What drives you to travel? A bucket list? FOMO? An escape from reality?
I travel to make human connections. My deepest memories center not around new landscapes, but around new relationships.
At 14, I traveled to the island of St. Thomas and heard a young boy pronounce my name with an accent for the first time.
At 25, Luke and I shared a room with Teddy and Sierra in an Amsterdam hostel. They offered us their leftover mushrooms, then took us out for Mexican food.
I can’t remember what I wore to work a week ago, yet these moments in time remain crystal clear.
Recently, I returned home from a bike tour across the southern coast of Iceland. It was organized through Trek Travel and our group consisted of five riders and two guides.
There was Lisa, a solo traveler from California. She was small and quiet, with intense eyes. Vicki and Rick were a married couple from Boise. She was a hard-driving attorney. He was a reserved bike mechanic. My other half was my Aunt Nancy. She’s the kind of person who looks good in red eyeglasses and lights up a room by simply entering it.
Our guides Anna and Mike kept the stoke high even when we were acting like children who didn’t want to be on the family road trip. Anna was a native Icelander of nebulous age and incredible athleticism. She spoke perfect English through an accent that faded over the course of the week. Mike was from Oregon and had what I astutely described to him as a “hilarious mustache.” He was a badass mountain biker, yet graciously rode in the back with Aunt Nancy and me for a majority of the trip.
We met the group at a hotel lobby in Reykjavik at our appointed time, then settled into Anna’s sprinter van – our mobile home for the week. Vicki and Rick claimed the front row of seats. Aunt Nancy and I took the middle. Lisa took the back. Her head was barely visible above the back of our seat.
The group chatted casually as we drove to our first scheduled activity – a kayak trip into the Atlantic Ocean. Afterwards, our lunch conversation would have been awkward had Aunt Nancy not carried it. The group dynamics got a little more real after a somewhat harrowing ride down a steep gravel trail that was difficult to walk on, much less mountain bike on.
But it was the after-dinner vodka that really opened the floodgates. Mike warned us about the three topics that are typically off-limits on his trips: religion, politics and Lance Armstrong.
After spending a few days in each other’s intimate space, I learned important things about each of them.
- Vickie and Rick never let up. They are driven to maximize every aspect of their lives.
- Lisa’s politics don’t mesh with my own, but she ended up being the person I partied with in Reykjavik until 3am
- Mike has metal in his head from a brain tumor he developed when he was 19
- Stoic and pragmatic Anna has a deep love for American cowboy culture and Dolly Parton
- Aunt Nancy and I got to the point where we could handle showering naked in front of each other at public swimming pools. We are both prudes. This was no small feat.
We were people from across the US with various professions, political views and a 25-year age span. Yet, within days, we rode as one group.
On the final night, we exchanged Instagram handles and email addresses. We promised to set-up a shared Dropbox for our photos. I told Anna I wanted to meet her in Nashville in October to see Dolly perform.
A few weeks have passed and the Instagram likes from our photos have slowed. The “I miss you” texts have become even more sporadic. I don’t believe I’m going to Nashville any time soon.
Space and time share a complicated relationship with human behavior. They compress and expand as needed. We packed a lot into a week. We spent more than 12 hours a day together, often in tight quarters. The only outside interaction we had with others was in a pool (where one goes only to socialize with one’s own people) and a family-style dinner table. Even then, we chose to focus on each other.
Now that the trip is over, so are most of these relationships. Which is okay. Some things belong on a shelf to be looked at occasionally and remembered fondly. Vicki riding a full quarter of a mile ahead of me at all times is as sacred as experiencing the midnight sun for the first time. It’s all part of the experience I had that one time in Iceland.