Three thousand miles one-way. About 18, miles total. Twice with girlfriends. On my first cross-country trip I was I had never been to the West Coast. I was in a hurry to get to Sacramento for a year of public service with AmeriCorps. On my second trip the following August, I reversed directions and drove Larry from Sacramento to Keene with my girlfriend. Four years later, in May , on my third trip, I drove solo from Charlotte, N. I was In June , I made my fourth trip across the U. We were moving back east for grad school. My fifth trip brought me to San Francisco four months after leaving Boston, with a long stopover in Colorado in the fall of I was 30, single and jobless.
I had little money and no girlfriend. Only Snowflake. Driving 13 hours a day has become routine. My longest stint was in when I drove solo from Chicago to Denver, exactly 1, miles. I never pick up hitchhikers because my car is always full. Long trips like these offer time to daydream, think and process. There are plenty of reasons Americans take cross-country road trips, each trek littered with unforgettable moments. I flew to New England for the holidays to see my parents.
I wanted to reconcile with my father. A year earlier, I was jobless and desperate. Dejected and needing stability, I asked my dad if I could live at home for the fall semester. I needed to complete graduate school and save some money. I offered to help him with household chores since my mom would be in Central America for four months. He said no. I left. I wonder when my parents became so old. I wonder how their year-old bones cope with the sub-freezing weather outside.
I wonder when I will see them again. My iPod is loaded. The author and a past girlfriend stretch their legs at the Wisconsin Welcome Center on Interstate 90 in June As I turn off my cell phone I feel free. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies. Passing through Massachusetts and Connecticut, my mind wanders. Whatever happened to the girl I fell in love with in AmeriCorps? The first person I drove crosscountry with. Does she still live in Hartford?
Four hundred years ago, Henry Hudson explored the wooded slopes that sandwich the crisp dark waters below. Manhattan skyscrapers now litter the landscape 15 miles to the south. In western New Jersey, trees cast elongated shadows in the afternoon light. After filling the tank, I stretch my legs and climb back into Tanner, Pennsylvania on the horizon. In the distance, rolling hills wall one town from the next. I smile at exit signs for Scotrun and Intercourse. Unique road signs add some fun to an otherwise boring stretch of highway. The traffic thins and disappears like a morning fog.
I slip into Ohio after dark. We fell in love at Elon College but eventually went in opposite directions, like diverging highways. She left me days before I bought my first car, weeks before I embarked upon my first solo road trip from New Hampshire to North Carolina. I never thanked her for setting me free. Her parents have graciously offered their pullout couch.
I am greeted at the door by a 3-year-old in pink footy pajamas. Amy scoops up her niece and welcomes me in, introducing me to her family as I drop my Osprey backpack on the pullout couch. Where I see a rippled moonlit river, she remembers high school rowing practices. And where I see a dilapidated mining town, she sees a revitalized downtown that grows greener and more sustainable each day.
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I prefer her view. We leave the bar and head to a microbrewery that serves beer in pint glasses rather than party cups. Amy and I talk about our lives, relationships and climate change. My answer is always the same. Crossing back over the Muskingum River on a wooden walking bridge, our footsteps add to the night sounds. Today I have nothing to look forward to … no friend at the end of the road. Just Tanner and me crossing state lines and time zones. I am stuck in traffic. This continues for an hour, from Ohio to Indiana.
A jack-knifed tractor-trailer bisects the highway. Lights from police cars and ambulances bounce off the snow like a winter rave. After passing the accident, I resume highway speed and hurtle through white flecks, like Han Solo piloting the Millennium Falcon at hyperdrive speed. Exhausted from navigating the snowy road, I exit for gas and coffee. I search for a Subway, my favorite spot for food on the road.
I typically order a foot-long turkey on honey oat, which I can eat while driving. Dunkin Donuts is another favorite eatery. Driving from Indiana through Illinois and Missouri is less exciting than, well, pretty much everything else in the world. Doing it in the dark only adds to the monotony.
