Storyteller’s Project: Away We Go

The true benefits of travel don’t tend to show themselves immediately. It seems only fitting then to share my story about my Remote Year experience on the Storyteller Project‘s platform to 300+ audience members almost a year and a half after getting back. It was an incredible and also challenging journey that I’m still uncovering the benefits from. Below is the rough script from my story, without a doubt, I deviated from it during the sharing of the telling, but you get the gist. Hope you enjoy!

When I graduated college in 2011, I knew I wouldn’t fit into the traditional 9 to 5 job. I know thought sounds incredibly millennial, but my dad worked in technology and from home for a large portion of my childhood, so he modeled for me early on to this concept of working remotely. So when it came time to graduate and find a job, I said screw it, and started my own business, Soucie Holdings LLC, amazing name. I know. I freelanced for a few years and loved it. I could travel when I wanted to or work from home and go to the gym in the middle of day if I wanted to. It was the perfect scenario.

But, a few years later, when I was 25, I was in need of some adventure. I had studied abroad my last year of college, and was feeling like it was time to mix things up a bit. So, there I was, sitting at my dad’s house in Maine, doing research for a dream backpacking trip in South East Asia, when I came across an ad for a program called Remote Year. The program claimed to support you while you traveled the world for a year, changing countries each month while working remotely with with a group of about 70 people. They facilitated your housing in each of the cities, a co-working space and then travel between cities. It didn’t sound like a bad gig!

At the time, the “nomad” lifestyle concept was still pretty new. Being a “nomad” meaning you can travel and work anywhere in the world. The first Remote Year group had just started, so there were just a handful picture on their website, and because everything we see online is real, there was a large part of me was convinced it was a scam. But, despite my this, I submitted my application and went through Skype interviews and two weeks later, when I got back from a run and checked my email, I saw in my inbox: “Welcome to Remote Year 3”. I ran inside and told my nana I had been accepted. No one else was home, so I just sort of sat there in a daze. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to have the chance to work and travel for an entire year.

During the months leading up to my departure, I expected to have been over-the-moon thrilled and 100% gung-ho about the opportunity. But for some reason I initially couldn’t put my finger on, I wasn’t excited about leaving. I even waited until the last possible moment to pay my deposit. I had joined a startup that committed to support me financially during my travel year and encouraged me to take advantage of the opportunity. At the same time, things really started to catch momentum within the Phoenix startup community, and things move and change so quickly that I was terrified that if I left, the world would pass me by. With each passing day, I went back and forth on if this was really the right thing for me to do and then one day, I opened a mass email with an announcement from one of the organizations that I was involved in. The city manager announced that my position needed to be filled because I was leaving to do Remote Year starting in February. I was like, well, there goes that. Guess I’m doing it!

The months, weeks and days before leaving for remote year passed by in a cloud of chaos. The morning of my flight, my mom came in my room and shook me out of my alcohol-induced sleep courtesy of my going away party and told me it was time to leave. She sent me off at the airport with a Bloody Mary and a hug. Thank god for my hangover, otherwise I probably would have been a crying mess.

Our first city was Cordoba, Argentina. They bussed us to what would be our homes for the next month and there I was – starting the trip of a lifetime, or so they say. But somehow, during those first few months, I felt disconnected from the experience. Alcohol seems to be the best way to bring big groups of people together and fast forward bonding, so our daily routine seemed to consist of getting up with a mild hangover, going to the office and getting your work done as fast as possible, rushing to whatever group event was happening, staying at said group event way too late and then stumbling home sometime around four or five am – because in South America, bars don’t close down. Rinse and repeat.

Don’t get me wrong. Those first few months were a blast. We moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina for a month, then La Paz Bolivia for a month, then Cusco, Peru for a month before heading to Europe to start our four months there. However, this sort of lifestyle has its breaking point, and usually repercussions. If you’ve seen ‘The Real World’, you can probably guess what type of drama started to ensue when you have a group of 70 people between the ages of 25-40 traveling the world for a year.

