Country Roads, Take Me Home: Realizing a Dream

PVD to CRW Flight

What a busy few years it’s been since my last blog post. Despite the radio silence here (sorry), I’ve been hard at work for a number of clients while forming and gradually building Paladin Publications, a boutique digital content agency and publisher of other content.

Paladin Publications LLC Logo

The largest change, however, is the culmination of a life-long dream: moving from my home state of Rhode Island, where I was born and where I’ve lived for the entirety of my 30-year life.

My destination was none other than the Mountain State, West Virginia.

In May 2017, I took a road trip from RI to WV to attend my friend Jared’s wedding. I spent four days in the Mountain State and very quickly fell in love with the atmosphere of the state, from the landscape and architecture to people’s attitudes and sincerity. It was a culture shock of the best kind: a difference between what I perceive to be a selfish, anxious, gogogo mentality of RI and New England as a whole and a slower, kinder, more genuine experience in WV.

Rhode Island has never felt like home to me. I was born and raised in RI and spent my entire 30 years there, yet I never felt as if I belonged, no matter what I did or where in RI I lived. I had friends there, sure, and sometimes I even had a good time, but I always felt like a tourist in my own state of birth. Nothing I ever did could shake this feeling, and I felt compelled to get out and try somewhere new.

When I visited WV for Jared’s wedding, the state called to me. It was everything I wanted in a place I could call home, perhaps even enough so that it’d feel like home. And so in 2017, I decided, with determination, that I’d do everything in my power to move to WV and start anew.

After a lot of failed attempts to figure out a place to move in WV, I found an apartment within my budget in July, 2020. Over the next few weeks, I emailed the landlord back and forth, getting photos of the place and signing the lease — all without having seen the apartment in person (thanks, COVID). Then it became time to finally put a moving plan into place.

Lessons Learned

My 2017 drive to and from WV ended in disaster, prompting me to admit “I should’ve just flown.”

Daniel Mattia WV Road Trip Crash

For my move from RI to WV, I planned to do just that.

Unfortunately, that complicated things to a certain extent.

My beloved cat Maximus passed away at the start of 2018, leaving me with only his adoptive brother, Rocky. Since adopting Rocky, however, I grew used to having two cats and like the idea of each cat having a feline friend, too. So in February of this year, I adopted Hamlet from a long-time friend, bringing my total cat count up to (my maximum of) two.

Hamlet the cat

But if I wasn’t driving to WV, that meant the cats would have to fly with me. In the strange dystopic world of 2020, I knew that’d be even more of a challenge than usual.

I first considered getting both cats certified as emotional support animals, which would mean they could fly with me free of charge and complaint. Though I and they qualify for ESA certification, the process was fairly roundabout and not entirely guaranteed; ESAs aren’t the same as service animals (understandably so).

So I decided to roll the dice. American Airlines was one of the only airlines that provided flights from Providence, RI to Charleston, WV, so I read through their pet policy and contacted their customer support to verify I could fly with each cat in the cabin; I would never allow either to fly in cargo.

It soon became apparent that flying with both cats at the same time would reduce my chances of being allowed to board with both. Additionally, I learned the hard way that Rocky is terrified of loud noises — like engines — and wont to do anything in his power to escape . . . as he did in my yard while in his harness and leash, bolting away and out of his “escape-proof” harness at the sound of a passing and revving motorcycle. (Fortunately, I’m a good cat dad who previously taught Rocky where the house door was, and he ran right toward it and inside when I — in terror — opened it to get him back in.)

Rocky outside on harness
Moments before disaster

After a lot of thought, I decided to fly down with Rocky on 9/1, get him established in the apartment, fly back to RI on 9/3, pick up Hamlet, and head back — finally — on 9/4. Each cat would cost me an additional $125 per flight in fees, but I was moving 850 miles away — expenses were unavoidable.

Getting My Stuff to WV

The cost of flying was a drop in the bucket compared to the cost of getting my belongings from RI to WV.

I’ve always been a bit of a minimalist by nature — I simply don’t see the need for accumulating stuff. Still, I had to get the necessities down to WV, not to mention all my office equipment, including my PC — it’s how I make a living, after all.

I shopped around for every potential method of getting my stuff to WV as safely and affordably as possible. I looked at RV rentals, tour buses, private planes, full-service moving companies . . . none could be hired for a reasonable fee or guarantee the relative safety of my belongings.

