Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Roadtrip in Words

What is that feeling when you're driving away from people and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? — it's the too-huge world vaulting us, and it's good-by. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.” --Jack Kerouac, On The Road

I can think of no one better than Kerouac to summarize what I've been up to in the last week or so. First, a little context: last week, the Outdoor Education Center that I work for in Texas shut down temporarily in honor of the Spirit International Amateur Golf Championships taking place next door at the prestigious Whispering Pines Golf Club. Affectionately known as “Spirit Week” to our staff, this meant a break from teaching as international golfers and their families would fill our cabins instead of fifth-graders. I'd been looking forward to this week since August, and as the crowds funneled into Trinity, Texas on Friday, I fled the scene, seeking my own kind of spirited week on the road. I had no Dean Moriarty riding alongside, but there were times when I couldn't help but feel a bit like Sal Paradise during my little adventure up and down America's midsection. Here's how it all went down.

Friday, October 28
First destination: Madison, Wisconsin, a 19.5-hour drive from Trinity, according to Google Maps. I need to be there by Saturday night for the university town's legendary Halloween FreakFest event. But friends I haven't seen since June are waiting for me and the wanderlust is running thick, so I make up my mind to drive til I drop.

I guess the story really starts the night before with the historic, improbable, cathartic sixth game of the World Series that kept me up well past my appointed pre-roadtrip bedtime. So instead of a crack-of-dawn departure, it's not until past nine that I hazily load up the Silver Bullet (my Ford Fiesta) and take off. It's a cool gray East Texas morning, and I tilt open the sunroof, letting the moist air fill my nostrils with promise. As fast-paced bluegrass jumps out of the speakers, I'm quickly awake, present, and ready to chase down the day. Lufkin, Nacogdoches, and Texarkana blur by and soon the sun is out, the breeze still cool, and I'm on I-30 entering the state or Arkansas for the first time in my life.

The drive through the Natural State will go down as one of the best of the trip. Streaming northeast towards Little Rock through small towns with names like Hope (Bill Clinton's birthplace) and Arkadelphia, the highway is a little concrete channel enclosed in dense forest. For the first time this year, I'm beginning to see signs of autumn from the auburn and maroon leaves on all sides. For a hundred miles, no billboards, no stripmalls, no neon. A natural state indeed, for the land and for me. I can't help but think of Faulkner's deep Mississippi woods, a fantasy playing out in my mind where I pull over, step off into the trees and find myself back in time, face-to-face with the giant, transcendent bear of Go Down, Moses. The spirit of the place is old, dark, silently crying for protection. But I am young and high off of motion, like the Kerouac who wrote, “we were all delighted, we all realized we were leaving confusion and nonsense behind and performing our one noble function of the time, move.” So on I go, afternoon turning to evening as I pass Little Rock and fly east towards Memphis, sunset reflecting off of cotton fields, a deluge of gold and white while the big orange sun gently dips its shoulders beneath a flat, endless horizon.

Now it is night and my iPod's battery nearly dead, a problem I had inexcusably forgotten would arise. It's okay though because I'm entering St. Louis Cardinal country and it is nearly time for Game Seven to begin. Praying to the gods of baseball and AM radio, I scan through the airwaves, finding a whole lot of high school football, but finally my holy grail, AM 1000, WMVP out of Chicago, streaming loud and clear all the way through the 400-mile height of Illinois and down to me in the southeastern corner of Missouri. With Dan Shulman's play-by-play carrying me forward, I curve northeast from I-55 to I-57, crossing the Mississippi and entering Illinois at Cairo.

Not many things can distract me from Game Seven of the World Series, but crossing the Mississippi River at Cairo, Illinois is one of them. Warning, tangent time. For the uninformed, Cairo hosts the junction of the Ohio River and the Mississip, and any American literature buff like myself will recognize it as one of Huck Finn and Jim's biggest destinations in Mark Twain's canonical tale. Cairo is where the odd couple was planning to leave the Mississippi, taking the Ohio north and east to the free states and Jim's emancipation. It never happened, but the place still represents the point in the book where Huck relates his fiercest internal struggles between the Southern conventions of his upbringing and his growing loyalty to Jim, between the grip of the past and the humanity of the present. I'm not thinking on quite so deep a level as I drive past the rivertown, but still, it is a border being crossed in my mind too, as I perform the reverse course to Huck and Jim's, venturing north to the more liberal lands of my own past. (On an even more tangential note, I'm also thinking of a favorite songwriter, Josh Ritter, who mentions the place in “Monster Ballads” with the lyrics, “I was thinkin' 'bout my river days, and I was thinkin' 'bout me and Jim, passing Cairo on a getaway, with every steamboat like a hymn”).

