Uncelebrated Inspirations

About three years ago I was still home, wondering about this trip I planned for walking across Scotland. It was the end of August and my flight from Seattle was less than a month away. What inspired me to do such a thing? What inspires any of us?

I’ve been playing around with Pinterest, a social media site that is an addiction to some and totally unknown to most. I have a few boards to collect pins, essentially links, to my books and photos, my friends’ web sites and their books and art, some trends, and now a new board: Inspirations. The list of pins is growing, but slowly.

Inspirations are all around. Parents and friends probably get most of the credit; though mass media makes it seem imperative that we all honor celebrities. Pinterest unwittingly encourages public figures too. You can only pin people and things that have images on the web. I’m pretty sure my mom never had a web site. I could try making one for my dad, but that may take a lot of explaining.

My inspirations for walking across a country are the other people that walked across countries and wilderness. Human expansion happened because people decided to search for a better life, or satisfy their curiosity, or maybe to get away from their family and home. I expect the grand plan for humanity’s spread was driven more by adolescent rebellion than by explorers and wise goals.

When I bicycled across America, I unwittingly followed a pioneer trail. I was on two wheels and asphalt. They had walked beside wagons that were rolling across prairies, through deserts, and over mountains. If they could make it, so could I. Granted, many of them didn’t make it. I had sympathy for those that didn’t survive and drew inspiration from those that did.

Walking across a country brings back to mind the early settlers. Someone was the first person to walk along the Clyde, to see a storm assault the coast, and to wonder what was on the other side of the first ridge of the Highlands. 

What did they think was on the other side of the ridge?

What did they think was on the other side of the ridge?

They did so without support, either totally self-sufficient or destined for a temporary existence. I walked in luxury, and was glad for the pubs and the pavement; but, was able to think back and try to imagine what it was like to be the first. Did a settlement form around their homestead? Or, was it the second or the third that finally populated and plowed the land?

Guidebooks do their job well. There are plenty of inspirational Scots, and their monuments are listed and mapped. Every era has its celebrities. By walking the land, instead of being delivered to castle after mansion after museum, it is possible to not be distracted and to then respect and honor those who weren’t celebrated. They weren’t feted. Their histories weren’t recorded. Yet, because of them, a country, a society, and a civilization was born. And I was provided the honor of walking across it in luxury. I’ll never know what inspired them, but I know they inspired me.

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Letting Life In

Has it really been that long? Two months since I last blogged? And yet I think about the book every day. I notice people buying, reading, and talking about it. And the trip continues to change my life. So, how can I not be blogging about it? One, I’m more interested in what others have to say; and two, I’ve been too busy writing and reading.

A writer’s trap exists. One of the glories of writing is expounding on some point of view for thousands of words without anyone interrupting, contracting, or disagreeing. Comfort zones the size of universes can be created and retreated into. Writing can be the ultimate self-indulgence.

If you’re read the book, you know I am like a lot of people. Life can become a custom fitted rut. Drop in, dig it deep enough, and you can’t even see the rest of the world. You’re probably also aware that I find it necessary and healthy to climb out of that rut for a while, even if it means dropping into another one.

Few people wander aimlessly. Most follow a routine, possibly self-selected, but usually imposed by convention and circumstance. Those without routine or external impositions can lead lives filled with story, but not necessarily wealth and not necessarily poverty. Struggling artists struggle for a reason: art overrules money. Yet, “follow your passion and the money will find you” is familiar enough because it happens often enough to inspire thousands or millions.

Lately, I’ve been a bit of a workaholic by necessity. Book sales are nice, but it takes a best seller to pay the mortgage. In the meantime, I’ve had the privilege of being paid to read others’ manuscripts, scour the news for several organizations’ social media campaigns; and for no fee at all, continue writing for my other blog about money and life.

This has been my opportunity to let life in. While writing Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland I was also finishing a five year photo essay of Whidbey Island

A bit of Whidbey Island

A bit of Whidbey Island

– both very internal endeavours. Life stayed outside the doors while I finished my work. Now, news, your reviews, and my support of other creative people has come in to give me fresh perspective.

It is ironic and affirming that walking across Scotland was the right thing for me to do at that time. For three weeks I forced myself out of an old rut, and into a new one that provided hours of meditative walking during which a fresh perspective on life flowed back in to me.

The walk was just about three years ago. I’m not quite ready to do another (unless some publisher wants to pay me for the next one in the series – call me), and I don’t expect that anyone has done something similar as a result; but, maybe I, or we, should. Until we master immortality, life is short; and how long should any of us stay in a rut while life passes by?

