“Let’s just get to that next pole. We can rest there,” I tell Lluís, pointing ahead about 200 meters.
It wasn’t a pole. It was a half-constructed, load-bearing concrete substructure designed to support the weight of a road or train tracks being built over our heads. In the +33-degree Celsius (91 degree Fahrenheit) hot, sticky and uncomfortable Thai heat the phrase “load-bearing structure” never entered my mind. At that moment, I was my own load-bearing structure, with about 40 pounds on my back. Words didn’t come easy. That pole, or whatever it was, was my salvation, and so was the one after that, and the one after that.
Four years ago(!!!), on Jan. 16, 2016, my 44th birthday, we started our Bangkok-to-Barcelona walk. We set out before sunrise with all the hope a new day dawns. We glowed with the enchanted and remarkable feeling of showing up at the start line of something fantastically absurd.
A few hours later, every step was as a small, direct achievement. It took all of our might to lurch forward in 200-meter increments. We stopped at almost every substructure in our line of vision to wipe the profuse amount of sweat burning our eyes and salt-staining our faces. It was not possible to wipe and walk simultaneously. The heat and humidity slowed our multitasking motor skills.
Slumped on the side of one of the poles in a narrow slip of shade, our shoes and socks off and our feet moist and wrinkly, I felt overwhelmingly underprepared for the long quest ahead. I wondered out loud, “Do you really think we’ll make it all the way to Barcelona?”
The answer for Lluís was always, definitively, without a doubt, YES! Many of you know from following us here and on social media, I was less sure. On so many levels, I didn’t care about finishing. I was happy to start this crazy journey; finishing was an abstract idea, something that shimmered with fairy dust and leprechaun luck. I was there doing this weird, audacious thing because it felt like a fun, different, unexpected way to spend the formative years of my 40s. A walk across two continents certainly sounded better than sitting at a desk working behind a laptop screen all day, I distinctly remember thinking during one of those sweat-wiping pauses.
That first day brought into serious question whether we could pull off the absurd, if we would achieve our goal, and if, at the heart of it all, we had chosen the right dream to live.
Now, looking back on the successes and failures of that first day and all the days that came after it, I’m still very surprised that we made it to Barcelona by foot, together, and that we are still together building another phase of life.
It’s not easy walking 16,000 kilometers. Doing it with someone else multiples the stress for both people. We were almost always at the edge of discomfort, pushing each other’s physical, mental and emotional limits day in and day out for weeks, months, years, in our case.
Clearly, there was no fairy dust or leprechaun luck. What brought us home was the act of putting one foot in front of another on a consistent basis. First steps have a way of turning into more steps, and more kilometers, each time you do it. The simplicity of that consistent action strikes me at this moment, four years later, as profound, especially now as I choose which next “first steps” to take.
The source of motivation behind those footsteps also deserve a closer look. For Lluís, determination and perseverance got him to the other side of the world and pulled him through the joys and pains of a 955-day walk. For me, I see now 6.5-months after our celebration party, that I kept walking, even during those moments when I hated the idea of walking, because I couldn’t bear the disappointment, and maybe guilt, I knew I would live with if I didn’t finish it. I found that challenging myself with the question, “What would finishing this walk feel like?” sometimes was just what I needed to go another 200 meters.
I find it a curious study to understand what drew each of us forward, and how the ambition and initiative came from such different emotional places. I want to continue to explore this in me, and what it means as I plan my next decade.
These last few months have come with new challenges, new wins, new disappointments and new joys–things I will share with you in future posts.
But, just like walking +16,000 kilometers, it’s all about taking the first steps, getting to that next support milestone, and finding the strength to keep taking the next steps right in front of you.