I roll over on the bamboo poles serving as tonight’s mattress. Tired, aching muscles clench both sides of my shoulder blades, and my hips don’t quite fit in the small spaces between the tied poles. I can only wish for more sleep, but it’s a wasted wish. It’s 3:50 a.m., a few minutes before our alarms go off.
I take a rushed and restless breath, and on the exhale, a single thought floods my brain and body. Thinking about it will consume many hours of many days, and eventually it will become one of my personal carry-on-warrior mantras: What would love do?
Messages that come in the precious hours before dawn mean something. They are reminders from our higher selves about where to put our attention. And, lately my attention has slumped into a downward spiral of shit. I could find a better, more polite way to say that, but why dance around the truth.
Facing Frustration and Redefining Failure
As much as I try to lead a heart-centered life where compassion, kindness and love dictate my important decisions, this journey is testing me in ways I underestimated. It’s not all joy and bliss…those feelings are the little sparks that come now and again in random bursts and give us just enough courage and determination to move on. In between those shiny, happy moments, there’s a lot of disillusionment that is sometimes hard to rein in.
Lately, my day-to-day walking life has been clouded over with a murkiness that takes the form of self-absorbed whining, weariness in the exhausting task of putting one foot in front of the other, and any other word that would be the opposite of the goodness I am finding often on this crazy adventure. I’m breaking Lluís’ gentle heart with my mean streak and bitchy comments, and I’m beginning to wonder if I have what it takes to keep going.
I’m not wired for failure. Capricorn is both my sun and moon sign, for those of you who are star-watchers. I’m a mountain goat accustomed to setting goals, defining reasonable targets, and, slowly but surely, achieving them. Self-discipline is a strength, and practical logic rules my mind. I’m a realist. Not an idealist, not a pessimist, not an optimist. Talk to me about what’s real and add a dose of imagination and creativity, and I’m in.
There’s nothing practical about what we’re doing. Who does stuff like this?!? Few people travel the way we do. We draw inspiration from fellow walkers Paul Salopek, Sarah Marquis, Albert Bosch, Tom Turcich, and Karl Bushby. Many people bicycle the world, but walk it?!? That’s reserved for the weirdo bunch, which I suppose we are now part of, in some tiny way.
What’s crazier is that we keep showing up for this thing we’re called to do for reasons I can’t explain or understand. But, these last couple weeks, I feel the universe is playing a joke on me, deliberately tripping me up and leaving me empty most days.
One day it was so bad, I almost threw my stuffed backpack into an irrigation canal. I picked it up with all the strength I had left and, with a fury I haven’t felt in years, hauled it towards the waterfront.
“Jenn! Jenn! JENN!” Lluís yelled, snapping me out of my blind rage. I threw my pack on the ground, wailing with the complete, utter frustration. I’m exhausted, weak and disappointed in myself; all my hope fell to the ground with heavy thud.
Some days, it feels like one failure after another. It reads like a shopping list.
- Doubling over with stomach problems at least a couple of times every day, usually far from a bathroom (or, I should say, a ceramic-lined hole in the ground and a bucket of water that serves as the flushing mechanism).
- Coming up with a weight-carrying alternative when our cart fell apart after a three-day trial run on shoulders filled with gravel, sand, rocks and weeds.
- Dealing with a pulled shoulder muscle and pinched nerve that make my fingers tingle.
- Nursing a sore knee, the result of compensating for my shoulder pain.
- Looking for additional weight to shave from my pack while keeping at least three liters of water handy.
- Quick-stitching tears in my backpack and praying the main straps don’t completely unravel.
- Swallowing dust all day long.
- Scratching away prickly heat and waving off persistent flies and mosquitoes.
- Blinking away buckets of sweat.
- Going deaf as trucks honk every three seconds.
- Cursing my body for menstrual cramps and desperately waiting for menopause.
- Walking in unbearable heat and humidity from before sunrise to around sunset.
- Covering what I consider impractical daily distances with too much weight because our time is dictated by visa stamps.
- Savoring the couple hours of shaded midday rest only to rise up with worry about where we will sleep in a country that has limited options and makes it difficult for those who pass through in non-traditional ways.