To my chagrin, many services either didn’t service RI or WV, too. Eventually, I found U-Pack. U-Pack, and services like it, deliver a trailer to your current home. Once it’s there, you load it with your belongings and then install a bulkhead, paying only for the space you used (the minimum space, in the case of U-Pack, being five feet).

After substantial research comparing U-Pack and its competitors, U-Pack won my business, but I had waited too long to reserve my trailer: overnight, the cost of the trailer went from an understandable $1,100 to a whopping $2,200. Out of fear it’d increase if I waited any longer, I reserved my trailer at the start of August, pretending my own delay hadn’t just doubled how much it’d cost.

When Did I Get So Much Stuff?

No matter how much you believe you’re a minimalist, packing for a move will have you cursing your past purchases. I filled so many boxes with junk I’d accumulated over the years, from necessities like kitchenware to various random electronics or cables that “might come in handy” (seriously, why do I have a 150-foot ethernet cable?).


U-Pack allows you to have three days to load the trailer, then three days to unload it when it arrives at your destination. My original load day was on a Monday, but on the previous Friday afternoon, my local U-Pack service center called me to ask if I’d accept the trailer delivery that afternoon; they had some downtime, and they wouldn’t charge me any extra to park the trailer at my house, effectively giving me a couple extra days to load. I agreed, and accepted the trailer delivery a few hours later.

U-Pack Trailer

Over the next few days, I loaded up the trailer, enlisting my father’s help for some of the heavier or more awkward pieces of furniture. Considering the distance the trailer would travel, I also made sure to protect the most precious item loaded onto the trailer: my PC. I opened it up, dusted it out, and stuffed it full of air pillows:

Dan's computer protected by bubblewrap

Then I filled a sturdy plastic tote with a giant comforter and bubble wrap before gingerly depositing my computer inside, covering it with more air pillows, bubble wrap, and blankets. To ensure the tote’s lid wouldn’t pop off in transit, I wrapped a tie down strap around the whole thing. Overkill? Definitely, but hey — not only is my PC an expensive beast, it’s also an integral part of my business.

Eventually, my space in the truck was loaded, and I sighed in relief: I’d only used the five feet I initially planned. Each additional foot of space would have cost me another $65 which, in the grand scheme of things, wasn’t going to break the bank, but still.

Dan's U-Pack Trailer Almost Fully Loaded Dan's U-Pack Trailer Fully Loaded Dan's U-Pack Trailer with Bulkhead

With the bulkhead eventually secured into place, I gave U-Pack the call to let them know the trailer was ready for pick-up and transit.

Then I waited.

Six Flights, Three-and-a-Half Days

September 1st crept up quicker than expected, bringing with it my first of six flights to WV. Around 7am, Rocky and I headed to T.F. Green Airport. I was so nervous about the trip — and the possibility American Airlines wouldn’t allow Rocky to board — that I got maybe an hour of sleep the night before.

Rocky and Red Bull
I chugged two Red Bulls before heading to the airport

We arrived at the airport fairly early and I began the check-in process. The AA attendant gave me some pushback about taking Rocky on-board: did I contact AA prior to my trip? (Yes). Did I get permission to fly with him? (I never got an answer back.) After some consternation on behalf of the attendant, she approved him to fly and handed me my receipt for his $125 carry-on cost.

The next hurdle was TSA. Rocky is very skittish, especially around commotion and large groups of people, so I had previously contacted the airport to see how I could get a private screening, especially since Rocky would have to come out of his carrier to make sure I didn’t stuff him or the carrier full of drugs or explosives. When in the security line, I politely asked the TSA officer for a private screening and — to my surprise — the agents were very kind and considerate during the process.

One of the agents took hold of Rocky’s carrier as I went through the regular process of removing my belt, shoes, and items from my pocket, then went through the scanner. From there, I was led into a private room with Rocky and asked to remove him from his carrier. Another agent took it out to run it through the xray, before coming back and giving me the greenlight. We were cleared to fly!

(I have to interject to express my appreciation to both American Airlines and the TSA here. Of all the things that could’ve gone wrong on this move, not being allowed to fly with the cats was one of my biggest concerns and would’ve complicated the entire process, not to mention really push against my dwindling budget. More, both the AA attendants and TSA officers were incredibly kind and helpful and simplified the process. Despite all the times in the past that I’ve trashed TSA, the staff at PVD was great to work with.)

In lieu of a direct flight from RI to WV, Rocky and I would have a short twoish-hour layover in Charlotte, NC after a roughly two-hour flight. Rocky’s never been one for travel and he let the entire plane know how unhappy he was, especially when we experienced some turbulence and then began to descend. His yelling broke my heart, but everyone on the plane was understanding.