By month 9, which was our first month in Asia, I found myself crying in my apartment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I had just found out that the startup I had been a part of for the last year and a half had finally come to the end of its rope, leaving me on the other side of the world with zero income. I had become ostracized by the group for reasons only petty people could come up with and found myself wallowing in my own unhappiness day in and day out. To top it off, we were in Kuala Lumpur during the rainiest, most insufferable month of their entire year. We would opt for a 20 minute Uber ride over a 10 minute walk because if you walked, you were guaranteed to show up drenched in sweat and possibly rain if you were unlucky enough to catch one of the downpours. This was literally my personal hell because I’m from Arizona and we don’t have to deal with that sort of crap!

Fortunately, my mother was visiting me the next month in Chiang Mai, and the timing could not have been better. Not only was it a lifeline for me having someone there who really knew me to help me see the trees through the forest, but also just seeing how she appreciated every tiny experience highlighted to me how I had completely lost perspective. At the time, she was on a coffee kick, so we went to every cafe we could find to try different types of coffees. Everything was exciting for her. Everyday my mom about new locals she had talked with and how she had made a new friend. I remember one evening in particular. We had gone on a roadtrip to Pai, a city outside of Chiang Mai, and we walked way outside of the city because I had googled “Cheese Board”, which are basically non-existent in Thailand, but a result had popped up and I was determined to find out if it did in fact have said cheese board. After many twists and turns, we made it to our final destination and spent an evening on this beautiful patio, eating the MOST delicious cheese and just watched the sun set over the river. It was so simple, but so special at the same time.

In that moment with mother, I realized how I had let all of these other things; work frustrations, group drama, etc. distract me and make me unable to appreciate all the incredibly wonderful things I was fortunate enough to experience. Most people only dream of international travel, nonetheless be so fortunate to travel around the world of an entire year.

From that time on, I made a conscious decision to be present and focus on the things that really mattered. It took me longer than I would have hoped, but I spent the last three months of Remote Year really living each experience and interaction, and relishing it for how special it was, without worrying about all the other things going on around me. Maybe that’s why month 12 in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam was my favorite month out of the year. I remember we went to Mui Ne, a small town along the coast for our last weekend together. That last night, all fifty of us sat around a huge bonfire on the beach. We were only ones there, and we just has cocktails and laughed and reminisced. It’s crazy how an experience like traveling the world for a year can feel like a lifetime but also like it passes in just the blink of an eye. I was so happy in that moment and so grateful for the amazing experience, with all its ups and downs, that was finally coming to an end.

With love, Paige

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Scoot, Scoot, Baby

2016-12-12-12-24-12-1When I think back on my month in Chiang Mai, the first thing I’ll think of is the amazingly adorable scooter I rented for a few weeks. I’ve always wanted a motorcycle, so when I found out we could rent scooters, I was all over it.

Since I’d never actually driven a scooter before, Brecht thought it’d be a good idea for me to test drive his before renting my own. After cruising through the city for a bit, we stopped in a parking lot where he explained the basics, then it was my turn. Naturally, I was obsessed.

The next day, my mom, Brecht and I went to the scooter rental place to pick out my baby. I settled on a slightly scratched up black scooter with cute orange and yellow stripes. It was perfect. Once it was finally time to test out the new ride, my mom rode with Brecht and I scooted along behind. It was clear they were both incredibly nervous about me either falling over or being run over because I was going so slow, but after a couple hours, I was flying through traffic with the best of them.

2016-12-13-07-09-40-1Day two with my scooter I went into town to meet my mom and naturally got pulled over by one of the police stops within five minutes. I don’t have an international driver’s license, so I got a 400-baht ticket and was sent on my way. Not even five minutes later I hit another stop and was pulled over again. Fortunately, I had already received a ticket and you can only get one a day. Perfect. After that fun little experience, I became pretty much a pro at dodging police stops.

Over the next couple weeks, I scooted just about everywhere. Sometimes I’d just go roam around, a fun way to see parts of the city I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. A group of us went to the Chiang Mai “Grand Canyon,” which, being from Arizona, was quite a funny sight. It’s basically a manmade lake of sorts with a water park and a huge cliff jumping area. I held it in, but I definitely wanted to cry after jumping from that high.

One of my other favorite rides was up to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep for sunrise. The winding ride to the temple takes about 45 minutes each way with scenic views of the city and little stops along the way. Seeing the sun slowly rise over Chiang Mai and reflect off the golden temple was one of the most beautiful sunrises I’ve seen this year. On the way back down there’s another small temple where I liked to stop to say a prayer and light a little incense. It was a calm moment that helped create a small window of calm when things got hectic.

