The one less traveled – Part 2

by Steve Brock on January 17, 2014

Arches before sunsetLast August, I accompanied my son, Sumner, on a cross-country road trip to the Midwest. Destination: school – he was about to start college in the southern Midwest. This was a trip of logistics, a relocation of him and everything he will need for the next four years, to a place far from home.

But that didn’t stop us from making it a fun journey.

We planned our route in ways both spontaneous – we made no reservations – and yet intentional: we timed our travel to get to one stop, Moab, Utah, in the late afternoon.

The reason for this orchestration of time and place was so that we could experience Arches National Park (just outside of Moab) at sunset. We arrived in Moab a bit later than planned, dropped off the better part of Sumner’s worldly goods at our budget hotel, grabbed a quick dinner and raced the descending sun to Arches.

We’d been here on a family trip about five years earlier, so the layout of the park was familiar. Our plan was to hit a few of the major arches, then drive to the trailhead for the two to three hour roundtrip hike out to Delicate Arch which we’d missed on our previous visit. The latter is the poster child for the park, the one you see in all the promotional photos. It looks like how the St. Louis arch would appear if made out of Play-doh by a three-year old.

We never made it to Delicate Arch.

We stopped initially at “Park Avenue,” an area of skyscraper-like rock formations, then headed to Double Arch passing by Balanced Rock along the way. But as we left Double Arch, we found a stretch of rock bathed in the warm orange of that rapidly setting sun. We stopped, parked off the side of the road, and, being thoughtful visitors, avoided stepping on the desert vegetation on our way to scramble on  huge mounds of sandy reddish rock.

We were two kids delighting in this massive playground. At one point we looked at the time and realized that if we left right now, we could still make it to Delicate Arch by sunset. We figured that if we got there, we’d see something famous – the arch itself – but we’d also encounter numerous other visitors.

Where we were – picture two small insects meandering across the upper belly of a huge stone version of Jabba the Hutt– we saw no arches or any of the named sights of the park. But neither did we witness any other human beings. We stood, ran, climbed and exulted  in our private corner of this national park. And so we remained there.

We had chosen the way less traveled.

Arches after sunsetWe missed Delicate Arch at sunset. We also missed all the crowds. Instead, we gained so much more in small yet meaningful ways. The photos here show the view from “our” rock followed by some fun on the way out trying to capture images of the park in the dark.

We didn’t have THE experience of Arches. But we had OUR experience.

Arches after sunset - car lightsThat may seem like an obvious choice, but the siren call of the popular cries loudly when you’re faced with the fork in the road. Go with the well-known or march off the map. It’s easy conceptually to say, “Well of course. We should always go our own way, blaze our own trails, etc.” But in reality, I’ve done that and I have missed out on some things I wish I’d seen instead. So the choice between the way most traveled and that which is least traveled isn’t as easy as the Frost poem might lead you to believe. It does require wisdom when choosing.

But here’s what I was reminded of that evening in Arches: if you choose with the right mindset (in our case, opting to spend time together, father and son in our own beautiful spot rather than running feverishly to see what others have deemed beautiful), then there likely isn’t a wrong choice.

Arches after SunsetThe important point – the heart of meaningful travel, actually – is to recognize or focus on what you have rather than what you miss.

We may have missed Delicate Arch, but we came away with this powerful reminder from that trip:

There will always be other paths, some more traveled, some less. But if you are content with the one you choose, that will make all the difference.

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On the other side of a hard trip

by Steve Brock on February 8, 2013

The poet comes home from a long day working with kids who value the power of words as much as they do leafy greens or dental floss. She peruses the fridge and settles for some unmemorable leftovers. When did she make these? She lets that thought drop.

She extracts a glass from the drying rack by the sink, uncorks the bottle and pours herself a healthy serving of what she calls her “word juice.” She hurries through her meal, replenishes her red wine and cradles the glass in both hands as she saunters all of eight feet to her computer.

The words begin to flow.


The businessman has wrestled for a full week on how to close the deal. He can find no way for their firm to deliver the project on time with the additional requirements from the customer. The workout at the gym helps unknot the growing tension, but still he feels stuck, stymied. The customer needs an answer by 10:00 a.m. the next morning. He’s got nothing.

In the locker room, he undresses and steps into an available shower. The hot water streams over him. He just stands there. Eventually, he reaches for the shampoo, more from habit than conscious volition. His hand never makes it to the dispenser.

In a flash of inspiration, he’s solved his problem.


ShowerDoes alcohol make us more creative? And what is it about a hot shower that seems to foster these moments of insight and revelation? Do we just think better under these influences?

The reality is not that we think better. We think less.

