There is a deep stream of true in knowing your priority and purpose.
Snow pants. Insulated, waterproof, snow-white pants. Planning the big trip, somehow I decided these were necessary. Or rather they were on sale at REI and, after I looked at them twice, they followed me around the internet. But I thought this through. What were the obstacles to fulfilling my three trip goals – northern lights, glaciers and horses? I know myself. Being cold…or wet… or cold and wet. The pants were an investment in the goals.
There is a deep stream of true in knowing your priority and purpose. This is an obvious truth in life but for me, it is an absolute when I travel alone. Going to relax or to ‘have a good time’ is too ephemeral. If I know what I am about, then choices fall into place. My old flaws of chickening out or falling into an easier plan B aren’t as bad.
Saturday night, my arrival at the hotel I had so looked forward to for weeks was a little rocky. The public areas were beautiful…but they were closed to me as they set up for a Christmas buffet. My room was eventually quite wonderful but at first glance had a retro Gatlinburg, 1967 knotty pine style. But smaller. The serene outdoor hot tub that on the web site showed a lone traveler gazing at the horizon were full of three generations on family reunion.
The hotel is a well-known spot for seeing the aurora borealis. This night, the other guests were testy and seeing the Northern Lights proved more about arguing over your ISO setting and the tripod than seeing wonders of the heavens. With your actual eyes.
So, the hotel staff telephone when activity starts. The first round at midnight was a cold and chilly disaster. When the phone rang again at 2:30am, I had doubts. (I could hear the photogs setting up outside my room’s window.) And my Sunday plan was to leave at 7 and make a long drive to get to the Jokulsarlon glacier pool to see the sunrise over the ice.
Here is where failure crept toward my purpose. It was very tempting to stay inside and warm. I had an early morning ahead. And thinking about morning, the much heralded buffet didn’t start until 9 a.m., long after my planned solitary departure. I deserved a sleep in, it was a little scary to drive in the dark, and why would I miss the much-reviewed breakfast buffet in the morning? The glaciers would still be there at noon.
Clearly, this is not end-of-the-world stuff but you can feel the adjustments and the scaling down beginning. If I didn’t answer that 2:30 a.m. call, I would have had more sleep and risked less chance of telling off grouchy Brits with more camera than they could handle. But how would I feel later? Would that slow and insidious feeling of everything being less begin to settle in?
So, I got up and put on the bright white puffy pants, 2 Buffs, double gloves and resolutely stomped out. I stomped out to put myself square in the possibility of seeing those lights. The pants were great. I was warm and I stood there for over an hour.
I only marginally saw aurora activity but standing there, we all saw the miracle of the clouds rolling back from the southern horizon until revealing finally the whole huge sky of stars brighter than any I’ve seen. In a week of forecasts of 100% cloud cover and rain, it was magic.
A few hours later, at six, I hauled out of bed and made that dark drive with the solid knowledge that I had come and done just what I planned and worked and wanted to do.
Yes, I did tell off the Brits. It was a Dixie Carter, fire batons over Georgia moment. And true, I could barely stay awake at the end of the day Sunday as I drove back, singing classic rock as loudly as possible with hand motions.
But what I had was the buoyant unconquered glow of success I came for.
What I Learned
The dream that you plan and outline at home may be naive but it matters.
Know your top three priorities – it’s clarifying when you start make choices, feeling tired and losing track. And it’s gratifying to know when you’ve done it!
Occasionally when traveling solo, you need to make a stand and let off some steam. (grouchy Brit reference.) Do it. You’ll never see these people again. And if you do, hopefully you didn’t give them your real name.