Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A few thoughts on my latest excursion

My first of two big vacations this summer is drawing to a close.  As always (it seems), the trip turns out being better than expected.  I'm a sucker for national parks, and the Utah entries are spectacular.

I've been to many places on this trip:  Norman, Colorado Springs, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Monument Valley, Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell, Marble Canyon, Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Capitol Reef National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, the San Juan Skyway, Telluride, Ouray, Silverton, Glenwood Springs, Hanging Lake, and Denver (among many, many others).

This was a trip of discovery.  One that included a lot of solitude (and welcome solitude, at that) and many reunions.  I met with friends I hadn't seen in a year or more (some up to ten years).  This was easily the hardest trip I've ever planned.  I went on a total of 17 hikes, including the astonishing Hanging Lake, the off-the-radar gem of Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef, the lungbusting Observation Point hike in Zion, and the stun-a-minute Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop trail in Bryce.  Unfortunately, the hike I was most looking forward to I had to call off owing to severe wind gusts in the high country of the San Juans on the day I was to attempt it.  More unfinished business with Colorado hiking...I'll be back.

I have learned much about myself on this trip, including my ability to sunburn in dramatic fashion, my unadulterated joy of hiking alone, my fear of four-wheeling (particularly downhill), my increasing sense of being a fish out of water in Norman (a good thing, I think), my appreciation for the friends I have made and the friends I have not lost to time, and my continued passion for any Mexican food, authentic or not.  I think the most important lesson of this trip is that doing stuff on my own during travel is an opportunity not to be shunted.  I have quickly learned that some of the best moments of travel come privately.  Travel should challenge, should encourage attempts at new, sometimes difficult things.  The rewards are enormous -- some might say life-affirming.

I have learned that happiness is more important to me than success.  Obviously, there is a correlation, but all vacations -- and in particular this one -- have made me realize gradually that my priorities in life as a student were in error.  As I've entered #RealLife, my philosophy regarding personal progress has changed dramatically.  My career, wherever it takes me, is but a small portion of the complete picture.  I have begun to refocus my hopes and dreams outside of what initially nearly completely defined me.  Happiness, for me, is a sunset in Arches, or a successful snack at Observation Point in Zion, or a stalled Jeep in Monarch Pass with a friend for the ages, or a moment of reflection staring at an otherworldly lake in the middle of barren land, or a glimpse at the enormity of Waterpocket Fold during alpenglow.  Depriving myself of this happiness to attain success will result in neither.

How important is travel?  To me, it is the quintessential means of defining yourself -- and maybe more importantly -- giving one the chance to see what that definition is.