365 Days

In Matt's Musings, Travel
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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.

Thomas Mordaunt

 

 

 

10 Comments

  1. Dearest Matt

    Congratulations on achieving what many would always desire but let other desires prevail. Your journey will last forever in your children’s hearts and you and Mel are amazing!!!

    Thank you both for your writings as you allowed us into your journey which has been a privilege.

    You all have so much agead of you, your children will do great things and you and Mel now with all your experience will impact those you meet.

    Let me know if you want to work for a not for profit changing kids lives.

    Hugs
    Lisa

    • Hi Lisa!!
      Thanks so much for the thoughts. Put aside some time in early January for a long overdue catch up.
      See you sooner than I realise.
      Matt

  2. I asked Karl if he had been to Thurso. He said no, some of the houses are over 1200 years old. A lot of the customs or culture are from the Vikings. Karl liked to cycle North from Edinburgh to as far as Dundee. Last week watching Antique Roadshow, was filmed at Blair Castle, duke of Athol’s residence. Karl’s father was a butler/caretaker. Karl lived in the Edinburgh residence on Royal Terrance. I am now getting a history of Scotland. My nephew Jacob is working in Edinburgh Green.
    Thank you for taking the time to inform us all back in Australia of your exploits.

  3. Dear Matt and Mel and little adventurers,
    Your musings have been an inspiration to us all who have followed your amazing adventures.
    You have given your children the wonderful gift of exposure to our beautiful world.
    love
    Ruth

  4. The “rich tapestry of life” you are weaving for those kids seems to have no borders. How blessed are you all.

  5. Don’t answer the question. Just give them the link to your blog. It is quite wonderful. Not really like being there (although sometimes it felt close!) however a generous insight into your amazing journey. I wait for posts and check most days for a new missive. Sincere thanks for sharing. A great record of your adventures and also incredible gift to family and friends xx

  6. Well done you fabulous Shanahans!!! I’ve just spent a quiet half hour during my night shift at triage recapping on your blogs and sharing your absolutely amazing experiences with anyone wandering past (not so much the patients, you’re safe…!). You all continue to inspire us and thank you for that. Much love from all of us. Sonja

  7. Happy 371st day! Sorry I’m a bit late replying, but at least that means I’m a few days closer to you returning. Missing you lots and lots but loving keeping up with your activities, thoughts and pictures. Keep it coming, stay safe, happy and making the most of a very special family opportunity that you have created and earned. Lots of love Shanahans, lots of love. Jen x

    • Hey thanks Jen. Lovely to hear from you. Hope all’s good with you. Can’t get emails out at the moment but when I sort my problem out I’ll write more. Lots of love xxx

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