After our layover in Charlotte, we again boarded a plane, this time to our final destination. Charlotte is a mess of an airport, though, and we had to board the plane on the tarmac, the whirring sound of idling jet engines terrifying Rocky in his carrier as I walked briskly toward the plane’s entrance. Fortunately, it went off without a hitch and we were soon in the air once again.

Landing in WV is something of an experience, however. Yeager Airport, or CRW, sits on top of a hill with sharp drop-offs on all sides. The landing, to me at least, gives you the feeling that you’ll crash right into the rapidly approaching ground.

Obviously, we landed fine and, for the first time in three years, I was back in West Virginia. This time, though, I could call start calling it home.

My New Home

After an absolutely insane Lyft drive from CRW to my apartment, I arrived to find my U-Pack trailer waiting for me, then emailed my landlord to let him know I’d arrived. Five minutes later, I was finally meeting the guy who I’d sent probably 50 emails to over the last couple of months and was pleasantly surprised to see how friendly and welcoming he was.

Because I was signed the lease from afar with the apartment sight unseen, I’d done my due diligence to make sure I wasn’t getting screwed. Much like my landlord ran a background check on me, I did my research to ensure he was legitimate and the leasing company he worked for actually existed. To meet him in reality dispelled my last bit of trepidation, not to mention the fact he was more than happy to sign for the delivery of the U-Pack trailer earlier in the day.

He led me into the unit so that Rocky could finally come out of his carrier and start to acquaint himself with his new digs. He took me around the apartment for a brief tour, too. The building was built in the 70s and still has some of that feeling, though it’s had a few things updated and fixed over the years. My apartment’s not massive and there are a few things I’m not entirely happy about, but it’s both mine and in the state I’m eager to call — and have feel like — home. For my purposes, it works perfectly.

In one of my earliest emails to my landlord, I brought up the fact I intended to move in with both of my cats. His response was a very encouraging, “Cats are more than welcome!” His actions spoke louder than words, however. Upon being led into the kitchen, I was shown a welcome package he’d put together for me and both cats, including an insulated cup from the local Marshall University, some coffee, cat treats, and even a cat toy.

New apartment welcoming gift

On top of that, he also presented me with a $20 gift certificate to a local pizza place. After a long day of flying and travel, it was now 6pm and I could’ve eaten the certificate itself, in all honesty. We talked for a little while longer, discussing his response time to any problems that could arise in the future and my line of work, and then he bid me good luck and left.

Once he left, I popped open the trailer to grab a few things out. Rocky needed litter boxes and food, so I grabbed those few boxes out and began setting up the apartment a little. I also made a call to the pizza place, dealing with a fairly rude and heavily-accented person who finally took my order after a good 20 minutes.

The rest of the night, and all of the next day, was full of trailer unloading (all by myself 😭) and setting up my few pieces of furniture and belongings — and especially my work setup. I also set up my SimpliSafe system (including a camera) to keep an eye on things when I left to go pick up Hammie.

A Second Set of Flights

Once the apartment was mostly setup and the trailer was totally empty, I notified U-Pack to let them know and scheduled the pickup (for which I wouldn’t have to be there). Then I booked an Uber for the afternoon of September 3 and reluctantly left Rocky alone for what would be about 25 – 27 hours of travel.

This time, the ride to CRW was much less eventful, my Uber driver a retired truck driver. I arrived at CRW alone and in the midst of a thunderstorm, in which the prospect of taking off concerned me slightly.

Foggy CRW Airport

Fortunately, the weather cleared by departure time, and I arrived in Charlotte (again) about an hour later. Charlotte was even worse than two days ago, packed to the gills with people seemingly entirely unaware of “social distancing.”

Boarding on the tarmac at CLT

After witnessing a couple of stampedes of people trying to board the right plane as multiple flights boarded simultaneously, I patiently waited for my own back to RI. After a couple hours, we boarded and took off for the relatively short flight back. As terrified as I’ve become of flying (likely a symptom of my 2017 car crash — I used to love flying), my window seat afforded me some beautiful sunset views:

Sunset over Charlotte, NC

I landed around 8:50pm, went back to my parent’s house where Ham was staying, gave her a ton of pets, ate, and tried to sleep for a repeat of the first day of travel.

Hamlet in RITwo More Flights…

Again, I struggled to sleep, so I started my Friday morning by pounding down another couple of Red Bulls. Then I got Ham ready and threw my few remaining items into a duffel bag before heading off to the airport for my final set of flights.

