Thanks to COVID-19, I believe that my family will look back and fondly remember our recent vacation as both the “VUCA” and the “True Wealth” road trip. I’ll explain why in this post.
For years now, our family has accepted the idea that we live in a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world. I’ve written before about the term; it was coined by the Army War College to describe the conditions that would exist with the collapse of the Soviet Union and has subsequently caught on with academics and the business community.
According to the American Automobile Association, the overall number of summer road trips will decline this year because of the increase in new cases of the coronavirus, activity restrictions in certain parts of the country, and fears about asymptomatic spread of the virus. Nevertheless, we decided that, despite some concerns about COVID-19, we could take appropriate precautions and travel safely. It turned out that the virus was only one of the VUCA factors we would encounter on the trip.
Our original plan was to spend a month on the road, first touring several National Parks we had never visited before – Bryce Canyon and Zion in Utah and the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona. From there, we planned on stopping in Las Vegas before driving eastward through New Mexico, on to Austin, TX, and then to New Orleans where I attended college at Tulane. From there, we planned to head back to Jackson via Dallas, New Mexico and Colorado.
Upon returning home, my son reminded me of an old Yiddish proverb, “Man plans, and God Laughs” (Der mentsh trakht un Got lakht). Our trip was an example of this truth.
The national parks were stunning but it was very hot hiking during the day. As my daughter Jordyn would later remark, the weather taught us “tolerance”. That, being cooped-up as a family in small hotel rooms every night, and dealing with the reality of COVID-19 in every situation and encounter with strangers became a master class in patience, understanding, and self-regulation under stress for not only her but for all of us.
Then there was a fire on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, which forced us unexpectedly to drive all the way around to the South Rim in order to experience the Grand Canyon’s stunning scale and beauty.
As the trip unfolded, the spread of COVID-19 began shutting down some of our planned destinations. After stops in St. George, UT, Las Vegas, and Sedona, AZ, it became clearer that our plans could be even further disrupted if we attempted to travel on to emerging “hot spots” like Houston and other parts of Texas. Reluctantly, we decided as a family to cut our trip short and make the long drive back to Jackson, WY.
Despite having to alter our plans, there were many memorable moments and big “ah ha’s”. Unanimously, we remember hiking The Narrows in Zion National Park as a highlight of the trip. The Narrows is the narrowest part of Zion Canyon where the Virgin River has carved a gorge that at times is only a few feet wide in a one thousand foot tall ancient rock canyon. It’s not a cliché to say that it’s “awesome”.
My “ah ha” is that humans are relative newcomers on this planet, scurrying around with our seemingly important plans and aspirations. Meanwhile, nature evolves and changes at its own pace. For millions of years, the Virgin River has flowed down from the mountains, slowly, inexorably shaping Zion Canyon. There’s nothing like the gratitude that awe inspires. And it was certainly awe and gratitude that we experienced in The Narrows. Sensing those millions of years of rocks, river, and weather that had led up to our few moments of shared True Wealth, it was a part of what we’ll long remember about the Summer of 2020.