It’s been a while. So it goes with the life of a non-fiction book. As a person they live the events. As a writer they spend months or years turning memories and notes into stories. As an author they lose control and watch as the book enters the world where it belongs. For the rest of history, the book belongs to the readers; of course, the author is treated to the royalties. I walked across Scotland, spent about a year writing the book, and now eagerly anticipate reviews and readings. It’s been a while since I thought about it as much as I did when I was living or writing it. But, what I have to say about it isn’t as important as what the readers say. So, what do most have to say? Mostly, “Thanks.”, and mostly, “But, I would’ve done it differently.” Good.
Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but I’m happier to hear that I’ve been an inspiration rather than a model to mimic. Whether it is from my walk across Scotland, my time in Washington State’s Cascades (Barclay Lake, Lake Valhalla, Merritt Lake), or my bicycle ride across America, I’m always touched when I hear that someone decides to do something similar but not exactly the same. Sometimes they tell me as if to apologize. Others think it better to walk Scotland’s highlands, or to be open to using buses occasionally. Hikers and skiers might pick more dramatic destinations or find a more civilized approach like a cabin. Bicyclists have decided I would’ve had more fun if I’d only used quiet country roads instead of highways and interstates. Good.
I’m impressed with anyone who can find the time, and open themselves to the unknowns of long, slow, unplanned itineraries. There is no script. There may not even be much more of a goal than “try to have a good time and come back safe.”
My life has been tumultuous. The main reason I finally flew to Scotland was because the stresses in my life reached a critical, and seemingly mortal, phase. The trip changed my life by breaking me free of old habits, providing a new perspective, and simply giving me a vacation when I needed one.
With perfect reflection, I realize that my life may have been less tumultuous if I hadn’t retired at 38, gotten a divorce, and embarked upon a self-customized lifestyle. If I’d kept my job, my wife, my house, and my conventional life, I would probably be a lot richer, have a lot more stability, and have traveled to a new country every two years. I might also have died of a work-related stress-induced heart attack before I turned 42. Maybe I would have found happiness, but extrapolation suggests not. I would, however, have mimicked my own behaviours for decades.
I did something different. Good. – I think. We never really know until much later.
Back when I was in the corporate world there were plenty of times when people and jobs shifted. Seniority had power, but when we had more autonomy to use other criteria we kept in mind a particular distinction. If someone had twenty years of experience, was it one year of experience repeated twenty times, or twenty years in which they accumulated a variety of experiences?
Anyone who travels will gain experiences that can’t be gained by staying in the same community for decades. Even if they travel according to someone else’s plan and see the world from a tour bus, something different will happen. If they follow someone else’s path, they’re doing it at a different time and in different conditions. If they merely take the idea of someone else’s trip and do something suggestive but only somewhat related to another’s journey, then they are more likely to have days filled with the unexpected.
Several people bought my book because they intend to walk across some part of Scotland. None plan to follow my route. Good. They hope to get some feel for the people and the culture, and there’s a gear list in the back. Everyone’s list will be different. Most will probably be smarter than me by carrying a smartphone.
I look forward to hearing their stories. I’d be more impressed if they wrote a review and contrasted our experiences. I’ll be most impressed if they write a book and gave me a reason to read it.
In any case, whether you read Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland, or not; whether you walk across Scotland, or not; I hope that whatever you do, you do at least a little bit different.
Find your own path