Returning from the annals of an English major's mind to our present journey, however, I leave Huck and Jim (and Josh) behind and begin the long, lonely Illinois passage, from the state's southern tip at Cairo to its northern border with Wisconsin, over 430 miles and seven hours of driving, all in the Land of Lincoln. But I have baseball and a fine clear night for company and the distance passes quickly. In the little town of Ina, roughly parallel with St. Louis, I stop for gas, the Cardinals now leading 5-2 in the late innings. A couple of cammo-clad teenagers waltz into the convenience store, downing Red Bulls and shouting joyfully about what seems an inevitable title for their team. (I was halfheartedly pulling for the Rangers, but after suffering through the Red Sox' September shitshow, I was mostly just happy for exciting, well-played baseball from anybody in October).

Indeed, the Cards close it out, completing what will go down as one of the wilder turnarounds in World Series history, one strike from elimination not once, but twice in Game Six, to champions less than 24 hours later. Baseball, just like life, is a game where the littlest things can make all the difference. For now, though, back to the road.

After listening to all of ESPN Radio's postgame coverage until I start hearing the same interviews over again, I find a station playing only blues and exult in the fact that I'm no longer in country-dominated Texas. Jamming out to Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters, I feel distinctly like Sal Paradise, the post-midnight miles disappearing as fast as the twists and turns of a sax solo blaring through car speakers. Fifties bop was Sal's soundtrack, but connection is there in the soft night, the hard road, the soulful music and the thirst for adventure.

I arrive in Madison at 3:30 a.m., 18.5 hours after I left Trinity (faster than you, Google Maps!), head pounding, body drained, but abundantly joyful. I step out of the car and the cold night air greets me like a strong kiss. Hello again, Midwest! I sure did miss you. The time of day is nearly irrelevant in a college town, however, and as I find a parking spot on my friends' street, I realize already that I've come to one of those wonderful cities that sucks life down to the bone, fighting for every last morsel of meaty substance the day can give. Under the glow of streetlamps, the revelers stumble home in torn up Halloween costumes, hipsters kiss goodnight at an intersection, and a heated argument rings out from inside a fully-lit house. Overwhelmed and exhausted, I stumble into a hug with my bleary-eyed host Ben and collapse fully-clothed next to him in bed.

Saturday, October 29
I am not the only house-guest this weekend. Ben, an ultimate frisbee teammate from Carleton, shares the first-floor apartment with Sarah and Peter, two other former classmates; all three work for Epic, a Madison software company with a deep love for Carleton grads. With the popularity of FreakFest, however, this weekend their modest home has become a veritable congregation site for the Carleton frisbee family. Three friends from Minneapolis and another from Indiana have beaten me to Madison, and the cramped but festive atmosphere is undeniable.

I am awoken around nine – too early – with Sarah poking her head through the door. Any sleep-deprived bitterness is quickly erased, however, as she jumps smiling onto the bed. Is there a better way to start a morning than with a hug from a pretty girl you haven't seen in months? It's a good omen for what's about to be a most memorable day.

First order of business is breakfast at the Madison Farmer's Market, a colossal affair of tents and pedestrian traffic surrounding the state capitol on all sides. Fresh apples and cider, Wisconsin cheese bread, the word organic plastered everywhere – I can't help but feel like I'm back on native soil. My mind flashes back to Saturday mornings spent at the smaller Amherst Farmer's Market, but rather than homesickness, I'm hit by a rush of affection for Madison.

There's more to do today than enjoy the return to crisp autumn air and a college town atmosphere, however, and before long we're back at the house preparing for FreakFest. Another Carleton teammate and Madison transplant, Eric, has organized a large cohort to dress as “The 101 Dalmatians” for the event, and we're all excited to join the pack. I'd already fashioned my own dalmatian outfit for our OEC Halloween Party the previous weekend (think white thermal underwear and black spray paint), but I spend the afternoon helping others with theirs. By the time the sun goes down we look like a regular bunch of fire-station hounds, and it's time to start the festivities.

