I’m in Mesa Verde National park as I write this, on a hike along Prater Ridge above the campground area where just an hour ago I set up my tent. I’m only a few miles into the park, and have decided to wait until tomorrow to venture in to visit the numerous cliff-dwellings that make this park in SW Colorado such a popular destination.
I’ve stopped at a ledge that has one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen. As I look to the right I can see the mountains to the north that I just drove out of earlier this morning – the impressive Rocky Mountains. As I look to the left I see the setting sun, with streaks of light breaking through the clouds into the valley below. When I look straight ahead I can see out across miles and miles of southwest Colorado and into Utah. From this height I can’t even imagine how many miles lie between me and the horizon.
It is in a moment like this, a moment of natural grandeur that takes my mind, body, and spirit to a whole new place, when I think to myself, “This is why I love life.” Lately those moments have been occurring more frequently than they usually do.
I’m on a road trip right now, and have been blessed to see so many new sites, and experience so many moments of “I can’t believe I’m here right now.”
I left my home in Portland, Oregon two and a half weeks ago. After spending a few nights with my parents just outside of Eugene, I headed east to visit my aunt and uncle in Enterprise, Oregon, at the base of the Wallowa Mountains. After a few days admiring those mountains from the outside, I hiked up into them for a few days of backpacking among their alpine lakes, and spent two days not seeing another human being (and, thankfully, not any black bears either).
After coming out of the mountains I drove down to Salt Lake City, Utah and spent a few days with a cousin getting to know the city a bit and hiking in the hills that surround it. From Salt Lake I drove to Boulder, Colorado, arriving at the same time as the heavy rains that hit the state and caused severe flooding and massive amounts of damage.
Boulder was my base for a week, where I stayed with a friend who I had met at my first ever World Domination Summit in Portland earlier in the summer. We took a brief camping trip up to Mount Princeton, and spent a day enjoying Oktoberfest in the ski resort town of Breckenridge. The rest of the week we spent time in the wet city of Boulder, helping to bail out basements and exploring the many coffee shops and eateries of downtown.
From Boulder I headed south to Telluride, a name that I knew only because of the bluegrass festival held there each summer. I landed in the town on an off-festival weekend, and was able to camp just next to the city. I spent one afternoon taking a 14-mile hike in the mountains above town, and it was on that hike when I first thought to myself, “This is why I love life.”
Finally, just this morning I drove from Telluride, through Cortez, and into Mesa Verde National Park. A mere hour-long hike brought me to the place where I now sit, continuing to enjoy the sunset.
In an alternate universe I’m not on this road trip. In that universe I’m substitute teaching back in Oregon right now. In another I’m getting started with my first year of full-time teaching. In yet another I’m starting my fifth year of a seven-year graduate program in physics. But I’m not in any of those universes, I’m in this one. And right now, as I sit enjoying this spectacular view of Colorado and Utah laid out in front of me, I cannot help but appreciate where I am.
Too often, though, I fail to appreciate my current location along the timeline of my life. Too often I’m looking ahead to the future, thinking about my next step, about where I want to be, not where I am. Unfortunately it takes a trip like this for me to appreciate how far I’ve already come, even as I recognize that I’m not at the end of my journey.
So, where am I? I’m in a position to take off for a month and see parts of the country that I’ve only heard about, to attach personal memories to places that previously I wouldn’t have be able to locate on a map, to connect with family and friends who otherwise would have remained neglected aspects of my life.
I have the freedom to take this trip, but I don’t yet have the freedom from anxieties about debts still owed, about an uncertain future, about a career still finding its legs. But I have steered my work in the direction of location-independence for a reason – to be able to take trips just like this one that I’m on.
What I hope to remember, though, is not only to appreciate where I am when I happen to be in an exceptionally beautiful place. I want to appreciate it every day. Even the difficult ones when I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing with my life. I want to appreciate that even on those difficult days I still have control over the direction of my life, even though that scares me sometimes.
I’m sharing this experience because I want you to know that no matter where you are on your journey, no matter how close you are to your mountain, chances are you have something to appreciate about where you are right now. Don’t wait until you’re sitting on top of your mountain to actually appreciate it. Take the time to appreciate it right now. Enjoy where you are, even (and especially) as you contemplate where you’re going next and how you’re going to get there.