“It is not so much a matter of traveling as of getting away; which of us has not some pain to dull, or some yoke to cast off?”
– George Sand, Winter in Majorca
That’s the epigraph in the book I just started, The Vacationers by Emma Straub, the book I coincidentally started reading on the plane ride to my mini-vacation. It struck me not for its literal truth, but there is truth in there. (I prefer Pico Iyer’s “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”) The timing of Iceland wasn’t coincidental — a year after my brother died — and this trip, plus Galapagos in the fall, come as I ramp up Operation What’s Next?
What fills my well is travel, and experiences outside my normal world, so on a whim I applied for social media accreditation for the launch of NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California (what happened to OCO-1? Oops.)
This is what the mission is all about:
I didn’t think about logistics, and didn’t think I had much chance of being accepted, so when I got the word I was one of 50 out of 500 applicants selected I scrambled to make arrangements to get to not-really-close-to-anything Lompoc, California for the Canada Day launch (would I have applied if I’d read carefully enough to realize it was launching at 3am on July 1? Maybe.) A road trip idea fell through and LA is the nearest major airport, at least the nearest with direct flights from Vancouver, and I have friends there and a list of must-sees I haven’t seen in my past trips there. (Most of which I’m likely not to see this time either.)
So after driving from LA to Lompoc today, tomorrow we get treated like media, if most media bothered to cover launches, with access to the mission scientists and engineers and a tour of the base. Then we sleep, briefly, and will watch the launch from a privileged vantage point, and will I come down from the high to sleep again before heading back to LA? Maybe not, but either way I’ll head back there for a day before heading home, dreaming of the memory of rockets’ red glare and the anticipation of giant tortoises and blue-footed boobies, instead of nightmares about needles and death.
I’ve been defensive recently when hit with “must be nice” comments about my travels — Iceland was in the works for 3 years, Russia wasn’t a holiday, and Galapagos has been top of my bucket list for a long time and I finally have the opportunity to go with someone who feels the same. My flippant but true answer to explain the money, time and energy I expend on travel is “I don’t have kids,” and the more complete answer is that travel and interesting experiences are what feed my soul, so I spend my money, time and energy on what feeds my soul. I’m looking forward to the next couple days of feasting.