Adventures in the Mountains

What do you do when you’re presented with 72 hours of free time, only a 30% chance of rain, and you live in remote Alaska? You pack your bags and head for the mountains! A few different friends had recently done a ridge-top hike in the nearby mountain range and camped at a cabin along the way, and I really wanted to check it out. But all of my friends were either fishing, working, or otherwise unavailable…so I went by myself.

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As I walked through town, backpack on my back and bear spray dangling from my hip, the Wells Fargo clock said 3pm. I noted the time as I left town and started winding my way up Ski Hill via Eyak Mountain Trail. My mind was on the fog up ahead, and I pondered my adventure which hadn’t really yet begun. I was a slightly worried about the visibility level – I was told the trail wasn’t well-marked and the piles of rocks which designated the route were tricky to find in the clouds were low. I had roughly estimated a 7pm arrival time at the Ridge Shelter – an hour up Ski Hill, an hour over and up to Crater Lake, and then two more hours across the ridge. Daylight wasn’t really a factor because the sun doesn’t set, so I wasn’t in a rush.

I rounded the last corner to the chairlift at the top of the hill, a slight breeze made me realize that my back was a little wet. Actually, it was quite wet. I took off of my backpack and discovered that my borrowed CamelBak bladder leaked if not kept upright…and I had it upside down. There was about a liter of water spilled inside of my backpack, about half of which was absorbed into the top edge of my sleeping bag. I contemplated turning around – I hadn’t really left yet. My desire for an adventure won. I stuffed the bottom two thirds my sleeping bag back in the stuff sack and draped the top end out of my pack, letting it flap in the breeze to dry out. Onward and upward. I munched on an apple and goldfish as I hopped across onto the Crater Lake connecting trail and looked at the fog looming ahead.

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I continued on to Crater Lake, one of my favorite spots around town. Far enough removed to feel remote, but close enough to walk to, it is a stunning, pristine paradise. I soaked in the beauty and refilled my now-upright CamelBak. To keep the bears away, I was talking and singing to myself – hoping that they’d hear a human voice and head the other way instead of hearing the crunch of my steps and coming closer to investigate. As I rounded the corner of Crater Lake talking about what song I should sing next, a startled hiker gave me a funny look as he hurried past me, eager to dodge a conversation with the crazy lady. I turned on my iPod.

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Crater Lake was the furthest I’d been before, and the trail sign marking the Alice Smith trail was new territory. I spotted my first pile of rocks and took off in that direction. The trail was faintly worn, and the rock piles were fairly easy to spot on the way up. As I took a break to enjoy the views from the top, I checked my phone and the map – it was 7pm, and my little GPS dot was still very close to the lake…nowhere near the spot where the shelter should be. Oh well, 8pm would be fine, too, I thought.

As it turned out, I made it to the shelter at 10pm. I ate my sausage and pasta even though I wasn’t hungry, warmed myself over my little camp stove, and emptied out the contents of my backpack to dry whatever wet items remained. The only other casualty of the spill was the paper cup holding my granola. The dried oats regressed to a mushy, oatmeal form and coated the inside of the backpack. I figured if this was my biggest issue, I was in good shape (and made a mental note to better waterproof my food next time) and went to sleep.

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This was the first view I had of the Ridge Shelter. The final cairn before the cabin is in the bottom right corner. Can you see the shelter?

The next morning brought less fog and better views. The camp stove earned its keep by providing hot coffee in the morning (which was the entire reason for bringing it). After some breakfast and a quick cleaning of mushy granola from basically everything I packed, I was back on the trail around 8am. There were a few remaining patches of snow covering the trail, and each one was stained with pink splatters. Some people have told me it is caused by a plant (though I didn’t see any) which dyes the melting snow. To me, though, it looked like old blood splatter from hungry carnivores prowling through the winter. It left me a little unnerved and I continued singing and talking to myself.

