To some people, travel comes plentiful and easily. To others travel is a foreign concept. And to a limited few like myself, travel comes rarely but exists like a concept as comforting and familiar as breathing. As I grow in age, I luckily continue to fall into opportunities that merit travel, and this summer was no exception. I clearly remember the moment it all fell into the palm of my hands, I was in class and one of the chemistry teachers came in and told us about this summer geology course offered to sophomores and juniors; Summer Earth Studies. I was intrigued by the simple yet complex idea of traveling throughout the western portion of the United States whilst indulging in learning. Some may think it’s crazy to spend your travels and summers learning, but I was all for it. I completed and application and later found out of my acceptance into the 2017 group to participate in Summer Earth Studies.
Fast forward a couple months, it’s May. Summer Earth Studies covers a large amount of content; so a of couple in state ‘field trips’ were taken during the spring semester of the school year. We were around the Columbus area of Georgia, and I could have sworn it felt like a landslide was the only way to accurately represent my current situation. The hikes were amazing, the learning was equally as fantastic; but I was caught up in my own self-doubt and complacent ways to fully understand the dimensions of the class and the experience. So evening came, and I was in a hotel room with a river of tears and overflow thoughts plaguing my experience. This part of travel and experience- the doubt and gray area- was something I had yet to truly experience. Even in my self-pity, I was reassured that things would work out and given a nice dose of tough love, and come June 1st I was determined to make the most of the time spent traveling this summer.
June 1st through the 16th passed in a blurry fashion. We flew into Salt Lake City, and next thing you knew the adventure had begun. The group traveled caravan style with four cars; named after Waffle House orders. We had capped, country, chunked, and peppered- an unstoppable dream team. We hiked, learned, and truly experienced what it was like to connect with an experience. From eating pizza on sand dunes, to hypothesizing how things formed, there was no stopping. As the trip continued, new challenges arose- like my incredibly irrational test anxiety- and old ones faded. Travel and unfamiliar environments opened up continuous wonder, but also stopped me from running from uncomfortable situations. Some nights were spent alone in utter frustration and stress, and others under the stars with my boyfriend and even playing games with friends.
A true highlight was one night towards the end of the trip, in Canyonlands National Park. The day was jam packed with an early morning hike in Arches National Park, a trip to a natural watering hole, lunch in town, and at the end of it all here we sat, with illuminating stars surrounding us. A part of travel is reflection; opportunities to apply new experience in comparison to old experiences to create a more balanced and rich life. Thankfully our instructor understood this, and took a handful of evenings to decompress and reflect. This specific evening being towards the end of the trip meant that there was the comfort of growing close as a group. Our instructor began to speak- speaking about his blessings. He simply said that we as a group had become one of his, and in a split instance, I was cracked open. Not in a bad way, but in a vulnerable and overwhelmingly blessed way. Here I was sitting with some amazing people, people whom included my best friend and even my boyfriend. To say I was emotional is an understatement. I sat and spent the rest of the evening looking into space, and truly taking in the space around me. Being free to simply think about anything and everything imaginable is a gift that I was given that night under the stars.
So come day 16, goodbyes are said to the amazing part of the world we shared with each other. I personally said hello to a new career path and a new vibrancy within my life. Summer Earth Studies was both physically and mentally challenging with every twist and turn, but it was also better than any class I have or will take within a classroom setting. Altitude sickness and sloppy handwriting, giggles and tears… It was all a well-rounded experience. Even the best wanderers don’t always appreciate travel. Somehow I was so fortunate to spend my summer not only traveling, but also adventuring. Exploration of some amazing landscapes and of myself simply made for a great trip, and an even better story.