Thursday, June 21, 2012

Get Your Passport and Get Out!

As I prepare myself to take off on another international adventure, my mind races back to other trips abroad.

I'm experiencing so many of the same rushes of emotion - the excitement of seeing new places, the nervousness of wondering whether all my careful preparations will work out smoothly, and the paralyzing anxiety that randomly grips me when I think of all the things I have to do before I leave.

I started traveling internationally when I was 15.  Which is old by global standards, but young for Americans, considering that most of us don't have passports.

I got my first set of stamps going to Mexico City with my friend's family, native Mexicans who still had relatives living there.  Man, was I innocent.  I didn't speak a word of Spanish, was so ill-traveled, and so unprepared.

I was utterly blown away.  The people were incredibly friendly and welcoming, the sights so beautiful and surreal, and the language so charismatic.  So enough said, I was hooked.

My next international adventure didn't happen for several years.  I hadn't even considered living abroad until I was in my senior year of college majoring in Spanish and it occurred to me that all my knowledge of Spain was second-hand.

My roomate and I at the Alhambra; Granada, Spain 2005

So, off to Spain I went.  While I was living there, I traveled throughout the country, and on to Ireland, Belgium, Czech Republic and Holland.

Since then, I've also been to Canada and the Dominican Republic. And now I'm off to Costa Rica and Panama...

The most incredible thing about traveling internationally is the freedom and connectedness you feel all at once. You feel utterly emancipated because you know whatever drama is haunting you is far away.  You can go anywhere, do anything, meet anyone. 

And at the same time, you feel totally connected to humankind in a way that only language barriers can cultivate.  You're forced to resort to basic communication and so you find that it is possible to connect with another human being without words.

That connection is what I am perpetually seeking by traveling.  And I am forever finding it.

Costa Rica, here I come!


P.S. For another great read on a human connection while abroad, check out my fellow Matador Network author, Emily Hanssen Arent's piece, "You do not exist".

Friday, June 1, 2012

Joy & Insanity at 14,000'

A year ago if someone told me I'd hike a 14,000 foot mountain buffeted by 90mph winds, I would have laughed in their face.

That was before I moved to Colorado.  Here that sort of insane behavior is considered normal, whereas in my hometown of NYC that would be grounds for involuntary committal.

So I've thrown laughter to the wind (literally) and embraced the insanity.

On Memorial Day weekend we headed up to the mountains to take advantage of the extra day of vacation.  The plan: knock off a few more 14'ers.

We headed to the Missouri Gulch trailhead in the Collegiate Peaks Wilderness to begin our hike.  We suited up the dogs with their new backpacks, loaded up our gear, and headed about 2 miles in to camp for the night.  The trail winds fairly steeply up the gulch and gains about 2,000 feet of elevation in those 2 miles (oooh boy!).

We camped in the cool, blissfully quiet night and woke up early the next morning to start our hike to Mt. Belford (14,197'). The trail winds along a riverbed before beginning the steep ascent around 12,000'.  After countless switchbacks and a stop for snack, we reached the summit of Mt. Belford. It's a Class 2 and a pretty standard 14'er hike - complete with switchbacks and steep climbs - but a relatively easy climb with no exposure.

Now it gets interesting.

After summiting Mt. Belford, we initially planned on heading over the saddle to Mt. Oxford (14,153').  However, when we reached the summit we experienced extremely high wind speeds.  Now if you've ever hiked a 14'er, you'll know that the top of the mountain is usually always pretty windy and cold.  But, this was epic - definitely the highest wind speeds I've experienced in the 14'ers I've done.  Almost everyone we ran into on the trail had made the decision to turn back after summiting Mt. Belford.

But we're slightly insane. And luckily for us, some other folks are too.

When we reached the top, we ran into another couple and a solo guy & dog that were game to take on the winds.  And so we went - the 5 humans and 3 dogs heading over the 1/2 mile saddle to Mt. Oxford.  The winds were enough to knock us over and gave and made the hike pretty challenging.  As we walked, crawled, and clawed our way up the summit, I couldn't help thinking of how far I've come and how much my life has changed.  A year ago, I only dreamed of doing things like this.  And here I was, walking along a sliver of the Rocky Mountains being buffeted by 90mph winds strong enough to push me over and rip my glasses right off my face.  And I was overjoyed.

Maybe it's not for everyone, but something wild and delighted crackles within me in these moments.  And I feel alive.  And thankful.  And a little bit crazy.