When traveling, especially on a long journey, finding an inviting, comfortable, and safe place to get some rest is critical. During the pandemic, when we weren’t traveling as much, it was still important to search for places of refuge from the mundanity and quiet but omnipresent low level anxiety of virus-driven daily life. Regardless of the circumstance, finding an oasis of peace and rest amongst the chaos can go a long way towards restoring both mental and physical stamina.
In Tolkien’s stories, Rivendell or “the Last/First homely house” (Last vs First was dependent on if you were traveling into or out of more civilized areas) is the perfect representation of this. Although there are other “safe havens” in Tolkien’s writings, Rivendell is where nervous travelers about the embark on a journey into the wilderness pause to refresh and learn about where they’re going. And it is where returning travelers rest and recuperate from their adventure to build up the strength needed for the final leg of the journey home.
A big theme in Tolkien’s writing is recovery, whether from the evils the characters frequently encounter, or just from the exhausting toll that wandering around Middle Earth takes on travelers.
Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with ring-wraiths, orcs, and balrogs in real life (although sometimes as I’m trudging through the airport, I wonder). But long travel days can seem as physically and emotionally draining as a trek across the Dead Marshes. So it is very restorative, especially if your travel spans several days, or if you’re on a long road trip, to find a place to recover, even if only for a few hours.
For me, any airport lounge will work. I’ve been an AMEX platinum member since I regularly traveled by plane for work, and let me tell you how handy it has been over the years to have access to Priority Pass lounges, Delta lounges, and more recently the ever-widening network of Centurion lounges. Nothing is as rejuvenating during a break between flights as a hot shower in the airport, or a good, hot meal, away from the barely-managed chaos of the terminal. Even better if you can get drink at a bar and maybe have a conversation with a fellow traveler or lounge employee about the state of things.
Outside of the airport, finding your own Rivendell can apply to anywhere you can take some rest and recovery in the midst of a journey. A point of civilization in an otherwise less-than-civilized travel experience of sleeping in motels, tents, hostels, or occasionally an airport floor or bus.
For me, I’ve had a few places like this. Most often, I’ve broken up travel from New Jersey over the Pacific by spending a day or two in California. When I was on a very aggressive solo road trip where I saw 34 states in 6 weeks, I took a break for a few days in Los Angeles. When Ariel and I traveled to Tahiti, New Zealand, and Hawaii, we spent a night or two at hotels near LAX on our way there and back, to recover and prepare for the next leg of the journey. I also found that it’s helpful when going from the East Coast to points westward to spend some time in California to break up the time zone adjustment into portions.
While Los Angeles as a city, and LAX the airport is pretty far from Tolkien’s concept of a hidden valley where the keepers of ancient wisdom try to protect Middle Earth’s natural beauty and history from forces that would ravage it, there is something a little magical about California in general. There certainly are mountains – in fact, the tallest mountain in the Lower 48 states is not in Colorado. It’s actually right next the LOWEST point in the United States, towering above Death Valley. California has the widest range of natural biomes of any individual state in the United States too, so you can really get lost there in the natural beauty, to the point that I often wish we could stay longer even though I’m also excited to reach my final destination. And while the crush of Los Angeles can feel anything BUT relaxing, head out to the Pacific Coast highway, turn north and right past Malibu you’ll often find an open road with mountains one side, and beautiful beaches on the other side, and minimal traffic. Bonus points if you can find a secluded area right off the road to watch the sun go down into the water on your own. Head further north for a couple of hours and you’ll find random little pockets of civilization among the seeming wilderness that surrounds you on both sides of the highway.
Another place I’ve found, that’s probably a closer analogue to the Rivendell depicted in Tolkien’s writings, is the area around the Shenandoah Valley in the Appalachian Mountains. It’s only 90 minutes from the national park to Washington, DC, and I’ve often stopped there on long road trips for business. Being that it’s so close to so many major metropolitan centers, and really the only way to get some of that mountain feel within a day’s drive of the New York City megalopolis, this is an outstanding place to get some recovery from the rigors and pressures of daily life. There’s even a lodge inside Shenandoah National park that really has a bit of a Rivendell feeling… there are exhibits where you can learn about nature and history and the park rangers are pretty good stand-ins for Elrond’s elves.
If your goal is to escape from the material, or “the machine” – this is a great place to also get lost in mountains, valleys, and get back in touch with nature. And if you’re in the same part of the world as me, you can certainly do this in a weekend, without even needing to take any time off from work. Just the feeling of getting through the traffic and out onto the open road as you start to approach Front Royal, VA is enough to clear my head and put me back into a state of mind where I feel restored. But take a drive into the park (even just a few miles in) to the first overlook you can find, and look off across the Blue Mountains, across valleys, and suddenly all the pressures of daily life start to seem silly and trivial.
I’m sure there are other places like this all over the world that would work as way-stations for travelers on their way to somewhere else, or as little-known pockets of natural splendor to take a break from materialism and get back to a simpler, more down-to-Earth state of mind.
One place I can think of that I’ve been many many times but haven’t really utilized in this way often is Tel Aviv, Israel. This would be a great option for an East Coast traveler who is heading towards final destinations in far flung places like India, Nepal, the Maldives, Seychelles, or even the Far East if you’re traveling eastwards to get there instead of westwards. Spend a few days relaxing on the beach, or even taking a day trip to see some ancient ruins to get in touch with the past, on your way to where you’re going… while at same time dealing with jet lag more gradually.
So get out there and see the world. And find your own Rivendell on your way there. You may be surprised at where you might discover YOUR ideal place for rest and recovery on your way elsewhere. Because that’s the thing about Rivendell – the only way it survives in Middle Earth is by staying hidden. The same thing may be true about your ideal waypoint…
You’ll just have to discover it for yourself.