“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

I entered a travel writing competition on the transformational power of travel. I realized I write because I like to and I hate being judged for it. This is the first competition I have participated in for my writing. Here’s hoping.

“Like a Slingshot, Eh?”

My fingers strolled up the neck of my mandolin, wishing for the experience only practice gives. However if wishes were fishes, we wouldn’t have a severe overfishing problem in our oceans, so I set my instrument aside and began learning foreign words from the backpackers sitting nearby.

Bat’se. Czech for “afraid.”

People often choose to tell travelers that we are brave. They act as though our discomfort within the comfortable is something to be deeply admired. They tell us that courage is being fearful and doing it anyway.

But to be honest, most of us just feel like we are backflipping off the tightrope spanning bravery and stupidity.

I entered my first solo venture to New Zealand terrified of ATMs and banks. I knew nearly nothing of cooking and it would be my first experience in applying for a job. I had no clue what I was doing. On the worst evenings, I would curl up beneath the covers of a borrowed bed, tell myself “But I’m doing it anyway,” and find a way to move forward.

Provalo. Italian for “try it” or “prove it.”

Comparisons run rampant through hostels and travelers. The constant appraisal of your priorities becomes exhausting. The drinkers, the campers, the partiers, the hitchhikers, and those who fit all of the above share rooms and subject themselves to the scrutiny of social interaction. But I don’t fit.

I value hiking.

But not as much as the Englishman who chose to hike the length of New Zealand.

I value home.

But not as much as the German who dreamed of being home for Christmas and will likely not return to this part of the world.

I value community.

But not as much as the Irish girl who stayed at her hostel job for nearly the full duration of her working holiday.

At what point will I realize my values will never align with another’s and my achievements can only matter to me? Glancing at dusty camping gear and watching the intrepid walkers taking on mountains, I breathe deeply to remind myself there is nothing to prove and everything to try.

Selbstbewusstsein. German for “self confidence.”

I adore the moments of falling in love with a stranger, not for their body, but for something I cannot explain. I don’t speak to them, but I watch them, glance behind me, and wish I was wearing sunglasses so my gaze could linger. Some strange magnetism, or maybe just their style, drew me in for that space. My favorites are the confident ones. Their stride catches my eye and I wonder what inspired their sureness of self. Who was inspired from childhood and who found it in the satisfaction of jobs well done? Who learned to love themselves from a significant other and who chose to reinvent themselves?

And which of them is just a bit of an arrogant prick?

My gait has changed since being away from home. I walk and wonder if others see the person I have become. The limp from a chronic injury is fading and my shoulders are straighter with the experience of being alone. Even on my worst days, I find myself smiling with the privilege of wandering the world.

For comfort zones expand and life becomes a process of exploring its boundaries.

Jilear. Peruvian Spanish for “flirt.”

“May I kiss you?”

There are many reactions to that simple question. My favorite is the look of surprise. “I mean sure. But why?”

Why not? I find you attractive. Perhaps I just want to know how you taste. Perhaps it is my way of telling you that you are absolutely fascinating and worth my time.

Or perhaps it is a desire to grow a little more aware.

I don’t measure my growth as time passes overseas, but if I did, I would observe who I was at each kiss. Nervous and unsure. Temporarily infatuated, but aware of my own beauty. Amazed and willing to take the first step. Mutually attracted and curious. And straight up “I wonder what would happen.”

Sometimes I ponder who I would be if I was still home. Possibly searching for some relationship built to last or discovering my polyamorous nature while surrounded by people whose opinion I fear. In its own way, it would still be a journey. But there is something about the average American mentality that avoids those odd girls rocking faded blue hair who ask for a kiss.

Or maybe I just wasn’t looking before I left.

Transformera. Swedish for “transform.”

“You are facing new things all the time, Abiel. People who haven’t had to deal with that will never quite understand.”

Mom somehow manages to say it best.

I worry about coming home. I left just after highschool. I will return God knows when. I chose travel as my first adult lifestyle and the chrysalis I emerged from, cannot be what I return to. I guess it is meant to be just another adventure, another season of transformation.

Yet even with this thought process, you can never go back. Not to a place, not to a memory, and definitely not in time. You can only watch yourself accelerate towards the end.

“Time is relative and linear, but it always seems to go faster.”

“Well maybe time is like a slingshot, eh?”

Maybe so, my friend. Maybe so.

Better than a Hangover

I have the option of making this a new year post. Happy 2018 and whatnot. I could share my goals and thoughts, what this year is going to mean for me and the fact that I have no clue where I am going to be one year from now. I could share memories that I love from these past 12 months and gush about how SO much has happened and I’m SO thankful for everything I’ve learned.

And all those things would be true and I would make them come from a real place. But I have stories I would rather tell. I’m just going to trust that 2018 will be shaped by moments like the following

“Walking at 0230”

I had the pleasure of watching 2018’s first sunrise from the top of the Tongariro Crossing. Pushing myself up hundreds of steps beneath moonlit clouds and sparkling stars, I thought of the insignificance of my very big problem: my camera was soaked by a leaking water bottle and refused to turn on. I did my best not to be worried, (even when I lost my instant camera and my phone ran out of storage space). I was wandering through Mordor to watch the sky paint itself red, orange, and pink in the chilled morning air. Truly a camera can’t be that important.

(Okay it can and if it hadn’t started working after being left in a bag of rice for two days, there would have been tears and some very upset cussing. All is well now. I’m still leaving it in the bag of rice for two more days though.)

