The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.
I’m leaving Saint Paul for Kerikeri, New Zealand on a late fall mid-day. Leaves are past peak, raining to the ground in a final blur of orange and brown. It’s gray, threatening drizzle but the clouds part slightly to blue sky, like promises of a few more brilliant days.
Yesterday was my last day of work for nearly six months. I signed off with my most favorite piece by my most favorite composer, Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1 where he tells his orchestra to ‘play like a sound of nature.’
Just as I put my jacket and pack on, my work pals emerged from their cubes for a farewell group hug as I tossed my ID badge into the air, Mary Tyler Moore style. It was just what I needed to say so long before heading on this enormous journey of nearly half a year.
In the olden days people took this many months just to get where they were going. Letters arrived usually after the fact – sometimes even after their author left this earthly plane altogether on another kind of journey.
I am equipped with a two-way device that will allow my loved ones to track my every move in ten-minute increments. 800 people are walking the TA this season. I have a phone – and will soon have a Kiwi phone number – plus a long list of New Zealand friends-of-friends looking out for me as I head south.
So why am I a bundle of nerves awaiting departure at gate E6? I’ve planned down to the last ounce what I’ll need and nestled all of it in the giant throw-away charity shop suitcase I picked up in Scarborough, England on my last thru-hike. I’m cozy in a layered look of more throw-aways for 24 hours of flying, even if Richard was embarrassed to see me dressed like a ‘doctor from the mid 19th century.’
So much planning, negotiating, explaining, deciding, figuring, organizing and, finally, in a sudden rush, it’s here. I’m actually starting this epic tired , overworked, and all-consumed by what it’s taken to get to this moment. It’s hard to relax
But what exactly am I stressed about? Walking? I’m pretty sure I know how to do that. Problems and delays? I’ve had my share.
Making friends, then? Will people understand me, my off kilter sense of humor, my need to talk things out ad nauseam, my desire to sometimes stop and look at a place so lovely I burst into tears?
The truth is I’m walking alone because I like my own company. And – as a kind of protection – I can be with people, or not, as I wish.
Many of you have written, called, texted, and stopped by in the last weeks to share your thoughts on calming the churning inside me. One tells me, ‘Step carefully and see widely.’ Another, ‘Go with your purpose in mind, share your truth as you can.’ Still one more, ‘The hard work is behind you, now get at it!’
All wise and wonderful and I am deeply grateful for my friends cheering me on. But maybe what distills things in this moment, as I spend the coming days in the monotony of airplanes and airports before I am able to even set foot on the trail, is the advice to open up to what will come, to simply allow the days – and hours – to unfold with whatever they have to offer.
It’s less ‘seize the day’ at this point then let it happen and be present while it does.
I smile when the captain says ‘Flight attendants, please be seated for departure,’ and we race to our lift off and to whatever may come.
So with that, goodbye Richard, Classical MPR, my friends and family and co-workers and neighbors, my house, my town, my routine – at least for the time being. I promise to do my part to take it all in and savor the days and you do yours by having a splendid winter.