Tired in Missouri, I stop at a Starbucks and think of Seattle. Trains of thought such as these only intensify while sitting alone in a car for hours at a time. I check my messages, but no word from Angelina. In return, I often reassure her that her doubts are normal, her fears unjustified. We chat for a half hour, as I pass broken lane dividers in Iowa and Nebraska. After hanging up, Robyn texts me directions and rates for Motel 6 in Lincoln. I triple check the door locks before hauling my skis, laptop and backpack upstairs.
I take a hot shower and climb into bed. I am halfway home. I fiddle with the radio and settle on espn, which I tolerate for two hours. I can only listen to so much hype about the Super Bowl. I pass the time by counting tumbleweeds, snow gates and bald eagles. I snap a photo of the exit sign for Beaver Crossing.
A patch of leafless trees presses out from the ground like giants rising from the dead. These are the highlights culled from miles of Nebraska, memories sprinkled across flat land and shallow rivers. Plains turn into plateaus. I guess every town needs one. People die everywhere. Their marriage died shortly. I pass Buford at dusk. I stopped here almost a year ago to the day while moving from Denver to San Francisco for my third go-around with the Golden State. The town consists of a gas station with a convenience store, run by a widower whose son has since moved away.
A flashing sign warns me of mile-per-hour gusts. The headwinds force the engine to work hard for every mile. Road signs rattle. As the sun slips behind the mountains, I realize the only other vehicles on the road are wheelers. I grip the wheel tightly as large trucks pass, blocking the wind momentarily before moving on. Exhausted, I keep myself awake by singing and glancing at the sea of stars overhead. When the gas gauge dips below a quarter tank, I begin to look for an exit.
These oases are always comforting sights. I fill the gas tank and my coffee mug before resuming my mile-perhour dash. And when I say dancing, I mean stomping my feet and shifting my shoulders while pointing at passing motorists and drumming the steering wheel. I met her in graduate school in Boston the summer of , where we were both studying to be high school teachers. We shared a passion for the outdoors, environmental science and politics.
Cracking jokes kept us sane during boring lectures. Just after midnight she heads to bed and I curl up on the couch. Thursday morning is crisp and gray. A light drizzle falls as I merge onto I for the final leg of my trip. Driving through the salt flats, I remember battling the crosswinds here nearly 10 years ago, my AmeriCorps girlfriend asleep next to me as I gripped the steering wheel.
It was not a good night. He frequently stops here after cross-country trips on his return home. Four hundred miles of barrenness separate me from Reno, the last casino town along the highway before home. They have no clear borders, no character, no charm.
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Some are old mining towns. Others feature chain motels, fast food restaurants and tiny casinos aglow in neon. I have stayed in some of these motels on previous trips, after realizing I was too tired to reach Reno. Although I have no specific memories of these places, I do remember spending a night in my tent in a small park next to Battle Mountain High School back in May I slept with my pocketknife under my pillow, just in case.
I got some strange looks from students the next morning as I stepped out of my tent. As I drive over Donner Pass at dusk, rich reds and oranges set the sky ablaze. Ninety minutes later, I pass the Watt Avenue exit in Sacramento and am reminded. Driving the passenger van. But that was 10 years ago. The freedom of being 22 still lives at that exit. I am almost home. After covering 1, miles of I, I exit onto Highway 37 near Vallejo. Crossing the Napa River Bridge, I swerve to avoid a log in the right lane.
I pull over, step out of the car, and stretch as I look down onto the bridge and city below. San Francisco is. Beneath a setting crescent moon, I feel the cool night air and hear the sounds of traffic below. Everything that I now consider home. These are the thoughts that immediately follow every crosscountry trip, particularly this one. It only took me 3, miles to realize I need to move on.