The evening passes in a haze of delight, starting with the pregame at “Shorty House” (Sarah, Ben, and Peter each stand at about five-eight or shorter). My drinks tell the tale of a return to collegiate frivolity: progressing from sophisticated local IPAs to an experiment in whiskey and apple cider to guzzling PBR. Soon we're joyfully drunk and ready to meet up with the rest of the pack. There's at least 40 of us that gather in a nearby park – not 101, but still a strong, spotted showing – and thanks to the wonders of the internet, we've all already labeled ourselves as different dalmatians from the 90s TV series. There's Skipper (me), Otto, Tipper, and even one Cruella. We congregate for a group picture (it's on facebook already), then woofing and wonderful, tramp off towards State Street and the main event.

The scene is like nothing I've ever experienced. Thousands of us, bent on living the hell out of our twenties, costumed and consumed with madness for life. There's live music on three different stages, crowds spilling out of every bar, and people people people everywhere, laughing, shouting, howling. Soon our pack splits up into smaller groups and I find myself by one of the stages, barking at passers-by while the mass throbs to a hip-hop beat and the rapper brings their hands to the air like a blazing preacher for the church of youth and night and now. Next up is a pop-punk outfit and a few of us wriggle towards the front of the crowd. We stomp, push, and sing. We dance with beautiful girls in leather jackets from Milwaukee. We finally stagger home, our limbs jello, our minds in overdrive, alive, alive and thankful.

Sunday, October 30
Somehow, a few of us diehard frisbee fans manage to haul ourselves out of bed at eight to watch the live webcast of the men's national championship game between San Francisco's Revolver and Boston's Ironside. There are ex-Carls playing for both clubs and we take at least a small amount of pride in knowing a few of the athletes at the peak of our fledgling sport. One day, maybe, we'll be able to watch this final match at primetime, but for now it's a brutal test of a fan's dedication scheduling the biggest game of the season for Sunday morning of Halloween weekend. Not exactly the best way to attract outsiders to the sport if you ask me.

Once Revolver has polished off Ironside with brutal efficiency, it's time for by far the most important event of the hungover morning: breakfast. We head to a perfect spot called Marigold Kitchen, one of those not-quite-greasy-spoon-but-not-too-overpriced places, and I feast on eggs scrambled with ham, cheese, veggies and potatoes. Throw in toast, coffee, and a muffin and I'm feeling halfway decent by the time we head home. Walking through a slight drizzle, I'm reminded of the early blizzard that has just hit New England and call up my parents. Here I am experiencing my first real dose of autumn, and winter has already struck back home, where I learn that our yard is buried under two feet of snow, trees are down everywhere, and nearly the entire state of Massachusetts is without power (they even postponed trick-or-treating statewide). Suddenly, I don't feel quite so bad about going back to 80-degree Texas in a week.

First, however, I've got another important stop to make: Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. So after spending most of the afternoon lazing around Madison, I finally say my goodbyes, throw a thank you six-pack in the Shorty House fridge, and point the Silver Bullet west. Leaving Madison as daylight fades from a gray sky, I promise myself that I'll be back soon. After two months in rural Texas, the weekend in Wisconsin's capital city has been more than just a breath of fresh fall air. It's been a momentary return to a young, hip world that I'd practically forgotten. Don't get me wrong – I love my job in the Lone Star State. But it's precisely because my work as an Outdoor Educator has been so fulfilling, so conducive to present-mindedness, that I've forgotten about the joys of urban life. It's a little like the feeling I got after studying abroad in London: the reassuring knowledge that I can thrive in many different environments.

Driving through the Wisconsin night, I turn my mind to Carleton. During my four years there, I was involved in everything from baseball to frisbee to a cappella and the outing club, and as a result, I've kept a great many friends from the younger classes. I'm beyond eager to see them all, and one I've even been working on for a job at the OEC next year. Yet in my excitement, I've forgotten an important detail: my visit is scheduled for week eight of the ten-week Carleton trimester. The college's unique calendar makes each term a fast-paced rollercoaster of stress, and eighth week represents the middle of the final, steepest climb. For seniors, many of whom are neck-deep in their final theses by now (not to mention applying to jobs or grad school for next year), it's one of the most stressful times of their undergraduate lives.

