I made it back. What an amazing experience my FD trip was! There is so much to say, I certainly can't cover it all here. We stayed at Pigeon Point hostel - not to be confused with a luxury accommodation - but a really cool spot with an unbeatable view on the coast. We were packed 6 to a room on 3 sets of bunk beds. I met so many cool people. The participants ranged from a 20 year old guy from South Dakota to a couple of ladies who were friends in their late 30s with kids and families in Denver who had fought their battles together and lost a 3rd woman along the way. They were in Santa Cruz to spread the ashes of their courageous friend who had also planned to be on the trip. We laughed until we cried, we cried over the overwhelming experiences we have all had or are currently having, and we bonded. Sometimes it was while we sat around the coffee table coloring (see gallery wall above) and other times it was while we were having a sunset dance party. We ate like kings and queens. The food was AMAZING thanks to our FD chefs. The day started with cold breakfast and coffee and was followed by hot breakfast prior to departure for the beach. A lunch bar with ingredients for wraps and salads was spread out for us to pack lunches every day. When we arrived back "home" there was always a counter full of appetizers to welcome us (tapenade, spinach artichoke dip, veggies and hummus, pitas and soups). It was incredible. Dinners were hearty and delicious. Many of the meals were gluten free or had vegan components but all of them were show stopping. If you're interested, the FD Cookbook contains many of them!
Now for the real story - the SURFING. The man next to me in the photo where I'm paddling out is surfing legend Richard Schmidt. We spent most of the week at Cowell's Beach which is known as one of the best learning locations in the world. Richard and his team were amazing. They were so down to earth and were genuinely excited for each and every wave that our group caught. I'm not going to be starring in the next surf blockbuster, but I can confidently say that I learned to surf while I was there.
It was cold. The water was in the mid 50s and the air wasn't much warmer most days. It didn't stop us from spending hours in the water each day. By Friday (when we cruised down to a cool little town called Capitola where the surf was a little bigger) I was exhausted. It felt great. I didn't have much "pop" left in my pop up by the end of the week, but It didn't keep me off the water. We paddled with harbor seals and otters every day. It was crazy.
One day we took a break from surfing and visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium. They have amazing exhibits including a huge kelp forest tank (one of very few in the world) and a penguin habitat. We got a behind the scenes tour and I ran into a little penguin named "Rey" in one of the back halls! She was out for a socialization walk. Those of you who know how much I love penguins can appreciate what a big deal that was for me :)
My flights were smooth but long. My family got by just fine without me and we are all happy that I'm home. This organization is very special. I am not eligible to participate in another FD1 program, but I can participate in the alum activities organized by the Boston branch or "FDtrib". For now, I'm going to get back to reality and let it all soak in.
That's all for now. I have a scan scheduled for Sep 27. Don't be surprised if you're notified with a photo of me drinking barium in a hospital waiting room. I'll let you all know when I get the results.