Crossing paths with old friends helped. Possibilities await at every mile marker. We are a nation founded by explorers. We invented the automobile! It is only fitting that road trips have since embedded themselves into the fabric of America, whether with Steinbeck and Charley, Sal and Dean or Thelma and Louise. In a culture that emphasizes five-year plans and step solutions, the freedom of the freeway offers a necessary escape. The reverse is also true: many a trip continues long after movement in time and space have ceased … My own journey started long before I left and was over before I returned.
Still searching. Email Justin Mazzola justin. I am waiting for a tearful epiphany, but all I really feel is the cold. Looking out for the first time over the snow-covered site of the Donner encampment at Alder Creek, I see the past before me. Seven of them perished here. Two thirds of the women survived.
Two thirds of the men did not. On this March afternoon, the spring thaw has already started. The clearing is silent, except for the sound of melting snow dripping off the boughs of the Ponderosa pines. A break in the clouds reveals the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada. They were to be among the first to make the arduous trip to California, which was not yet a state.
The population of San Francisco, known then as Yerba Buena, was about On May 12, the Donners became part of a group of 87 settlers who left from Independence, Mo. They elected year-old farmer George Donner as leader of their party. The eldest was my great-great-grandmother, Elitha. The route, which existed only on a map, was supposed to save time. The trail proved to be a disaster. Rough terrain crossing Utah slowed travel to a crawl. In the Wasatch Mountains, they pulled the wagons inch by inch as the men cleared rocks, fallen trees and underbrush in front of them. In the Great Salt Lake Desert, most of their livestock either wandered away, were shot or stolen by American Indians, died of thirst and hunger or were worked until they fell.
The delays forced the Donner group to attempt crossing the Sierra Nevada in the fall. Snow came early that year. By the end of October, heavy snowdrifts made crossing. The Donner Party had no choice but to wait out the bad weather near what is now Truckee, Calif. They were stranded until spring. Some for four months, others for as long as six months. A deep, infected gash on his arm and shoulder weakened him, and he could go no farther. They had reached Alder Creek, five miles northeast of Truckee Lake. They hollowed out snow embankments at the base of trees and stretched canvas from their wagons over boughs to make lean-tos.
More than a dozen of them hunkered down to weather the storm. Little did they know it would be their home for five months. For some, their final resting place. I was just as hopeful and excited about reaching California as my ancestors had been. Both sides of my family have roots in California. They were proud of their lineage.
When I mentioned it to one of my City College instructors, I was surprised by his reaction. He was clearly impressed. He knew the whole story and started asking me some basic questions about my ancestors. I suddenly realized I knew virtually nothing about them, except their names. I called my father, hoping he could shed some light on our family history. I contacted historian Kristin Johnson, a librarian at Salt Lake Community College who has been studying Donner history for more than 20 years.
You are in my genealogy charts. The Donners worked through the scanty supply of the food in their wagon in a matter of weeks. Next went the oxen and cattle. Then pets were consumed. In the face of starvation nothing was sacred. Just before Christmas a few of the settlers started off to find help.
They encountered a terrible blizzard and were the first to face the most horrific remedy for starvation. Historical records indicate that when other sources of food ran out, some of the starving pioneers resorted to consuming the bodies of those who perished. The first members of the Donner Party to experience cannibalism were not the last. Three rescue efforts were made to the camps at Truckee Lake and Alder Creek, and upon the last attempt in April the evidence of cannibalism was undeniable. But this care had not prevented the mutilation of the body. The head had been split open and the brains removed; flesh had also been taken for the kettle.
Forty-eight died of starvation and exposure. Seven of them were Donners, half of the family that set out from Illinois. The Donner Party story changed the way Americans thought of westward immigration and has been told as a cautionary tale ever since. Elitha, she said, faced hardships during the journey that haunted her for the rest of her life. Next morning, of course, I had nothing for breakfast … While I sat looking at the others eating their morsels of meat, which were more precious than gold or diamonds, my sister Elitha saw my distress, and divided her piece with me.