The reality of my timing won't hit home for awhile, however, as I spend my first night on the subdued campus happily reuniting with a few close friends. I bed down in the cramped five-person suite where several frisbee teammates live, and for now, chatting with them about their fall tournaments and the past weekend's happenings, it feels a bit like I never left.

Monday, October 31 – Wednesday, November 2
After sleeping through the morning, however, the strangeness of it all starts to set in. Everyone's in class or working, and here I am, on vacation. As a Carleton student, nearly every waking moment of my week was busy. If I wasn't at practice, rehearsal, or my work study job, I was frantically trying to keep up with schoolwork. I keep half-expecting myself to remember I've got a book to read for Friday or a paper to write tonight, but no, the only books I read now I choose myself and my writing is largely confined to this here blog (hopefully this will help you forgive me the length of these entries!).

So here I am, sitting on my grown-up ass with all my friends up to their ears in work and nothing to do until frisbee practice at three. The solution? A trip to the Cowling Arboretum, Carleton's 880-acre natural space devoted to the admirable trifecta of education, conservation, and recreation (for more info, check out the Arb's great website: On one side of the Arb is campus, on the other the Cannon River, a modest tributary that flows through downtown Northfield on its way to meeting the Mississippi in Red Wing.

Before I head to the Arb, however, I read a few pages of Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, my current self-assigned classic of nature writing. I'm having an interesting time with the book so far. The writing is profound and dense, very original but hard to follow for its creativity. Like Thoreau, you must read every sentence carefully, sometimes twice, if you are to glean anything significant from it. In the first two chapters, at least, it is a lofty book of ideas, not a narrative.

Chapter two is about sight. Dillard strives to see things as they truly are without the blinders of “verbalization” as she calls it. This goal – to escape the limits of language – is not uncommon in the nature writing genre, but Dillard brings a unique voice to it. She talks about the importance of noticing the minutiae in Nature, and it was after reading those paragraphs that I headed into the Arb for the first time in five months.

Nature is a humble teacher, as I try to be. If you're expecting something extravagant every time you walk in the woods – and I mean extravagant by our 21st century fast-and-furious special-effects dominated standards – you'll be disappointed. There is nothing glamorous in my walk today. No bald eagles or blazing fall foliage (a few weeks late, damn), not even a white-tailed deer. Yet there is still a lesson to be found.

I must slow down, put away the cell phone, stop thinking about frisbee and friends and planning out the rest of my visit. I must center myself in the present. After filling a plastic bag with sand from the banks of the Cannon (one of our teachers collects sand from all over the world and I promised him some of Minnesota's finest), I finally manage to do so, standing there then sitting on the sand, watching the river slide on, watching little birds dart branch-to-branch. Quickly, my mind wanders into nostalgia.

It's the same river that has inspired and welcomed me so many times before. The same one I watched on a run the night before the election in 2008, after which I went back to my dorm and wrote some shitty poetry, one of my earliest pieces of real creative writing. It's the same river that flooded historically a year ago, whose overflown waters I waded through in boxer shorts with teammates on a Friday evening. Fuzzy and ecstatic, we climbed to the top of the stadium and I lost myself in the silver moonlight dancing on raging black below. It's the same river too that became a playground for our senior class last spring, a local anchor to which we symbolically rooted ourselves, longing for the current of time to slow down and not whisk us out of our little bubble of contentment. We floated down on plastic tubes, sweating or laughing or maybe just together while we still could be. On our prom night, drunk off of champagne and unspeakable emotions and each other, we threw our clothes in the bushes and felt the cool flow, our naked bodies, consuming the present while the Cannon journeyed on. On to Red Wing and the Mississippi, eventually past Hannibal, Cairo, Baton Rouge and into the Gulf (who knew I'd follow that water south at the time?).

So coming back to the Cannon, to Carleton truly is coming home, because what is home if it is not a constant, an unchanging warmth that welcomes us back, tired and different. And as I sit on the bank in solitude, those vivid scenes replaying themselves in my mind, I think of how this moment is a microcosm of my whole visit. Just as the river continues, the college continues, with the same steady current. The cast is slightly changed, but the script remains largely unaltered. While a weekend visit might have been more exciting, I'm glad I'm here at the beginning of eighth week, now a stranger to the collective stress enveloping campus. I am one of those droplets of water. I ran my course, reached the larger river, turned south. The return is bittersweet, a reminder of the great times had, a chance for a few more, but also confirmation that I really have moved on. There's no more feeling of “it's like I never left.” I graduated. I left. The place will never be the same for me.

