So how can I adequately summarize this incredible experience? We started this adventure with high expectations. It was going to change us permanently. Did the experience meet all of our expectations? Are we as “changed” as we thought we would be? On the face of it, I don’t think we met all of our expectations (that probably was never possible), and I don’t think it will be possible for us to know the full impact of this year on our lives for many years to come (and maybe never). Certainly, this last year has taught us many things and will shape our perspective on life and our place in it for all future years. We feel like we have accomplished something big. It may sound like just one continual vacation (and what could be so hard about that), but it’s been very different than a vacation. We’ve felt very blessed that generally things have “worked out” for us in almost all areas. Of corse, we would make some changes if we could re-do the experience, but we can’t think of anything significant we would change.
Below is an attempt at listing some of the things I have learned or observed during the last year. I was tempted to try and stick to the good and beautiful things, but alas, mortality is also ugly at times.
1. For me, compared to all the beautiful things humankind has been able to create, such as great works of art of all kinds, magnificent buildings, ancient temples, mausoleums, moving musical scores, etc…nothing is as purely beautiful as what God has created. Some of my favorite “natural” moments during the last year are:
– Sunset over the vast landscapes of Tarangire and Serengeti National parks in Tanzania;
– Watching a lioness stalk and chase (unsuccessfully) an ostrich;
– Watching the sunrise gradually color the tip of Fishtail mountain above Pokara, Nepal;
– Swimming beside, behind, in front of, over and within two feet of a whale shark in the Maldives;
– Diving among some of the most amazing coral and fish diversity on the Great Barrier Reef;
– An early morning walk in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland surrounded by the steep ascent on both sides of the Swiss Alps;
– Any one of many walks on the South Island of New Zealand;
– Early morning sailing through the Lemaire channel in Antarctica surrounded on both sides by towering ice and snow-covered mountains;
– Humpback whales “bubble net feeding” less than 20 feet away from our zodiac boat in Antarctica;
– Observing a leopard seal lounging on an ice flow in Antarctica;
– Seeing and hearing several chunks of ice as big as an entire building calve off Perito Moreno Glacier outside of El Calafate, Argentina;
– The thunderous power of the water descending over Iquazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil;
– The rolling hills in Umbria and Tuscany Italy
2. So many people in the world are still scratching out a meager daily existence with little chance of escaping their circumstances. I can’t say how things have changed over the years because I don’t have the benefit of that kind of hindsight, but it seems to me that, similar to previous eras, the benefits of peace, stability and a decent quality of life are elusive to millions and probably billions.
3. With some courageous exceptions, the history of men (primarily) in a position of power is marked by an insatiable desire to remain in power and a willingness to go to almost any length to increase their power and influence and almost always at the cost of the general welfare of their subjects or citizens. I’ve gained a greater appreciation for a statement made once by Joseph Smith – “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as the suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteousness dominion.” Ancient history and current events are evidence that not much has really changed in that regard. In addition, while no race or gender has totally escaped the effects of bad men in positions of authority, women have consistently been the recipients of the worst treatment and greatest discrimination of all – to the great detriment of society at large.
4. There are many good and kind people in the world and there are many bad and selfish people in the world. Perhaps it’s not even worth saying something so bland or obvious as that, but since we’ve been “out there” for the last year, we’ve had significant and memorable encounters with both kinds and it would be incomplete to try and summarize the year without making some mention of these. My favorite people encounters are the visits we’ve had with many dear friends from before our travels whom we’ve been able to see in places from Buenos Aires to Chengdu, China, from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Netherlands and from Italy to Sydney. Some of these were planned visits and a few were absolutely shockingly wonderful surprises along our route. Our experience has also been rewarded and enriched by people who have hosted us in their apartments, small hotels or second homes and those who have acted as our tour guides. Almost without exception they have been kind and gracious and have looked out for our welfare. In a few instances, we’ve made friends with some wonderful people with whom we’ve been on organized tours. We’ve also experienced the opposite side of life – the guy who unsuccessfully tried to rip the iPad out of my hand while sitting in a taxi in Buenos Aires, the people who stole all of our computers, GoPros, binoculars, a year’s worth of pictures (along with all back-up sets) in Italy when we were only 10 days away from the completion of our trip and the guy we passed on the stairs to the Paris Metro holding a small women’s handbag with a broken strap in his hands as he made his initial search of what was unmistakably a recent grab from the train that had just departed. Our recent experiences have colored my view perhaps unfairly because for 99% of our trip we’ve felt safe and comfortable.
5. There is no real substitute for travel and on-sight learning to expand one’s perspective and really appreciate the world around us and the human condition.
6. I need structure, routine and a reasonable level of control over my environment to be at long-term peace. Given the choice again, I would choose to go on this same adventure at this same stage of our lives 100 out of 100 times. However, now that it is behind us, I do look forward to mowing the lawn, welcoming the kids home from a plain old, normal day of school, pulling my clothes out of a closet, instead of a suitcase and sleeping in the same bed for more than five nights in a row.
7. I love my family and I enjoy spending time with them. We’ve been in almost constant contact with each other for almost a solid year. It would be foolish to pretend otherwise – there have been times when we all wished we could have more “alone time”. In our church, we have a tradition of devoting one night per week (usually Mondays) to “Family Home Evening”, which ensures that the family gets together to talk, share and have fun together at least once per week. We have joked that maybe we should have instituted a “Family Apart Evening” once per week to maintain peace and sanity. But honestly, it’s been wonderful to be together so much. We have created a lifetime of memories in a single year. We have laughed so much and experienced such a variety of unique experiences together, that we are armed with enough “inside jokes” and “you’d have to be there” moments to annoy anyone willing to spend time with us!
I could probably find more items for the list, but that seems like a decent summary of my perspective. Now what? We’ve struggled mightily with the questions of “what next” and possibly more important “where next”. We lost count as to how many places we’ve been along our route that made the “we could live here” list. Valerie and I are from Utah originally and most of our family is currently there. We love the outdoor life that Utah offers and we own a home in the mountains in Sundance, Utah to which we have become very attached. So, we’ve decided to settle in Utah (Utah county specifically) for at least the next four years so Natalie and Tanner can complete 9th through 12th grades in one place. We think we will miss a certain element of diversity that we enjoy, but there are many very kind and good people in Utah that will make great friends for all of us. Plus, a lot of our friends that we have met throughout the world have some connection with Utah and we hope to see many of them over the years as they pass through. So, please let us know when you will be in the area! Luckily for you, we only have a few pictures remaining from our trip to inflict upon you. Cheers!