2016-12-14-19-15-54Other things of note: Thai cooking class and our instructor’s cheesy jokes and how he kept coming back to “same same but different”, all the crazy tuk tuk rides, accidentally hitting a car mirror with my scooter while I was weaving through traffic, dinner at David’s Kitchen and receiving a beautiful rose and afterwards going to an awesome all local restaurant/bar on the water and dancing until it closed, all the martinis with mom, Rustic and Blue’s food that made me feel like we were in Arizona, bartending at the junction, the delicious Mexican food down the street from The Dome, post-junction day getting pizza and hanging out at the hotel on the water, the Sunday night market where I managed to find a badass running belt, Jo, our city manager, was the cutest thing ever, Travis’s kickball team kicking ass, volunteering and making cards with special needs adults, our Christmas bar crawl, my two-year anniversary dinner with Eric at Service 1921, riding over to Wat Umong, the underground temple with Brecht, our welcome party Muay Thai fight and finally finding a pair of Asics that were big enough for my white girl feet at the Maya mall! Oh, and seeing Rogue One in the First Class theater and having popcorn for my pre-half marathon dinner. Carb up, miright?

Moral of the story: I love Chiang Mai. And scooters.

With love, Paige

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Getting Centered in Chiang Mai

2016-12-07-11-39-27 To say month ten got off to a rough start would be an understatement. Traveling for a year doesn’t come without challenges, and I hit my breaking point at the beginning of our month in Chiang Mai.

I knew something was going to have to give eventually due to a variety of things going on the previous months. There was drama within the group, work challenges and uncertainty and just a general unhappiness with where I was after nine months of travel. This was supposed to be one of the best years of my life, so why did I feel so disconnected and unhinged?

Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with all of this alone. I connected with a mentor back home who served as a sounding board for me to start to understand why I was feeling the way I was. My mom was also visiting for the first couple weeks, giving me an easy way to put some space, and perspective, between me and my travel life.

2016-12-06-14-42-53-hdr-1During my mom’s visit we explored all sorts of cafes and restaurants in downtown Chiang Mai. She’s a coffee lover, so every morning she would go explore a new cafe. Then for dinner, we’d go share some fresh rolls, she’d have her vodka and I’d have my dirty martini. It was a pretty great routine.

The second week she was there we rented a car and went to Pai for a couple day excursion. We first night we explored the night market before heading to bed early. The next day we found a local guy who offered to drive us around to see the main sights. After that, we found the one and only wine and cheese bar and camped out for a final sunset before driving back down the mountain. Before she went back to Arizona we also spent a day playing with the most adorable family of elephants at a sanctuary outside of the city, a huge bucket list item for my mom.

It was so interesting seeing my 2016-12-10-10-57-54mom’s appreciation and excitement for every small experience during her trip. It’s sad, but to a certain degree, I feel that I’ve become desensitized to so many of the small wonders of travel. We’ve been inundated by so many amazing things this year that it becomes easy to take them for granted. It helped me remember to try and appreciate even the small things, because this year will be over before I know it.

The first few weeks of the month I was also able to get back into some semblance of a physical activity routine, something I’ve learned this year is absolutely critical to my overall happiness. What better way to do that than punching and kicking shit like a boss? Yes, I’m now basically a pro Muay Thai fighter thanks to R Boxing Club. The world should be worried.

2016-12-05-20-07-21-1Chiang Mai was also a great running city. Chiang Mai University was about a mile outside of the city, providing a green and beautiful road for me to train and get ready for my race at the end of the month.

The race itself was amazing. I’m not sure why, it could have been the gross jelly Gu stuff I had during the race, the fact that the sun was down the whole run, the fact that the course was mostly flat, or the inner drive to prove that I still had it in me, but I felt like I flew through the course. I ended up placing 9th out of my age/gender group (<30 females) with a time of 1:54.

Alongside the quality time with Madre, taking up Muay Thai and training, I also started meditating (again). All of these things came together to help me feel revitalized and ready to go into the last two months of Remote Year feeling confident and more centered. Let’s do this.

