A Fork in the Road to Shining Beautiful

Roommate Ashley Ryder


Some people say that ‘variety is the spice of life’…and I tend to agree with them. Like most folks, I’ve have “chapters” in my life that define who I am and who I am trying to become. These segments are easy to identify because they’re punctuated with a proverbial ‘fork in the road’ and include making choices, which affect more than what I’m going to eat for breakfast.

My first big decision occurred when I graduated college back in 2007. Typically,this  a time when most young people  finally stop going to school and get a “real” job. I chose to go a slightly different route. I became a professional nomad.

First stop on my nomadic journey was the Poconos, where I became a white water river guide, followed by two glorious years of various seasonal jobs. During that time, I was a ski-lift operator, outdoor educational teacher, nature guide, marina attendant and, finally and most importantly, a coral reef research diver. This was a vital chapter of my life. I learned how to travel, solve problems and adjust quickly to new situations with usually just a backpack to my name.

It’s funny, sometimes when you have the least, that’s when you’re able to gain the most.

When life changed. I had to adjust in order to meet my new challenges.  I felt the creep of my late twenties come upon me. I grew tired of struggling from paycheck to paycheck. I knew I needed a “real” job. Stability began to look attractive, especially in the light of my mother’s declining health. It was time to grow up.

At the time, I was living in Mexico and found myself at that “fork in the road.”   Once again, I wondered, “Which way to go?” Head home or keep going south? Live as an Expat in some seedy part of Latin America or face the mountain of responsibility waiting for me at home?

I stood at the doorway to the bus station in Playa del Carmen, gazed upon clear Caribbean waters,and pulled out what little Spanish I had learned out of my brain as I attempted to decipher the bus schedule. The clock was ticking, I had about twenty minutes to make a decision before my decision was made for me. The northbound bus was leaving in an hour.

The bus heading south to Guatemala wasn’t leaving for another two days, sooooooo Texas here I come!

But, what was I going to do once I got back to the states? I had no idea.  Kelly, my fellow beach bum and vagabond friend, was wrestling with the same dilemma. We bounced around a few ideas then she told me what she had decided to do.  She was joining the U.S. Coast Guard. Hmm, okay. That’s a big change. But, what the heck? If she can do it, so can I. And that’s exactly what I did.

Three months later, there I was standing in a room with about fifteen other people. We held up our right hands, repeated some oath, which I knew nothing about. Here we go…..let the next chapter begin.

The transition from care-free gypsy to disciplined military member was not easy.  Thankfully, the Coast Guard gave me lots of time to reflect as I pulled weeds and scraped paint. Eventually, I found comfort in the routine, found my rhythm and before I knew it, five years had passed.

My military career progressed from remodeling military housing to my real specialty: pollution prevention.  Lucky for me, my Coast Guard career began along the Oregon coast where I fell in love with the rain in ways I didn’t know were possible. Later, I received orders and was re-stationed in New Orleans, the mecca for all things related to pollution.

Soon, my initial contract was expiring. Another fork in the road. Re-up for another four years or start all over, once again.  Grateful, this time had more time to decide. By now, change did not intimidate me. Still, the Coast Guard cradles you providing almost everything a person might may need; medical, dental, financial help, legal advice, work-life balance assistance, career development, emergency zero-interest personal loans…the list goes on. Why would anyone want to give up this free ride?

That’s an excellent question. Ultimately, I knew, which fork to take in the road.  I wanted to grow some real roots in a community, to stop moving and quit this nomadic life.

Here, living with Mikelle and becoming part of the Shining Beautiful community, I have found roots and will finish my Masters degree in Environmental Resource Management at the University of Denver, where three of Mikelle’s former roommates graduated from; Kari, Lauren and Bentley.

My resolution is to shape the next chapter of my life, enjoy being a weekend warrior and see the world. one vacation at a time. Who have I become?!?!