The Trip I Needed

Friends Camping in New Mexico

Anyone who travels with me knows that if we’re going through Amarillo, we’re going to the Big Texan. You know, terrific throwback to Route 66, home of the free 72-ounce steak if you can eat the meal in less than an hour. Yes, a tourist trap, but they brew tasty beer and their food is so damned good after half day’s drive. So here we sat, my friends David, Steve, Jeremiah and I. Why?

Nearly a year ago I was on a trip with my students. It was well-crafted trip they’d planned! Including two days of paddling down the French Broad River into Asheville, NC. They’d reserved our campsites on an island in the river, and because of the number of sites we needed, it turned out we owned the island for the night. I was impressed. As they tied up canoes, I went to the end of the island, hung my pack, strung my hammock between 2 trees overhanging the river, then sat down. I lost myself in the passing water, the forest sounds, the absence of busyness.

We hadn’t been there 45 minutes when one of my students approached.

“Jamie?”

“Yeah.”

“So… we set up camp, explored the island, and… um… well, we’re bored.”

I stared at him for a full minute while he shifted nervously. Finally…

“John, do you see where I am?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“Do you see what I’m doing?”

“Yeah.”

“This is exactly where I’m going to be and what I’m going to be effin’ doing until tomorrow. So go figure it out.”

“Oh. Okay.”

Seriously. In this amazing place, after an amazing day of paddling, and they… Aargh. Nevermind.

After that, I’m swinging quietly above the sparkling water and wishing I had a cold her in my hand. I realize I’m burnt. I don’t want to do trips like this anymore. I want to be here in this spot with people who appreciate moments and places like this.

And that’s what brings us now to a second-floor table of the Big Texan, slugging pints of Whoop Your Donkey, giving the waiter a hard time, flirting with North Texas women in flaring skirts and cowboy boots, telling too-long jokes, interrupting each other with even longer lies, and loving everything about this moment.

We were launching a week-long trip across two states that would involve mountain biking, rock climbing, hot springs, hiking, fishing, camping. There would be drinking, smoking, and swearing. Like any trip we would have moments of tension with each other, activities that would push us outside our comfort, meals we’d have to choke down. But we would party across 2 states and half a dozen activities, seizing each experience, recognizing that such moments have the potential to deepen our lives, and that we are never promised another one.

My students last summer are good kids. They’ll figure it out. I hope. But this is not really about them. It’s about me. I’ve been in need of healing.

My friends healed me this week. They gave me the gift of a shared experience, camaraderie that transcended age and backgrounds.

Henry David Thoreau said, “In Wildness is the preservation of the world.” I’ll add that within a shared moment is the preservation of our spirit.

That is the trip I needed.

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