Wednesday, April 30, 2014

My Gap Year

It's been communicated at work now, so I say it's official. I will be unemployed on July 3, 2014. 

I've worked for the same company since I graduated college in 2003. I have and continue to work with some great people, both as my colleagues and the clients that I serve. It has been a demanding job but I achieved more than I had ever hoped or even considered when I started back in September 2003. 

One key goal I did have was to work abroad. I did a semester in Spain my senior year of college and loved it. I remember interviewing and expressing my desire to one day work outside the US. Pretty much at every subsequent meeting to talk about my career, I raised that desire again. Then, in 2008/2009 I was presented with an opportunity to move to Singapore. Asia was not the first place on my list, but I had visited before and had been sold on the merits of the assignment. I moved to a foreign land where I knew no one and lived there for three great years. I made many friends along the way and, to do over, I wouldn't change anything. It was definitely hard work but lots of fun times too that hopefully many of you read about on this blog. I got to travel and see so much of the world. There was a mentality in Asia (or at least among my peers) that was supportive of my love to travel. A weekend trip to Myanmar or Vietnam was pretty normal. 

I moved back to the US in 2012 to the same office and city I had left three years earlier...but it wasn't the same. Lots of new faces, but also some familiar ones. Everyone, myself included, was now three years older and a lot can happen in three years. It was harder than I expected to get back to a comfortable spot. I loved being back closer to family and friends but it wasn't quite the same. 

I hit my 10 year anniversary with the company and I realized I was tired. Burnt out. I could continue to work, but I wasn't super happy. I also wanted to see the world, really the United States. At this point I've seen more outside the US than in. As I started to think about it and weigh options, I came up with all sorts of ideas. My family, friends and work colleagues helped me think through them. Ultimately I decided I wanted to take some extended time for myself. I'm still single, no mortgage payments, no kids to save for, student loans paid off.....if I want to do something a little bit crazy, now is the time. 

No job. I want to travel around the US. Visit friends, see the national parks, recharge. My ideal plan is a year off. We will see how long the funds last and what comes along the way. 

I was talking to my dad and he said something about my "gap year". I've heard this term mostly in Europe used by students in the year before or after their college career. They are often backpacking around Europe or somewhere. I think it fairly aptly describes my plans. I'm having a (slightly delayed) gap year. I have my backpack, tent, sleeping bag, etc. and will see how long I can cut it as a 30-something backpacker. 

There are other plans during the year - a family wedding, hiking the inca trail in Peru, visiting a friend in Switzerland, family vacation in Florida.  So I won't just disappear for a year but will try to make the most of it. 

I am excited, slightly uneasy at entering a new venture, but looking forward to the new challenges for myself. You can all follow along as I keep my blog updated for #lmcgapyear!

*As a follow-up to the previous post on my motorcycle skills, I will not be biking around the US. That was one of the many options discussed but I quickly realized I don't have near the skills I need to do that. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Learning to Ride

This winter some friends (aka Team GU) put a bug in my ear about riding a motorcycle. Then I watched Long Way Round and Long Way Down on Netflix about a couple friends exploring the world with their bikes packed and lots of obstacles along the way. Sounded right up my alley! But then I remembered I had never even sat on a bike before and maybe I should think in baby steps....

And this weekend was the first step. In early March, I signed up for a beginners rider course available through the motorcycle safety foundation. It has lots of locations and is only $20. The hardest part is registering online before the classes fill. The first session was last weekend and I got the second session (4/4 - 4/6). They also take place across the state but the first one I could get was near my parents at NIU, so I stayed with them for the weekend. 

The class was Friday night 6-10 and Saturday and Sunday 6:45am-4pm. Luckily we got out an hour early each day, which helped. Friday was in the classroom learning the basics. The class is meant for people like me with no experience. We had a good variety of students though - younger, older, men, women, previous riders, newbies. I was glad there were others in my same situation :). 

My classmates

The bikes lined up on the range (practice course). 

Saturday we started off with the bikes and worked with them until noon and finished in the classroom. Same on Sunday except Sunday included our bike skills evaluation and the written evaluation. 

Saturday went well. We started really slow. Turn bike on. Shift between neutral and first. Rock bike back and forth. Feel the pull/friction of the clutch. Walk bike across the parking lot. Finally, pick up feet. I could then, no longer say I've never ridden a bike! All was going so well. Then I braked wrong, stalled the engine and slowly started to tip right.......until I couldn't control it and the bike and I slowly drifted down to the pavement. It was pretty harmless except that my boot was stuck under 300 lbs of metal that I couldn't get leverage and lift off of me. I had to honk the horn and even then it took a while to get the instructors' attention. Once I did, he got me back upright and the rest of the morning went really well!

Will need to be getting my own helmet along with other gear. Any suggestions on a biker name for me?? :)

My trusty Honda Rebel for the weekend! I'm still bike illiterate but this one seemed to work for me (250cc engine I hear). 

Sunday started a little rocky as well. I needed to be warmed up I think and I had somewhat forgot what I learned the day before. I could not stop stalling.....until I realized I had shut off the fuel valve (goes to carborator I think) and forgot to turn it back on. Gas would be a good thing :). The rest of the morning exercises went better with gas and then it was evaluation time. I was third to last and tried to take deep breaths so I wouldn't over-think things. We had to do two tight u-turns in a small box, then speed up to swerve and miss a car, brake at high speed (we pretty much maxed at 20mph all weekend) and take a 135 degree turn. I finished knowing I made some mistakes but hopeful that it wasn't too many. Had to taken the written test first and then got my results....

And I PASSED!!! With this completion certificate (to officially arrive in about four weeks), I can get my M license in Illinois and be street legal. Until then I'm parking lot legal :). 

Now to find myself a bike.....