My mother calls presents she buys for herself "to me, from me" gifts. Since childhood, she's taught me that purchasing something for yourself can mean getting exactly what you want, no strings attached. I guess I was channeling her energy last spring, when I bought myself an "engagement ring." After a long solo-hike through the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs, CO, I marked my lifelong commitment to loving myself with special piece of jewelry.
I didn't set out to go solo-hiking in Colorado Springs. In fact, I didn't plan on be in Colorado Springs at all. It was an April afternoon, and I had picked up a few extra shifts at a bar I used to work at. I realized that I had quite a bit of money saved up, and decided to go visit a few friends in Denver, CO. They planned a week-long trek for us through the Colorado National Monument, an endless stretch of plateaus and canyons, decorated with unbelievable red rock formations. I'll admit I was excited: I cherish spending time in nature, especially surrounded by the people I care out.
While I earnestly enjoy exploring new places, my generalized anxiety often keeps me from adventuring to the fullest. In my day-to-day life, it can be hard for me to get out of bed and get out the door. So when traveling comes into play, it's safe to say my version of Eat, Pray, Love can look more like Forget To Eat, Hyperventilate, Picture Every Thing That Could Go Wrong.
Thankfully my Denver friends are certified "nature people," so I felt confident letting them plan our trip. They studied our route, mapped out our camping spots, and even gathered the food and supplies. All I needed to do was get to Denver. That was all well and good, until a tornado caused my Denver-bound plane to make an emergency landing in Colorado Springs.
After sitting on a parked plane for close to four hours, my flight was shuttled to a nearby hotel and told we could take a bus to Denver the following day. Though I felt like jumping out of my skin, I tried to take deep breaths and focus about the positives: I was alive, I was healthy, and, thanks to the literal super mom sitting next to me on the plane, I was full of granola bars and dried fruit snacks.
As I watched bad TV in my room, I searched online to see what attractions were around me. While the prospect of exploring this city all by myself felt intimidating, I wanted to get outside of my comfort zone and make the most of my impromptu trip. It wasn't long before I stumbled upon the Garden of the Gods, a breathtaking national landmark, where a bounty of red cliffs appeared to poke into a seemingly endless blue sky.
Though I felt nervous to explore such a large space all by myself (how was I going to get there? What was I going to do there? Would everyone there be a better hiker than me?), the red rocks reminded me of my favorite national park, Arches, in Moab Utah. I felt my shoulders relax and my heart rate steady. I could do this.
I had hiked through the Arches a couple years back, on a cross-country trip with my best friend from college. It was my favorite part of our journey, and I so vividly remember laughing and skipping through the breathtaking scenery. I can still recall how exciting it felt to drive across America that summer, how liberating it was to take new cities by storm. I thought about all the people I met, the thrift stores I found, and the stories I collected along the way.
My nerves started to settle, and I thought about how brave I am. My body is so powerful — it allows me to go on such incredible adventures. And, ultimately, I'm lucky to be able to see the world in all its natural (and urban!) beauty.
Suddenly, I felt more capable than ever.
After taking a lot of deep exhales and listening to a few Cardi B songs, I started to feel exhilarated at the idea of hiking through this park by myself. I put on my boots, packed up my bag, and ordered an Uber to the trailhead. A few minutes into the ride, the driver shared that Manitou Springs, a small hippie, cowboy town full of little shops, public sculptures, music, and good food, was just outside the park. A lover of suede, kitsch, and all things Willie Nelson, I was sold.
As I got out of the car, I thanked the driver for the recommendation, and followed the signs to the park. Upon entry I knew I made the right choice. I could make my way through rock formations and magnificent cliffs for hours.
I passed families hiking together, climbers beating their personal records, and people of all ages taking in the beauty of nature. Because it's a free and public park, all were welcome, and visitors could hike, climb, walk, or just enjoy the view, at whatever pace they preferred. Whenever I got to a big cliff, I took off my pack and climbed around like a little kid. I felt so strong, so inspired by the terrain, and so proud of myself for turning off Real Housewives and taking myself on this journey.
When I reached the end of the trail, I walked for a while alongside the road, hoping to get to Manitou. I first caught sight of the buildings, all different colors and shapes, with funky roofs and windows. I could feel it in my bones: I was going to remember this town for years to come. As I bopped from shop to saloon, stopping only to fill my water bottle at the mineral water fountain, I saw an eye-catching ring in the window of a tiny jewelry store, and immediately stopped in my tracks.
There it was, right in the center of the display: A horseshoe ring made of sterling silver and small beads of Sleeping Beauty turquoise (my all-time favorite stone).
Instantly, I knew. This was a ring I was meant to have forever. It was a special item that would remind me of how brave, powerful, and lucky I can be. There are so many adventures I have left to experience, even when I'm feeling too anxious to get out of bed.
It was a "to me, from me" ring, and it was absolutely perfect.
That morning, I "married" myself in the Garden of the Gods. My turquoise ring serves as a little reminder that, no matter where my life leads, I can take care of myself. And even if I someday find myself in a long-term romantic relationship, nothing can take that away from me. Just as I'll never be defined by my anxiety, I refuse to be defined by my romantic status. And that is a vow to which I'll happily say "I do."