It felt like I had found something. Something real. A glimpse into a family I never knew. My family. Her husbands. Her children. Her death. But none seemed to be as telling as the letter that Leanna had written about her sister. Elitha Cumi Donner, my great-great-grandmother, was among the first to be rescued in February of Photo from Eliza P. My great-great-grandmother Elitha was married shortly after her rescue, at the age of 14, and was widowed only a few years later. By the age of 21 she was married a second time, to Benjamin Wilder, with whom she gave birth to my great-grandmother Elitha Ellen Donner Wilder.
They lived and died in Elk Grove, near Sacramento. My grand-father, Merle Walther, was born there, too. He yearns for adventure. Visited aboriginal tribes in Papua, New Guinea. Hiked in the Himalayas. When he turned 60, he decided to move to a new city every year. I get restless if I am in the same place for too long.
I felt an itch to move on when I lived in Vancouver, so I packed up and drove to California. I guess it is a fitting thing for the great-great-great-granddaughter of George Donner to do. Neither of us could resist the call of the Golden State. George Donner, my great-great-great-grandfather, is leading the train of settlers through deep snowdrifts in the Sierra Nevada. The woman in the illustration looks too young to be his wife.
It could have been his eldest daughter, Elitha, my great-great-grandmother. She looks like me. The Donners were prosperous, well respected farmers. They had little incentive to leave their home in the Midwest. I like to think that my great-great-greatgrandfather was curious. Perhaps he was dazzled by the promise of an unexplored frontier. Maybe his adventurous mind had a serious case of wanderlust, and he decided to act on it.
Ambitious and optimistic, he believed that his family could make it. If my theory is true, it would certainly explain a lot about my family. My father, George Walther, is the same age that his great-great-grandfather was when he set out West. He has traveled to.
The clock is ticking. Within minutes Yee, in her trademark black pantsuit with a white scoop neck top, is striding toward the cbs news van where her photographer awaits. She casually swings. Her face and voice are easily recognizable to anyone who watches Bay Area tv news.
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Last year, one person was killed and three were injured in a parking lot shooting outside a soma nightclub. Yee has taught broadcast writing at City College since last spring. As a general assignment reporter at cbs, she brings her frontline experience to the classroom. But a lot of students are not used to that. The exclusive one-hour session was more of an interrogation. He wanted to get out of the gang life. After the interview aired, the San Francisco Police Department used the video to train its gang taskforce.
At five-foot-three, with a low, steady voice and an impish grin, Yee is unflappable. And it shows. They both worked on the campus newspaper, The Phoenix. Her mother, an insurance underwriter and a local Chinese opera performer, used to dress her up in costumes from one of her many wardrobe trunks. When her sister Darena was seven years old, year-old Linda gave her a bit of advice. Paul McCartney is establishment. She remembers writing short stories about the band in her orange bedroom in the Richmond District, where she grew up. She attended nearby Star of the Sea grammar school and high school, graduating in Within months, she broke into the San Francisco television news market, nabbing a production assistant job at kron-tv.
Four years later she accepted her first television reporting job at kgo 7, where she freelanced before kron lured her back with a full-time reporting role. Yee had to check with her crew before interviewing aids patients. A few refused. Yee was overcome by emotion when she interviewed the mother of an month-old baby with aids. The baby contracted the disease in the womb when the mother received a blood transfusion for polio. The baby died soon after her story. That was the last time Yee lost her composure on camera. In April, seven students were killed in a shooting spree at Oikos University, a Korean college in Oakland, and Yee was assigned to investigate the background of the year-old gunman.
What is this rage? Police Chief Greg Suhr. Her peers applauded her as she walked up to the stage to accept her award. So far, she has ignored at least friend requests on Facebook. But finding news and understanding what is happening requires more than just reading a blog, social media or random site, which, sadly, seems to be the case today. Yee works hard to uphold high journalistic standards in her own work. But she knows the importance of balance. Since daily deadlines can be grueling, she seizes the opportunity to escape when she.
