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Original photo by Jillian Hughes

When Life Gave us Online Classes, I Moved Cross Country to Colorado… And These are the Lessons I Learned

The onset of covid marked a time of online classes, too much time indoors, and excessive tik tok binges. I was in an endless loop of feeling unmotivated and not even having anything to motivate myself to do (besides online classes). It was nice to slow down my routine and watch some Outer Banks with the fam, but I could feel my mental sanity slowly slipping. When the email came that I would no longer be able to return to campus, I knew something had to change. I didn’t want to feel like I was just wasting time away and awaiting for a future that was a long ways away. I had a critical change in mindset from “this semester has a dire outlook” to “this semester offers so much potential.” I recruited my friend Sadie, drove 1,900 miles to Colorado, took online classes during the week, and road-tripped to national parks on the weekends. To summarize my experience into a single sentence: we wanted to move to Colorado so we did. These are the lessons I learned…

 Long car rides are relative

Growing up I had my fair share of road-trips, but none of them prepared me for the ones I took last semester. Instead of a mere six hour drive, they looked a little more like three consecutive days of ten hour car rides, or a seven hour drive to South Dakota on Saturday and then seven hours back on Sunday because we had class on Monday. Now that I have a pseudo “high tolerance” for car drives, I am so much more likely to give into a quick road-trip. In New England we have so many states in relative close proximity waiting for us to visit.

 Conversation is the best way to spend a long drive

Though I just spent the first half of my article complaining about how far and long we had to drive, the road-trips were undoubtedly some of my favorite memories. Sadie is one of my closest friends, yet we still had enough conversation to fill 100+ hours of driving. There is always more you can learn about a person no matter how close you are: opinions, favorites, beliefs, hypotheticals, and would-you-rathers. We listened to music, podcasts, audio-books, and the occasional online class, but they would precede heavy eyelids without fail. Conversation, however, could make a ten hour drive feel shorter than some two hour drives I’ve done in the past. 

It’s okay to listen to Christmas music before December

On October 17th, Sadie and I found ourselves in an empty Badlands National Park due to snowfall. I used to be one of those people who said you can’t listen to Christmas music until after Thanksgiving, but then I realized it was a frivolous rule that was only restricting my own happiness (not to be dramatic). The snow provided such a peaceful setting that it gave me the overwhelming urge to put on It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas. Instead of being stubborn, we indulged. We even got out of the car and danced with the backdrop of bison walking by and snow falling onto the gorges. It was one of the most Christmas-y moments I’ve ever experienced even though it was two months premature.

Some of the best memories come from the worst planning

The day after driving through the Badlands, we visited Mount Rushmore- the primary reason for driving all the way to South Dakota. Remember the part where I said it was snowing? That is about to become even more relevant to this list of lessons. We woke up early, filled with anticipation, passed some tourists on the walk to the overhang, and then looked up at the monument...and saw a whole lot of fog. So much fog that it was almost a game to see which one of us could recognize a body part first (we only saw the outline of George Wahington’s nose). It became obvious that we were the only visitors that could appreciate the humor in the situation. All of us tourists traveled hours and maybe even across the ocean to see this iconic site, yet we couldn’t see a thing. Everyone around us was acting normal and even taking family pictures in front of Mount Rushmore as if it wasn’t just a mass of white fog, but I think that only added to the irony of the situation. So maybe we should have checked the weather before driving all that way but we definitely wouldn’t have had as many laughs.

Frozen fruit is expensive

This point is representative of all the basic life lessons that come with living on your own for the first time (completely and not in a college dorm) and were heighted by my distance from home. Chicken should go in the freezer two days after buying it. The difference between regular and premium gas is the octane rating. Idaho is not, in fact, located next to Illinois and Iowa, but is actually beside Oregon and Washington out west. And I never realized how expensive the fruit was in my daily smoothie bowls until I had to buy it on my own.

 Waking up for the sunrise is always worth it 

Even if it means waking up at 3 AM and driving an hour and half in the middle of nowhere, it will always be worth it to watch the sunrise. Maybe this is a case where you should plan ahead to make sure the sky will be clear, but it could also be fun to leave up to chance lol.

A decision means you have a choice

Though it seems intuitive, it took moving across the country for me to fully grasp that not all of our decisions are predetermined. When we have a choice, there are actually two possibilities to pick between. For fear of sounding incredibly corny, we have the freedom to make out of life what we want. I could say that I made the choice between staying home for the semester or moving to Colorado, but I think it's important to recognize that wasn’t even a choice until I made it one. We not only have a choice within the decisions presented to us, but we also have the freedom to create our own choices. When I first heard the news that I could no longer move back into school, it was obvious that I was living at home again...until it wasn’t. I made the choice between staying home and moving across the country happen for myself. Simply put, don’t be complacent in the obvious choices of life.

Jillian Hughes

U Mass Amherst '23

Jillian is a senior at Umass Amherst majoring in biology and public health. She currently serves as the UMass chapter's treasurer. Her favorite things are traveling, chocolate chip cookies, and listening to podcasts on long walks.
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