After a few more hours on top of the ridge in varying levels of fog, I came to the lake signaling it was time to begin my descent. There was some minor confusion regarding poorly named landmarks and a broken sign with questionable arrow directions, but I figured out where I needed to go and began my way down the side of the mountain. The trail was freshly weed-whacked and obvious – a delightful change from my recent times of searching for cairns every five minutes. It was heavily lined with salmon berry bushes, and I noted that if I were a bear, this is where I would hang out. I sang and sang. Favorites included: the Hamilton Soundtrack, Despacito, (neither of which should be a surprise) several Shania Twain hits, (a carryover from hiking in Nicaragua this winter with friends…though I’m not sure where we got it) Goodbye Earl (which I assume came into my head via Shania Twain) and the theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Your guess is as good as mine as to where that last one came from…

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Before long, I was back in the forest heading for the Power Creek cabin. Last year some friends and I were supposed to spend my birthday at Power Creek, but a very heavy rainstorm coincided with a newly-built beaver dam to flood part of the trail and make it impassable. I was really excited to finally get to check it out. And it did not disappoint – the cabin was beautiful – complete with bunks, a table, a wood stove (and firewood!) and a loft. I settled in and started a fire and explored nearby. Sandbars and waterfalls were all around, and there was so much to see! After dinner, I curled up by the fire and did a little reading before heading up to the loft for bed. I noted that my throat was a little sore – apparently I overdid it just a tad on the singing and self-conversing throughout the day. It made me smile.

I slept until 8:30, and it was delightful. I enjoyed my coffee and breakfast on the porch before packing up and heading out just before 11. The singing continued. After being startled by a flock of geese on the trail and by a humming bird which dive-bombed my head just as I was stepping on a very precarious rock, I made it to the trailhead around 1. I walked another mile until I finally had cell service and sent a text to my friend Tim to come and pick me up. Unfortunately, Tim was grilling for the town 4th of July BBQ and didn’t expect me so early, so I had already walked six of the seven miles back to town before he apologetically showed up to get me just one mile out of town. What’s six more miles, right? It was the only part of my adventure where I saw a bear – the salmon have made it up into the lake and surrounding streams, meaning the bears are out and about. Wrapped up in my newly-found cell phone service, I startled a little black bear almost as much as he startled me as he tried to catch lunch. Luckily, in our mutual fear, we each went our separate ways without incident.

My first solo, mini-thru hike was officially deemed a success (aka I didn’t get lost or eaten). Doable but hovering just outside of my comfort zone, it checks all of the boxes for a good adventure. I can’t wait to plan the next one!

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Back to the Basics

The air is cool and the weather is rainy, but it is good to be back in Cordova. Friends are slowly but surely making their way back to town the house is filling up. Stories of winter adventures accompany salmon dinners as everyone starts to prepare for this year’s season.

It’s been just over a month since I arrived, and though spring hasn’t quite sprung, the snow is almost all melted (well…from town) and the rainy and sunny days now greatly outnumber the snowy ones. It’s great to be back. Here’s what I’ve been up to:

Ski Hill

The cold weather has made for some beautiful, snowy scenery and some fun adventures of the winter variety, like skiing! Home to North America’s oldest ski lift, Cordova Ski Hill almost never has a line and almost always has soft powder.

Adult Easter Egg Hunt: Alaska-style

Step 1: Make cocktails and place in mini mason jars left over from last year’s jam

Step 2: Hide said cocktails throughout the woods

Step 3: Find and enjoy!

Exploring

Melted snow means it’s exploration time! The past week has been sunny and in the 40s and 50s, meaning with each passing day, the forest becomes just a little more accessible than it was the day before. Bike rides and hiking abound.

Nicaragua: My First Love

After five years of globe-trotting, I finally made it back to visit my first love; the country which started me on my journey: Nicaragua. Life in the Land of Lakes and Volcanoes had really changed in some ways, but in most it was exactly as I remembered. I was quite pleased to find there were still mango slices on every corner, the majestic volcanoes still give you a slight sense of impending doom, the sand on the beach still gives 2nd degree burns on your feet, and the rum is still magnificent. Ahh Nica – how I’ve missed you. Despite your mosquitoes, your poorly mannered young men, and your lack of cuisine, you still hold the spot at the top of my list. It was good to be back.