- Rarely getting as much sleep as our bodies need because the traffic along the roads we walk never stops, or we are stretched out on a concrete floor hidden out of view in an abandoned house, or we are rolling over bamboo poles in a tiny sun shelter cow-keepers and farmers use during the day.
- Questioning every hour why we would voluntarily choose this continual discomfort when life was pretty damn good at home.
- Wondering seriously what the end goal of this trip is… reaching Barcelona seems equally too big and too small.
I realize we are only about two months into a multi-year trip, and in the scheme of things, these are really small things. They are inconveniences, annoyances and botherations. They are things to learn from and manage through. We’ll be lucky if this the worst stuff we encounter. I know all this, but because they are hitting me all at once, almost every day, I’m left feeling run down and run over.
“So, what would love do?” I ponder this more times than I can count lately.
The Love Way
For starters, love would smile. Just keep smiling, even if it’s a false smile. A smile requires very little effort, but is an easy mood-changer.
Love would shut up and listen. I’m quick with my opinions, and when I’m tired, hungry and cranky, I don’t want to hear other ideas about what we should do or where we should go. There is an art in listening and I have to practice mastering this skill I am lazy in developing.
Love would stop making other people miserable. If I’m having a rough day, I shouldn’t blame Lluís for my discomfort, something I hate to admit that I’m doing too often simply because he’s the only one around to dump all my crap on.
Love would give in. I’m stubborn, and so is Lluís. The difference is he bends more than I do. I don’t like leaning in. I’m independent and outspoken. I like to be right. I like doing things my way. But, that’s selfish, foolish and impractical. A love like ours, and a trip like this, deserves hand-holding caresses and a bigger view than what I narrowly see in front of me during one moment in time.
Love would hit the reset button. I have gotten up many times to dust off setbacks life threw in my path. It’s the way life is. Good things happen. We get sucker-punched. We heal. We go on. The problem is that walking through life so slowly turns a dumb little thing into a mind swell of aggravation that causes a domino effect of negativity. I have to learn to quickly dam up the emotional cascade at the new and different pace we are going at; it’s much easier to band-aid the hurt and disappointment when there are hundreds of other distractions bombarding us in our normal fast-paced days.
Love would start with gratitude and appreciation. This one I have put in practice many times. It’s a trick from my running days. When I run marathons and hit the wall, I remember to say thank you to every single volunteer and bystander I pass. It takes energy, but gratitude puts my heart in a better place, a place I like being in.
Love would have a sense of humor. Life is funny, and people make it funnier. I’m my own best joke. Look at the silly things I sign up for! This walk is the most ridiculous thing I’ve done so far. It’s the joke I’m still writing. What should the punch line be? (Tell me in the comments, and help keep me smiling…I’m pretty thick-skinned.)
Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now
Love, after all, must be above everything else. Lluís is good at reminding me about that, even though I sometimes don’t believe it or the idealism that comes with it.
We talked about this the other day before the sun melted us. It was one of those intimate couple conversations filled with daydreams, long-term hopes and future aspirations.
It took a bittersweet twist, and veered off into the realm of “want.” Sometimes our views about what we each want from this trip are so enormously different, I don’t know how we started out together or how we’ll finish together.
The universe steered us back on course. It’s nice when those cosmic breadcrumbs magically appear exactly when we need them.
As we crossed a bridge, the river breeze brought us snippets of a 1987 song, one of the very few English songs we’ve heard in almost two months walking. It was the catchy Jefferson Starship song from the movie Mannequin.
These words got trapped in our heads:
Let ’em say we’re crazy, I don’t care about that
Put your hand in my hand baby
Don’t ever look back
Let the world around us just fall apart
Baby we can make it if we’re heart to heart
And we can build this dream together
Standing strong forever
Nothing’s gonna stop us now
And if this world runs out of lovers
We’ll still have each other
Nothing’s gonna stop us, nothing’s gonna stop us now
In the toughest moments of the day, we’re learning to let love lead.
Lluís takes my hand and kisses it. “What’s going to stop us now?” he asks.
I kiss his hand, and with the biggest smile I can invent, I answer, “Nothing’s gonna stop us now!”