Wednesday, 12 October 2011

On the Road: the power of travel

H and I are pen pals.  I know.  In this day and age, who knew it was still possible.  We were linked up by the Mess that is Alyssa and I can’t wait to meet up for real and enjoy a decadent brunch and proper moan about the hell that is the PhD dissertation.  Yes, another academic.  What can I say, we are a self-selecting group.  Following on from Petite’s checklists to advert disastrous encounters in dark alleys and absentee house fires, I bring you Heather’s insistence that while home is lovely, and leaving it scary, adventure awaits.

The truth is, I’m quite the homebody. I love making my home “just so” with my comfy sheets, quilted fluffy mattress pad, oscillating fan that is there for the sole purpose of white noise, and I love the feel of my little family all tucked in and safe. It makes me feel like the safest securest person on the planet.

And, so, when I’m pulled to travel, and I’ve made all the necessary arrangements, and it’s the eve before the journey begins, I often have these few moments of “Oh, no, I have to leave this. What if I can’t sleep? What if there is no fan? What if there are bedbugs? What was I thinking traveling to ­<insert practically any destination here>” It is then that a panic creeps up inside and I feel scared. I don’t feel like traveling at all. I feel like staying tucked into my cozy 2 bedroom with my cobalt blue accents.

And that’s the moment I know I need to GO. The moment where I’m scared to do something for fear of being uncomfortable reminds me that I need more than anything to get a little uncomfortable. And usually, once the anticipation of the journey turns into the actual journey, the fear is overwhelmed by the adventure itself and I can’t believe I ever thought anything different.

Case in point, a backpacking trip with a dear friend of mine. Actually, let’s back up, she became a dear friend on this backpacking trip. I didn’t know her that well before I agreed to meet her for a few days while she trekked through Colorado. I had never backpacked before. I had never traveled with this person before. I had never carried what I need to eat on my back. I had never been at the mercy of nature. Somehow none of this occurred to me until the night before I was setting out to meet with her and suddenly I worried that I wouldn’t be able to sleep, that I would be hungry, that I would be tired, that I would encounter some wild animal. But knowing I couldn’t go back down, I succumbed to this thought, “Well, if nothing else, it will be an adventure.” An adventure. Thinking of it that way makes it OK, maybe even expected, that things are getting to get all sorts of screwy at some point in the journey and flexibility is going to be necessary.

Looking back now, I can’t believe all the things that “went wrong” but I do not see our trials and tribulations as wrong now and I did not see it that way then, either. I did not sleep well the first night. Unlike my traveling companion, I had not hiked miles and miles and could not force sleep at sundown. We hiked a long while in rain and cold. (And, after a long while, even shiny new raingear gets tired of the rain.) We knew we could not set up camp in a downpour so we happened upon a family and hitchhiked to a small town nearby. We stayed in the seediest hotel I’ve ever seen. I was so hungry at one point that I ate my protein bar after I dropped it on the ground. We hitchhiked back to a trailhead with some guys who were going hunting. With guns. We encountered a bear. We had to make up miles due to rain and hiked 17 miles in one day. On the last night with my friend, we giggled and giggled as we recounted our adventure. I fell asleep shortly after sundown.

I didn’t just survive. I thrived. I was living. My dad came to collect me, and the next day, the two of us decided to hike Colorado’s tallest peak. I know that this isn’t the case, but in my memory, I practically ran up the mountain.

“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” – Mark Jenkins

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