How do You Measure a Year in the Life of 2020?

Growing up, our grandparents all seemed to know where they were when Kennedy was assassinated. I suppose that our generation has two – where you were on 9/11, and I think we will all be able to tell our future generations, should humanity miraculously last that long, where we were when COVID hit.

Where were you at the beginning/middle-ish of March? What did you think the rest of your year had in store and how hilariously quickly were those dreams macerated?

Please excuse any references to things that are not funny being funny, I’m laughing so that I don’t cry.

I was sitting on the floor of the Santiago airport two days away from the beginning of my second Patagonia backpacking trip. Within two days I would be welcoming 16 women to hike with me through the crown jewel of Patagonia – or at least that was the plan.

I had flown for a combined 36 hours from Cairo (don’t feel too bad for me, I had saved up my miles and did it in Emirates business class so it was amazing and awful simultaneously) watching as the world shut down country after country while in the air.

Happier times in Egypt

By the time I landed in Santiago, the literal opposite end of the world, my temperature was being taken and a flood of emails came through, most notably from my trip co-lead, Pete, telling me that we had to make a tough decision, that it was too uncertain to run a tour.

I didn’t know whether to agree with him or not. Should I get on that flight to Patagonia? I was exhausted and needed a shower badly. The only power outlet was in a grungy corner on the floor, so that’s where I sat to sort my life out.

Pete was right. The only thing we could realistically do was let the girls know that we would be pushing it a year, book another flight, and go home.

With the benefit of hindsight I know now that we made the right decision. Within two days Chile had shut down and I read reports of travelers paying five figures just to get on flights home.

In a way we could breathe a sigh of relief, but realistically the pressure is still very much on. How many times will we have to push this trip until things reopen? Will the hotels we booked with even survive? Is there any point to even asking these questions?

Every time I try to anticipate what might come next, I’m blindsided by a reality I could not have comprehended a year prior. I’m sure every single person alive right now can relate.

2020 is making me realize that despite how much I’ve worked on living in the moment, I’m still a very much future-oriented person. I used to think I was working toward something solid. I used to count on things working out.

But now it’s almost comically impossible to anticipate anything, isn’t it?

And when I reference comedy, it’s more of a Divine Comedy type of thing;

Abandon all hope, ye who enter 2020.

In the years leading up to this, we at least had the illusion that we knew what might happen. We could generally plan for big life events and draw up five year plans as if we had a clue.

But if 2020 has made anything clear to me, it’s that we adorably call this a time of uncertainty, when in reality everything was always uncertain. We never could truly know what was coming. I cannot look back on any year of my life and tell you that I accurately predicted what would happen. There are constant curveballs, some that seem good and some that seem bad at the moment, but it all somehow works out in the end.

Sometimes when I look back, to even the really shitty stuff, it will all line up in a crooked little line going back in time and only then does it all make sense. And I know I wouldn’t change anything, because it all brought me to who I am now, and I like her.

Only when I see it this way can I see that everything happens for a reason, and begin to trust that the same is always happening, right now, in ways that will be clear later.

mount rainier national park
Hoping for the light at the end of the tunnel

And some days that works. Other days I wake up hoping it’s all been a bad dream, except it’s not. I feel vulnerable, raw, and unsure. My only option has been to surrender and to let things happen serendipitously. It’s forced me to innovate and be more creative. It’s forced me to not get too comfortable. It’s a jolt.

The range of Emotions have been extreme and I think we’re all being confronted with the reality that we can never really know what is to come. Yet at the same time, I think a lot of us are learning that we can roll with it, whatever it may be.

And I know that all of this is easy for me to say because I am lucky. I am privileged. I don’t forget that when I survey my current situation.

But it’s still been fraught with heartbreak. My blog and brand were growing exponentially at this time last year. I remember an investor reaching out to ask if I’d ever thought about selling and replying that, though flattered, it would be crazy for me to get out when things were so good. And then in March, because life finds such things hilarious, everything came crashing down and hit zero.

I know I’m not alone in that experience. Although I did pity myself.

Maybe working in travel, particularly international travel, was a risky choice from the beginning. What’s the first thing to go when the economy is bad? International vacations, that’s what. And if there’s a pandemic? For-fucking-get it.

And as I soothed my myself by buying way too many house plants, I wondered if maybe switching to plant influencing would be better. Do people still troll when it’s just plants? Could it ever result in a moral dilemma? Wouldn’t it be such an easy job?

Maybe it’s escapism, maybe nothing is truly shielded from the treachery of time and unknowns. Maybe it’s just me looking at the path I didn’t take, imagining it’s greener.

It’s tricky to work in travel now, though. For the first time, whether or not to run a tour or to continue actually doing my job is a major moral dilemma. On one hand I had agreements with people in French Polynesia that I knew represented their entire yearly income, and who really can make the right moral judgment call went up against a pandemic? In the end I’ve made peace with the fact that there will always be someone out there who is upset with me and thinks I should’ve done things differently, and that they will most certainly let me know.

But if the summer crowds on the trails and the beautiful uptick in my blog traffic is any indication, people aren’t done exploring, dreaming, and hoping for the future.

Swimming with the family I stay with in French Polynesia, whom I genuinely love.

Maybe they’ve been afraid to say so because of the judgment, but I can tell from my rebounding blog traffic that people are definitely traveling. It would take more than a pandemic to kill the desire for connection, to kill the thirst for novelty, and the drive to explore. Whether that’s right or wrong is subjective, but it is undeniably human nature.

As I come to the end of this post I I’m struggling to come up with a conclusion. I suppose that’s because there isn’t one here. A conclusion suggests that something has come to an end or that I somehow have a parting word for you of hope and solidarity. But you’ve heard that enough at this point, haven’t you? “Alone together, socially distant but close”.

In truth is I just want things to feel normal again, too. I suppose normalcy as a concept is laughable, though. It’s just an illusion that we humans love to cling to. Maybe it’s naïve but I trust that it will work out because it always has. I trust life though I know that this trust fall will be long, scary, and blind.

So all that said I don’t have a conclusion at all, just a commitment to keep trusting, to let the present moment hit me over the head a few more times, and to let there be a silver lining to it all.

What about you?

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