Wednesday, July 16, 2014

“Travel makes one modest; you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” *

I have recently been on two trips with Pat. The first was a three day get-away to a tiny little town in the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma, and the second was a three-day weekend in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains in Utah. In each place, the scenery was breathtakingly beautiful, though each was vastly different from the other.

The Wichita Mountains would likely not be considered mountains at all if held against any of the other better-known ranges in the United States, but they are one of the most prominent land features in an otherwise flat region of the central part of the country. The dirt...the rocks...of so many sizes...come in all shades of red and orange. It's dry this year because of a drought that's been plaguing us here.

The Wasatch Mountains were incredibly tall to me, having grown up near the Wichitas. They stretched far up into the sky so high that even on the sixth floor of our hotel I had to crane my neck to see the tops of them. There were trees that were several stories high, and so many shades of green that I couldn't even begin to name them all. We were 8000 feet about sea level, and even on the Fourth of July weekend, there were pure white patches on the highest parts of the mountain from a not far gone snowfall. Mountain streams, something I'd never seen before, cascaded down the mountain in full view of our picture window.

Another difference in the two visits was the distance we traveled to arrive at our destination. Pat rode his Goldwing motorcycle from Georgia to Texas to take me to Oklahoma for our first vacation. For him, it was a trip of better than 1000 miles. For me, a mere sixty miles from home. Riding on a motorcycle was a completely new experience to me. The sounds of the engine and wind roaring in my ears was exciting; the feel of the sun was warm and enticing; and the scents in the air as we rode over bridges and waterways was so exhilarating. It was just the two of us, so it was a very intimate way to travel...with my knees touching the backs of his legs and my hands on his shoulders or around his waist.

Heading to Utah, we both flew out from our respective hometowns. It was my first time to fly any great distance, and I was doing so on my own. I navigated the airports with more confidence than I ever thought possible, thanks to some heavy-duty preparation preflight from Pat. I managed to find myself...over the course of that weekend away...on two airlines, five planes, two buses, two SkyTrains, and in a rental car. I overcame a long time fear of flying and refusing to even think of air travel, and discovered to my delight that I really enjoy it. I loved the experience of the bustling people and all the many destinations they represented at the airport; I loved looking out over the clouds, mountains and Great Salt Lake; I loved the sensation of taking off and even landing. I loved that I was really and truly traveling and having a whole new set of experiences added to my life story.

I think the biggest thing I took away from both the trips is how big the whole world is...and how very small I am in comparison. There are seven billion people in the world now. A billion more than when I was a senior in high school a scant 33 years ago. And I am only one among them all.

Thousands at the airports. A thousand or more in Utah at the hotel and conference. Not so many in Oklahoma, but we were two from away in a small town...learning the lay of the land. Meeting people in both places, briefly, having conversations and going away richer for having met others in new surroundings. Finding our commonalities, learning our rich differences.

A year ago...even five months ago...I would not have dreamed of so much travel this year for just the sake of pleasure. And neither could I have known what interesting things I could learn about myself and others merely by meeting the challenge and getting out of my comfort zone.

*Gustave Flaubert

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