A year ago, I was stressed and anxious, and I was carrying years of suppressed anger with me. The kind of anger that rears, and alights in a flash of goosebumps, and then almost as immediately as the anger was there, it’s gone. I would get goosebumps a lot, especially while driving. Meanwhile, at work, I was beginning to reach a professional peak, and yet I was also starting to wonder if the sacrifices I have and would have to continue to make were worth it. I now had years of experience and career advancement behind me, and I was standing on that defining edge of making a sort of ‘life,’ for myself. And I was miserable.
I started to make an effort to reevaluate my life. One of the ways I went about reevaluating my situation was to challenge myself to make a list of everything that I enjoyed, you know, those things that might leave us feeling content and fulfilled. However, after living with stress, anxiety, anger, and a cocktail of emotional traumas for years, it can be difficult to remember what it is about life that you might enjoy. I struggled to come up with even a single thing. I was able to list a number of things that I used to enjoy doing, such as: bouldering, getting a drink and playing trivia with friends, stepping out into the streets with my favorite people with nothing but time, going to shows. A lot of things that I don’t do anymore, and that I haven’t done in years. After a few weeks of asking myself hard questions, one evening, I remember very vividly having a memory—or a snapshot of a memory, as if my subconscious were responding to one or more of my questions—and together, with that memory, I remembered how free I was feeling in the moment, and I recognized, too, a number of weighted feelings that weren’t present.
I had taken my shoes and socks off, and rolled my jeans up past my knees, I put my wallet, phone, and keys inside one of my shoes, and hid everything with a sock stuffed inside my shoe. There was a slight, but unmistakable smell of sulfur in the air, although it didn’t seem to be in the air as much as in between the air. A consistent murmur from the San Juan River made for a pleasant white noise, and muffled voices of people walking the path next to me would be absorbed by the low whitewater as they passed. I had my feet and ankles submerged, and comfortably lukewarm in a milky hot spring off the side of the river. I was in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. A town that’s more or less a resort waterpark for people living in neighboring towns and New Mexico. I’m not particularly fond of waterparks, but Pagosa Springs is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon or a weekend—once.
My memory of being in Colorado wasn’t as much about the everlasting magic of Pagosa Springs as it was about realizing how much I enjoy and have always enjoyed traveling. I love the exploration, the newness and unfamiliarity, and the contrast, and the uniqueness of a place: the different food, the different people, the different ideas, the different routines, and the different surroundings. I am enthralled by a place even as ill-suited to my biases as Pagosa Springs, Colorado, because I love always simply being somewhere new.
I was starting to realize, together with diving deep into the core of my emotional well-being, and exploring my subconscious purview, that travel is a ‘true north’ for me. My love for travel would give me direction. There are a few things that I love more than getting into my car and driving, stopping in an unfamiliar setting, and then deciding to be from there for a little while. I wouldn’t become new, but I would give myself permission to be exactly whoever I might become if I were from wherever I was standing in that moment. Travel isn’t about escape, traveling is about touching the lives and cultures of others, and casting a lasting imprint on each other, and then taking that with us to the next place. Traveling gives us the opportunity to collect moments that we might otherwise never notice, and I’m fond of moments. Of drinking a beer in a saloon, a cantina, and eating nachos on an outdoor patio, on a wire-mesh table and listening to a band that I’ll never hear again. Of drinking a margarita by the ocean, my feet are heavy and buried in the sand, the seagulls are now synonymous with the bouquet of sea air, and I’m thinking about how I never seem to burn as bad as when I’m on the beach. Of drinking a glass of wine in the city, on a rooftop, and looking out over the silhouette of a cityscape, lights flickering in the near distance like fireflies. I collect moments, coffee shop moments, restaurant moments, human moments, moments tracing my steps in the unforgiving wilderness. Moments like this allow people to catch themselves saying something like, “I’m actually here.” I still like bouldering, of course, but I want to be bouldering on the rocks down the road from White Sands National Park. I like trivia, but I want to join a team adventitiously at El Farol on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and then to look back on that night playing trivia with a number of people whose names I can’t remember while I’m gazing up at the stars at the base of a red rock cliff adjacent the Colorado River outside of Moab, Utah.
There is something about travel. Traveling can be raw and gritty, and it’s exhausting, but to be a traveler is to be reflective and considerate. Traveling is nothing at all like vacationing, there’s nothing sexy or indulgent about travel. Vacationing is approached with either a snobbish, shoulder swiping entitlement or the unconscious wandering like voyeurs ogling the aboriginals with wax museum-like fashion, oohing and awing at how real everything seems. To vacation is to be disinfected, granite smooth, and comforted by the familiar walls of McDonald’s and Starbucks, and yet it’s only a vacationer’s thoughtless impatience for an Indian stewardess’ broken English in the air over Bombay, and the supreme impunity of a family photo op with the herd of picturesque Bison crossing Yellowstone’s HWY 89. To travel is to walk aimlessly to the restaurant on that far, and lost edge of town, where the paved roads don’t go, and the building looks like it’s been condemned, and the menu appears to be as risky as the buildings ambiguous foundations. And you walk out the backdoor a few hours later feeling like family. In either case, the vacationers experience isn’t real. When we travel, we replace our mollycoddle for a pack, and venture off into the wilderness. And that wilderness may not be the unchecked and unforgiving manifestation of nature’s lacking vulnerability, the wilderness may be the raw and impartial experience of an unaccustomed cityscape, which can be equally if not more terrifying. That, and so much more; to travel is a state of mind, and to be in awe of whatever you might find. Whatever happens, you bet you’re a$$ it’s going to be authentic.
It was in the pursuit of a lifetime of travel that brought me back to myself. I quit my job in the middle of the interview process to transition from assistant manager to store manager—which is a remarkable pay bump, store managers make an absurd amount of money. I started to focus on writing and photography, and to develop an artistic foundation that aims to lead me toward a life of travel. Few things excite me anymore, and traveling makes me happy, and the greatest risks to take are those that guide us through a process that makes us happy, regardless of the destination.
- “That’s all a vacation really is. Just us eating at a place we’ve never been. Well, why don’t we eat something, then we’ll go get something to eat. Then we should see that thing we’re supposed to see; they probably have a snack bar there, right? After that, we probably should get something to eat, though. Then we’ll eat something.” ~ Jim Gaffigan.
- “…offer the same basic product…it’s not a service or a set of services…it’s more like a feeling. But it’s also a bona fide product—it’s supposed to be producedin you, this feeling: a blend of relaxation and stimulation, stressless indulgence and frantic tourism, that special mix of servility and condescension that’s marketed under configurations of the verb “to pamper.” ~ David Foster Wallace.
- “Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.” ~ Anthony Bourdain.
- “Walking is a virtue; tourism is a deadly sin.” ~ Bruce Chatwin.