When I found myself with three weeks to fill before returning to a snow-filled Alaska, it wasn’t a hard decision to pop down for a visit. My friend Rachel, who also was confronted with snow-filled Alaska (and rain-filled Oregon) decided to join. Some traveling buddies from Mexico were still on the road and were keen to tag along as well – so off we went.

We spent the first week Doris’s house. Doris and her family live in Tepeyac, a little, rural suburb of Granada. Doris and I became friends when I first moved to Nicaragua, and have stayed in touch over the years. It was great to visit and catch up. The kids were certainly a handful (where does all of that energy come from??) but they did make it interesting and kick-started Rachel’s Spanish.

Around Tepeyac

Escuela Juan Diego

Rachel made a friend (kind of)

Picking avocados was a family event

Taking a walk

After stops in Laguna de Apoyo and Ometepe, we were off to Leon. Other than everyone accepting US Dollars (weird, right?) and some of my favorite places having closed down (Chameleon, Siesta Perdida) it was pretty much the same. Veronie and Stijn, the delightful Dutchies who own Via Via were right where I left them, though Veronie does now have a one-year-old on her hip. When she first told me Sebastian was napping, I asked her if she had a new puppy (which was thankfully met with laughter). And Harrie, tour operator extraordinaire, was never far off and frequently popped in. It was great to visit.

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We took a self-guided tour of Volcano Telica while in Leon – I used to guide treks and was pretty confident I still knew the way. Turns out the trail has greatly changed due to eruptions since I’ve visited (locals confirmed!), so we did get slightly lost in cornfields. Oops. But it was an adventure! Even though Telica was too smokey to see lava, it was just as amazing as I remembered. And – we saw tons of wildlife on the way down after dark, including two tarantulas and a scorpion.

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After Leon followed an obligatory trip to Las Penitas (the beach!!), then Matagalpa before beginning our trip south to Rio San Juan. We spent almost a week in the jungle along the border of Costa Rica which was absolutely stunning. We spent a few nights in a very remote (like, a two-hour boat ride from the closest town) eco lodge in the middle of the jungle where macaws flew overhead, sloths clung to trees and poisonous frogs were underfoot. It was magical.

The jungle

How to make chocolate

Favorite shots

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It was over as quickly as it started, and I suddenly found myself back in freezing Pennsylvania. And after two feet of snow, canceled flights, sprinting through airports, a little mechanical trouble at 5,000 feet, and two more feet of snow, I’m currently settling into a slowly-thawing Alaska (though it is doing more snowing as I sit here typing this). And once the snow melts just a little bit more (or my friends come back to town, whichever happens first) I’ll report back with more adventures. Stay tuned!

Happy 2017!

And…it’s over. 2016 was quite the year. Just like any other year, it had its highs and its lows. But I’d rather focus on the positive – we all know how much negative there is in the world. I was fortunate, and for me personally, it wasn’t bad. In fact, parts of it were really great! In 2016, I lived in India, Alaska, and Mexico. Those are three very different places with very different cultures – which is how I like it. 🙂 At the beginning of the year, I set three goals for myself – two of which I achieved, one where I fell short.

2016 Resolutions

Visit a new country – check. This happened. As far as I’ve traveled, I had never before been to Mexico. I spent a few months this winter checking out the country. It was delightful.

Run 300 miles – check. I hit the 300 mark in September. I trained for and ran the Lake Powell Half Marathon in Arizona in October, and having this deadline certainly helped me hit my goal. And – the signing up for the half inspired a road trip across Arizona and Utah – which was stunning.

Read 50 books – *crickets* Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. My goal was to read a book a week, with two weeks of wiggle room thrown in. I got off to a strong start, until around week 19 or 20. Final count: 27. Part of the problem was definitely my book selections – the first half of the year, I was reading page-turners (list is below). And for some reason, I just couldn’t get into the books I read later in the year. Oh well. Reading 27 books is definitely more than I read the year before!

