The American Traveller's Misconception: Learning the Art of Enjoying the View
It takes a good, long rinse to "wash our spirits clean."
"You're coming out to California? Where are you planning on going?" I excitedly asked my friend over the phone. It had been months since I had seen her and her family and enjoyed the prospect of spending a few days with them.
"I was thinking we would fly into Los Angeles so we could see the city before coming up to your place. On the way we thought we would stop at Yosemite so the family could see the Valley we've heard so much about. Also I've always wanted to see Lake Tahoe, but my sister would also like to visit San Francisco and ride the trolley, so we figured we would do both. And then we'll drive up to Northern California and stay at your place for a few days," she replied.
"Wow, that sounds like quite a trip! How long were you going to stay here?"
"Oh we only have about a week before my parents need to get back to work."
I honestly did not know whether I should be appalled or impressed at her plan. It's hard to know whether my friend's ambition was driven by an innocent curiosity of the West Coast, or whether it was driven by a mindset seemingly so engrained in our American culture. A mindset that makes a road trip a competition, that transforms a list of mountains into something to conquer, that turns an adventure into just another picture for the Instagram. This culture that we have created, this beautiful diverse culture, does a good job of idolizing the checklist of destinations, the number of stamps in our passports and the tagged locations on our Instagram maps. What we often forget about is what it took to get there: time, money, planning, effort. But many times, that is the most amazing part of a trip. That is where the best stories come from. That is often what makes us truly value the destination we are so eager to reach.
Okay, hold on now. I want to clarify this is not one of those "its the journey, not the destination" posts that have be come so cliche even my future children are already tired of them. I know better than to waste your time talking about something so redundant. I'm saying that learning the art of enjoying the view is so much more.
Not too long ago, I hiked Half Dome with some friends. It was an incredible trip, really, and I highly recommend it for anyone who has not done it. But it was also long. And steep. And slightly scary at times -- this is coming from someone who thinks that bungee jumping is a great idea. At the time, my well-loved hiking boots had worn down to the equivalent traction of a pair of Nikes, and as I climbed what felt like almost straight up the Dome, leaning my whole life on these less-than-trustworthy cables, I realized that this thrill, obstacle, whatever you call it is what makes this experience so worth while. Yes, the journey was difficult, but it made me appreciate it that much more. On the way up, I passed all kinds of people, many of whom shared their doubts of making it to the top. It would have been easy to hold on to those flickers of doubt dancing around in my head. But with every step, I got closer to the top. I got closer to being able to peak over the edge and see that view I had been pursuing for the past six hours. I got closer to celebrating with my friends the journey we had taken together.
Halfway up the cables, I paused. My body felt like it was almost horizontal and my arms were shaking from trying to keep myself upright. But I looked out to the right and left. I looked out over the vast expanse land; layer upon layer of mountains extending miles in the distance...
And I realized
"The view" exists everywhere. It's all around you, no matter if you're on top of that mountain, or if you're just starting the hike. It's there when you look out the window or when you look into the face of a child. It's there in the adventure and spontaneity, and it's there in the boredom and heartbreak. I think that very often, we get so caught up in getting to the top, whatever the "top" may be, that we forget about the many views along the way. We don't tend to give ourselves enough time to pause, look around and notice the goodness around us.
Believe me, I am just as guilty of this as the next person, but really, this art just takes consistent practice. It requires reflecting on your current state of being -- physically, emotionally, spiritually -- and discovering the goodness in it. And more than anything, it requires patience. Patience to let yourself rest, patience to let yourself look around for a moment, patience to adjust to a new environment, patience to wait for whatever may come next. When we give ourselves the time to soak in the goodness around us, what we find instead is a clean spirit and a renewed mind.
Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. -John Muir
Here are some practical things you can do to practice the art of enjoying the view:
- When you're on the trail, look up and look around you often! It's so easy to just look down at the trail and miss all the different features passing you by.
- Stressed? Take a few moments to get outside, find a favorite rock, bench, patch of grass. Sit down and spend a few minutes breathing deeply. It's more effective than you think!
- When you get to the end of your trail, make sure you give yourself time to enjoy it! Bring a sketch pad, read a book, take a nap, whatever it is that allows you to soak in the beauty of where you are.
- Keep a gratitude journal, or write things you're thankful for and stick them in a jar! Self-reflection is so important; it's so easy to go day by day and forget about some of the little life-giving moments.
Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.
Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.