find a little good, live

The view from the top

The year’s first travel opportunity came right at that time I needed something foreign. Right when my daily routine was feeling a little too routine, and the newness of the job had worn off. When the weight of monotony and winter were becoming more than I could seem to bear. The promise of something completely new–unexplored territory and the inevitability of learning–were my sole motivations over the last few weeks.

Travel, for me, has always been a means of finding perspective. It’s the first lesson of mission trips that I, like most, originally arrived on foreign ground unprepared for. Exposure to vastly different cultures and lifestyles has the power to redefine home, especially when that home’s the U.S.

This particular trip was nearby, though we did cross a border. The Canadian border opened the door to a lot of French and a lot more cold, but for the most part the culture wasn’t the difference. The difference was the freedom and the indulgence that come with vacation. The justification to splurge on my rigid diet, the means to take advantage of excursions, and the time to relax and engage in adventure.

Going somewhere new is by virtue an adventure, and its full potential is in unraveling all that’s unfamiliar. I’ve been to Canada, for dinner once. I’ve skied and given up on skiing a time or two. I’d never been to the adorable village that is Mont Tremblant, though. I’d never gone tubing or dogsledding or snowmobiling, either. And if you’re going to choose an above-ground, below-freezing destination you must do as the locals do, and bundle up.

So we swallowed our pride and endured the never-ending stares as the only pedestrians at the top of the mountain, because the view was worth seeing and photographing and freezing for. We drove a sled led by a pack of six huskies up and down hills through 10 km of completely uninhabited woodlands. We huffed uphill and cussed downhill and cheered our team on. Our toes froze and we screamed a bit shamefully, but we laughed hysterically and loved those dogs.

We rode snowmobiles outfitted in jumpsuits, face masks and astronaut-esque helmets. We froze as we sped over 100 mph on what was once a train track through the wilderness. We shouted, admittedly fist-pumped, and some of us tipped over, but we had so much fun on that ride. We played among children, connecting four tubes and flying down a hill hoping to run off-course. We threw snowballs, we threw each other, and we made snow angels while we were down.

We ate Italian, Thai and steak in little woodsy cabins in our picturesque little village. We bought into the maple leaf cookies with maple syrup filling as if we believed it was regional cuisine. We paid $20 for a 4×6 photo and another $20 to ride the lift, because tourists are suckers especially when they’re cold. We got the best massages of our lives and bathed with strangers in communal baths, because it was part of the experience.

As with anything, that experience was bound to resonate differently with each of us. For Joel, the entire trip was about snowboarding on every inch of that mountain, while much of my trip was about completely avoiding going down that mountain. There’s no question we all enjoyed the speed of the snowmobiles, the endless food and wine, the laughter among friends, and the escape from our busy, city lives. But for me, the liberating wind in my face on that frightful ride and the excitement of attempting winter recreation was entirely therapeutic. I thrive on that newness, on trying something for the first time, and nothing compares to being at the top of a mountain–physically standing closer to the heavens and absorbing the awe of all God’s made. The view from the top will always take me there and remind me to find perspective about anything less enchanting.

Then you go back. You drive an hour and a half to the airport, you spend two hours in customs, you await your hour delay, and you go home. No one likes that part, and it’s the only consistent thing with travel. We’re lucky though–not everyone gets to descend on the greatest skyline on earth. Not everyone’s city is so distinct you can recognize it from 30,000 feet. We come home to the Empire State building and that black abyss that represents Central Park and everything in between. And when that comes into view in your little airplane window, when the Statue of Liberty floats by in all its grandeur, you feel that familiar sense of pride about what we call home. That feeling that swells up every time you return to the island over a bridge, see a landmark you frequent in a movie, or hear a success story of a dancer on Broadway or a designer in fashion. You remember you live where that happens, and it’s already happened for you because you made it here.

With that kind of landing, the cold doesn’t feel quite as cold when you get back, and your job isn’t quite as monotonous as you’d thought. We take a break from the norm, from our day to day when we vacate, but we return with a new appreciation for it. Traveling the right way–transforming something foreign into something familiar and learned–awakes us from complacency in a refreshing way. And that has made all the difference this week.

  • a little good here: Mont Tremblant regularly hosts cycling events to support local causes like medical research and equipment.
  • a long way: Add the Défi Gatineau-Tremblant in June or Cyclo 200 in July to your itinerary. The proceeds go to promoting health amongst youth, hereditary disease research, and the Sainte-Agathe Hospital Medical Foundation.
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