems like a dream. Sitting here today in my living room, I, myself, can’t believe that I was running across the desert landscape of New Mexico 3 months ago. It’s a strange feeling.
One thing I am certain about though is how fortunate I feel to have had the opportunity to experience this journey. Despite all the hardships and difficult times, it’s an experience that I will no doubt cherish as one of the most amazing ones of my life. I am honored and privileged to have had the opportunity to travel across our beautiful country on foot and to encounter so many wonderful, kind, and generous people along the way.
People often ask me what the best part of the journey has been for me. That’s it: the people along the way. People, often complete strangers, who took me and my support driver in, fed us, offered us beds to sleep in, a shower, and a place to do laundry. Hotel and restaurant owners and managers who donated free rooms and meals because they believe in what we were doing, friends, family members and acquaintances who cared enough to follow the journey on Facebook and donate their hard earned money to the cause.
We often hear more about the bad things people do instead of the good things and the good people. I’m here to say, our country has a beautiful spirit of generosity and goodwill that we should celebrate. Never once did I feel threatened, but there were countless times that people stopped on the side of the road to offer me food, drinks, a ride, and money for the Youth Travel Fund. I’m proud and honored to say that because of the USA Run for Youth Travel and the attention it brought to the cause, I have raised over $6,000 for the Youth Travel Fund- money that will go towards helping young people realize their dreams of traveling.
This leads me to what I think the biggest take away from this whole experience was, which, again, is about the human experience. We humans live on this beautiful and amazing world together. We share this space and time. The world is even more beautiful and amazing when we work together with the people around us and celebrate our ability to help and support one another. I experienced this first hand as I traversed the USA.
I won’t say that this type of relationship with one another is always easy. As human beings we have egos, we experience stress and fear and vulnerability and sadness, we have days when we feel strong enough to be our best selves, and days when all we feel is negativity. I have experienced all of this in an intense way during this journey. But in the end, what I have come to realize is how much we can all benefit one another and to never settle for becoming stagnant in the negativity that isolates and alienates us.
I realized during the past 5 months how important it is to seek out inspiration from others, to seek out support, to seek out a community that will help you realize your goals and be your best self. I did this all along the way, including before I left for the journey. One specific thing I did was to take part in Jenny’s Live Your Dream Challenge. I sought out and was provided with the support I needed during this experience.
Part of my internal journey during the past 5 months dealt with a personal struggle with my own demons – with often not feeling like my best self, yet being surrounded by people whose kindness was so beautiful it often brought me to tears. This is life – the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. So my question now is: Why not help one another whenever we can? Let’s acknowledge that life isn’t easy.
My experience running 3,000 miles in 5 months made my struggles even more intense because of the circumstances, but life is like this. Life is like running across the country.
We all struggle, we all need support, and we all have something to offer to make each others’ lives meaningful and joyful. It’s my goal to take the kindness and generosity I was extended throughout this journey and share it with others as a way to repay what was given to me, to live a life that makes me come ALIVE over and over again, and to provide support and encouragement for others to do the same.
Rosalynn Frederick was a Spanish teacher for the past 7 years, until she decided to start the Youth Travel Fund and run across the United States. She was born in Pennsylvania, but lived the first 5 years of her life in Belize, Central America. When she was around five years old her family moved back the US and she started school in Bronx, NY. Most recently, she taught at the high school she graduated from in Columbia County, NY.
Rosalynn attended Ithaca College. In 2000, she joined the Peace Corps and went to Niger, West Africa for two-and-a-half years. “My experience in Niger is difficult to put into only a few words,” she says. “It was amazing and I am so grateful for it.” She attended the University of Oregon in Eugene for 2 years where she got her Master’s in Educational Leadership. “Eugene, OR was a beautiful and enjoyable place to live and running is a part of the culture there.”
She ran her first marathon during the time she lived in Eugene: The 2005 Big Sur marathon. “What an amazing first! Running along Route 1 on the California Coast line was breath taking…and so were the hills, literally!”
In January 2013, Rosalynn completed her first ultramarathon, the Norrie Point 50k, in under 5 hours.
Rosalynn currently lives in Great Barrington, MA where she is working as a Landscape Gardener and Waitress while she develops the Youth Travel Fund program.
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