Amid the Pandemic, a Year of Travel and Adventure
I rise in Golden, Colorado. I am up at 6 a.m. because at 7 it will be time for work. Kate, the Chief Operating Officer at Ceisler Media, gave employees the okay to work from anywhere, provided we’re on point during work hours. In Mountain Time that means my work hours are 7 a.m. to 3:30 pm (9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern Standard).
I sneak over to my laptop computer and prop it open. I am ready for the workday. The swaying aspens and the cool breeze outside the cabin get me flowing. The quietude is a reprieve from the bustling streets of Center City. I am locked in and ready to execute assignments from my Ceisler supervisors Brian, Anthony, and Caitlin.
It's the first work week of what would turn into a 108-day road trip up and down the American West. When the pandemic reached America, my workplace asked employees to work remotely. After a few weeks of working from my small studio apartment in Philadelphia, I started to plan an escape. I was to take to the road and work all the while. After getting the go-ahead, I engaged my best friend and fellow explorer, Mark, to see if he’d join. A freelance writer and a lover of adventure, Mark is on board.
At 10:30 a.m. Mountain Time, I take a break. Since it's 12:30 pm in Pennsylvania, many of my colleagues are getting ready for a lunch break. For my break, I take a 30-minute rock scramble up a steep incline. Mark is awake by now and we embark on a point-for-point, off-trail hike outside the cabin. We set our direction for 1 degree north. We scramble over rocks, plow through the brush, and pound our walking sticks into the dirt. I get dirty, scrape my shins and move so fast that I get stabbed and cut by a pointed tree branch. The pang feels good and the scar is a reminder of the Rocky Mountain brush.
After the hike, I am back on for the afternoon. The wireless is working, the Zoom signal undisturbed. By 3:30, my workday is done. There are more than four hours left of sunshine. I unplug from work, grab some jerky, and drive to a nearby trailhead. In Rocky Mountain Park that means a four-hour round-trip hike to the serene and picturesque Mills or Odessa Lake. We pass elk and deer, white-footed rabbit, and clutch our bear spray in case it's needed.
It isn’t just the shift to remote work that drives people out on adventures. It is the recognition brought on by the pandemic that life is to be enjoyed, that dreams are to be fulfilled, that novelty is to be sought. We don’t have forever to do these things. We must do them while we can.
When we reach the lake, we scramble our way around it. We leap over small streams or try to balance on logs, only to fall into the water and wind up drenched. I feel a boundless joy along the streaming falls, which flow down the mountain as we descend from a strenuous hike. It makes up for the quickening darkness as the sunsets. I sleep well after hikes like these.
The road trip would take us to the brilliant oranges, reds, and turquoises of the Yellowstone springs, down the cascading canyons of the Grand Tetons, into the quietude of the California redwoods, overlooking the sunburst structures of Bryce Canyon, and through the multicolored abysses of the Grand Canyon. All of these places quiet my mind like nothing ever has. And it feels so good to drink it in.
We aren’t the only ones. Scores of digital nomads longing for adventure find themselves on the roads we travel. I met a logistics manager from Houston. An ICU nurse catching off-time from battling COVID in San Antonio. A filmmaker from Los Angeles. A math teacher, teaching kids on Zoom from the Colorado mesas. Several of these I count as friends, fellow explorers on roads newly opened by an unforeseen year.
And we realize the sobering aspects of the experience.
We see pollutants obscuring the four-state view from atop the Mesa Verde. We see apocalyptic skies above the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. We see deadened trees overtaken by flames on the way to Bryce Canyon. We see foreboding smoke-filled skies presaging the fires that damage the beloved Rocky Mountain Park. We see tear gas fired on Portland protesters calling for an end to police brutality. We see tent cities of the homeless lining the metropolises of the American west. We see city streets deadened by COVID, ghost towns once bustling with life.
But we hear the sounds of American voices, in awe of new discovery, with stories to tell, politicians to trash, poems to write, and places to crash.
The prospect of a vaccine could restore normalcy and a return to the office. But for now, the road calls again as the winter approaches. Again, I think I’ll take it. And again, I’ll be entranced, by wonder, with gratitude, of what I never thought I’d see.
Check out my Instagram for more photos.
David Huppert is an Associate in Ceisler Media's Philadelphia Office