It’s taken about four days, but I think I’ve finally recovered from the final item on my list of 2018 goals: Write. Play. Travel. My destination was Calgary, and the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) 2018 General Assembly.
I tend to overthink when going on a trip. I lie in bed doing mental rehearsals: What to pack? Cab or bus to the airport? What chores need to be done before departure (mow grass, stock pantry, transfer money between accounts)?
And then I get off a plane in an unfamiliar place with carry-on luggage (a small knapsack and a messenger bag or a purse), and start knocking off the trip objectives one by one.
Last year I travelled down to southern Illinois to watch the total solar eclipse, but doubled it up with a trip to Chicago to see a couple of museums and some architecture. Even though I was never far from public transportation, I did a lot of walking in very hot weather and it shook me up a bit physically.
This year involved even more walking, because the conference was at the University of Calgary. At least twice a day I also had to climb a long ramp or staircase to cross the highway between the light rail transit station and the campus, and when I finally made it back to my downtown hostel bed it was a relief to stretch out my legs and put some anti-inflammatory rub on my knees and ankles. I did it, though.
And then I walked around here:
This is the view from the top of a very steep embankment at Dry Island Buffalo Jump Provincial Park a couple of hours northeast of Calgary. This was part of a day trip organized as part of the RASC conference, and at this site our objective was to see the K‑Pg boundary (also known as the K-T boundary), a geological feature that marks the end of the dinosaur era approximately 66 million years ago. Our group had to walk down a stretch of hillside along a narrow, stony path, with a decline that went from mildly awkward to “You want me to do what?”
I was terrified. After all that hiking back and forth across the University campus for four days straight, my legs were sore and the view of the Alberta Badlands made me woozy, and it was a long way to the bottom if I slipped.
I did it anyway. One of the gentlemen in the group was kind enough to offer a steadying hand down the steepest part of the path, and we got down to a ledge where we could take a closer look at the geology. I collected a couple of small stones, one granite and one quartz, as a reminder of what I had dared to do that morning.
Looked a bit silly coming back up the hill — crawling up on all fours just made more sense than trying to walk up — but in due course I was back on the bus and off we went to Drumheller to tour a couple of museums.
The whole travel experience puts me into an odd mental space, away from the familiar and even away from the familiar parts of myself. If I had to sum it up in a phrase, that phrase would be “growth through strangeness.” Sleeping in an unfamiliar bed, talking to new people, adjusting to a different set of street noises, all of these things unpot us, roots and all, and replant us in a world that’s just a tiny bit bigger than it was the day before.