Monday, November 24, 2014

Fifty Hours on Planes (or more) and a Theory of Travel: Honeymoon Part 1

Flight supplies.
By the time we landed back in Boston, at the end of a roughly 40 hour November 3rd, Rissa and I had been in flight for 50 hours or more over the course of 2 ½ weeks. Some of that time was spent productively; Rissa actually knit the pair of gloves she would wear for the trip and I got some reading and writing done, but there's a point where the productive parts of the brain just shut down and, depending on where you are in your travels and how well you can sleep on a plane (which for Rissa and I, not particularly well at all.) you can end up with a lot of dead time.

How did I spend that dead time. Well: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The LOTR Trilogy (original cinematic releases, which are not as good as the extended releases), Pacific Rim, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, some Wolverine-based abomination, and maybe one or two more. It was easily the most movies I've watched over that stretch of time, probably in my whole life.

There's a lot to consider in this display.
The travel itself, was, of course, exhausting and if we had any “dark nights of the soul” on our adventure, they came on our trip from Boston to Cairns. Our flight out of Boston was delayed almost an hour, which meant that when we landed in San Francisco we had 15 minutes to make our connection. Thus began the legendary San Francisco Sprint! I'm not going to lie, I miss playing sports, and so a part of me kind of appreciated the chance to tear ass through the airport. And running on a people mover makes you feel like a superhero. We even had a “Go! Just leave me!” moment when I totally ditched Rissa (at her rational insistence) to try and get there in time to hold the plane. We did, though, thanks to the delay, we hadn't eaten since about ten in the morning. Luckily Air New Zealand serves good food and free wine. Seriously, after dinner service flight attendants walked up and down the aisles with bottles of wine.

And then the flight from Auckland to Cairns. Really, there was nothing wrong with it. Another perfectly lovely flight with another free meal. (Making for the rare no-lunch-3-breakfast 36 hours.) The failure was in our awareness of geography. The times on the tickets implied to us (who didn't think about it for a goddamn second) that it was a short three hour flight. If we had taken a tiny fraction of an instant to look at a freakin' map, we would have seen there was no way it could be a three-hour flight. It was a six-hour flight. Those last three hours were agonizing. We were so exhausted that we couldn't even make it through the New Zealand vs. Australia rugby game that was on a giant freaking screen in a bar in Australia later that night. (And it was such a good game! Or, at least the first half was.)

But I always reminded myself every time the travel started getting gross, of one fact; for the vast majority of human history, what we just did was impossible.

This is "flyover country" in New Zealand
Though I wasn't quite as productive as I'd hoped to be across those 50 plus hours, I did get some thinking done about travel itself, specifically, about why travel is so vital to some people, while others despise it. Whether it's new places or new people, newness puts you on your guard. That's just basic evolution. Being on guard has, essentially, two different emotional expressions; anxiety and alertness. How you feel about travel is likely to be determined by the balance of those two states in your mind. Honestly, I feel a lot of anxiety when I travel (I tend to get to airports very early), but the balance of my experience is alertness, a drive to observe, to see all that is around me, to “get a handle” on a place. There are plenty of times when I travel, when a nervousness builds in my stomach, but, to me, there is such a primal joy in seeing something I've never seen before that I pretty much always push through it.

Of course, the tragedy (probably too strong a word) is that those who, on balance, experience more anxiety will have the least motivation to push through their anxiety to experience the benefits of being alert, and because anxiety and alertness are self-reinforcing, all it takes is a slight balance one way or the other. The anxiety balance will elucidate all of the potential risks, thus increasing the anxiety, while the alertness balance will keep the mind open for all that is new and exciting happening around it.

Now that I'm reflecting on this idea, it really isn't limited to travel. Any new experience with virtually any level of potency, with inspire your brain to ask either “Will it kill me?” or “Can I kill it?” leveraging our evolved intelligences to either enumerate all the reasons to get out of dodge or observe with an inspired focus the environment around you. And from that, so much of how you experience the world and what you will experience follows.

On the flight home I found my relationship to the time line of this trip odd, almost paradoxical. On the one hand after months of planning, suddenly it's over. All the time from the first conversation to that moment on the plane felt like an extracted tooth; it's there and then it's gone. In contrast, it also felt like we landed in Cairns months ago. The same experience felt instant and extended.

Also, I bought shoes. Weird, huh.
Perhaps it is simply that so much of that time was filled with so much activity that my perception recalibrated it to more closely match my activity-per-day average. I did more in that block of time than maybe I have ever done in a similar block of time, and so, almost the way time and space interact, my sense of that time is partially expressed by the activities themselves. Also, over the course of that time, we developed and redeveloped our daily routines, a process usually not so quickly repeated. And, in that much of how we experience our lives comes from our daily routines, it is almost as though Riss and I went through four major passages in life.

There are, of course, other ideas that came to me as I traveled, because, well, that's how I see the world, but I'll get to those when I write about the specific cities we visited. If there is one final lesson, Riss and I might have gleaned from the travel is that we can take it and it's worth it. There were times when it sucked, when it was uncomfortable, when it was close to miserable (though, watching that Wolverine movie was my own fault) but, every bit of it was worth it. Hong Kong, Singapore, or Tokyo, or Spain here we come.

Weird Travel Experience 1: I have a pretty good sense of direction that I always assumed was simply based on remembering the turns I'd taken or, if I've looked at a map, being able to keep track of that map while I walk, but now I suspect it might actually be..magnetism. Because I seriously completely lost all sense of direction in the Southern Hemisphere.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, hey, didn't realize that y'all were honeymooning so far away. Very heroic traveling, and I hope you'll share more thoughts (and photos) of your actual destination(s) soon!