With love, Paige

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Cloudy with the guarantee of rain, and yummy food

2016-11-08-10-00-53-hdrOne thing I’ve established this year is that it’s absolutely critical for me to be able to run outside. Also, I can’t do extreme humidity or insane traffic. As it would turn out, all three of these things were issues in Kuala Lumpur, our city for month nine of Remote Year. Fortunately, I was traveling for about half the month so I was able to escape the torment.

That being said, we did do some cool things during the month. We had a fundraiser across all the Remote Year groups called Run Across the Nation where everyone ran/walked during a certain period of time to raise money for a charity. Our program won! Go us.

A few of also gave running in the city the old college try until we realized it was horrible and turned to indoor activities. The first week we were there, Kelly, JP and I ran eight miles out to the Batu Caves. When we got there, we were soaked with sweat, but it was a pretty cool accomplishment. I felt horrible for the woman who had to put a sarong on me before I went into the caves though. She gave me a weird look along the lines of, “why are you soaking wet and I’d really rather not be touching you right now, white girl.”

A few of us also went to the revolving restaurant in the KL Tower (pictured below) for lunch and dinner. The view was amazing, even if it was cloudy, per usual. Our apartment location was also pretty stellar for the month. We were about a five minute walk from a row of massage studios that a lot of us frequented. Right after that, there was the Jalan Alor food street that was lined with all sorts of different food stands. One of the foods I discovered that I absolutely love are baos, specifically the pulled chicken ones. SO GOOD. Another popular food choice were the grill stands where they had a variety of meat, seafood and veggies you could pick along with your choice of sauce.2016-12-01-18-18-55-2

Another food experience I had during KL were soup dumplings. I actually first had them in Singapore, but my second experience with them was in the Lot 10 Hutong Food Court located under our office space. Right next to that was ISETAN, The Japan Store. The bottom floor was all sorts of fancy Japanese foods, sushi and other delicacies. The rest of the floors had a variety of clothes, technology and all sorts of other fun things to keep you occupied for hours.

Another surprise from KL was Suzie Wong, an awesome speakeasy we went as part of our closing party. It seems that the speakeasy culture in KL is pretty strong due to the primarily Islamic presence in Malaysia. We learned more about that during our cooking class, where our instructors told us more about the local cuisine, culture and traditions. While the food we cooked wasn’t entirely up my ally, the outdoor kitchen setup definitely was.

Alright, so turns out KL isn’t all bad. You won’t see me there again though, that’s for sure. Until next time!

With love, Paige

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I’m Singaporean now.

When a group of us booked our Thanksgiving trip to Singapore, I had little idea of what to expect. I had heard a few things about the city, though. For example, I’d heard that it’s expensive, that it’s illegal to chew gum and that caning is still a legal form of punishment. Come to find out, all of these are true.img_0177

But, there’s much more to Singapore than just a few, somewhat questionable, rules and regulations. Let’s start at the beginning. When we got off the plane in Singapore, it was immediately apparent that people were just more friendly. Not only that, but every square inch of the airport was immaculate. Even The employees at immigration had smiles on their faces and bowls of candy for while we were waiting. Come to find out, Singapore’s airport is rated the best in the world. I absolutely understand why.

Once we got settled into our hotel and had a chance to explore the city, we were immediately in awe of the sheer quantity of plants and greenery scattered throughout the city. Massive apartment and offi   ce buildings found ways to incorporate gardens through hanging pots or patio spaces and public walkways were lined with flowers.

2016-11-25-13-19-48-1After doing a little research, it seems that Singapore has, well, an obsession, with gardening. They have National Tree Planting Day on the 7th of November. It’s common to plant or name trees as a gift for birthdays or holidays. The government also created, what is now known as the ‘Gardens at the Bay,’ which have man-made solar-powered trees 50 meters in the sky. Next to the gardens, you’ll find the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome. We had the opportunity to walk through the parks as well as from the Singapore Flyer, the tallest observation wheel in the world.

Not only is the city full of lush greenery, it also boasts the island of Sentosa, located just off the coast. The island lets tourists live out their beach and vacation fantasies, only a 30-minute drive away. Not only that, there’s also a massive waterpark, fancy resorts and beautiful coastal scenery for those looking to escape the city.

img_0306Food-wise, on average two new restaurants open up every day in Singapore. Considering the size of this city-state, that’s quite an accomplishment. Not only are there unlimited food options, it’s also amazingly delicious. It seems silly, but I’ve had hands-down the best nachos of my life in Singapore. I got to explore the world of soup dumplings, check out a Michelin-rated food stall and indulge my inner cheese-lover with a night of raclette.

