I used to be a nervous traveler, especially when the adventure involved airplanes. Sometimes it seemed my wishful thinking was the only thing keeping that metal tube skimming through the sky.
Out of superstition, I used to sing the same song every time I boarded a plane—“Windfall” by Son Volt. The chorus goes: “Both feet on the floor two hands on the wheel, may the wind take your troubles away.” I thought by singing it, I might put some kind of cloak of protection around me, and make it clear to the powers of the world how much I enjoy being alive.
Now I still run to knock wood on an old ranch fence post about a mile and a half from my house before I fly. Mostly because I like to exercise before I hit the road, but also because it’s a good place, an open valley with mountains on either side. But I stopped whimpering about flying after a drinking buddy in Munich told me why he prays.
We sat in the Anna Hotel in Marienplatz during ISPO, the largest winter outdoor trade show in the world. Bill, a successful ski retailer, downed his shot and said, “You know, I get on my knees every night to give thanks for my friends and for my family, because I think it really is a miracle that any of us are here at all.”
I agree. The very idea that we get to be here—what with all the variables involved, ranks as the ultimate gift to me—which is why I also started giving thanks. Taking time to be grateful seems like a small gesture, and I’ve never asked for anything more.
No Direction Home
When it comes to organized religion, though, I’ve always felt like a tourist. My parents were/are an agnostic Catholic and a lapsed Episcopalian, respectively. They made a point of taking us to different churches when we were young, to see if anything took hold. “A church not made by hands,” to borrow from the apostle Mark, is the best way of describing what I learned.
That idea of taking a minute to acknowledge my appreciation—of everything!—has allowed me to be more present in the now. Whether it’s walking the dog or waiting in line at the grocery store, I’ve found comfort in the mundane, the in-between, and the real life moments that never make it to the Facebook highlight reel.
Of course I feel the same way drinking beer. In the air, those two practices—of self-awareness and sucking booze—make it easy to find the humor in screaming babies and turbulence above the clouds.
I also don’t feel that urge to get home. Almost every place I’ve ever visited (with the exception of Los Angeles), I imagine as somewhere I could have lived or live, given the chance my personal journey began somewhere else in the world.
The blue fjords of Norway, the pink cottages of Quebec, the cold beaches of the Pacific Northwest, I would go back there forever right now. Or just for coffee and one sunrise, and a walk with some new old best friend I would have otherwise never met before.
What Are You Waiting For?
I just got home from two weeks of travel to sit down and write this, but part of me still wants to go out to the garage and start repacking the car. I finally got to recognize how much I love the romance of just starting out on a journey with my wife and a dog, not sure what we’ll find, but knowing it will be something we’ll talk about for years.
That’s one of the endless benefits of travel: You have better stories to tell. You have memories that take your breath away, of random restaurants, kissing on strange street corners and the fast-acting euphoria of very strong beers. You have scribbled pages in a Moleskine notebook, blurry phone photos, and unreturned room keys that you treat like artifacts, and truly believe will form the basis for a sensual, transcendental, trendsetting novel somewhere down the road.
I think travel, and immersing yourself in new environments, is one of the first and best ways to be a better you. Or to put it more bluntly, if I can be a miracle, then you are undoubtedly a miracle as well. Being out in the world is like pouring Miracle-Gro (I know) on the specialness of you.
Or as another travel buddy recently said at the end of a trip, “Peace and love my friend. Always great to hang with you.”
That’s enough to conquer any fear of being up in the sky.
—Elevation Outdoors editor-at-large Peter Kray is the author of The God of Skiing. The book has been called “the greatest ski novel of all time.” Don’t believe the hype? You can buy it here: bit.ly/godofskiing