A Colorado wind howls outside my window. It sweeps down from the snow covered peaks, building speed as it tumbles across the foothills, and then roars out over the high plains. The 70 mile per hour gusts turn hat-wearers into sprinters and drives skirt wearers indoors. Despite the sunny weather, neither the Unit or I feel any compulsion to partake in outdoor activity. Perhaps that is inevitable when one is going on a 150 day camping trip. Instead we continually opt for matinee movies, trying to absorb as much video as possible.
As the wind whistles around the corners of my apartment building, I try not to think. The upcoming awful/wonderful trip is too big for me to comprehend in its entirety. It's impact on my present life is so profoundly disruptive. I can only deal with it in fragments - a month here, a couple weeks there. Knowing that I will be constantly on the move for a year but not knowing where I will eat or sleep at any given point in time is very disconcerting.
This nervousness wanders back and forth between my brain and my stomach. Worries propagate in the former, butterflies in the latter. But then every so often a new sensation makes me shiver - a feeling of exhilaration caused by the steady deterioration of the bonds that tie me to my apartment, to IBM, and to Colorado. The connections fade as each item on my pre-trip to do list gets crossed off. Although modern communications should provide a great elastic link with friends and family, if my computer remains faithful, saying good-bye to everyone I know is not settling the emotional turbulence.
All is ready. My arms are swollen with vaccines, the car and furniture have been sold, the soundtrack from Lawrence of Arabia is recorded on tape, and the last minute visa snafu related to crossing minefields in northern Mauritania has been resolved in a flourish of unorthodox diplomatic activity. My onslaught of faxes and emails has even yielded permission for the Spousal Unit and I to enter Uzbekistan (if their letter of invitation catches up with us).
Being cut loose from the familiar, sacrificing our carefully-dug ruts, is exciting but not so easy to adjust to. People's lives are structured by many things: well-defined jobs, family responsibilities, spousal expectations, and, yes, the innate, instinctive desire for security. When the structure is removed, it can be disorienting, even frightening. Having cycled through a few life crises in the past, I am not afraid to look the Unknown in the eye, although I do blink pretty often while doing so. Discovering the internal and external changes resulting from a long, personal oddessy is one of the most unpredictable but rewarding aspects of travel. How will I react to new cultures, strange customs, and encounters with people who look and act like they came from a different planet yet they laugh and cry, live and die just like you and me? What sort of person will return after a year of awful/wonderful?
These questions are not unique and I often find it easier to re-iterate the words of kindred spirits to express what I cannot do to my satisfaction. The eloquence and daring of these authors teach me, encourage me, and inspire me. The influence of one person in particular deserves mention, a woman named Ross who wrote a book, titled Journey on the Crest, Walking 2,600 Miles from Mexico to Canada, about her incredible backpack trip on the Pacific Crest trail. On a cross country bicycle trip of my own, having a great deal of time to rationalize what I was doing, I paraphrased bits and pieces of the insight she gained during her journey to fit my own endeavor. Here are her words, consolidated and adapted to long range travel, but really universal in spirit.
GOING OUT THERE - WHY I DO IT
Long-distance travel is not a vacation. It's too long for that. It's not recreation. Too much toil and pain involved. It is almost a way of life. A very simplified, spartanlike way of living. Life on the move. The movement seems to speed up the experiences: different continents, cultures, people, predicaments, challenges. You must deal with situations, survival situations, that force you to think and take action. Lots of growth happens quickly. The hard times, lousy weather, unsanitary conditions, overcrowded transportation, bad food, crummy hotel rooms, being lost, sick, or lonely or all three in a strange place thousands of miles from home - they make you appreciate warm sunshine, companionship, and clean water. The best way to appreciate those things that are precious and important in life is to take them away.
So we learn what really matters. Back in town, life is so fast and full of time-consuming chores that it's easy to forget. In essence, we go on the road to gain a clearer vision.
We also go on the road to learn about ourselves. The biggest prize of long-distance travel is the gift of free time. Time to be by yourself. Time to look. Time to feel. All those hours you spend with your thoughts. You don't solve all your personal problems, but you come to understand and accept yourself.
So with this clear mind, you return home and try like hell to keep that magic in your everyday life. You come to discover that you don't need a lot to be happy. Not much money, but a whole lot of freedom and time to experience these moments of magic. You need peace of mind. You need the calmness and beauty of the natural world. The fast-paced, goal-oriented, money-making society that makes our country tick no longer feels natural. Everywhere, you see values that seem selfish and greedy.
Everyone, after a certain period of time, begins to yearn for the road again, begins to actually feel pain for it. When life feels like a sprint on a treadmill, it's time to head out there. In the spring, when the sap rises, that's when you feel it in your blood. Some of us have to wait until the kids grow up, or money is available, or retirement. But the worst part is marrying someone who doesn't share your yearning and won't let you go. Anyone who has ever been out there for any length of time wants and waits for the day when he or she can return.
Now lest anyone think my sense of humor got packed away, here is a questionnaire for those acquainted with the way the Unit and I travel. It was developed over margaritas during our weekly awful/wonderful planning sessions. It has been said that half the fun of a trip occurs during its planning and preparation. In this case, let's hope not! The myriad of decisions would have been overwhelming if we had not learned the cardinal rule of travel years ago: JUST DO IT! Commit to a date and work backwards, letting the seemingly insurmountable obstacles and inexhaustible list of tasks take care of themselves.
So here are some questions that the Unit and I will ponder on the plane if the sleeping pills don't work.
1. How much weight will Jim and Sue gain or lose on the trip?
- lose 50+ pounds
- lose 25 pounds
- lose 10 pounds
- gain one pound
2. What will be the first irreplaceable item lost, stolen, or broken on the trip?
- Sue's tampax
- Jim's computer
- all the money
- positive mental attitude
3. In what country will Jim and Sue receive the strangest (i.e. most inedible) food?
[Fill in blank]
4. Who will get diarrhea first and how soon after departure?
- one month
- one week
- one day
5. How long will the ten pound supply of M&Ms and peanut butter last?
- until the end of April
- until the end of February
- one week after we arrive in London
6. What will be the longest time interval between clothes laundering?
- two weeks
- one month
- one year
7. (a) If Jim achieves enlightenment during the trip, how will he know?
(b) Will Sue be aware of this phenomenon? Yes/No
8. What will be the most arduous form of public transportation endured? In other words, how long will the longest bus ride be?
[fill in blank]
9. Excluding camping, how many nights will be spent sleeping in places not intending for such. Hotel, B&B, hostel, or temple rooms don't count. Valid examples include railroad waiting rooms, bus terminals, bridge overpasses and so forth.
[fill in blank]
10. Who will be the first to say who's idea was this trip anyway? And where will they say it?
- Sue in India
- Sue in Africa
- Jim in DIA (Denver International Airport)
11. Will the Solar Mosquito Guards actually work? A solar-powered, credit-card sized device that emits a high frequency sound which drives female mosquitos crazy was too tempting to pass up.
- P .T. Barnum said there was one born every minute (suckers) and you have proven him correct.
So, one and all, this Klimagram is the last that shall originate from the USA this year. Hope you enjoyed all of them - maybe one of these days you'll get to pay for the privilege. Wish me luck!
What the hell - it's either do the trip or buy another pickup truck!
Copyright (c) 1996 Jim Klima