So, the city’s beautiful and the food’s amazing. In case you need another reason to love Singapore, you’ll appreciate the fact that they’re also some of the most friendly, welcoming and helpful people you’ll ever encounter. On a legal and political level, they’re the least corrupt country in Asia and 5th least corrupt in the world. On a person level, parents instill the importance of manners in their kids, and they started the National Courtesy Campaign back in 1979 to reinforce its importance to the community as a whole.

Morale of the story: If you have the opportunity to check out Singapore, I highly suggest it. If you’re looking to splurge, try to get a room at the Marina Bay Sands to have the full Singaporean experience from the internationally renowned rooftop infinity pool that looks out over the city.

With love,
Paige

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Finding my stride in Croatia

2016-11-04-12-59-13It seems silly that it took eight months for me to finally get in a rhythm with my running on Remote Year. But hey, better late than never. For me, our month in Split, Croatia was highlighted by the amazing seaside trail I ran on a daily basis. It was the perfect place to start my half marathon training.

Split is one of the coveted Adriatic coastal cities that’s booming during Yacht Week and the hot summer months. In September the temperature starts to cool down, and then in October, it’s just plain cold. Our group was there, you guessed it, in October.

For me, being that my body is at least five degrees hotter than most normal humans, this was great. But for the rest of the normal-blooded world, it slowed down the day-to-day pace and had most of our group staying in and going to bed early.

2016-10-24-13-05-02With little to entertain myself around the city, my month quickly became centered around running, swimming, working from my patio while looking at the sea, dinner somewhere probably too expensive and then home for a movie and early night. It was also our last month in Europe, so I think in general our group was just ready to go.

That being said, there were some amazing times during our month. One of the weekends our crew took a ferry over to Brač where we “camped” in a family’s backyard. It wasn’t entirely what we expected, but the homemade stew, skewers and toasted bread on a stick we made, along with plenty of alcohol, made it one of those level three fun events.

2016-10-16-16-04-30After that, I had the pleasure of hosting Padre for about a week. The two of us along with my cousin took a road trip down the Croatian coast. We made pit stops in small towns along the way and visited Plitvice Lakes National Park. After the adventure, my dad stayed in Split with me for a few more days where I showed him around my new home. We had a group dinner at my favorite restaurant in Split, Dvor, with some of my closer Remotes. The last couple nights of his trips the sunsets really came to impress before he headed off back to Maine.

2016-10-29-20-54-12One of our other adventures was to an ecocamp outside of the city where we picked olives and helped clear the land for future development. After a morning of working around the camp, we enjoyed a delicious lunch cooked for us by our hosts, Shannon and Ante, who told us about their whirlwind romance and future plans for the camp.

To finish off the month, we went on a jet ski double date excursion; then a few of the girls biked to the Park Marjan for a morning workout, swim and then delicious burger from Toto’s; a group went to a local “peka” lunch cooked by one of our city manager’s families; then we closed out the month with a Halloween going away party and scavenger hunt through some Croatian ruins. Our last Friday in Croatia, our tramily hopped aboard a bus to Zagreb where we would catch our flight to Kuala Lumpur, with a quick stopover in Qatar. If that’s not spoiled, I’m not sure what is.

With love, Paige

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Belgrade: The unexpected foodie haven

When I first saw Belgrade, Serbia on our itinerary for Remote Year, I had no idea what to expect. In the month leading up to our stay there, I started hearing rumblings from our RY2 friends that we were in for a treat. They couldn’t have been more right.

2016-08-28-14-44-08On our first day there, a few of us had signed up for a food tour with a company called Gastro Balkan. Uros Zivkovic, the brains behind the operation, excitedly met our crew in front of our workspace and led us to our first stop, Ambar Belgrade. It was located in a long row of restaurants in what we would come to know as the waterfront warehouse district.

