I can’t do beach vacations.
At least, not the type where you lay in a lounge chair all day (to quote Bill Engvall: “With a mai tai in hand, and keep them coming until I fall over.”)
To paraphrase Eddie Izzard, I’m a running, jumping, climbing trees type of person — even when the location is tropical. Even in Puerto Rico — at a resort made for relaxing on a lounge chair with mai tai in hand — I had to keep moving. The idea of being idle all day sounded like hell.
“I’ve got an hour of laying on the beach in me, tops,” I say to my husband, as we’re discussing our anniversary trip — a trip that has, not once, been a beach vacation, despite that being the #1 way my husband relaxes.
“Why would that be so difficult?” he asks.
“Because…I’m anxious,” I reply.
“But, why the anxiousness?” My husband asks, his usual inquiring. There’s nothing accusatory about it. He simply wants to better figure out how I tick.
“Because…there’s an overwhelming sense of urgency,” I say. “I’d spend the entire time feeling like I should be doing something. I’d feel like I was wasting my time. There’s nothing relaxing about that.”
I’m an anxious person. I do nothing to hide it and everything to remedy it. But even anxiety doesn’t fully explain my overwhelming sense of urgency.
That sense of urgency is stronger than my exhaustion, my hunger levels — even the anxiety itself. That feeling that time is fleeting and life is unpredictable and it could all be gone tomorrow and there’s just so much to see so I must do all the things and do all the things now.
It’s what catapults me out of my comfort zone, fills up my schedule, makes people scratch their heads and go, “How do you have the energy for that?” I’m fueled by an almost hysterical urgency. I’m far too close to Clementine from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind:
“I’m constantly anxious that I’m not living my life to the fullest.”
The only difference between her and me is that I wouldn’t dream of ever deleting memories — even the painful, haunting ones. To remove sections of experience, regardless of where they fall on the spectrum, sounds like a hell way worse than laying idly about.
The anniversary trip starts as something simple — a flight to Montana, a trip to Glacier National Park. We check in with our favorite airline and find out the their closest stop is in Salt Lake City. We went there four years ago as part of our San Francisco road trip and quickly fell in love with a city that we had thought would be a quick, boring stopover before we got to the good stuff.
And just like that, we are mapping out our new itinerary: fly in to Utah and drive through Idaho and arrive at Montana before looping down to Wyoming to spend a few days at Yellowstone and then coming back to a few days in Salt Lake City.
My heart swells. An adventure is born.
Getting to Montana proves to be a nightmare of Kafka proportions. The entire time, I’m anxious. I need to get going. There needs to be another flight. There are things to do and see and experience and I’m stuck in this airport that I know far too well at this point. I must go now. Necissito ir. Debo ir. Vamos vamos vamos.
I’m an urgent bundle of nerves as we take our flights out the next day, and I don’t start fully breathing again until I see Salt Lake City outside of my plane’s window.
I’m naturally a morning person – even more so now that the sun rises so early. I can’t remember the last time I slept in past 6:30, and even more so past 7. This also means I go to bed by 9:30 – 10 at the latest. I wonder what will happen when we travel across two time zones and land in Mountain Time, where their 9:30 is our 11:30 and their 7 is our 9.
But when we get to the western side of the time zone, I shift effortlessly. In fact, I find myself having the opposite problem. The sun technically sets at 9:45, but we’re so high up that the sky is light until nearly midnight. It takes work to get into bed by 11 – and yet I am still up by 5:30.
“I think living out here would make me a bit of a night owl,” I muse. “A sleep-deprived night owl, but a night owl all the same.”
“You’re not an early riser – you’re solar powered,” says my husband, referencing a term I constantly use for myself, to describe seasonal affectation, the murk of misty days and the unstoppable power of sunny ones.
The sun is my reminder that the world is out there. The sun provides space to get out and achieve. I have a hard time ignoring its siren-like call.
“Apparently I just chase the sun,” I reply, and it makes me think of my summer semester in Northern Ireland — of going to bed by 1 and waking up by 4 because that’s just how the daylight is during the summer that far north. And how fine I felt — until I had to sit down for a lecture, at which point I would fight harder to stay awake than I would to take notes.
The pace of the vacation is relentless, even more so after losing a day. There is just too much to see, too much to do.
And it’s so hard not to add on. One of our hikes brings us barely 20 miles from the US/Canadian border. So close that border patrol passes us as we navigate the dirt road to the trail head. It is actually, physically painful to return back to the car and back into town — to literally turn my back on Canada. Alberta is right there – right there. Why not add on another day. Drive to Calgary. Knock off another Canadian territory from the list. I actually ache as we drive south again, the potential border in my rear view.