Resolutions for 2017

I’m really bad with planning and committing, but I think 2017 just may be the year where I settle down and get a place to store my possessions that isn’t my sister’s basement. To encourage me not to impulsively buy an airplane ticket to some far-off corner of the world, I have purchased a mattress and a box spring to be delivered in September. Pennsylvania, here I come. So, Resolution #1: Get an apartment.

A few weeks ago, I visited the Center for Art and Design in San Miguel, which is filled with all kinds of galleries and studios. I got inspired. I’ve ordered my supplies stretch my own canvas, a set of paints, and I’ve started sorting through my photos to get ideas. I’m really excited to crack into my new toys. And any time I think about jobs, my mind wanders to painting. Resolution #2: Sell one painting.

Last year I went from only running a mile or two to running a half marathon. My practice time went well, but when it came to the actual race day, I had some altitude issues and didn’t run as fast as I hoped. I will try again this year at the Salmon Jam in Cordova. Resolution #3: Run a half marathon and beat 2:10.

Despite settling down, I can’t make a resolutions list which doesn’t mention travel. I’ll just tame it back this year. Resolution #4: Visit a new state OR a new country.

And of course, I have to adjust and reset my reading goal. Since I only reached about half of my goal, it seems unrealistic to shoot for 50 again. Suggestions welcome. My list of books I read in 2016 is below. Resolution #5: Read 30 books

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Happy 2017! The sun is rising over the corn fields behind my house in the New Year. It’s good to be home 🙂

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2016 Book List

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  2. I Was Told There’d Be Cake – Sloane Crosley
  3. Purity – Jonathan Franzen
  4. Fates and Furies – Lauren Groff
  5. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
  6. Born to Run – Christopher McDougall
  7. The Orphan Master’s Son – Adam Johnson
  8. What I talk about when I talk about running –  Haruki Murakami
  9. The Great Railway Bazaar – Paul Theroux
  10. Modern Romance – Aziz Ansari
  11. A Visit from the Goon Squad – Jennifer Egan
  12. Everything I’ve Never Told You – Celest Ng
  13. The Sixth Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
  14. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
  15. I Am Malala – Malala Yousafzai
  16. Notorious RBG – Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik
  17. The Sellout – Paul Beatty
  18. Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
  19. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot
  20. The Geography of Bliss – Eric Weiner
  21. Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates
  22. Shantaram – Gregory David Roberts
  23. Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
  24. The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
  25. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
  26. The Creatures That Live at the Absolute Bottom of the Sea – Rosemary McGuire
  27. H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Adios Mexico!

Santa’s coming! Santa! I know him! And that means my time in Mexico is up – time to go home. The timing is appropriate, because it will take a Christmas miracle to squeeze all of my things into my backpack…but I’m channeling my inner elf and using my Tetris skills in the present-packing process. So far so good, as I did manage to curl a giant sombrero I bought as a gift into my backpack, which I consider a major win…otherwise I would have had to wear it throughout the airport. Now, fingers crossed that all of the tequila, dried chilis, and borderline-ridiculous amounts of pottery make it with me through customs. Brushing up on my charming skills in Spanish 🙂

In other news – I hit a major milestone in my Mexican stay (and in life) last week – in my group salsa class on Thursday, not only was I invited to cross the invisible line dividing the room to join the advanced side…but the teacher asked me to teach my partner the move that we were doing – TWICE. I almost squealed. Me – the square-hipped gringa – dancing salsa. Teaching salsa. HA.

The next day in my private class, the teacher decided it was time for me to experience new types of dance. We’ve been working on regular Salsa (Salsa en Linea), Cuban Salsa, Cumbia, and Bachata. But now we’ve started the Cha Cha Cha and Zouk – which basically seems to be the smoother, Brazilian version of Bachata. It has lots of gliding cross-bodies and hair-swinging twirls. And it is really pretty, but involves a level of grace and suave which I don’t really possess – meaning each move generally involves me miserably failing and laughing with the teacher about how not to do it. But it’s fun all the same.

**Note: anyone in San Miguel and interested in Salsa (or any type of Latin dance) should check out Fernando’s classes at Sabor y Ritmo – he is amazing!**

I’m sad to finish my classes – tomorrow is my last day! But I’m very excited to go home. Get ready guys – only two more sleeps!!! And to everyone else – Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah! The next post will be coming to you from snowy Pennsylvania.

