Our 4.5-month winter walking break is over. It’s time to pick up our backpacks and move forward again. Sigh.
It’s with a bit of a heavy heart that we do that.
The break has, unexpectedly or, perhaps, more than we expected, taken us for loop through many emotions. It looks like we’ll be on this roller coaster for a while longer as we keep on keeping on.
Being in the company of people we love has spoiled us. Our time with family and friends reminded us of how fortunate we are every single day. Sitting still is so good. Having a bed to sleep on, in a safe place, is a gift every night. Showering on a daily basis is a luxury, and so is the smell of always clean laundry.
In the same breath, it’s deflating to feel our hard-earned strength turn to flab as we digest more than our fill. These last few months, comfort and coziness have been our companions, and with them have come spasms of slacking off and sluggishness. We’re thicker in the middle, and it will take a huge heap of stamina get strong again.
As nice as it has been to rest easy, we know we can’t keep our feet up on the coffee table forever. Even as our motivation sinks to an all-time low, we can’t ignore our restlessness. We belong somewhere out in the world.
So off we go. Soon enough, discomfort and uncertainty will return as our part of our day-to-day normal. We never truly get accustomed to the physical and mental demands of this foot journey we created.
Somehow, though, with a fair amount of patience and persistance, those sensations eventually turn into something that looks like continuity and courage… at least on the surface.
Deep inside, we struggle with many other things that play on a loop folding over itself.
It’s great be home. It sucks to leave. It’s exciting to think about what comes next. It’s taxing to carry an unbearable weight we, almost every day, choose to carry. It’s soothing to think about how far we have come. It’s worrying to not know where our next steps will take us. It’s liberating to remember that we don’t need to know exactly where we are going because life will guide us there, if we’re open to the option. There’s a need to be together, to move ahead as a duo and live the dream we dreamed. There’s a need to be alone, conquering fear and communing in an forgotten state of quietness and self-awareness.
As many times as these thoughts fall over each other, they tend to lead us to a pivot we keep trying to avoid. Life keeps showing us that what we resist, persists. And here we are again, in full circle back to where we were before we started walking in January 2016.
Fortunately or unfortunately, as the the case may be, our experience, wisdom and sense of self-empowered truth forces us face what we have known for a long time: This walk continues to mean very different things to each us, and there is no right way forward…but there is always a way forward.
For Lluís, the walk IS the adventure, and the other things we encounter fuel his desire continue on the path. Walking from Bangkok to Barcelona is the goal. He thinks of this as a project that started at Point A, and will finish when we follow a route that takes us to Point B. Now and for all his life, he sees things as black or white, and he moves with a sense of dedicated conviction to achieve a personal challenge. He knows the finish line is within his reach as long as he never gives up trying to get there. He is someone who likes to complete things, tackles things head on and acts in a persistent, methodicaI way to attain a desired result. I admire the way he thinks, and I sometimes wish I could experience life and this walk as clearly as does.
But, I’m not a direct-continuous-line kind of gal. For me, the walk is the vehicle in which we experience the world. I think of it as our strange bus making many stops along the way and eventually, with some curly Qs and winding roads, steering us home to Barcelona. Aligned with my style of wanderlust, we can hop on and off the “bus” when our eyes, hearts and spirits find a detour or call us off-route.
Without trying, I see too many shades of gray (which could be called possibilities in this context), and I move with a dedicated sense of conviction that life guides me where I need to be. Completing work tasks are important… I need to make money to live. Other life projects, important life projects, I find, run their own course, and instinct is often the most reliable compass. My life is a constant work in continual progress, and the finish line is my last breath.
We agree there is still an amazing journey to be had, and that’s why, as hard as it is to start again, we back got on a plane and returned to Turkey. Our recent history proves to us the road walked is paved with all sorts of beautiful milestones in the shapes of smiling faces, invitations to stay with families and a slow-motion view of the world. We hope there’s more of that coming as we inch homeward.
However, our ideas stray when we try to develop coping strategies for undertaking this big thing on an hourly basis.
In his practical, logical, male mind, Lluís believes the inherent challenge of crossing Asia and Europe by foot can be tackled by following a sort-of-continuous direct route and managing daily and weekly expectations by walking a set kilometer distance on a regular basis. Resting (and eating, showering and doing laundry) is a semi-necessary thing, but not something that requires too much time, money or effort. He can camp almost every night, eat a little or a lot, depending on what is available, and wash the smelly parts of his body in gas station bathrooms.
On the ground, this has typically translated into our negotiated way forward, give-and-take compromises that got is through almost two years on the road. We have averaged daily distances of 25-30 kilometers and one full day of rest every 6 to 8 walking days. We eat what we find along the way, pitch our tent many nights and, at least once a week, we keep our feet horizontal while our laundry dries near the guesthouse window. This strategy has worked well enough in various parts of Asia where we had visa limitations and wanted to cover the country’s distance within in that legal timeframe.