And in the meantime, maybe I should get back to writing a bit more often. Stay tuned.

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Do It Different

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 routeScotland route map 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.

Uncertain Journey

Find your own path

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Which Story Did You Read

Tell a story to a friends and each will hear something different. Eight people listening to one person’s story about an unrequited romance may hear nobility, stupidity, innocence, bad timing, glaring blind spots, social commentary, humor, or hope. And, that’s from a crowd that knows the story teller. I told a story about Scotland, and as an author I know I tell it to people who’ve never met me, aren’t aware of my other books, and who live lives with completely different perspectives. The range of stories expands and amazes. With five other books out in the world, I’ve had a lot of practice storing my expectations to better listen to what they read. The e-book has been selling for six months. The paperback has been available for three months. I’m hearing lots of stories.

I walked Scotland for one main reason. I needed a vacation. I purposely wrote Walking Thinking Drinking Across Scotland with two themes: innovative travel and personal transformation. Every story can be layered into an overwhelming epic, but I’ll leave such ventures to Homer and Virgil. How did they do that without a word processor? The two themes became two genres: Travel and Personal Transformation. I’m not surprised that most readers are buying it because of the Travel hook. Amazon tells me so. The reviews, however, are revealing that readers are reading the transformation thread. People are buying the book about drinking in Scotland, and talking about the thinking I did there. They came for the Guinness. They talk about the joy.

It is gratifying to see both themes recognized. Such a dualism is what I had in mind.

But, the unexpected is equally entertaining.

My style of travel is based on my independence. The less I have to carry, the simpler the means of transportation, the easier it is for me to relax. In some ways, I consider it more of an accomplishment to fly eight hours, arrive jet lagged, rent a car with the controls on the wrong side, and then drive out of the airport and into traffic. A shiver just ran across my shoulders. People talk about traveling to Paris and scurrying around here and there. My ideal Paris trip would be to find a nice cafe that would let me sip and nibble and write and read for days while watching the people. I wouldn’t see most of the sites.

Traveling without a guidebook is an adventure for many, and they say so. For me, traveling without a guidebook is traveling without preconceived notions. I miss a lot, but I also am more likely to see what is there and real, not what someone else expects me to see that may have vanished years or decades ago.

I’m not surprised to find folks who read my story as the outsider Yank trying to understand the indigenous Scottish culture. To me, that’s one of the reasons to travel. The differences define the trip. I particularly like the fact that the “stranger in a strange land” is a theme that works for each homeland and everyone else, too.

Others have focussed on the loneliness, which I admit to some of, but that is an eventual side effect of aloneness. Aloneness is just another way of allowing introspection. Alone And On The Path The trip would have been different if my friends had been along. I would’ve laughed more. Personal transformation versus laughing until my sides hurt. That’s a choice. Sounds like an excuse for another trip. Maybe another book? I admit to an inspiration from Larry Niven’s character, Louis Wu who “is best known among his friends for inventing the “Sabbatical”—going off alone in a spaceship outside the boundaries of known space until one can tolerate human company again.” I imagine doing that, though for me, it is turned around. I leave until I remember what I like about myself, and recognize what I can change.

Artists create art based on their intuition, impulses, and passions. But, after the art is born and released into the world, it grows into something defined by everyone else. Their perspectives, the artist’s subconscious voice, and the changing culture redefine the work. And that’s the way it should be. I wrote a story about walking and thinking and drinking across Scotland. Which story did you read?

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Scottish American Accents

I apologize to the people of Scotland. Evidently, I have an accent. Yes, we all speak English, and yes, we all make fun of each other’s accents, and yes, few of us think we have one; but, after watching various folks try to twist their ears into hearing what I said, I apologize.

The first day wasn’t the worst, but it was a good introduction. I’d made it to Glasgow, thanks to modern aviation. Before I left the airport I wanted to find my next step, a train to my starting point: Stranraer. Finding the tourism booth was easy. Humbling myself, as if I was speaking a foreign language, was a little tougher. They understood most of what I said, but Stranraer came out Stran-rear, Stran-rah-er, Stran-rer, and then frustration. Finally, I found a map and pointed at the spot at the southwest end of the rail line. I was so tired and the nuances were so new I didn’t catch on even when I spent the night in Stranraer. It wasn’t until two weeks later, in Montrose, that I heard about the visiting team for tomorrow’s match and finally caught on to Stran-raer, just the way it’s spelled.

