Five years ago I arrived back home to my island north of Seattle after walking across Scotland. Since then, much has changed. And, of course, much has remained the same. Change is inevitable, and conscious travel amplifies it. Amidst the machinations of the world, though, much would be the same if I did it again. And I look forward to doing it again, but possibly redefining what it is.
It is Fall 2015. My plan was to be walking, thinking, drinking across, around, or through some other country. My trip across Scotland was a ten year homage to my bicycle ride across America (Just Keep Pedaling). Neither were supposed to become books, but when life changing events happen it makes sense to write them down before their significance is forgotten. It also makes sense to wait a while and let insights filter through. Change isn’t always immediate, isn’t always dramatic. Immediate, dramatic changes makes for great writing; but the greatest changes in our lives can be gradual and subtle.
My plans in 2010 for 2015 were based on optimism. Millions of people were being hit by The Great Recession. I was one of them, but I expected life to return to normal within a year or two. It almost did. It almost did and almost surpassed my expectations, until I had what one friend called “a perfect storm of bad luck“. During the Summer of 2011 I lost 40% of my savings. During the Fall of 2011 I lost 40% of the rest. Since then I’ve lost 98% and have transitioned from semi-retired to barely-employed – while working seven days a week.
My plans were to take on another epic walk every five years, or more frequently as money allowed. Walking from Stranraer was an auspicious choice. After my walk to Aberdeen, I realized I could use Stranraer as a starting point for walking around Ireland because the ferry leaves from there. Stranraer could be the start of a walk across England with a finale at Dover. Start from Dover and walk to Lands End (where there are some family connections). Start from Dover and walk to Nice, passing through Paris of course. Start from Paris and walk the Camino de Santiago. Start from Nice and walk to the southern tip of Italy. Okay, I’m already old enough that to do all that I’d have to do a walk every year or every other year. Sounds good to me! No need to write a book about every one, but, well, check for life-changing events.
The reality of finances changed the reality of my travel plans. Working seven days a week is not a euphemism or hyperbole. I do take days off, about one every other month. Some of those walks would take months, not just weeks. They’d all take thousands of dollars, and now I owe that much to the US Internal Revenue Service. I’m not the only one. One of the things that changed since the Great Recession is a new normal of global austerity. There is some recovery, but it is shaky from my point of view.
The world has changed in the last five years. Scotland almost became an independent country. Greece threatened to scuttle the European Union. The United States government has become dysfunctional, oh wait, that hasn’t changed much.
I’ve changed in the last five years. I’m older. Duh. My knees tell me so. A few extra wrinkles have become part of my portrait. I’ve even gained weight because I’ve been working so much. My expectation of travel has also changed. And yet, I am an optimist.
Besides enjoying my time in Scotland, the fundamental revelation was my observation of joy. Thank you, Scotland. I recognized the ever-presence of joy as I walked between Fenwick and Glasgow. Revelations can happen anywhere. Mine happened along a lonely bit of bike path. My revelation probably required days of solitary walking. And then I felt it. Joy. Joy is an emotion that can be felt anywhere at any time. I’d spent decades trying to find it. It was always there, but I didn’t know how to recognize and greet it. It slipped away, but that’s because I had so little practice in keeping in touch with it.
In the last five years, well, the financial turmoil I’ve experienced is chronicled in my other blog for another of my books, Dream. Invest. Live. Struggling to keep my house was probably the most dramatic series of episodes. It was during the beginnings of that struggle that I finished Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland. Those struggles were why the book came out a bit sooner than I’d prefer. (It was going to include more humor, but I had to publish early to let it get to work in the literary world while I got to work in the monetary world.)
I’ve received numerous comments and compliments on the style and grace I portray while working through my issues. I wasn’t aware that I had style or grace. I’ve been too busy to create and maintain a facade. I’ve even been asked to teach others how to emotionally navigate similar situations. Sign me up! Realizing that joy is always just a perspective shift away is invaluable. I am not practiced enough to switch my mood to joy without effort. It is, however, immensely powerful to realize that it is there. Being alone and under a pile of worries can be depressing. Being in the same situation knowing that a friend is near relieves a lot of stress, even if they can’t help. Joy does that for me.
When the worries get to me I remind myself of the things that are going right. My house could use a lot of work, but I am also warm, dry, and safe. My truck could use a lot of work, but it runs and my best way to manage it is to handle it with care and walk or ride my bicycle whenever possible. My health, my wealth, my relationships have all been affected; but each has a fundamental aspect that can survive incredible challenges: eat well, live frugally, respect people.
I’m an optimist. My Triple Whammy of troubles happened abruptly. As an optimist, I realize that good news can happen just as quickly and can surpass any bad news I’ve encountered. It is too late for me to walk around Ireland this year. It would be nice to pay homage on a nice five year anniversary; but maybe next year, yes, maybe next year. In the meantime, joy is here and I know where to find it, even if it takes some practice.