Someday. As the car lulls me into into a semi-doze, I plan out a road trip across the southern territories of Canada, hitting Calgary along the way.
We’re at a small restaurant at the dead end of Glacier’s smaller entranceways. The spot serves as food and showers and general supplies for campers and day hikers and those on backpacking excursions. I have left everything in the car, with nothing on hand as I sit down to eat — not my phone, not my wallet, not the pack I’d just lugged 20+ miles in in the last 48 hours.
I open the menu and see that they serve hard cider – the only alcohol I really drink.
“If they card me, I can just run back to the car and get my ID.”
“You think they’ll card you?” My husband asks.
I shrug. I know I’ve hit the age where I don’t really need proof that I’m 21+. It’s not something I worry about or mourn, but a simple fact of life.
“How old do I look right now?” I ask – a genuine question.
My husband looks me over, furrows his brows, and goes, “Younger than you typically do.”
“Yeah, you actually look…refreshed,” he adds with a smirk on his face — because who honestly looks refreshed after spending all day hiking?
“It’s almost like this is exactly how I relax,” I jibe with a smirk. Almost like what replenishes me is quenching that sense of urgency.
I order a cider with my dinner. I don’t get carded.
We still have a few days left of our trip when I find myself mourning the drives from our hotel to Glacier National Park. My heart aches for those open roads with the mountains in front of and beside us. For some reason, that is what I’m missing and what I am going to miss the most. That drive through the winding roads with barely any traffic and no traffic lights in sight, where the Big Sky Country sun blazes and the music hits the soul just right.
There was no sense of urgency at all. I was exactly where I need to be. And in those moments I am completely free.
That sense of urgency is the most potent force about me. More potent than my anxiety (even my at times crippling social anxiety), more potent than my fatigue, more potent than my doubts. It gets me out of bed at absurdly early hours of the morning. It gets me off my computer if I’ve been lounging around for too long. It might raise my stress levels and keep me anxious, but I have a hard time seeing it as a bad thing.
It keeps me going: trying new things, exploring new places, going on more adventures. It fuels me when nothing else will. And I want that fuel. This life is nothing short of a miraculously rare chance for the universe to witness itself — and by God I will bear witness to as much of this universe as I can.
There’s a part of me that wishes I could find relaxation and replenishment in laying still, especially since that’s how my husband relaxes. But it’s just not in my DNA. I’m not even the type of writer who thrives on being still and letting the mind do its thing. Almost every poem, every novel, every blog post, has been written in the heat of the moment, in the middle or tail end of the adventure. It takes too much mind power to be still to actually be creative.
I promise my husband the next anniversary trip can be a beach trip. Be on the beach, no major plans. But I already find myself planning what I’ll do in that hypothetical beach scenario — early morning runs, paddle boards, reading… but, ultimately, my goal is to see if that urgency can calm itself down, at least for a week. Because I know I need to slow down. I know I do. I’ve been exhausting myself for the last decade, going at breakneck paces across all platforms. It’s simply not sustainable. Urgency might serve as a fuel, but it’s one that burns a little too bright sometimes.
If I am to actually bear witness to the world around me, I can’t have one toe already into the next adventure. Constantly look to the future and I’ll miss the present moment — which is all we have, at the end of the day.
We take a red-eye back to Boston and get three or so hours of fitful, restless sleep. The sun is shining and the air in New Hampshire is perfect when we come back home. The very idea of going back to bed when the world around me is so beautiful seems inconceivable. But I force myself to crawl into bed and snuggle into my pillow and close my eyes. I’m out like a light for another three hours, this time with two grateful cats snuggled close against my legs.
On my way to teach an evening class that Thursday, I pick up a project I did during a girl’s night. I had painted a New Hampshire-theme on a ceramic mug: an outline the state on the outside, an amateur rendition of mountains on the inside. It wouldn’t be ready until I was already in Montana, which meant the earliest I could get it was upon returning.
I walk into the ceramic painting studio, jet-lagged and exhausted and already aching for another go at the Rockies, and pick up my mug. It was fitting, to get my mug at that moment, barely 24 hours after returning home. The more I travel, the more I realize New Hampshire is my home base — and the more I appreciate it being so. It’s my anchor in a sea of urgent, hysterical wandering.
New Hampshire has a calming effect on me. Whether I’m driving through the countryside or hiking the mountains or even just attempting some stillness in my hammock in the backyard. I can turn to the trees and the sky and the fresh air when I feel that anxiousness rising. And I can almost feel the trees whispering in response:
“There’s no need for urgency. You are exactly where you need to be.”