Most days had no problem. Every place I was going to or coming from was less than twenty miles away, so everyone could guess at what I said, at least for place names. As a conscientious traveler I try to pronounce things the ways the locals prefer. Why not? It’s their country. Even getting dialects correct isn’t enough. A Yank and a friend who spent years in Edinburgh has a vocabulary seeded with fields of unfamiliar terms and phrases. The phrases make no sense at the start, but with a bit of context and training they become so innocuous that they are hard to remember. It’s like subconsciously looking right then left before crossing the street. Once upon a time I owned a British sports car, a Triumph TR-7, which means the User’s Manual trained me to remember bonnet versus hood, boot versus trunk, and pozidriv versus phillips screwheads, but even now, only a couple of years after my trip, those daily phrases fade until I catch them on the BBC.

Not knowing the local language has dissuaded me from traveling in some countries. Chile and Argentina appeal, but my poor understanding of German, Russian, and Japanese aren’t even good in their homelands. South America looks wonderful, but I wonder how I’d get along.

I also know that, at least for my favorite way of traveling, language only matters at the borders, at meals, and when I want a room. Those are important, but they only take a small fraction of the travel time. The majority of each day is spent outdoors with Nature’s eternal language, and indoors reading whatever bit of English is available.

Even in Scotland, where we both supposedly knew the same language, I had to resort to pantomime one morning. I wanted orange juice. He heard oysters. His face contorted as he kept from calling the hotel’s only guest daft, and he was persistent enough to listen through three attempts before we finally succeeded when I pretended to drink from a glass. “Oh, orange juice. Why didn’t you say so?” he said shaking his head as he walked into the kitchen.
Inverbervie - as I recall
Somewhere down around Dundee, a local warned me that he couldn’t understand the folks up north, especially those beyond Aberdeen. That’s not why I stopped at Aberdeen. It’s actually why I wish I’d had more time and money to explore that country, and those wonderful sounds, those other accents of Scotland.

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Learning To Find Joy

A friend had a bad day. There’s a lot of that going on.
(Want to read my story? Check out my other blog.) Flurry We call to check on each other as good friends do. His day required a list of what wasn’t going right: insurance battles, family health issues, business worries, and a pet that just had a stroke. And then he thanked me. That was a surprise. He thanked me for what I wrote about how I am learning to find joy in every moment. Most folks buy the book because of walking and Scotland (he was one of the uncommon ones who bought the paperback), and maybe because of the drinking. It is also a story of personal transformation (check out the new review on amazon. Who are you, Susan A.?) He caught that and was getting through the day using the lessons I learned and continue to learn.

Personal transformation is a lot of syllables for the changes we all go through. Call it maturation, the school of hard knocks, lessons learned, it is the metamorphosis experienced by anyone who is trying to improve themselves. Sometimes that exercise is spiritual and rigorous, sometimes it is practical and informal. I know people who embark on pilgrimages and spirit quests. Others are forced to change by daily circumstances outside of their control, except for the one thing they can control: their inner self.

My friend was besieged. Like he said, it was a tough day; and, it was getting to him. Then he remembered what I wrote about “Every moment contains every emotion. Choose.” Without disregarding or disrespecting his concerns, he also took a few moments to acknowledge what was going right. The house was fine. The business was doing better than ever. He was healthy. There was food and drink in the house. He was happily married. Sure, the house had a dent in the deck from a car accident, and the business was eating up all of their free time at low profit margins, and getting older is tough; but, there was balance. On the positive side of that balance was sanctuary and what he needed to handle the concerns.

Writing a book about personal transformation can be such a self-centered indulgence and a bore. That’s why I didn’t dwell on those events from my walk across Scotland that changed my life. But personal are precious; especially, if someone else benefits from them too. So, I made sure they were given their space between the drinking parts.

As another friend wrote in an email, “I . . . admire your stamina and courage through all this.  I’d be completely freaked out by the situation.” It is too easy to get freaked out. Even if your life is fine, news and commercials seem intent on spreading paranoia and hypochondria. As my money diminished and my anxiety rose, I disconnected my television (TV Less). My stress receded, naturally. I continue to feel and react to the news, but I check it at my convenience. Between the times I tune in, anxieties can abate, rather than being amplified by every repeated Special Report, or Breaking News, or even New and Improved (because the old and unimproved wasn’t saving your life as well as this version.)