But it will still be here for the occasional homecoming. And while my relationship with it will unavoidably become that of a distant ex-pat, it's the bonds with the people that need not be weakened. This is the other half of the lesson, derived from countless hugs, smiles and quick catch-up conversations. From the joy of reunion in Madison and here, and from the growing hope of continued relationships with these friends. All I'll take back to Texas of the place is a bag of sand and a few glowing leaves, but the intangible gifts of the visit will be great.

And so, for the rest of my stay in Northfield, I resolve to revel in the memories that assault me around every turn while still embracing the undeniable present. I am here now. I am changed. The place is not. Flow on, old river. Mine will only be a quick dip in the waters of memory, but the sweetness will linger on my tongue long after I return to the shore.

At peace with the present, my time at Carleton finishes happily. I go to frisbee practice and give pointers to the rookies. I drop in on a cappella rehearsal, meet the new members, and catch up with the old. I hug and laugh with and appreciate the friends I've missed, listen to their struggles, promise them the end will come, the paper will be written. And of course, even though it's supposed to be my vacation from work, I find myself constantly telling people about my wonderful job, about how lucky and thankful I am, joking that maybe if they wait until the middle of the summer to get serious about the future something as excellent will fall into their laps. So when it comes time to point the car south again, I find myself not sad to leave, but, as Kerouac says, leaning forward “to the next crazy venture.”

And folks, the crazy ventures weren't quite finished yet.

Thursday, November 3
After a friend comes down from The Cities for a morning catch-up coffee (Patty, you're the best!), it's time to say a few last goodbyes then leave Nortfield behind, destination Kansas City and a night with Justin, a new friend and housemate from the OEC. It's a new kind of departure: the last time I drove out of Minnesota, I had graduated two days before and was hightailing it to New Mexico for the summer, my mind a hungover slushpile of emotions that I wouldn't even start sorting out for another month. Now, my sight feels as clear as the bright Iowa afternoon.

I have neglected, however, to think of my iPod once again, leaving it uncharged after a run in the Arb on Tuesday. Yet it becomes a positive mistake as I tune in to Iowa Public Radio for the majority of the drive. If I'm going to embrace my adulthood I might as well start listening to the news, right?

It's not about to be a night of sober maturity, however, as Justin directs me straight from I-35 to the bar where he's meeting with a handful of siblings and friends. Within minutes of getting off the highway, I'm drinking Sam Adams and laughing along with everyone else at pictures of Halloween costumes, Justin's Paul McCartney haircut, and the Chiefs' lucky win last weekend. Those with kids at home and jobs to get up for – see, adults can have fun too – depart before things get too silly, and knowing I have a twelve-hour drive tomorrow, I try to talk Justin into a low-key night. But he's not hearing any of it. And honestly, why should he? If he were visiting Amherst or Northfield for one night, I'd want to show him a good time. Besides, who knows of the next time I'll be in Kansas City. I'm 22 years old and hey, I'm on vacation after all.

Staying in the cozy suburb of Lee's Summit, a few of us head first to a quiet bar where I sample some delicious local beers (Boulevard's Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale becomes a quick favorite), then end our night in fine fashion at a rowdier dive bar. Despite our proximity to one of the nation's larger cities, there's almost a small-town atmosphere: Justin and his buddies know the waitresses, we easily start conversations with the strangers nextdoor, everyone we meet has a smile and a laugh to share. It feels like the Midwest distilled.

The highlight of the night comes when former Chiefs defensive end Neil Smith enters the bar with an entourage of well-dressed men and gorgeous women. An enforcer of the 90s who would go on to earn two rings with the Broncos, Smith is one of those not-quite-superstar players of whom casual fans from elsewhere (like me) have never heard, but whom the local diehards revere. So we convince Justin that it won't be tacky of him to shake the man's hand and thank him for a decade of dominance, and just like that, my host's night is made.

Eventually, we make it back to Justin's house and I'm snoozing on the couch at least reasonably close to my goal of midnight. I know waking up for the drive to Houston will be awful tomorrow, but I've had too much fun to worry about it now. How can I think negatively of another night underneath the cool Midwestern sky, another night of joyful camaraderie, another night lived for its own sake and nothing more?

