So a year has passed. 52 weeks. 365 sleeps. 35,000km.
Back in my outdoor instructor days there was always a lot of discussion about how long an outdoor experience had to be for the real learning and insight to kick in. There was not a lot of detailed science to it but generally the longer the better. The longer your journey the deeper the insights, learning, thinking, reflection. When you take people out into the wilderness they go through stages. There is a initial excitement, then a shock that comes with the shift to self sufficiency, changed routines, sleeping rough, hard walking, cooking over a fire. Getting up day after day to walk towards your next destination. If the journey was too short then you could kind of go into survival mode, shut down and muddle your way through with thoughts of warm beds, home cooked meals and dry feet. But it meant that every step you took in the woods was padded with thoughts of NOT being where you were. You played a mental game of blocking out the current reality in hope that it will end soon and you return to normal.
But take people out into the wilderness for 3 or 4 weeks and something different happens. You can’t wish 4 weeks away. After a certain period you could see people let go a little and actually accept the current reality. Sleeping on the ground wasn’t so bad, a hot meal tasted better because of the rain and distances on the map seem smaller, more achievable. The letting go was a critical part of seeing a different way of being. Without the letting go you spent a miserable 4 weeks wishing you were somewhere else. Letting go meant you started to see the world differently and the journey comes to life.
It’s why this journey has been what it has. We have had to let go of the old. You can’t spend a year wishing you were back home – you would go mad.
This is all so familiar right now. Our ‘one year on the road’ anniversary came and went in a small town called Thurso in Northern Scotland. After weeks of “wild camping” (read – sleeping free in the car on the side of roads) we splashed out on a campsite so we could have showers, do some clothes washing and go out for dinner. Mel and I wanted a fresh pint of local beer and the girls wanted pizza. We had to settle for no pizza, but Mel and I were happy. We all were really – to be sitting in a restaurant talking about the anniversary. Talk wandered (as it always does) to places we have drifted through, pools, hostels, bus trips, sights, sounds, smells, feelings. Zoe doing her adorable 10 minute descriptions of fascinatingly obscure details about a place that don’t make sense to anyone until she mentions something we all remember (not just her 5 year old mind) and all say “Ooohhhh….that place!”. Tully with her wistful comments of “I loved Asia….(sigh)…”. Ellie with her excited outbursts of “DO you remember THAT!!”.
People have asked the the painfully inadequate question of “What’s it been like?” (which every traveller has to answer often with awkward teenage boy-like mutterings of “great, yea, good, pretty amazing…”) But how DO you sum it all up? Ho do you trawl over a year of travel from one side of the world to the other? I know we will have to in not more than 6 months as people from home will want to know. But as anyone who has been on a profound journey knows – the answer is very hard.
What does this all mean?
Maybe I can measure it in change. I often look at the girls and ponder what those back at home will think of them when they return. Grandparents will have an ache that they missed so critical a phase of their lives. Friends, aunts, uncles, cousins will all be amused at the difference. Even I have seen it and feel the tangible shift. Often as a parent back at home I felt I didn’t notice subtle change. You see your kids every day so the change gets lost in the every day. Logic would say that I notice it less a I have spent every day and every hour with them for 365 days – but there is something about watching them so closely for so long that makes it more noticeable. There are nights (many of them) when Mel and my talk drifts to our observations of the kids’s shifts. We catalogue it in a funny kind of way and wallow in this slow discussion of what we have seen, how we have seen them respond and adapt to such mind bogglingly varied worlds.
The year on the road has allowed me (and Mel) this absolutely irreplaceable insight into their world. One of the reasons I started my own business and undertook this journey was to see the girls more. I have painful diary scribblings from my previous corporate life. On the late night flight from Sydney to Melbourne, a few Qantas Club beers under my belt, surrounded by suited men looking weary and bedraggled with their ties still on but slightly askew (I never understood the need to keep the suit and tie on at 9pm, on a plane). Aching to see the girls but knowing I wouldn’t see them awake till the morning. Then I would grab my one hour in the morning before heading back to the office. Then home at 6:30pm for a few precious hours before their bed. If I was brutally honest, in a bad work week with just one interstate trip I would say there was probably less than 10 hours spent with my children awake. (Though I do remember running a workshop for ANZ and hearing of a story of one of the corporate bankers who hadn’t actually seen his new born child awake for several months due to a hideous work schedule). And that 10 hours was split between 3 children so I shudder to think of the actual, face to face, look me in the eyes and play with me hours. Maybe I could measure it in minutes?
But here we are in a cafe in Glasgow, a load of washing spinning away down the road. The girls reading, me writing, them casually looking up from books to tell me a fact about alligators or snakes or other Ripley’s Believe It Or Not things. We have spent 365 days together, every waking moment in close proximity. The last six weeks of camping we have literally been sleeping side by side. The furthest away being a tent outside the van and the closest being 10cm away in the same big bed inside the van. I sometimes can’t believe that we haven’t all run screaming from each other just for the simple fact that we need space.
365 days. Side by side across continents, valleys, deserts, oceans (how many have we dipped our feet into now?) and mountains. Watching them change and shift is one of the greatest gifts of this journey and I thank my lucky stars for every second. When we touch Australian soil again we will drift back into our own spaces, our own circles and orbits of friends, activities.
365 days. I can’t count the number of hotels, buses, trains, dinners, kilometres walked, big things we have seen. The number of cups of tea, coffees, cafes, Skype calls, languages, funny shaped coins that we have pawed our way through and handed, embarrassed, unsure to shop keepers to check that we have got it right.
365 days. Moments of sheer, can’t-contain-myself whoops of unbridled joy. Passages of longing for home, our own beds, our own lounge room, our own kitchen, Vegemite toast, our dog, a surf, our friends, our family.
365 days. Grey skies, pelting rain, snow, blistering cold and “JUST STOP!!!!!!” periods of mind numbing, sweat filled tropical heat.
365 days. Waking every day and looking at a map and thinking “Where to today?”.
365 days. 5,475 crowded, waking hours.
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth an age without a name.