Monday, July 11, 2011

SFTR: Yukon Ho!

In two weeks, I will be in Canada.

Canada is the butt of many an American joke, but in many ways, Canadians have the last laugh. Two of the most beautiful cities in North America are in Canada: Ottawa and Montreal. I'm guessing that Vancouver will be among the top tier cities after I visit for the first time. The Canadian Rockies are simply glorious, the maritime regions are postcards in the making, and the people -- well, they're among the kindest I have ever encountered.

I'm beyond thrilled to be returning to Canada. One of my favorite vacations was my trip to Ottawa and Montreal back in 2006, even though it included a car crash (Dyer, IN). My opinion is that Ottawa is the most beautiful city I have ever visited (though that list is unfortunately short) -- Parliament Hill is a stunning sight, full of outstanding Neo-Gothic architecture. Montreal is just a thrillingly diverse city, and Toronto remains shockingly accessible despite its enormity. Niagara Falls was as advertised, and a trip across Ontario remains one of my favorite road trips of my life.

That trip marked my first time out of the country, and I haven't left the US since then. Before embarking on what I hope to be several trips to Europe and Oceania in the next decade, I wanted to visit this country once more to experience the "outdoors" side to the country. I have several hikes planned, and I intend to devour as much of the Granville Island food market as I can.

Vacations for me are glimpses at lives I will not have. Travelers learn this very quickly; there is so much out there to experience and to learn. The wonder of travel is that you get to live these experiences, if only for a little bit. The curse of travel is that you realize you will never be able to live all of it for a lifetime. Travel makes you acutely aware of the small sliver of experiences available in a lifetime. It is depressing, but it is absolutely invaluable to me. Without these experiences, I would not appreciate what I have as much, or dream of what I could have.

I'm an alpine lakes and snow-capped peaks guy. Banff is synonymous with paradise for me. Some head to the beaches; I head to the tundra. We all have our utopias. The tops of mountains seem to be mine. It'll be wondrous to visit some in a country not my own.

I am not a religious man, but I am a spiritual one. I've often described my hikes and travels as transcendental experiences -- I still remember my first visit to the Wild Basin in Rocky Mountain National Park as the longest stretch of my life of pure happiness. I've had such experiences elsewhere, including Carmel Bay in California, Washington Pass in the North Cascades, Lake Superior in Minnesota, Lake Champlain in Vermont, the Highline Trail in Glacier National Park, Wupatki National Monument in Arizona, and (recently) Upper Chicago Lake in Colorado. The one constant with these places is that I remember every small detail -- the sound of the crashing waves in Carmel, the reflection of sunrise in Superior, the stillness of the air at Upper Chicago Lake, the passing cars at Washington Pass, the floating clouds above Highline Trail -- for me, these images are the memories I cling to hardest. They are but glimpses of pure happiness. Nothing, and I mean nothing, makes me happier than these experiences.

I love my job, the science I study, the people I know -- but these experiences, notably solitary ones, are what make me happiest, and what I strive for more than anything else. I have no illusions about my professional aspirations; I have no wish to be remembered eternally. I only hope that, before I die, I can have more of these moments, in faraway places -- glimpses of lives I will not have, lands I will not inhabit, experiences I will never relive. My goal is to travel. Not lofty, without ambition. I only seek to see as much as I can, in what little time I am given.

Canada taught me this, and so I owe her a revisit.