On June 13th, 2018 at 3am, I sat on a plane completely satisfied. I felt thankful as I flew over the mid-west states, back to North Carolina. Sitting behind me were two children sleeping, traveling alone, leaned up against one another. The two women next to me had each found a way to curl up and sleep in their seat for the 3 and ½ hour flight. Everyone in plane seemed to be asleep, except for me. I listened to a few Radical Face songs through my headphones passing the time since I can’t sleep on planes. The music and the lack of movement on the plane helped me come to a clear conclusion that I had just experienced the best 10 days of 2018.
I loved my trip to Colorado; but why? Why am I returning from this trip persuaded that I would consider moving to Colorado if I had an opportunity? What steps could I take to recreate this experience?
Everyone who travels wants amazing things to happen to them. But there is a certain amount of intentional effort that must happen in order to put yourself in a situation where you see that mountain view, answer nagging theological questions, have that conversation with a stranger, or are briefly scared for your life(but escape to safety). I want to think about those beliefs (that hashed themselves out into certain actions) in this blog entry. Identifying why this trip worked so well will help me to plan future trips for the summers of 2019 and 2020.
Belief 1: In my thirties, I want to spend my time exploring one state rather than road trip America.
I would define a “road trip” as riding from place to place seeing bits and pieces of a various states (or countries.) The advantage to a road trip is that you get lots of “samples” of places without being able to know it well.
I spent my twenties roaming through cities and small towns. In 2009 I spent a road trip with friends riding up the West Coast from Phoenix, Arizona to Seattle, Washington in a rental car. We spent two days in Arizona, two days in LA, one day in San Francisco, two days in Portland, two days in Seattle. The advantage of doing a road trip whenever you are in your twenties is that you can expect to (with the assumption you will live till 80) possibly return to a place that caught your eye whenever you are older. When we drove through Santa Cruz, California------ I said to myself “I want to return to this place one day in the future.” I haven’t been back, but maybe one day I will be able to check out Santa Cruz.
I think of road tripping is like sampling 8 different flavors of ice cream. Each sample is one bite, which tastes amazing, mediocre or bad. You can get a glimpse of what could be. You can dream about potential.
What then is drinking a large milkshake? I would say that would be to explore one city, one state or one country. Exploring one place is to drink the whole milkshake. My trip to Colorado was exploring Denver, Boulder and Frisco. All of these cities are within a 75 mile radius. By the end of my trip to Denver I knew how to navigate through the city on a bus and also figured out that I could take a bus from Denver over to Boulder. Spending 9 days in Denver made me feel like a local by day 4. Another person might stake their whole trip on exploring New York City, but forfeit the chance to see Boston. Why? Because there is so much to see in NYC. There is value you focusing on one general area rather than trying to do it all.
At 34 years old, I am done road tripping. I only hit the tip of the iceberg when I went to Scotland in 2017, to California in 2009 and Poland in 2006. I didn’t get enough of Edinburgh and the Scottish Highlands when I visited Scotland. To feel like a competent local who understands one place gives me satisfaction. To assume that you can “backpack Europe” in the road trip style can be very hard because you are having to learn a new train system, a new language, a new currency and a new culture every time you switch countries.
My “exploring one place” theory worked great with my recent trip to Colorado. I went skiing briefly in Colorado in 2004. I liked it. I visited again in 2013 when I stopped into multiple cities. Because I had prior knowledge of Denver and Boulder, my trip in June 2018 went smoother. I got to drink the whole milkshake this time.
Belief 2: Live vicariously through your friends by visiting places where you know people rather than visiting an unknown city/country.
When I visited Boulder on this trip, I stopped into a coffee shop to use their restroom. I had to pee. I bought a chocolate chip cookie, so I wouldn’t feel bad for just using their toilet. I was looking for a trailhead outside of Boulder. Just to double check I was headed in the right direction, I said “Hey, how do I get to Mapleton Street?” to the barista. She didn’t know, but she asked her manager, a hippie lady in her mid-forties. She confidently explained to me where this street was. After she explain this, she sincerely said, “We will all be living vicariously through you.”
