But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
–Samwise Gamgee, The Two Towers (movie version)
Well, the last few months have been… not very conducive to travel, especially not with a toddler. Like billions of people all over the world, 2020 is not going the way we’d planned. Originally we were going to take a big family trip to Hawaii (this week!) with my father to celebrate our 5 year anniversary, check a box he’s been looking to check for decades, and get me to my 50th state.
Thanks to our new virus overlord though, that’s not clearly not happening this year. With two people in our house who suffer from asthma and my 70 year old father, we’re not taking any chances.
So what do you do when you have a decades-long case of wanderlust and a two year old who can’t stand being trapped at home, but you have nowhere interesting to go?
The only option becomes to find interesting things around you. Whether adjusting to being home after a long adventure, or embracing the reality of having new responsibilities and the effect that has on your ability to travel, the virus is just another adjustment. A miserable, deadly, terrible adjustment, but you cannot allow it to demoralize you to the point of despair. Like movie-version Samwise points out, this situation WILL end someday… we just need to get to that point in one piece.
So we have been finding ways to keep occupied. Ironically, having our indoor options eliminated, means we have actually been spending even more time in search of local outdoor adventures. To be sure – New Jersey isn’t exactly the most adventure-friendly state – but even here, surrounded by Turnpikes and strip malls, there are some hidden gems. Especially now that we are able to visit state and county parks again.
Another interesting side effect of the pandemic has been a broadening of our tolerance for doing things we normally wouldn’t bother with. Drive 45 minutes for the one tiny park that’s open just to walk around with a stroller? Sure. Take a hike through some woods and stay there even as it starts raining? Literally what else is there to do? Take a moment to appreciate the beauty that is all around you, even in your own backyard? Absolutely. Go for a 90 minute drive with a toddler when it’s too cold to be outside just for a change of scenery? Why not.
If anything, a lot of what we’ve been doing the past two months has been the truest expression of this blog’s thesis on travel since the very first trip I blogged about. The idea of challenging yourself to get out of your comfort zone, and making the very best use of the time that has been given to you is the cornerstone of our life philosophy. No doubt about it – the past few months have decidedly NOTE been all pony rides in May-sunshine.
And the truth is – we haven’t just been killing time! We’ve gone to some pretty impressive places – even right here in New Jersey. Jacob has been enjoying going on hikes and walks and seeing new things. For all the grief NJ (rightfully!) gets for being overcrowded and over-paved, there really truly are some really nice woodland walks all over the state.
There are also endless amounts of boardwalks and places to go with views of the sea. There’s something… calming… about spending time along the beach even if you don’t go in the water or spend time sunbathing or doing the stereotypical beach activities. Just being somewhere with an unobstructed view of the horizon is enough to conjure up fantasies of being able to leave it all behind and sail off into the unknown. To remind you that the things we see right in front of us are just a tiny sliver of what’s really out there. And when you’re otherwise trapped, sometimes the fantasy is enough of an escape in that moment.
This pandemic nightmare is also another example of where having challenged yourself with adventure travel can give you some past experience to draw on. None of us could have been even remotely prepared for such a massive societal change. But like our experience at the hospital when Jacob was born, being able to fall back to memories of being somewhere strange and out of your comfort zone, makes it a little easier to deal with having your daily routine blown up in its entirety. Being trapped at home constantly is miserable, but at least it’s not as physically taxing as say… trudging up a mountain that you’re utterly unprepared for.
And if you’ve done any extended travel – especially if it was on your own – it’s easier to adjust to not being among loved ones. Maybe “easier” isn’t the right word – but at least having that frame of reference makes adjusting to a “new normal” much more doable. Granted, the circumstances are very different, but being on trips where you are constantly moving around from place to place means every day is a new normal. Again – it doesn’t make it EASIER to adjust to such miserable circumstances, but for me at least, having had the experience of removing myself from what I’m used to has made it easier to accept change.
Finally, having references of visiting far off places means that even if you can’t be there physically, you can go back in your mind anytime you want. This can manifest just by reflecting on places you’ve been while you’re in your house for 70th day in a row. But it also comes up when you visit somewhere local that reminds you of somewhere you’ve already been. The seashore is an excellent place for this. Riding out this pandemic in New Jersey feels about as far away from Bermuda or Tahiti as you can imagine. And no one – literally no one – would ever confuse the Jersey Shore for Grace Bay Beach in Turks and Caicos.
Still though… catch the right angle, at the right time of day… and for just a few seconds I’m right back there. Those few seconds are enough to remind me that there was a world before this one, and there will be one when this ends.
Because after all, even darkness must pass. And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.