Both American Airlines and TSA were helpful again, getting me to the gate in what felt like record time. In contrast to Rocky, Hamlet was much more tame, likely owing to her past travel experience with her previous owners (fun fact: if Ham could get frequent flier miles, she’d have far more to her name than I do).

Hamlet in PVD

The flight to Charlotte was normal, though, again, the airport was a disaster zone of epic proportions. Ham was entirely quiet on the flight, content to sit between my feet and sleep as we ascended, cruised, and descended to, at, and from multiple thousands of feet in the air.

Issues arose on the way from Charlotte to Charleston. About two-thirds of the way through my final flight to WV, the pilot keyed the intercom to warn us that we’d be hitting severe turbulence after we were already rerouted twice away from extreme weather. Moments later, the turbulence hit and didn’t let up, giving me the worst flight and landing experience of my life. At one point, the plane banked so far onto its axis it felt like we’d roll over, though the logical part of me knew turbulence never bore an actual threat to a flight.

Still, I was nearly ready to kiss the ground at CRW once we landed. A mountainside landing in those sorts of conditions may be perfectly fine to a more seasoned traveler, but it’s the last flight I’ll take in a long while.

Settling In

I brought Ham back to my new apartment and soon discovered Rocky was nowhere to be seen. I knew from the SimpliSafe camera that he hadn’t gotten out when I left, nor had the door ever opened since I left the day before. All of the windows had been and were still closed and locked, and I couldn’t find any escape avenues through which a cat could climb, crawl, or jump out of the apartment.

So where was he?

In a growing panic, I called out for Rocky. He usually comes to my voice, or at least meows, especially if I’ve been gone for some length of time. I heard nothing. Finally, in desperation, I pulled back the blankets on my bed and revealed his chubby orange self, happily sleeping beneath the warmth of my comforter. Rocky was okay.

I let Ham out and let them both reintroduce themselves to one another while they each explored the apartment in the presence of their dad. I also set up the toy my landlord had bought for them (even though they have dozens of other toys, all of which were scattered across my bedroom floor) and they both took an instant liking to it.

Hamlet playing with new toy Rocky playing with new toy

Looking to the Future

I planned to move to a different state for a fresh slate, to write a new chapter in my life. I left behind a lot of negativity and bad family situations behind in RI, seeking instead to start fresh with a new and more optimistic mindset. Most importantly, I moved to grow my business in a place with a lower cost-of-living and one that could facilitate better mental health and focus.

I’ve been settled in for about a week now and I’m happy to report that my reasons for moving have borne true. I’m much more content, calmer, and optimistic, looking forward to everything I have planned for both my freelance business and Paladin Publications. I’ve been more productive and incredibly eager to get back to work. Despite the slight worry about the debt I’ve accumulated in the move, I’m looking forward to what’s in store and know my worries are largely irrational.

And so begins a new chapter in my life, 30 years in the making. Do I feel like I’m “home” in West Virginia? It’s too early to be sure, but I certainly feel as if I’m in a better place, both physically and mentally and that, I think, is the biggest determinant for how I think my future will pan out.

(As a final aside: thank you to everyone who’s been encouraging and helpful throughout this process. There are far too many people to list here, but your words of support, calming, and well-wishing have been instrumental in helping me keep my head in one of the most stressful times of my life, and I hold a deep gratitude for each of you — including the many nameless people in the airports, on my flights, and driving my rideshares over the duration of this trip.)

8 thoughts on “Country Roads, Take Me Home: Realizing a Dream

  1. Hammy! Happy for you dude! Escaping the great RI trap. Interestingly enough it’s not just RI. People don’t break their comfort zone. But you did! Onward and upward.

  2. Loved reading all about your adventure. I’m so glad you & your cats are happy in your new home. You deserve nothing but the best. I’m very proud of you & I wish you the best in this next chapter of your life ❤❤

  3. Congrats on the move! My cats couldn’t even handle a 30-minute car ride. I can’t imagine flying with them. Haha. I hope you enjoy the change in scenery. Wishing you, Ham, and Rocky the best!

    1. Hammie’s a frequently flier since she moved a lot with the friend I adopted her from (and it showed — she was quiet 99% of the trip), but Rocky hates even being picked up and squeaked, yelped, and screamed, especially during takeoff, turbulence, and landing. So glad the whole move’s over and I would definitely NEVER fly with cats again, ha. Thank you for all the warm wishes and good luck! We appreciate it 🙂

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