I always wondered what it felt like when people said they were "living the dream." Well, recently I found out exactly what that meant, and all at once everything was right in my life from that point forward.
It started many years before that, though. One night I had a dream, a very vivid one. The context of the dream is insignificant, but the focal point was very significant. As you'll sometimes see in old establishments, there will appear a historical photo on the wall of what it used to look like in its very early years. And in my dream, I stared at an old photo on a hotel wall with clear letters on its sign stating "Lake Placid Inn."
I woke up extremely curious and wondering why I had dreamt so specifically about this place. I had heard of Lake Placid, likely many years ago, perhaps from mentions of past Olympics. But nothing had ever anchored me to this place in any way or gave me any reason for it to appear suddenly in my life as such a bright beacon. I had never even thought twice about it.
The Lake Placid Inn, circa 1910
(Photo courtesy of the Lake Placid Public Library)
Colleen O’Neill smiles on the trail up Algonquin Peak in winter.
Sunrise on Lows Lake
I was very determined to find out why I was being pointed to this place in such a mysterious and direct way. As if something was forcing me to it, it was a sign I could not ignore. I did some research online and came up empty, so I contacted the Lake Placid library historian. She emailed me back and confirmed that there was a Lake Placid Inn, and sent me photos and newspaper clippings that fascinated me. I felt like I was staring at something very unfamiliar, yet very personal. However, a visit to this place was not possible since the Lake Placid Inn burned down in 1920, never rebuilt, with a harbor in its place today.
Why this place? I still didn't have an answer, but I figured this was either a clear sign to visit to meet my destiny or demise. Life got in the way, though. Distractions came about, and for reasons unknown, I never found the opportunity to visit.
Then about five years after the dream, I injured my knee while hiking. Being addicted to the outdoors, I found myself suddenly incapacitated while I was recovering and very unhappy not able to be active. I had to find an activity that would allow me to still get out there without using my knee. So suddenly I became a kayaker.
I quickly found it was one of my favorite activities, which was destiny at hand once again. Paddling opened up a new world of exploration for me, and then one day someone said, "You should visit the Adirondacks if you love paddling." And once again, this place came into my life and sparked my memory. I realized I had a very long-awaited appointment with destiny there. My fateful injury, which led me to paddling, now led me to have a reason to finally visit, as if connecting the dots to destiny.
As soon as I drove into town, I was amazed. The mountain ranges on the way into Lake Placid, the Olympic pride, the historical buildings and just the feeling of this place drew me in. As I spent a long weekend in the Adirondacks, paddling to my heart's content in the Saranac lakes area. I discovered that I melted right into this place. I won't even try to describe the beauty that exists here in the vast wilderness, since words can't do it justice. I'll leave it up to my photographs and also implore you to seek out your own adventures here; it is limitless.
I was severely depressed as I left and drove five hours back to my home in New Jersey, which had never felt like home since birth. And so I began coming up to the Adirondacks once, sometimes twice every month to explore as much as I possibly could. I felt like an alien who finally found her own planet. And each time I felt deflated as I saw that horrible sign on 87 South that says, "Leaving Adirondack Park." Once my paddling season ended, my love continued as I discovered winter hiking in the High Peaks region. I continued to return each month on weekends because I could not stay away. Like a magnet, I was pulled north as frequently as I could manage visits.
The extraordinary beauty that exists in the High Peaks during winter is unexplainable. The frozen waterfalls, the snow-draped evergreens and all of the other magnificence found here are the most stunning visions my eyes have ever seen. And then one fateful day in January, as I hiked up the Avalanche Pass trail, amazed with each step as I looked around at the winter wonderland surrounding me, I had an epiphany. I don't want to leave here. So I decided that I was going to ask my manager if I could work from home so I could move here. I asked, and she said yes, and I bought a house a month later and moved in two months later.
Suddenly all was right in my life, and it had happened so quickly and effortlessly. It felt like I rode an express train to destiny. Less than a year ago, I had no clue I would be a homeowner in this place, or had even known of this place at all. It's as if I turned a key in my life and opened a door to the way it always should have been.
Following your heart was always just a term to me, but my path here was the true definition of following my heart to happiness. I was meant to be here. I still don't know exactly why I was drawn here; some say a past life or destiny in another form. I just say I'm thankful for whatever was responsible for delivering me here.
Before this, I was in a holding pattern with happiness and my place on Earth. I had planned to buy a house many years ago and was emotionally and financially ready to make the move. But the move was never something that was clear in my heart, and I could never commit fully to a location to consider buying a house. Not until I came to the Saranac Lake area. Suddenly it was like one of those moments when you get a feeling that there is nothing else you should be doing in your life except that one thing. I had no doubt this was my home; it felt like home immediately and very deeply.
They say you have to find your "happy place" in life, and in my case, I happened to find it both emotionally and physically. My deep love of the Adirondacks and desire to explore every inch of it came so organically. I feel like I never truly understood happiness until I found this place. Suddenly the cliches all ring true. Like the old clock tower bell in town that rings on the hour, and I smile every time I hear it. Like the old buildings in downtown that remind me that something unknown from the past led me to this place. Like the feeling of an ancient part of me that always belonged here, in a way that I don't understand and maybe am not meant to. It's just simply meant to be.
So I printed a copy of that photo of the Lake Placid Inn, and I framed it on the wall in my home office to remind me of what I have to thank for pointing me to this very special place on Earth, like no other. I am literally living the dream.