The sedative nature of both the wine and the warm shower still the competing thoughts and voices that rage through our minds most of the time. We live in a world of distraction and so-called multitasking. Too many issues vie for our limited attention. As a result, no one thought gets the focus it needs until we quiet our minds.

Alcohol and hot water flowing over us will do the trick sometimes (but not too much or together, otherwise you end up passed out and looking like a prune on the floor of your shower). But so will travel.

Hard travel.

I love the line in the movie “180 Degrees South” which chronicles the journey of a young man who sails down to Chile in order to eventually climb a mountain in Patagonia. The narrator is told that the word “adventure” is misused by most today for, “It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

On hard trips, something – possibly everything – goes wrong. They aren’t much fun at the time, but they make for great stories later. Yet another benefit of a hard trip is that in the immediate aftermath of the difficulty, you’re left almost numb.

All the worries and concerns, even dreams and ambitions, get silenced because you don’t have the mental energy to contemplate anything more than what lies before you. Presence is delivered with garnish on a plate and served to you whether you ordered it or not.

I’ll give you an example next time from my own recent trip, but how about you? Ever had a trip or hard situation that left you so stunned or grateful to be alive or exhausted that immediately afterwards everything around you seemed more real?

I have some friends who have faced life-threatening illnesses and each of them says the same thing: After something like that, you see life differently. You value each moment more.  You become more focused.

Hard trips can do the same. They just require a bit more planning and endurance than a hot shower…

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When your trip goes awry – Part 3

by Steve Brock on January 16, 2013

To recap part 1 and part 2, I’m at an airport in the Midwest.

My first flight on Delta out of here was cancelled due to mechanical issues. My so-called rebooked flight on American didn’t happen since they said the reservation wasn’t confirmed. I’m having uncomfortable flashes of the Tom Hanks movie, “The Terminal…”

Back to the real-time account:

I jot down some questions in my journal: What is God trying to teach me? Is this a lesson in surrender and trust? But even amidst the concerns, I sense that He goes with me, knows how I feel and most importantly cares about this whole fiasco. I’m not alone in this.

I decide to walk back to the Delta gate, another attempt to do something even if I’m not sure what I’ll say once I get there. I’m telling myself to be grateful even if that’s not how I’m feeling.

And then I look up and see this sign:

Airport Sign
I stop and take a photo (not a very good one due to the glare). I know it’s not an accident I’m seeing this. I smile about the old adage regarding the guy who complained he had no shoes until he met the man who had no feet. I’m whining about a cold and a few extra hours in an airport. And here’s a photo of a little boy who has lost his leg to cancer.

Just as the impact of that starts to hit me, the phone rings. My travel person has booked me on a United flight. United? That’s not part of Delta’s network. She doesn’t care. She will make it work with Delta. Despite her normally sweet disposition, you don’t mess with my travel person, especially when she feels an injustice has been done.

I can only tell her for the I-don’t-know-how-manyeth time today, “Thank you.”

I head to the United gate and camp out there. Eventually, two gate agents arrive carrying on an animated conversation. I rush over. One barely glances my way but I take that as a signal to launch into my tale of woe. Neither care nor really seem to be listening, although the closest one taps on the computer even as she continues her conversation.

Somewhere between:

“Well, I don’t think he should have been allowed to change shifts like that!”


“There’ve been issues with him before. I remember when…”

the tapper reaches down, without seeming to take her eyes off her colleague, grabs a boarding pass from the printer below the counter and hands it to me. She does this all without missing a beat in her conversation. I will never be genetically capable of multi-tasking like that.

My thank you goes unheeded but no worries: I have a boarding pass! My sudden endearment for this stiff piece of paper makes me understand why people kiss the tarmac when they land after a grueling escapade abroad.

As I wait for my third flight out of this airport today, I still feel a bit like crying. Not out of frustration or disappointment this time, however, but out of gratitude. But that emotion is fading quickly.

In an almost sinister way, I feel the hard traveler’s edge returning. I’m starting to move beyond crisis back into routine. Even now, less than an hour after first being told I wasn’t on the American flight, I’m wondering why I was so worked up about it.

I’m glad I’m calmer. But I’m not so sure this tendency to shut down and return to a business-like approach to travel is such a good thing. I don’t like feeling raw, but neither do I like not feeling anything.

I would ponder this day more but I’m neither capable of making sense of it yet nor do I have the time. For even as I consider running and grabbing some lunch, I look over and my two talkative gate agents are now in full on boarding mode.

I have rarely wanted to board a plane as much as I do this one.

And now I am.


I find my seat and give thanks that this seems like I’m actually going to get out of here.

Or so I think.

To be continued…

If you haven’t yet done so, check out Part 1 and Part 2

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