On the Road to 2022 in…Arizona?

On New Year’s Eve a year ago, I vowed to enter 2021 needing nothing from it – just being grateful that I had it at all. On paper I committed to having no expectations, to leaving behind a year that ripped apart any sense of consistency the world thought it could rely on. But in the back of my mind, I was hopeful. My wife (a nurse) had gotten her first dose of the vaccine just two days before Christmas in 2020. When she texted me from work to tell me, I fell to my knees and sobbed – a release of so much stress, confusion, anger, and uncertainty just poured from me like a waterfall. I did have expectations for 2021. I looked towards a year where fewer people would die, and where I wouldn’t worry every day for the safety of my parents. I ached for the traveling I would be able to do. I looked forward to feeling like the person I used to be.

Like the history lesson of 2020, not everything goes as planned. But some things do. Our families got vaccinated and we got our first real mom-and-dad hugs in a year. We spent days doing normal things with friends – sans masks, sans restrictions. It was deliciously average. Beautiful, actually. By the summertime, we were road tripping through Montana, booking flights to Canada just 8 days after their borders opened. We touched the soil on Iceland for the third time.

For New Years Eve heading into 2022, we had planned a trip to Portugal. All I could taste was the feeling of cheering in the new year from a new place on the map. It was supposed to set the tone for a true return to our lives, to travel, to all the things we love. But like the history lesson of 2020, the world had other plans. We yo-yo’ed back and forth for weeks, deciding if we should take our trip as the unexpected tsunami of covid cases grew. What if our vaccine cards weren’t accepted? What if we tested positive and had to quarantine abroad? What if people judged us for going? 24 hours before our departure, we made the agonizing choice to cancel. I cried for hours. I felt robbed of something we both so badly needed, on the precipice of normalcy. I was angry that despite doing everything right (getting boosters, wearing masks), we felt right back to where we started. Except this time, there was no clear light at the end, no “thing” to push towards that would remedy it. All the beautiful moments of my year were suddenly clouded. The light and carefree Christmas we’d just spent with family already felt so far away. I was tunneling. Within 3 hours, we’d planned an alternative trip – a road trip through Arizona to hike and hibernate. The idea of being “stuck” domestically was much less scary, a lesser of risks in our minds. So we packed in a tense flurry, flinging things into bags with scattered minds and tired bodies. My brain felt like scrambled eggs. I panicked for a solid 15 minutes because I’d forgotten to buy cat litter.

But hours later we were in the sky, gliding above all the uncertainties and emotions of this weird and limbo-like year. I felt comfort for just a moment, when the wheels of the airplane lifted off the ground and my seat hovered in that familiar, weightless way.

We welcomed 2022 from Tucson, Arizona, nursing spicy margaritas by an outdoor fireplace at our lodge’s restaurant, while live music echoed, and a fresh breeze hugged my face. Feeling the weight of the seats underneath us. A lot of people think that traveling right now is crazy and irresponsible. The need to “go” is not always easy to explain. It’s visceral and grating. For me, I’ve learned these past two years that a healthy body is not guaranteed. You won’t always be able to do something later. And at some point, it becomes necessary to heal that disconnected feeling in your heart. I won’t pretend this time to need nothing from the new year. I need this year to be different. We all do. And I’ll welcome it with open arms, from a new horizon.

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