Here are some photos from the past week. Enjoy!

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I loved watching these ladies and their babies – they were simply adorable.

Downtown San Miguel

Practicing my nighttime photography 🙂

Updates from San Miguel

Time just seems to slip by in the Mexican hills of Guanajuato. Thanksgiving has come and gone, and now the holiday season is here. In San Miguel, a massive “tree” is being set up and decorated, pop-up poinsettia markets fill empty courtyards, and the central markets are filled with flashing strings of lights, nativity scenes, and small electronic toys which play a single Christmas classic on repeat all day, every day. ‘Tis the season. Here’s what I’ve been up to as the seasons change.

Tequila and Guadalajara

When Jennifer, a friend from Oaxaca, came up to visit, one of the top items on our list was to visit the town of Tequila in the neighboring state of Jalisco. All “official” tequila throughout the world comes from this small town, and we were looking forward to touring a tequila factory and, obviously, the taste test. The tour did not disappoint. And while we tasted some delicious tequilas, my favorite still remains the one given to me by a Frenchie in Tulum, which his neighbor brewed in a bathtub in his basement. 🙂

Tequila was about a two-hour drive outside of Guadalajara, a bustling city complete with a metro. We enjoyed strolling through the streets, tasting the local food, and hanging out in Oasis, the historic salsa bar which provided us with hours of entertaining people watching.

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Exploring the City

One of my favorite past times in San Miguel is to stroll through the narrow, cobblestone streets and take in the beautiful scenery and do some excellent people watching. The colors of the buildings, the abundant greenery, and the antique VW Beetles are stunning. The hills are totally worth the views.

Thanksgiving

I spent Thanksgiving at a ranch just outside of San Miguel with a group of American expats, who have retired to San Miguel mostly to pursue art. We had all of the key elements – good food, good wine, good friends. The weather was perfect and we ate outside, enjoying the sunset and the sound of howling coyotes after dinner. I even made it home in time to watch the Steelers win their game!

Salsa Classes

I’ve been taking daily group salsa classes which have quickly become one of my favorite parts of San Miguel. Last week, I also started taking a few private classes which I will continue throughout my time here. The teacher is phenomenal – he’s even managed to teach this white girl how to move her hips! Well…sort of. I have no hope of ever advancing beyond my “basic” level in class…but I can dance salsa, bachata, and cumbia without embarrassing myself…which I consider a win. And it is so fun! I love it.

Post-Mexico Planning

As usual, I need a plan to stay sane. I’ve decided to return to Alaska this summer, which means I needed to fill my time until mid-March. After going home for for the holidays (Yay!) I will be making stops in Lancaster, Cleveland, Memphis, and Nicaragua to visit friends and soak up some sun before returning to rainy Cordova. I’ve spent the past week working out logistics and buying plane tickets while listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat – man…it is SO GOOD. I guess you could say I’ve become obsessed. Lin-Manuel Miranda – you’re a genius.

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Enjoy this photo of me with my new friend – he’s kind of an ass, but he has cool glasses!

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San Miguel de Allende

A quaint, little colonial town nestled in the mountains north of Mexico City, San Miguel de Allende is where I’ve decided to hang out for the next six weeks. The colorful and historic buildings which line the cobblestone streets are some of the most photogenic I’ve seen anywhere, the food is tasty, and the people are friendly.

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Despite warnings from other travelers, it is still much colder than I expected. To those of you – feel free to say “I told you so.” Starting all the way back with my road trip in Arizona, if there is one takeaway from this trip, it is the effects of altitude. San Miguel de Allende sits around 6,500 feet, making me wish I had brought more than a thin, zip-up hoodie. But what it lacks in heat, it certainly makes up for in charm.

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I spend my days strolling through the many markets, painting, and practicing my photography. Slowly but surely, I am learning how to use my fancy, new camera. I have also started taking dance classes which focus mainly on salsa and bachata, where I am not the worst person in the class – so I have deemed them a success. I know I won’t ever cross the invisible line down the middle of the room from the basic side to join the advanced, but that’s ok. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s something that’s been on my bucket list for a long time.