Yee is more outspoken than her two younger sisters, Darena and Brenda. The latter is ceo at the Chinese Hospital in San Francisco. Yee helped Brenda raise her two daughters, now in their 20s. Asked about her career goals, Yee says she met them long ago, when she got her first job in broadcast journalism.
She would like to keep the door open for a possible return to teaching one day. Her class often has too much fun to notice the muscle burn. My adrenaline is still racing.
They would feel it tomorrow though. Clearly they had a good time, which is the goal. An average minute Zumba class burns to 1, calories, but today my class might have burned even more.
Being a Zumba instructor has changed my life. Our two story, 5-bedroom home was always filled with friends and family. My mother would make hearty meals that were so delicious my brother and I often encouraged her to open a restaurant. Like most cooks, though, she was not concerned about calories or nutritional content. I had a very happy and secure childhood, and my parents met all of our needs. My brother and I could just be kids.
My home life played an enormous role in my personal development. As a teenager I was carefree and cavalier. My biggest fears were nothing more than what to wear Saturday night. At 19, I was 5-foot-9 inches tall and weighed pounds. Foods that should be eaten sparingly. Dancing for fitness Zumba Fitness is currently considered one of the top 10 worldwide fitness trends, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Some call the workout a dance fitness-party. He improvised his routine that day with salsa and merengue tapes he had in his car.
His class loved it. In , they started marketing Zumba. Today, more than 12 million people in countries use Zumba to shed pounds, alleviate stress and stay healthy. I lived solely for the moment. I began working at Target when I was 18, which is how I met Eric. I was a cashier and he worked in the stock room.
His dark, curly hair and boyish grin instantly attracted me. He was smooth-talking and funny. All the girls had crushes on him. From minute talks in the break room to shameless flirting, we were a couple within a month. I had never been the girl who gets the hot guy. Back in high school I was insecure. I had friends, but was far from popular. Being raised in a protective Christian home, I was not allowed to go to high school parties and never drank alcohol or used drugs.
Graduating from high school was a fresh start. Eric fit in perfectly. My friends and I gushed about this special guy. The guy who wanted to spend every minute with me … who constantly called me … who questioned my every move. At the time it made me feel special. It was not long before things took a turn for the worse. Early on, Eric revealed his temper and cruelty. It initially put me off. I told him to stop calling me. But he would apologize profusely and then do something. Participants tell me that I help them keep moving when they want to give up.
Against my better judgment, I would forgive him. However, the good times never lasted long. He always joked about how big I was. I was an inch and a half taller and 20 pounds heavier than him. I slowly began obsessing about my weight. I began picking at my food. He wanted me to look like stick-thin celebrities.
I knew the relationship was unhealthy, but I ignored my intuition. I stumbled onto Pro Anorexia Nation, a group of websites that encourage extreme weight loss. I needed around 2, calories a day in order to simply maintain my weight. It took a dramatic toll on my body. I lost 35 pounds in three months. I also lost my hair, energy and control. For breakfast, I would eat a plain piece of whole-wheat toast, an egg and black coffee. I drank black coffee to avoid unwanted calories, to suppress my appetite and to increase my energy level.
It also kept me warm. I was frequently cold, which I now know is the result of my dramatic loss of body fat. Gone were the days of eating on a whim, or even having a random glass of milk. I calculated every calorie I consumed. I quickly went from enjoying food to fearing it. Although I could think of nothing else. They silently warned me not to slip-up. There were days my body begged for nourishment. The first time I blacked out. While waiting for my order, I began feeling dizzy and weak. My skin became hot and prickly.
I collapsed. When I opened my eyes people were peering down at me, and my mother was staring into my face in horror. My family and friends knew I was trying to lose weight and supported me until they saw how gaunt and bony I had become. My mother was concerned. She asked if I was eating properly and pointed out how thin I was. Pro Anorexia taught me these kinds of tricks, including ways to deceive those around me.
