“Best Nine” of 2017


It’s the algorithm we all look forward to – the compilation of our nine most popular posts on Instagram, arranged into a neat, little grid for us to display at the end of the year.

My ‘best nine’ features images taken from the top of Zion Canyon, beneath a palm tree overlooking the Belize Barrier Reef and along the rocky shoreline of Lake Superior. It was a good reminder of a year well spent exploring new and familiar aspects of the natural world.

At this time last winter, I was exchanging upcoming travel plans with a coworker who visits at least half a dozen new international cities each year. She listened to me list off the national park and camping trips we planned to take and asked out of bewildered curiosity, “Do you ever just want to stay in a city?”

The answer to that question has evolved from “yes, of course” to “not if we can avoid it.” It’s a shift Luke and I have made gradually and subconsciously over the past decade. We’ll visit a new place and it will either click or it won’t. Lately, the places that feel right are located in the middle of nowhere.

Just a few weeks ago, we took a trip to Denver to visit Luke’s sister, Danielle. It’s a city we claim to love. However, I think what we really love is Denver’s proximity to the mountains and the brunch menu at Steuben’s. So we promised to spend the entire weekend in the city to get a feel for its personality.

We pretended for one whole day that the foothills did not line the horizon.

Instead, we drove through all of the cool neighborhoods, sampled some excellent breweries, fulfilled my requisite one-burrito-per-day rule and met some incredibly friendly people.

We inched closer to higher terrain on our second day with a drive out to Boulder. We ate gelato, shopped for jeans made out of technical fabric and managed to find every former-Wisconsinite-turned-Colorado-transplant working on Pearl Street.

On our third and final day, we decided it would be rude to come so close to the mountains and not stop in to say ‘hello.’

We drove an hour out to Loveland Pass to spend 10 minutes freezing our asses off at the top of the Continental Divide. On the way back to Denver, we stopped for lunch at Beau Jo’s Pizza, a detour that put us in the middle of rush-hour traffic and almost cost us our flight home.

It was the most relaxing day of the trip.

I have lived a vast majority of my life in mid-sized cities. I love being able to bike to work, bars and restaurants. The white noise from a constant stream of traffic lulls me to sleep at night. However, city life tends to encourage a detached mind, despite my best efforts to slow down and mono-task.

It confines us to climate-controlled boxes and painted lines in the roads. A variety of glowing boxes numb our brains and butts for hours. And I can’t help but think about the Dave Matthews Band song, “Ants Marching” every time I try to navigate Minneapolis’ skyway system over the lunch hour.

Rolling around in the dirt gives my brain a break from imposed order and my body a new set of physical challenges to overcome. It’s a welcome change of pace from my typical routine.

Isn’t that the whole point of going on vacation?






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  1. “A change of pace from routine” – I think that statement says a lot about what a real vacation should be.

    We found similar things recently, sometimes we love cities, sometimes we don’t. Loved Bangkok! Hated Vientiane. I wish you could have the food of a city in a rural area – then I think I’d be sweet. Thanks for an enjoyable read!

  2. Our living path had been more abrupt. From Wisconsin to NYC, Pittsburgh, LA, Chicago, San Diego to Carlsbad Village but with considerable time avoiding those places with the nights spent car camping or under the stars growing each year. Not because we don’t love the places we have lived (except Pittsburgh) but because they encourage hamster wheel living. Go here, do this. Work here, buy this.
    When we get away…we really want to get away. Replace the lull of passing cars with the lull of cicadas or streams knowing they have no expectations od us and we will get out of our time outaide what we put in.

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