I wouldn’t expect anything less of Boulder people. This lady’s response sums up my experience of staying with my friends while traveling. First off, they point me in the right direction-------confidently. When I stay with people-------they are guides. Rather than Googling “Hikes near Boulder,” they cut through the touristy stuff and say “Do this.” In the same way I used to give my friends Mix CD’s with the “best stuff I could find,” I like for people to “teach me stuff” about the city I am visiting.
The number of trails and mountains to hike in Colorado can be overwhelming. My friend Jacob (who I stayed with) told me we were going to go hiking in Frisco, a town outside of Denver. While Jacob was at work, I found 7 possible hikes we could do in Frisco on Alltrails.com. I emailed them all to Jacob and said “These are some hikes we could do.” He emailed me back and said “We are doing Mt. Royal and also Mt. Victoria. That’s what you want to do.”
If you visit a city where you have a good friend------that person can cut out half of the research and preparation you would have to do. When it is possible to visit a city where my friends live, I prefer to do that rather than explore a new place. I then ask if they have a guest room I can stay in. I slept in my old roommate Jacob’s guest bedroom and my friend Brian and Melissa’s guest bedroom.
Staying with your friends obviously can save you lots of money. If I made $150,000 a year and had summers off, perhaps I could afford to explore new places and stay in unique hotels along the way. However, the good news of sleeping on people’s couches is that you get to hang with your friends. Friendships last longer than solo selfies in epic places. Staying with friends is one way to do this.
At the end of the movie “Into the Wild,” Chris McCandless writes into the margins of a book “Happiness is only real when shared.” For most of his journey to Alaska he is meeting people and interacting with people. But at the end of his journey he is alone in Alaska and eventually dies alone. Sometimes we often need to prove to ourselves that we can “cut it” in an unknown place. But I’ve come to accept that there’s no shame in living vicariously through my friends. Would I rather experience hardship through trail and error while traveling because I am stubborn? Or would I rather experience something grand because I have friends giving me insider tips to guide me to the best local experiences?
Belief 3: Seek out the Unhurried Conversation.
I get nostalgic for those uninterrupted long conversations I had in college that would last a minimum of an hour. A “long conversation” as a working adult might be between 15 to 20 minutes on a lunch break. On this vacation---------I was thirsty for a long-winded chat. I was not disappointed.
My trip had multiple memorable conversations that went like this:
Stories about People We Know: “What happened to _____________? Have you heard from that guy lately?”
Stories about Old Times: “Remember that summer in 2009 when we were all unemployed or under-employed and we just hung out every night at the park and tried to figure out how to find a good job?"
Questions about Leadership: "It seems some churches today neglect to set aside parts of their budget to care for the poor. How do you gain influence to help persuade people to care about the poor? If you are in a church where you want to see something change, how do gain favor or influence enough to make a difference yourself?**
Conclusions about How to Think About Tragedy and God: "After a tragedy, you will hear people say “Everything happens for a reason.” You will hear people quote Romans 8:28. It is implied that a you will know why misfortune punched you in the face. But then after a while, I don’t see a clear reason. You wait for the email from God with an explanation. Rather than getting mad, sometimes I just need to say “Maybe I will not know why this happened.” Sometimes the reason why “it” happened to you could be a mystery till you die and go to heaven."
But how did I find myself in these conversations? How does a person enter into an unhurried conversation?
Part of this is because of the type of person that lives in Colorado. Colorado seems to attract conversationalists. Another factor is that the natural beauty of Colorado sparked the kind of conversation that was unhurried. Part of the reason I love hiking is because of the kind of thinking it inspires. Hiking inspires good conversation.