We huddled into a soft shell shelter waiting for the sun to peer over the horizon. My hands defrosted slightly when I stuck them in a small culvert that spewed warm steaming air. Volcanoes definitely have their uses. I had no profound moments standing at the top. No overwhelming “oh my gosh. Life. It makes sense” kinda feeling. Just one big smile.

As my friend said on the way back down, “Better than a hangover.”

“You’re sure you don’t want a beer?”

Pretty sure. Yeah. Thank you though. However, I’ll definitely take the hamburger. I’m starting to really appreciate the philosophy “Laugh louder and eat more.”

A Filipino group pulled me into their dinner of barbecued meat and vegetables. I let myself be carried by the conversations that overlapped and circled each other, punctuated by echoing bursts of laughter.

“Hey when you’re in Welly, hit us up. We’ll show you around.”

Topics ranged from vegetarianism to the German pronunciation of Volkswagen to how much snoring took place in the guys’ room. I didn’t necessarily understand every comment, nor could I hear about a third of it. But I really didn’t have to. We were really just there to laugh.

“I’m thinking about being a kindergarten teacher.”

It’s crazy the people who happen to waltz into conversations with you. Or maybe it’s not crazy because I talk to everyone. But I’m still amazed by it.

You can tell when people know how to talk. I’m not referring to those who simply destroy silences with words. I mean the ones who ask questions, tell stories, supply facts, experiences, and thoughts to a conversation, creating an entity that is able to move all its own because of the people who care about it. They make eye contact as they learn about and from you, all the while teaching about themselves and their world. I love when I meet people like that.

A mathematics major with bright blue eyes and a consideration for being a kindergarten teacher happened to walk in as we made dinner, beginning a discussion that quickly outgrew us and became its own curiosity of politics, country comparisons, and New Zealand experiences.

The next morning brought about a discussion of long distance friendships. While backpacking, you are surrounded by fascinating people. You soon have to understand you cannot stay in contact with all of them, but one of the hardest feelings is finding a person who you would love to keep knowing, but doesn’t seem to want to know you back. Messaging them makes you feel like a bother and you begin to wonder if it’s even worth keeping up with some of these people.

Long distance friendships are effort. They require a desire to know someone, a willingness to continue contact, and a certain amount of diligence. In some ways, long distance is the fastest way to weed out real friends. Who do you choose to text when you’re far away? Whose life interests you when you don’t have to see them?

Basically backpacking shows us time doesn’t rule friendships and technology shows us space no longer has to either…

So long as you’re willing to put in the effort to know and be known.

“You made the list of people I want to stay in contact with.”

“You did too.”

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Unedited new year skies
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Grey and gold
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Volcanic alpine terrain
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Mt Ngauruhoe Color No. 78
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Mt Ngauruhoe Color with Hiker No. 3387

This Particular Rotation of the Earth

Happy Holidays!

As any person with an ounce of sense and a family member they dislike will tell you, the holidays can be anything but happy. They can be full of stress, unfulfilled expectations, and a desire to hideaway from all those f***ing commercials that say “BE JOYFUL.”

The holidays are supposed to represent something though. Family. Friends. Food. Goodwill. Etc.

The trouble with being told that something represents good things, is that then we start to expect that this thing will bring good times. It doesn’t fix things. It just. Is.

I listened to a coworker outline what Christmas meant back home. He spoke of traditions that had lasted years, of friends attending Christmas parties, and grandparents who helped spread the holiday across multiple days. The smile was genuine.

To listen to another friend talk of Christmas, they practically spit venomous feelings. And honestly.

I join them.

We hiss at people who have asked us to make a day something better than it was. We tear apart traditions that have been kept for the sake of saving face or expectation. I flicker with glimpses of envy at those who hold the time of year in sincere happiness and magic.

After pain fades, I remember the things I love. I love giving gifts. Creating, searching, finding the things that will show people I love them and see them and care for them. I love curling up with hot chocolate in a pile with my two best friends. I love food and how it makes people happy. I love what the season represents. I’m just waiting to find how I make it represent that for me.

This Christmas didn’t feel like Christmas. But I don’t think I needed it to. I found myself missing people deeply. I miss my little brother, Asher, with all my heart. I miss Ella and Judah. And maybe that was because of the holiday. But I didn’t want to be home either. My mind felt muddied, but appreciative of the Christmas we created here at Howard’s Mountain Lodge.

Our Christmas dinner was thrown together from what groceries the four of us had. I believe the total tally was three kinds of sausages, burgers, salad, roasted potatoes, and apples. There were gingerbread cookies for dessert. We watched slept in late and watched Moana. We told each other Merry Christmas and fell into bed early, tired after calls home and busy weeks.

There is a certain kind of feel to overseas holidays. Mainly in the fact that when you are moving so frequently, traditions cannot thrive. They can pound out existences in the care of the stubborn, but it is difficult. Many of us simply sink into a wish for something comfortable. After all that’s why people stay home. The fuzzy blanket of “this is familiar” wraps around us and holds us captive.

And then the rest of the goddamned year hits, popping and fizzling with its insane passage of time. Burning us, entertaining us, exploding in our faces. And we can’t do a thing to stop it.

So. Might as well spend a Christmas in New Zealand, far from home and the familiar. I’ve heard stories of happy holidays. I’ve had several. I’ll continue to be realistic and I wish you all a wonderful New Year’s.

Just. Don’t force anyone to have a good time. None of us want to be told that because of this particular rotation of the earth, we should feel a certain way.