At our first stop, we tried some local dips and were treated with our first official shot of Serbian rakija, the local drink of choice. Rakija is made from the distillation of fruits, making it a sweeter drink. It can also be made with honey, and is served in a shot glass. Don’t let that fool you, it’s still meant to be sipped. At any time of day, you’ll see people of all ages with a coffee and a shot of rakija. Our group’s favorite flavor was quince. I definitely recommend that you try it if you have the chance.

2016-09-20-00-41-08After introductions with the chef at our first stop and some more tasty treats, we continued our tour and tried a series of amazing plates. Some of the more notable items were the mint and chocolate “flower pot dessert” (pictured right) at Homa Bistrot, fried cheese at miamiam and an assortment of meats, especially the pork, at Restoran Patlidžanz. The concept of a “tasting portion” was also completely lost due to the generosity of all the business chefs resulting in plenty of wonderful leftovers throughout the day.

We closed out the evening with artisan ice cream from Crna Ovca and a coffee at a new spot around the corner. As if the day wasn’t special enough, Uros had also put together a little goodie bag of macaroons and a cheese board with our initials engraved. Without a doubt, this was the best welcome I’ve ever had to a new country.

2016-09-15-10-32-34 After the tour, Uros promised to send along more spots that we needed to check out. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of offices. Give me a café, restaurant, couch, beach, whatever; just not a desk in an office. So, when we got the long list of other restaurants that we needed to check out, it gave me the perfect outlet for new work spaces.

On practically a daily basis, Miranda and I would check in with each other to see which café we’d select as our workspace. A few that that we ended up frequenting were Smokvica B&B, M:eating and Savanova. Each of them were in a different area of the city with completely different vibes. Savanova could have been a Scottsdale bar, Smokvica had a cute little patio and M:eating was as hipster funky as you can get. It goes without saying that the food was amazing; among my favorites were the white chocolate lava cake, pizza and salmon burger from Savanova.

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There was one restaurant that was my personal favorite in Belgrade. TRI was a small Berlin-inspired hole in the wall that you had to know someone to find because it wasn’t on the map. Everything was amazing, from their perfectly made spinach and goat cheese “triangles” (similar to our version of a quesadilla) to the filet mignon salad. My favorite dish though was the lavender ravioli. I proceeded to go there three more times specifically for that before the end of the month. Not only was the food amazing, but it was beyond affordable. While I was on a date, we ordered a bottle of champagne, an appetizer, two entrees and one dessert; the total came to $35 USD.

This short post doesn’t even begin to do Belgrade’s food culture justice. The revitalization of the city, welcoming nature of the people and the economic growth makes me believe that Belgrade will absolutely be a hotspot for travelers in the years to come.

With love, Paige

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“Just bend like a banana”

2016-08-24-17-07-15One of our boys, Jacek, has done over forty jumps in his life and wanted to plan an excursion for us to experience it with him. There were about fifteen of who signed up, and it was one of the most incredibly terrifying and awesome experiences of my life.

Being a novice in the world of jumping out of planes, I was unaware that there were different types that you use to jump out of. For our jump, our plane opened in the back, which is apparently not all that common. I was the second to last person to jump, and my tandem partner

2016-08-22-13-47-21told me to “just bend like a banana” so that when we did a backflip out of the plane, we would follow the current of the wind. Because that’s not terrifying or anything.

The backflip itself was actually my favorite part. The free fall that followed was the hardest part for me, which lasted for about two to three minutes until my tandem guy pulled the parachute. Those few minutes were a weird mixture of my eyes tearing up, screaming, feeling like it was practically impossible to breathe and trying to tell myself I wasn’t going to die. After he pulled the parachute, I finally believed I might make it out alive. After that, I was able to relax and enjoy the view, and damn, was it beautiful.

2016-09-08-18-44-27When I finally got to the ground, I was hit with the most incredible rush of excitement and adrenaline that I literally ran and jumped on Adam with what felt like all the force I had. I looked around and saw everyone else doing the same. It was so cool to be with such an amazing group, experiencing something so powerful. Afterwards, we all piled back into our rental cars and headed back to the city.

A couple weeks later I received the over 600 photos of my jump that the tandem guy took, and let me just say, I give so many props to anyone who can look attractive in those photos. I would say 99% of mine I look like a flailing lunatic, but hey, it was totally worth it.

With love, Paige

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