Here’s a video my friend Jacob took from the top of Mount Victoria (near Friscoe) with a drone. I thought drones were for weird dorky dudes until I saw this video:
What is not captured on this video is the candid conversation we had about politics and God. I wish I could capture the beauty and satisfaction of a good conversation. I can't take a video of it. I can't even predict if and when it would happen. In a way, a good conversation is something I can't predict, document and "share" online. Here’s a question I asked Jacob that sparked the convo:
“How does the idea of God’s plan for your life actually work? Church people throw this phrase around too much without explaining how it works. If God has a plan for your life, how do you know that you haven’t made stupid choices to screw up something good? Can you screw up “God’s plan” even when you have good intentions?”
I can't even remember what Jacob's answer to this question was. But it was helpful. Looking at the Rocky Mountains inspires a person to ask larger questions. Therefore, unhurried conversations were something that were a result of the environment of Colorado more than something that I intentionally “make happen.”
However, being on vacation knocked out any deadlines or responsibilities which made me less efficient but more open to pondering. Getting away from completing a task list was good for me to have time to unpack issues that you typically don’t have time to think about. If I can’t think, ponder and discuss on a vacation, I will not be recharged when I return to the real world. To help guarantee this happened I wrote out questions on my computer I wanted answers to. I showed up for this trip intending to seek out larger questions. I prayed that I could have good conversations before the trip.
I wish I could somehow document some of the great conversations that I had with friends with a drone or an Iphone. I don’t think it is possible. They are harder to achieve than witnessing the purple mountain majesty.
Belief 4: Do something that scares you every single day of your trip.
When traveling I have this “inner wuss” that shows up. It happens every time. This side of me comes out in the morning and whines “Hey, you should just chill here in your AirBnB and read that book you've been meaning to finish in your backpack. Leaving this apartment could result in you getting lost or embarrassing yourself publicly.” The “inner wuss” suggest that I watch Netflix since I need “chill” things since I am on vacation. The “inner-wuss” voice is anti-adventure and suggests I do things I could do at my house in North Carolina. I have to intentionally go against it by saying “Do something that scares you today.”
In this situation, I was afraid of Denver public transportation. I wanted to visit my friend Matt in south Denver, who had the day off. Therefore, I needed to figure out how to take public transportation to get to from north Denver to south Denver in the middle of the day. I could not catch a ride from my friends-----they were all at their 9 to 5 jobs. The “inner wuss” said:
“What if I get dropped off in the wrong part of town? All my friends are at work and they can’t come pick me up if I call them. What if I have a seizure on the bus like I did last May? (I have epilepsy and had a seizure on a bus in Scotland last year while traveling.) What if I can’t get my bike on the bike rack on the front of the bus?”
The antidote to the “inner wuss” was research. The night before, I quizzed Jacob (whose house I was staying at) about how to use public transportation in Denver. I watched 4 Youtube videos about how to put your bike on the rack at the front of the bus. I needed to bring a road bike along on this trip. I think I did a total of 90 minutes worth of research and 2 full pages of notes to make a 30 minute bus ride.
Doing research made me feel prepared, but I still had to overcome my “inner wuss.” The next morning I said a prayer and said to myself “Do something that scares you everyday.” I found the bus-stop, did not fail in putting my bike on the bike rack and got off at the right bus stop.
I ended up being able to hang out with my friend Matt at his house with his girlfriend and his buddy Craig. We sat around and talked about Thoreau’s Walden and 90’s music for about 3 hours.
Most fear comes from my own ignorance and lack of experience with something like public transit in a big city. But many fears go away by planning and research things that are scary. The faster I can accept that figuring out the public transit system within a foreign city will make me feel dumb and scared------the better. Solving ordinary problems can be as satisfying as climbing a mountain.
Everyone has their own “philosophy of vacation/travel.” My philosophy has changed since I was in my mid-twenties. I am braver and wiser than I was when I was 25 years old. Today I am a 34 year old, unmarried English teacher who has summers off. I am very aware of the unique freedom I have at this stage in my life. Yet I do not want to squander my freedom at this stage in my life. It is very easy to assume that since we are grinding the work world all good travel opportunities are in the past. I don't believe that. I want to build knowledge of place and travel methods so that when I am 44 and 64 my trips will be as equally as satisfying.