Still, in my practical, logical, female mind, I feel like I’m hurrying around to check off a list. Yeah! 25 kilometers done, now we can stop and call it a day! It doesn’t make sense to me, and it makes even less sense as we get closer to Europe. We won’t have visa issues because of our EU residency status allows us to linger longer in small towns and venture off the direct route onto hiking or bicycle trails.
While Lluís may be partially right in saying that without a daily mileage goal I may not walk at all, I’d rather let my body tell me what is a good distance. Some days, thay may be 10 kilometers; other, rarer days, it may be 30. In my head, we planned three to five years for this journey so we could balance walking, exploring, relaxing, doing and being. I liked our month or so in Thailand, which we jokingly call our “walking honeymoon.” We walked about 20 kilometers during the morning and took it easy after lunch.
Since then, I have myself burning the short fuse of natural patience in quicker time. I can’t wait for my next meal. I crave moments of rest and look for any opportunity I get to put down my backpack. I get through the drudgery and boredom of highway asphalt and shoulder walking because I know one day in the next week, I won’t have to walk for a full 24 hours. Thank goodness for the lovely people we have met along the way. They are lifelines helping pull us forward.
This couplehood tug-of-war, like the sound of traffic and horn honking, has scarred us, more than we could have ever expected. We have fought more in the last two years walking than we have in all of the 10 years we were together pre-walk. Many, many happy moments exist, and those good times have carried us a long way. The shadow of recent difficultities, though, reminds us that we each need space so we can continue ahead together long after this walk is another memory.
Now, as we leave behind our cushy lives of temporary bliss and think about picking up where we left off last fall, I feel somewhere between lost, broken and incomplete. Lluís is also on the downside of happy and is dragging himself ahead without much excitement. At the same time, he just wants to get this project done. This thing we’re doing has consumed us and defined us.
It’s time to reset the scope of this walk, and redefine it in a way that works better for both of us. It is a great adventure, and it’s up to us to pump more love and joy into it.
In that vein, Lluís will keep walking from Samsun, Turkey, our stopping point in 2017. He wants to close as many gaps on the map as possible. Surely, he will settle into a pace that is truer to the way he likes moving in the world. That will probably look like 30, 35, maybe even 40 kilometers a day, a distance that is within reach since he has drastically sliced five more kilos from his base backpack weight. He’ll stop and go as he pleases, camp when he’s tired and weave through secondary roads or trails that keep him heading westward.
I have a different path, at least for the foreseeable few weeks.
During the break, thinking about an American guy we met a few years ago in France who was walking a long-distance route from Canterbury, England to Rome, Italy, I mulled over how we, like him, are retracing footsteps through antiquity. Certainly, the Greeks, Romans and Ottomans, along with countless other clans, tribes and communities, have walked the places we will walk in the coming months. Certainly, too, some modern-day people also like to walk, and maybe some of them even like walking on old roads built by those who moved through this region centuries ago.
With the help of the Internet and the wonderful folks at the Antalya-based Culture Routes Society (the organization that manages many of Turkey’s long-distance walking trails), I carved out another westward-ish trek.
Instead of returning to Samsun, l’ll walk parts of the 500+ kilometer Lycian Way in the south-central part of Turkey. The trail connects nature, history, sea, mountains, villages, tourist towns and towns ruined by time—an irresistible dose of things I need now. I hope it will connect me to me.
If things go well, I’ll walk onwards and also do sections of another hiking route, the Carian Trail. Somewhere along there, I hope to meet a group of local and international volunteers and join them in cleaning the trail and repainting way-finding marks. Then, I’ll steer my “bus” towards Lluís. We plan to walk into Greece together. I may walk the distance between us…or I may not. My body, my instincts and my heart will guide me.
Starting out separately brings new worries, not less. We’ll lose the advantage of helping each other during random parts of the day, and knowing someone else always has your back. It will be hard to sleep at night as we wonder if the other one of us is dry, warm and safe. Thankfully, Interent ubiquity will give us the drops of news we need to keep tabs on our physical states of being. We’ll have to wait to look into each others’ eyes to see what email can’t tell us.
All in all, we trust that it will be good for each of us to be in our own footsteps for a while. Twenty-four hour, seven-day-a-week togetherness for the greater part of 27 months has been a major accomplishment for the two of us. Allowing (and expecting) individual freedom within the closeness we have forged as a couple has been a facet our lives and relationship since we met.
This new phase of the walk, where we will separate for a while and merge again somewhere else, invites us to revisit truths we hold dear. We walk to see what we will see. We walk with a net of support stretching from the people we love scattered across the globe to the people we haven’t yet met who will somehow help us on our routes. We walk towards home. We walk to be free. We walk because… that’s what we do…we explore, we live and we keep going onwards, one way or another.