My list of worries includes words like foreclosure, and dwelling on that list, even listing that list, can bring me down. But while walking across Scotland I learned another lesson that didn’t find a label until last month. I try not to gnaw on a rock. Life is full of things to think about. We talk about “not biting off more than you can chew”, or “chew on this for a while”; but, I came to realize that there were things I chewed on the morning and the afternoon and chewed on them the next day. They weren’t changing. All they were doing was giving me the opportunity to grind down my own emotional resolve. I was trying to chew on rocks. That’s not a good idea.

So, whether it is finding the joy in the moment, or simply setting aside concerns when they’ve been chewed on long enough, I thank Scotland and my walk across it for giving me the time and space to learn those lessons. And I am glad to learn that my words have helped others too. In a practice of self-esteem, I will acknowledge that.

Be well. Take care.

I might just take my own advice and have a drink on the deck before getting back to this evening’s work.

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Why Stranraer To Aberdeen

How rare is that? How rare is it to walk across Scotland? Not very. How rare is it to walk from Stranraer to Aberdeen? Please, tell me. I suspect few have done the same, and why would they? Adventures are now available as packaged deals. Fewer folk continue the tradition of adventurers, traveling without itinerary into uncharted spaces. In Scotland, I walked between the two: without itinerary but along mapped routes. Even that is uncommon, but there are good stories there.

My most memorable packaged adventure was not the safest thing to try. With the aid of a guide service I climbed Mt. Rainier. The true summit is 14,411ft (4392 m), though the rubble I used for a lunch spot was probably a hundred feet below that extreme on the opposite side of the crater. Plainly put, people die climbing the mountain. I dropped into a crevasse on the climb and felt my heart beat faster and harder than ever before. Despite that, my climb was under some of the most favorable conditions. It was early in the season, the first week of July, so there was plenty of snow to cover the ice. I’m glad I did it. I couldn’t have done it without the guides. And, the humbling nature of standing on the rim of a steaming stratovolcano changed my life. Many attempts fail, yet thousands of climbers succeed every year. It can be a busy place.

A few years later, I returned for a different iconic Mt. Rainier journey. The Wonderland Trail circles the mountain. It takes about 93 miles, has more cumulative elevation gain than the summit climb, and is much more benign. Fewer people perish, that’s for sure. Fewer people try, too. I was lucky again. My trip was moderately quick, 6.5 days instead of the suggested 10, but much slower than the record which I believe is just under 30 hours – and I didn’t get rained on. Any way, the yearly total of complete circumnavigations is only a few hundred – less than one-tenth the summit attempt traffic. That accomplishment was met with less fanfare, simply me walking up to my car in the parking lot and heaving a sigh as I heaved the pack into the car. (It turns out I did have a welcoming committee. While I was hiking, a family of mice claimed my car as their home. Their next stop was my house, about a hundred miles away.)

I kept the exclusivity of the unobvious in mind as I planned my bicycle trip across America. Even along the established routes, it sounded like less than a thousand people bicycled across the United States in any year. It was probably a few hundred. Along the un-established routes, there were probably fewer. My ride would be my ride, an exploration. And so it was. (I wrote a book about that one. Just Keep PedalingJust Keep Pedaling If you buy it, I suggest reading the emails first or last. You’ll probably see why.) In about 3,800 miles I only rode with two other cyclists and that was only for part of a day.

Walking across Scotland was similar, especially my route from Stranraer to Aberdeen. There were only three walkers along my route, none of whom were traveling far. Two were out for lunchtime walks. One was picking litter in a park. I suspect that walking the Highland Trails or the Upland Way would be a bit more crowded. The irony is that I had a quieter walk by walking along paved streets through the urban world.

Seeking adventure, finding something unique to add to a life, was one reason adventurers went to far lands filling in the blanks in the maps. Less of that remains for those of us who can’t travel to space or the ocean depths. But, there are plenty of journeys out there that are effectively in wilderness, or at least in the social wilderness that is solitude in today’s crowded existence. It might even be something as simple as picking two points on a map, and deciding to get from one to the other by trusting your own skills and resourcefulness. Making up your own journey may not be as dramatic as climbing a mountain (something I enjoy doing), but it may be more personally rewarding. Stranraer to Aberdeen? Why? Why not?

Not Wt. Rainier, but some probably unnamed peak that is climbed by very few in any year.

Not Mt. Rainier, but some probably unnamed peak that is climbed by very few in any year. – From Twelve Months at Barclay Lake

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