Friday, November 4
Well, the morning is just as bad as I could have imagined, but after downing some eggs, coffee, and ibuprofen, I'm back on the road by nine. Buoyed by my excitement to see a dear Carleton friend in Houston tonight, the drive flies mostly by. Down the western edge of Missouri to Joplin, then into sunny, vast Oklahoma on the southwest diagonal of US-69 through little dustbowl, Tom Joad towns like Wagoner, Muskogee, and McAlester. (Quick side note: since I began living in more open parts of the country, I've grown increasingly fond of these US-routes, often more direct than the crowded, billboard-strewn interstates not to mention they're nearly as fast and afford the chance to drive through the Muskogees of the country).

Anyway, the frustration doesn't arrive until I cross the border into Texas (coincidence?), and traffic thickens into the stew that is Dallas at rush hour. Turning to my newest roadtrip standby, however, I find NPR and make myself feel like a patient, informed adult rather than another angry motorist. Eventually, I emerge back onto open roads and before I know it, the drive is over and I'm hugging my friend Sam in front of the Crowne Plaza in downtown Houston.

A year ahead of me at Carleton, Sam was a late-in-the-game friend with whom I've grown even closer since he graduated. That's in no small part because of his wise decision to settle in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the time being, giving us the opportunity for summer reunions while I'm a couple hours away at Philmont. Now his very cool job for an AmeriCorps affiliate called Citizen Schools has taken him to Houston for a conference, and I've hurried down from the north to catch him on his last night in town. After a week of parking next to curbs and crashing on couches, I'm pleasantly taken aback when I realize our plan for me to sneak into his room at the Crowne Plaza requires me to valet park the Silver Bullet. I suppose it's the least I can do after she's made a journey of some 2,400 miles without a hiccup and the polite valets don't ask questions about the maps, backpacks, and trail mix strewn across the seats. Wishing my trusty steed a safe and luxurious night, I follow Sam up to the 11th floor and soon I'm meeting his gregarious co-workers and readying myself for one more evening of shenanigans on this roadtrip full of late nights.

As we down beers from all over the country at the Flying Saucer Tap House, Sam and I hold a much-needed catch-up on each other's lives and talk teaching with the rest of the group. It's an experience not unlike the previous night's in Kansas City. Once again, I find myself quickly bonding with people who'd been strangers just hours ago. Sure, the alcohol smooths out the awkward formalities, but I believe there's a lot more to it than just booze – it's what happens when good people make connections with one another. Sam's friends trust him, Sam trusts me, and just like that, we're all a bunch of laughing, loving 20-something-year-olds. So I feel no hesitation when we all pile into a Houstonian group member's Kia Rio and make for the hip, studenty club block a few miles away, no shame as we dance poorly to the blazing hip-hop tracks, and no regrets as we teeter back into our rooms at the Crowne Plaza. Once again, I fall asleep enamored with life.

Saturday, November 5
It's another early morning as the conference-goers are off to their final seminar at 9:30. Sam and I raid the breakfast buffet for egg sandwiches and coffee while I tentatively agree to meet up with him and some other Carl friends in Tucson for an ultimate tournament a month from now. It'll require a chunk of my next paycheck, but after the great time we've had together and the lack of frisbee I've played this fall, how can I turn it down? Another chance for reunion, another chance for new excitement.

After I retrieve the well-rested Silver Bullet, I can practically hear my bed beckoning two hours away in Trinity. But first there's one more connection to be made in a trip so chock-full of them, so I navigate through the city to Dunn Bros Coffee where I've arranged to meet a high school friend with whom I haven't spoken in four years. Emily is in Houston with Teach For America, running a head-start program for inner-city four- and five-year-olds and we quickly bond over stories about our students. An hour's passed before we know it and we're both excited to have gotten back in touch. For me, it's a last example of what has held true for all of my trip: that making the extra effort to reconnect with the people you care about is always worth it. That you can never have too many friends in a world where the internet and our phones allow us to nullify distance on a daily basis. And that, when you're tired of those less personal forms of contact, sometimes you just have to load up the car and take off, no matter what the distance.

So as I return to Trinity from eight days away that feel like a month's worth of memories, I promise myself that it'll happen again soon. And as I happily fall back into the routine of teaching, I do so still leaning forward to that next adventure.