Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Expedition

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To come home from a hiking trip in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan is to experience civilization in all of its guts and glory.

Just three days at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore was enough to make me question my style of traveling. Up until this point, I had been taking planes and trains to major cities, dining in fine restaurants, and visiting art museums. I had been feasting my eyes on the creations of humankind, many of which are so ubiquitous that they don’t get pointed out very often.

Looking out at the sunset at Beaver Creek this past weekend, I could see the Earth rotating. My friends and I were lying alone on the silken white sands of the only beach in the world. 20130525_222347My retinas burned with ecstasy, soaking in the soothing opulence of the lake’s diamond ripples like a stagnant sea sponge. Orange, purple, red, pink, and indigo turned the tabula rasa into a tie-died masterpiece that slowly streaked into the steady horizon, reminding us that each day is a new chance to turn it all around.

The following day, we took the North Country trail heading West toward the legendary Chapel Hill landmark and campgrounds. I saw a corduroy cabin in the woods and marveled at the ability of humans to infiltrate even the purest of landscapes. I normally see hundreds of houses a day, but this one brought to light the utility of opposable thumbs. My seclusion struck me in the strangest of ways, punting my pulse into a frenzy at the sight of a lonely log cabin on the edge of the wilderness.

On our final day of hiking, we came upon the Coves. These rocky platelets jutting out into the marine blue depths transported me to the mermaids’ lagoon in Peter Pan. There I was, forever young and surrounded by sirens of the sea. Beethoven’s Million Dollar Quartet came to mind, as did Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The cloudless sky’s never-ending story pulled me in and set me free simultaneously.

Every bridge hovering above a creek was the bridge to Terabithia, and each ravine rolling into a meadow was an entrance to the Forbidden Forest. All of my fantastical fixations came to the forefront of my consciousness like the full moon when it outshines the stars, conquering the night sky. I half expected to see Aslan the Lion come galavanting into the forest with some Turkish delights stolen from the evil queen.

None of that happened, but there were a couple other magical aspects of my Michigan trip. For one thing, my physical suffering did nothing to detract from my spiritual growth. If anything, the two were, and are, directly related. The more I suffered from physical exhaustion and sleep deprivation, the stronger my will to survive became. And as time slowed down exponentially, my oneness with nature solidified like the shale and sandstone of Mosquito Creek.

Adventure, sport, and spirituality embrace the points on the coveted trinity : body, mind, and soul. Someone once said that experience feeds the brain and nourishes the spirit. It turns out that the cheapest way to travel can leave a person with the richest experiences this world has to offer : sublime sunsets, hearty fires, and waves of peace.

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Last night in Edinburgh: the small, majestic, and haunted Scottish capital. It may be cold and grey, but it’s got a lot of history that you won’t learn about in school. Clan wars and disagreeable weather aside, the Highlands are the stuff of myths. Traversing the rolling greens of Faerie Glen taught us self-acceptance. Hiking the snowy cliffs of Old Man of Storr taught us perseverance. And gazing at the eerie stillness of Loch Ness taught us tranquility. The story about the Loch Ness monster is a story about the monster inside each and every one of us, the one we fight to keep down or release with zealous fervor as a means of coping. The peaceful nature of Scotland was a soothing balm for everyone, regardless of how far along they were on their respective paths.

The world may be a small place, but there’s always something new to discover and learn. Mistakes, social cues and desire are all so human. People are more or less the same everywhere, and as long as you try to understand them and their culture–maybe even make an effort to speak their language or dialect–they will almost always share their heritage or their views with you. The younger the generation, the more prevailing is the need to feel connected and bridged despite myriad sociolinguistic differences. We’re all only as far apart as we make ourselves, and there is nothing good that can come from isolation or cold distance. We are all in this together, we just need people to show us the way.

Leaders are essential, but as the days go on they are harder and harder to come by–not many people want to step up and speak up anymore. Perhaps this is because of the information overload, or maybe because we do not know what is important anymore. I know I feel overwhelmed when I read the daily news. But the leadership-of-the-mass mentality is not totally dead.  Aristotle once said that virtuous leadership requires character as its basis. Whether via citizens or institutions, the select few individuals who are sensitive to contemporary social sentiments must be spotted early and made aware of their talents. This is the best way to bring capable leaders to the forefront

There are a few people I have met while traveling whose company I did not particularly enjoy, but I found it important to just go with the flow and leave when I felt uncomfortable. The path of least resistance is sometimes the best path out there. It’s essential to take something positive away from each and every interaction, as well as to recognize when you are not getting anything from a relationship so that you can just leave it. Some people have a lack of regard for your well-being, and some are casual encounters. But be wary of first impressions– people can and will hold back anything they think you may not like or approve. That being said, every acquaintance has the potential to deepen into a longer-lasting bond, if only you have the faith and time to invest into it.

Always listen to your body. If you’re hungry, eat. If not, don’t. Sounds simple enough, but social pressures and the weight of your wallet may cause you to act otherwise. If you’re tired, go home. If you hate where you are and who you’re with, politely excuse yourself. And if you want to be alone, isolate yourself for a short period of time, and use that time very wisely. Stay away from excess and falsity—your gut feeling rarely lies. Live it up by doing everything you can within reason and by walking as far as your feet will take you. Never sacrifice your values, but never stop questioning them either. Don’t tell strangers about your fortunes or misfortunes–they are probably preoccupied with their own. Make it all about the other person, and hold back on your own opinions until they ask you. Preachiness is a huge turn-off. Throwing caution to the winds is an incredible luxury–take advantage of it at any available moment before you find yourself settled down with a 9 to 5, swimming through the murky depths of unemployment, or ensconced anywhere in between those two extremes.

Tomorrow morning, pitch black while the birds are still sleeping, I will find my way back to Paris. The United Kingdom fortified my spirit and renewed my hope in the benefits of being abroad. We can learn, we can grow, we can change. But only if we try really, really hard.