I spent a day exploring the nearby botanical gardens – simply stunning. Filled predominantly with rare types of cacti and succulents, it is home to many desert plants and animals – though I only saw insects (and spiders!)

My favorite plant was the round cactus colloquially referred to as silla de la suegra aka Mother-in-law’s Chair.

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The butterflies were pretty amazing. They are also tricky to photograph, so when one is actually in focus, it’s pretty exciting!

And finally, there’s this plant which looks like it came straight out of a Dr. Seuss book. It took me back to the 1990’s when I loved to play with koosh balls 🙂

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I’ll be in San Miguel until returning home for Christmas, so there’s lots of time for more adventures in this city. Stay tuned!

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Moving Forward

Today I’d like take a break from my travel blog and speak for a moment about the future of our country. This isn’t a pro-Democrat or an anti-Republican post. This is a post, from one human being to other human beings, about how to move forward – something I am personally struggling with. About what comes next. Because although I am scared and upset, the sun is still shining and it’s a new day. The world hasn’t ended, and we need to figure out a way to carry on. No matter who you voted for, hear me out. We need to turn to compassion and love instead of digging in and growing this enormous divide we have in our country.

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Today has been a very hard day for me, as it has for many people around the country and around the world. It hasn’t been hard for me because my candidate lost – that’s how democracy works. It’s been hard for me because almost fifty-nine million Americans voted for a candidate who has run on hate, misogyny, xenophobia, racism, and fear. And to me, the fact that fifty percent of the country is okay with this behavior, or that they can overlook it for the sake of policy and politics makes me personally very sad. I know most of them don’t personally believe it, but still, I feel heartbroken.

I know that the other side doesn’t see it that way. Right now, millions of people are celebrating. Some of those people are people I love very much. And I understand their perspective. To them, Trump stands for hope and change of the status quo. Yes, he makes inappropriate comments, but his off-the-cuff answers and lack of political correctness is refreshing for them. And though some of the stuff he says is worrisome, it can be brushed off as just talk.

I am not going to sit here and list out the reasons why, to me, this is complete and utter nonsense. That I am terrified. I am not going to lament injustice. And I am not going to throw a fit on social media demanding that all Trump supporters unfriend me, or curse third-party candidates. That doesn’t help. Demonizing Republicans won’t get you anywhere – in fact, it only makes the partisan split bigger. This election was close. And had it gone the other way, there would still be fifty percent of the population that feels exactly like I feel now. In fact, four years ago – they did. And even though many of us are scared of what is to come, fifty percent of the population is very excited.

The fact is that come January, Donald Trump will be sworn into the most powerful office of the entire world. And no matter how much you yell and scream, it’s going to happen. And no, moving to Canada isn’t the answer (This coming from me – someone notorious for seeking refuge from real world problems by running abroad).

America is a great country – one of the best in the world. And democracy is one of the things that makes us so great. The peaceful transition of power is one of our trademarks. And America isn’t only a President – America is 320 million individuals. We are a giant melting pot that values diversity and second chances. We are the land of the free and the home of the brave. And that doesn’t change overnight. We, the 320 million living, breathing people give Donald Trump his power. And we are still here. Four years is a long time. And yeah, if you’re like me then this is probably going to suck for a while. But that’s democracy. That’s how it works. America is resilient. We will get through this.

For today, I will allow myself to be heartbroken. While sitting in a Mexcian Starbucks, trying to comfort myself with a slice of chocolate cake, I can try and find a little solace in the fact that there are many millions of Americans who feel exactly as I do right now. I am very proud of my candidate and the campaign that she ran. I am proud to be with her. I am very proud of President Obama for taking the high road. And I am so proud of all of my friends who fought so hard this election season – you guys did great work.

If you voted for Trump, congratulations in your victory. And if you didn’t, I’m so sorry. But regardless, it’s time to come together, and move forward with compassion for your fellow man and love for the thing that makes this country so great: the 320 million people that call it home. And please, no more hate.