Sunday, August 02, 2009

flying back

It is shortly past midnight. The craze of a long evening at the airport, of madness at check-in and chaos at security, has finally calmed down. The flight attendants have passed through the aisles with generous offerings of food and drink. I'm enjoying a gin and tonic as I did on my way out. This time, sadly, I got no Bombay Sapphire, but with double shots how can I complain?

The drinks, and Moby on my iPod, are putting me in the right mood to spend the next six hours unconscious, trying to make the flight as painless as possible. But before I drift off into the psychedelically colored cushions of the airplane's seats, I want to record the memories of the past three weeks that are bouncing around in my head.

The conference was scientifically sound and some of the talks positively inspiring. Unfortunately, the days were so crammed with talks that there wasn't nearly enough time for socializing, chatting and networking, which is undoubtedly the main point of going to a conference. Otherwise, one might just watch live casts or recordings on the internet and save a lot of money and travel time.

The road trip through Ontario and Québec was good, though not spectacular in any way. Montréal and Québec City are both charming, but the true beauty and appeal of Canada lie in its outdoors. Of those, we didn't see much. The day we had set aside for hiking was drowned by unseasonable rains.

It had also started off in a horrid motel, and the stark contrast between the tattered room and the breathtaking landscape beyond its soiled windows made me question my way of traveling which, over the last few years, has become more grown-up and mainstream and less concerned about saving every last little penny. After crossing over into the U.S. (and after visiting the spectacular, awesome, in one word, unmissable Niagara Falls), I found out what I've been missing.

I spent four days in the Adirondacks, a moutainous region in New York state covered with dense forests and dotted with countless beautiful lakes. First, I stayed with a couple I had befriended in Salt Lake. I hadn't seen them in more than four years, but sitting on the floating dock in front of their camp at Big Moose Lake with a cool Saranac Lake Ale in hand, there was an immediate and intimate connection, as if we did this every weekend.

The next morning, I was gently but firmly awoken at six to go canoe before the ripples of motorized traffic scarred the dark green mirror of the lake. We glided across the water in near silence, the soft splashes of two paddles the only audible sign of our presence. That was enough for a blue heron to get spooked from his place of nocturnal rest, but the loons didn't seem to mind too much.

From Big Moose Lake it was only a short two-hour drive to Lake Placid where I was to meet my graduate-school roommate of two years and his sister, both of whom I hadn't seen in years. Sean had booked a canvas cabin at the Adirondack Loj and promised to bring the mountain bike formerly owned by his wife.

It was the same bike I had ridden the day of their wedding, when I dismayed Sean with my verdict of wet east-coast roots that he thought would proof deadly to me, metaphorically speaking. Not much different from sand-covered slick-rock, I said, and gloated about all the fun I had while he prepared to get married. This bike is the best I've ever ridden and it helped me easily clear all the muddy trails, watery holes, two-foot drops, roots and leaves that we encountered this time around.

Conditions for riding were far from perfect. It has rained all July and the terrain was soaked. Fifteen minutes into our Friday ride, we were dripping wet and our legs black from the mud. We had a blast. I decided there and then that the next city I move to will need to have good mountain biking close by. It's just too much fun to live without.

But the fun of blasting through the woods on a Canadian fully did not compare to the fun we had before and after the rides, hanging out in Lake Placid, by Mirror Lake or on our campsite. We chatted for hours, reveling in memories of our glorious past, reviving heroic stories of snow riding in the Wasatch or mountain biking in the desert, and enjoying the company of dear friends.

When I don't see friends for years, there comes a point when I wonder how things are between us. In emails, it always feels like always, as if no time had passed at all, but I'm never so sure. I'm suspicious that the positive replies I always get to my suggestions for get-togethers owe more to my stubborn persistence than to lasting friendships. In the case of the couple from Salt Lake and of Sean and Stacy, I found out that nothing had coming between us, and that good friendships don't die easily.

There is no doubt that the sojourn in the U.S. was the high point of my summer vacation. I could lean back and fall asleep in sweet memories, but there's one thing that's keeping me awake on my flight back. How I can keep staying in close contact with the friends I've acquired over the years in different places and who, themselves, have scattered all over the place? I'll have to travel more and you guys, please, come visit me.

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