Travel Journal: On the Bright Side

Greetings from Zion!

I am back after a few months of (F)unemployment and have many adventures to reflect on. I found people to let me sleep on their floors all over the country, had opportunities to play in the mountains, snow, oceans, and cities, and did my best to learn something every step of the way.

Starting the spring season at Zion Adventure Company, I am optimistic. Anticipating my return to Utah, I had some great discussions about what had guided my travels, and what ultimately was bringing me back to Zion. It is hope. I don’t know if it is inherent in the landscape, the people, or in myself, but there is something that pulls me towards the chance to discover a better version of myself. The opportunity to test myself against a new challenge is all the impetus I need. My quest to learn to surf this winter is a perfect example of this. I have a vision of myself riding waves with fluid easy movement, and with only a vague notion of what surfing was about, I stepped on a plane and allowed my hope to carry me into the unknown.

Being a guide and instructor, it would make sense that I would seek professional surf training. However, for me, learning things the hard way is part of the seasoning that makes life rich. So, I took no structured lessons and sought tutelage straight from the greatest surf instructor there is, the Pacific Ocean. In a country I have never been, relying on my three years of high school Spanish, and, of course, hope, I set forth to realize my vision of becoming a surfer. Arriving late at night in San Jose, Costa Rica, I spent a restless night trying to sleep in the airport, before catching a taxi to the bus terminal where I met my friend and departed for the coast. After 7 hours on a hot, dusty bus, We arrived at our destination. Without wasting time, we threw down our backpacks, procured some surfboards, and walked out to the beach. Thus began my surf career. I may live far from any large body of water, but I love the ocean, and that first day I laughed a lot (mostly at myself), swallowed a great deal of seawater, and actually managed to stand up on my board a couple of times.

When you love what you are doing, there is a unique pleasure to learning, even if the experience is largely driven by failure and suffering. I was happy to be woken by howler monkeys at dawn, to struggle against waves crashing on me, and the humility of being a complete beginner. I don’t really know why I kept paddling out, how this dream of being a surfer, kept me going, yet, every day I jumped out of bed, put on my board shorts, grabbed my surf board and walked out to greet the ocean and see if I could coax a wave to carry me across its face. I missed many waves, I fell many times, and then, after a month of surfing nearly every day, I finally rode a wave. It was that first good wave, of meeting the energy of the Pacific and channeling it into myself, that gave me all the reward I needed. My hope had been justified.

I don’t know why I choose surfing, why I wanted to travel to Costa Rica and Nicaragua. There are a number of reasons it happened, but at the heart of my motivation was something I struggle to explain. I want to experience movement that is graceful, flowing, and deliberate. I want to learn and explore. I want to be in a place that nurtures hope and optimism. As the ocean reminded me of how insignificant I was over and over again, I have to ask, what is the point of any of our pursuits? Not to oversimplify life, but I think it all comes down to a moment. The waves are going to roll across the oceans without regard for anything else. Yet, the morning I rode that wave, the moment when I finally paddled to just the right spot, pushed up onto my feet, and was carried just ahead of the crest on a three foot wave, justified all my effort. I won’t tie it back to climbing, because it would be too obvious and I do it in every blog. It is the same when I go out with a bunch of people I don’t know to sing karaoke, to read a thousand page novel about an architect who loves his craft, or to visit an art museum. The value is realized, the hope justified, when we can be a witness to one moment that resonates with us, that cuts through our daily grind, and makes us feel like there is something significant to live for.

This summer I will be out with the hope that there are many moments like this waiting to be experienced in Zion. Canyoneering, mountain biking, hiking, climbing, swimming, and even just sitting. Have some patience and it will reveal itself. Let Zion Adventure Company help, we can’t get enough of it.

Yours,
Calvin

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About Calvin

Calvin Laatsch guides canyoneering, rock climbing, and mountain biking trips at Zion Adventure Company; he also consults staff and clients alike on Norwegian customs, smooth dance moves, and the latest in dirtbag fashion. Bring your binoculars with you on the Zion Scenic Drive, and there’s a good chance you’ll see Calvin WAY up a wall, testing his mettle in form-fitting jeans.
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