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5 Things I've Learned after a Month on the Road

Time flies when you're having fun, and I have to say I can't believe we are already over a month into our road trip. From Mackinac Island to Maine we saw the majesty of the fall colors through Canada, New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. We hiked through the mighty Appalachian range and stood amongst raging rivers and waterfalls. Our skin drank in the sunshine along the coast in South Carolina. Our hearts have been full and our adventure never ending over the last 4 weeks. Mingling with the travel, there have been several opportunities for personal growth and lessons one can only learn from a trip such as these.

The fall colors behind Baby Falls in Tennessee

1. Communication needs to be clear, direct, and honest.

When you're with your road trip buddies constantly, every second of every day for a month, there are obviously going to be good days and bad days. The good days are easy. The group gels perfectly, everyone is enjoying themselves, and the sun is shining. These are the days everyone imagines as they start picture how the trip will unfold. I can think of our own experiences where all three of us were feeling this way: cruising along on Mackinac Island on our bikes, standing in front of Niagara Falls as the mist from the water gently floated through the air, seeing the car again after hiking 15 tough miles, feeling the sun on our faces as we stepped out onto the beach, hearing the crowd go nuts for a kayaker as we finally got close to the Green River Narrows. These moments, unanimously enjoyed by everyone, are the easy moments.

The hard parts, the things you don't really spend much time thinking about before the trip, fill in the gaps between those moments. It can be something as simple as a clash of personalities, a desire to spend time doing something other than what the group is doing, a stubbornness born from lack of solid sleep, or just not feeling emotionally the best. It's in these moments that I've learned the most. Navigating anger, unhappiness, and other negative emotions becomes more complicated when you still need to be a happy and cooperating part of the whole group. What works best for me? Taking a deep breath. Identifying what exactly is making me upset. Then deciding if its something I need to work out within myself or something that I need to directly communicate to the team. I'm not the best at this, I can often be overly emotional and react to things in a way that don't help to find a solution.

Top of Mt. Champlain in Acadia National Park

2. Making time for yourself, even if it's only a few minutes, is important.

A fitting lesson to back up lesson number one. When you're constantly surrounded by your traveling companions, its important to find little moments where you can be by yourself and your thoughts. It can be as simple as getting up early and going for a short walk while the water for coffee is heating up. It can be finding a secluded spot for a 5-10 minute meditation. Maybe taking time to read scripture and pray. It can be taking a day to do your favorite activity. For me, that emotional release is whitewater kayaking. My friend Dale expressed this best while we were lining up for our second lap down the Tellico River just a few weeks ago. He turned around and said, "You know my favorite part of dropping a waterfall? The moment right before you start to free fall till the moment you hit the bottom. You don't have any time to think about anything else except exactly what is happening in front of you, and that's pretty cool."

It hit me in that moment that the moment Dale just described to me is the definition of being present. Naturally, this is something I think most of us struggle with. While dealing with the past is fairly simple, most of our anxieties exist when we focus our minds on the daunting future. Here is a world that we can't fully understand but can only make inferences about based on what's happened in the past. We can paint a vivid picture of what we think the world might look like tomorrow, with no idea of what will actually happen. It's here that I think unhappiness is born. The more time we spend here, the more we begin to fall victim to comparison and stress. What if tomorrow doesn't look exactly like we thought it might?

How do we combat this incessant pestering of the future? Find your waterfall moment! Whatever it is for you, that allows you to become fully aware solely to the present, make that a priority!

Enjoying a moment of solitude outside of Shenandoah National Park

3. Stop and smell the roses, keep your head up when you hike, be curious, and appreciate the little things.

I do this thing when I hike and I'm getting a little tired where I focus my eyes on my next step instead of the environment which I'm hiking through. I hadn't really ever noticed it, but recently I hear the familiar voice of Maryssa reminding me to "keep your eyes up when the trail is easy". The first time she said it during our hike up Mount Marcy I was actually a little embarrassed. I PREACH valuing the little things everywhere you go, but here I was watching my boots take their next step instead of the beauty of the forest and wildlife surrounding us. I definitely was not taking the time to smell the roses.

It's easy to get into a rhythm, in pretty much everything you do. There is time for that, putting one foot in front of the other and chipping away at a task. That day I learned that picking your nose up from the grindstone can be just as important. Continuously be curious about everything! Take in the little moments like a little bit of sunshine peaking through the trees after a few hours of cloudy weather or a warm cup of coffee after a chilly, rainy morning.

4. There is a beautiful place to explore everywhere you go.

You don't always have to be on a grand adventure to find a beautiful place to spend some time. Obviously everywhere we go has the novelty of being fresh and exciting, but that doesn't mean you need to travel across the country too! Areas like the Glen Rogue Campground in Toronto, the Houston Arboretum and Nature Center, and the Lincoln Memorial in DC have been inspiring locations in the middle of cities. Some of the best campgrounds we have stayed in have been free on secluded tracts of public land or for $10 a night in people's backyard properties. If you feel like you're in need of a beautiful place to nourish your soul, start looking! I bet you won't have to look too far!

5. God has a plan, even when you don't. Trust in Him.

To be entirely candid, I was very far from calling myself a Christian just a few months ago. I didn't grow up in a religious household. I went to church for a while as a senior in high school and went to a religiously affiliated college for 4 years but I rarely considered christianity as part of my identity. Until recently, I had pretty much turned my back to Christ and focused all my attention on what was provable by science. Even so, there were so many things constantly happening around me that I could not explain. Signs and circumstances that seemed too relevant to simply be the works of coincidence were everywhere, but I struggled with allowing it to be really the work of God.

Don't get me wrong, I still struggle regularly with my faith. I still have questions and certain parts of organized religions put me off, but I was recently invited to resume my walk with Christ and I've been able to find clarity, peace of mind, and happiness in things I had previously written off as chance. When things are tough, unclear, and frustrating I've been learning to put my faith in God and to trust in the plan that he has for me. There is always a lesson to be learned and God has been a patient and loving mentor.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. -Proverbs 3: 5-6

While your time on the road is starting to feel a little limited, I know there are plenty of new lessons waiting for us along the way. It's with open arms we welcome these challenges! What lessons has travel taught you?

Adventure comes to those who GO!

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