I was sitting at lunch with my pastor a couple weeks ago and he asked me a simple question: "So, how was your motorcycle trip?"
I gave him the only honest answer I could muster at the time. I think it kind of shocked him.
"Bad," I said.
He chuckled, probably thinking I was joking.
"No, really, it wasn't at all what I was expecting," I said a little nonchalantly.
About a month earlier, I embarked on a week-long motorcycle trip with my brother-in-law. It was going to fulfill my desire for adventure, allow me some alone time to clear my head, and just be an all-around amazing trip. We had reserved a lodge room inside Big Bend National Park and other spots along the way. For months I had been counting down the days until I would hop on my bike, kick it in gear, open up the throttle, and let the painted road lines sweep so close beneath me that I could touch them.
We did the same trip two years ago and had the most amazing experience. We met interesting people, kept a loose itinerary, carried around a sense of awe and wonder like two toddlers at Disneyland, and had deep conversations in the middle of nowhere. It was special.
We set out this year to replicate that. Same route, same place, same people. Same result, we thought.
It was a bust.
It was a bust.
Unbeknownst to either of us, we both knew it, too. A few days into the trip, we finally realized we shared the same feeling. That feeling? "This just feels so …different."
As we began talking about it at a random gas station, we realized that the sense of awe and wonder that enveloped us last time was gone. Two years ago, there was something new around every windy corner. That feeling of the unexpected kept us so aware and made us feel so alive. Every tree, every landmark, every hill was an adventure.
But this time, we knew the route. We knew what to expect. We were more focused on getting to the next stop than enjoying the ride between them. We thought it was going to be like visiting an old friend, the kind you can just pick up where you left off with and not miss a beat, no matter how long it's been. Instead, it was like meeting an acquaintance for the second time and realizing that they aren't quite how you remembered them.
That's not the only reason, though. We both left a lot at home to make the trip happen. My brother-in-law is a small business owner, so any time away is a big commitment. I'm still a relatively new dad, so spending time away from my daughter for an extended period is still hard — both for me and for my wife. In order for either of us to really feel like the trip was "worth it," we had an unspoken idea that the trip had to meet or exceed last time's experience in order for us to feel justified in taking it.
And it just wasn't cuttin' it.
That conversation was freeing. But it wasn't trip-altering. It didn't magically reinvigorate our sense of amazement. In fact, over the next two days things got worse. Our final lodging plans — which were supposed to be the highlight of the trip — were altered by some unexpected guests, killing the last chance of redemption we were holding out for the trip. When that happened, we woke up at 4:30 am the next morning, decided to stop fighting what we both knew we had to do, packed up our stuff, and started home. We had a 10-hour ride ahead of us, which is daunting on a motorcycle. We did it anyway.
Then my bike broke down.
Then it broke down again.
When we finally stopped for lunch around 3 p.m. we were so tired we decided to turn a one-day return trip into a two-day pilgrimage. My brother in law had some family in the area so we crashed at their place. And wouldn't you know, we had more fun in that 12 hours than we did in the previous six days.
After getting home, I really still struggled with the trip. I was mad at myself for not loving it more. Disappointed that I had left my family in order to try and find something I never found. Angry that I couldn't will myself into some sense of wonder. And I kept trying to make sense of it all.
As I thought more about it in the days following, I had an epiphany about what went wrong. Yeah, the fact that it wasn't "new" contributed. But that's not the main reason. No, what I finally realized is that somewhere in the past year, my role as a dad and a husband had truly become two of the most important things in my life. I'm finally at the point where a vacation without my immediate family — my wife or my daughter — just feels so incomplete. I made the mistake of thinking that vacation in itself could be this magical elixir that would cure all my anxieties and revive me.
I made the mistake of thinking that vacation in itself could be this magical elixir that would cure all my anxieties and revive me.
But the truth is, I've found that I'm most revived when I'm spending time with my girls. When I'm loving them well. When I'm saying "no" to myself and "yes" to them. When I'm going to bed absolutely tired because I've thrown the ball down the hall so many times with my daughter that I never want to see a ball again — only to crave it the moment we stop. When I'm focused on saving energy throughout the day so that I can actually use more then two words when my wife asks me how my day was.
Those moments — those people — are the ones I want to spend vacation with. And that's not to say there's never room for trips outside of them. There will be. And I thoroughly enjoy time with my brother-in-law. But I think I needed this trip to put all future ones in perspective. I needed this trip to realize my proper place, to realize their proper place. I needed this trip so I could learn that I can't go through life counting down the days to my next vacation and expecting it to fulfill me.
That's ultimately found in my creator and the special humans he's put in my life.
And now that I think about that, maybe it was a better vacation than I realized.