The websites promote starvation, offer rapid weight loss techniques and suggest methods to suppress hunger pangs. They even deny that anorexia nervosa is an illness and claim instead that it is a lifestyle choice. I was convinced. Mine was around Along with my weight struggle, my boyfriend added to my low self-esteem.
I cried out for help. I prayed for answers as tears streamed down my face. My prayers were answered when my boyfriend moved away. One bad situation had ended, while another was in full swing. My obsession with losing weight became addicting. Every time I reached a goal, I would lower it. I was healthy at pounds, but reaching would be even better. Everyone complimented me on my figure, except Vincent, my best friend. We dated for about nine months after high school.
Then Eric came along. But Vincent stood by me, despite it all. I revealed how I wanted to eat as little food as possible, how I felt weak. Although I knew what I was doing was unhealthy, starving myself made me feel strong. Losing weight was empowering. It brought me closer to that girl I so desperately wanted to be. Then, in the spring of , I went to my first Zumba class.
The class was popular and I positioned myself toward the back. Within the first 30 minutes I was winded and had to slow down to avoid passing out. The energy in the room was amazing, though. People of all ages smiled, laughed and cheered throughout the workout. The music was great and the choreography was fun. It gave me confidence, a feeling that had been missing for quite some time. The instructor, a woman in her 50s named Teresa, encouraged everyone to move at their own spring As she danced and laughed through the duration of the class, her energy spilled over to everyone in the room.
I was pumped. And drenched in sweat. The hour flew by. I checked the schedule for the next class.
I started attending Zumba twice a week, falling more in love with the music, moves and energy each time. Finally, I got tired of getting tired. I struggled just to wave my thin arms over my head. Something had to change, so I decided to eat more before hand so I could have more energy. But after reaching pounds, I was terrified I would gain it all back. I began taking Zumba five times a week, quickly memorizing all the routines.
I even downloaded the music so I could do it at home. Zumba had given me back my energy and caused me to eat regularly. I did not gain any weight, but I did feel and look a lot better. Everyone noticed. My calculator and journal no longer accompanied me to the kitchen and I gradually stopped visiting Pro Anorexia websites. I started getting to Zumba early so I could be in the front row. The floor length studio mirror challenged me to give everything I had. Within a year, friends, family and fellow participants were encouraging me to become an instructor.
Being a Zumba instructor has helped me appreciate the beauty of each day and respect my body. Its cardiovascular workout releases endorphins the feel good hormone throughout the body. I have more energy and feel happier now than I ever have in my life. My instructor friends refer to Zumba as Vitamin Z because of its many body-mindspirit benefits. I try to give back that positivity to my Zumba classes. From sharing pieces of my weight loss journey to breaking. Although my days of obsessive calorie counting are over, as an instructor I am now conscious of what I feed my body because it plays a key role in my performance.
Junk food is reserved solely for weekends, if at all. My diet now mainly consists of fresh fruits and vegetables and lean proteins such as almonds, tofu and protein shakes. Eating fresh, whole foods, and staying away from enriched, high sugar products have had a positive effect mentally, physically and spiritually. The number on the scale does not measure your worth. The best part of Zumba is being able to inspire others. Their determination and joy inspires me. Zumba, fashion and journalism have become my healthy obsessions.
Teaching 11 Zumba classes a week has helped improve my physique. I felt I had it under control. It was more important to be thin. Jobs often create unhealthy eating habits and stress. Not mine. So have many of the people in my class. Zumba has given me that.
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McElligott School of Irish Dance. Mexican Dance Company of Chicago. Mike Birbiglia's Working It Out. Live - Milkshake Monkey's Musical. Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker. Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra. National Ballet Theater of Odessa. National Choreographers Initiative. National Choreographic Festival. NC 10 By 10 - Theatrical Production. Neil Berg's Years of Broadway.
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