From the Journal
“What are your goals?” Maria asked you.
It was in regards to this trip. Not the specific road trip you were currently on, but the overall entire trip of your lives. Somehow, in the car you found yourselves in a conversation about nostalgia (the different kinds), memories, and how traveling changes you.
“I want to be tougher. Mentally.”
Ah, now you remember. You had just finished reading A Fighter’s Mind by Sam Sheridan and now Maria was reading it. She had some positive comments to give about it when this ball got rolling and it got you two talking about the subject of limits, pushing boundaries, and achievement. Maria knows this principle (the way the book deals with it) much more intimately than you do just by the very nature of the sport she was involved in and the level at which she competed. Rowing, though a team effort, highly prizes individual skill, or rather, demonstrations of it. How fast can you go? What is your time? By the time you apply for college, recruiters have had you summarized by a single number.
You thought for a moment…and you couldn’t really come up with a pinnacle of physical achievement. Not like having the fastest time in your state. You weren’t the first to do this, or the best at that. You had some talent for rugby, but it really isn’t that type of sport. Your victories belonged to your team and that was completely fine.
Still…you thought more. Maybe if you went way back to that first mile you ever ran without stopping. Certainly that was a personal milestone, but nothing objectively spectacular. Tons of people do that every day. That’s not what you’re looking for. You’re looking for separation from the pack. You’re searching for something that is above and beyond most humans. Finally, you came to the conclusion that you did not hold such an accomplishment.
This did not, and does not bother you. But you did give it more thought. You don’t think you are very badass, despite what some people tell you. The truth is, you feel soft, both physically and mentally. For example, today, after finally making it to Giant’s Causeway, you were on your way back to the van which you had stowed in the driveway of a vacant-looking building a few kilometers down the road to avoid paying a parking entrance fee. That morning you woke up to a sore throat and a pounding headache. This made the walk back agonizing for you.
Disappointment. That is what you felt. You were disappointed that you were being such a little bitch. It wasn’t even raining! (little did you know, the NEXT day you would be walking back to the car while being pelted by hailstones in even lower temperatures and fiercer winds). You were just tired and cold. You had an achy head and neck and just wanted more than anything to be in the warm car.
You thought “wow. This is all it takes to break you down. How sad.”
So later, as you discussed this with Maria over a hot coffee and some chocolate biscuits you picked up for 1 euro, you formulated your goals.
“I just want to be tougher.” You said.
“You will be. Just by hanging out with me. I tend to lead by example.” she replied.
“Good, because I just feel so weak. At the Causeway, I was legitimately worried about how I am going to be able to travel over the next year.”
“You know what I want for you?” She said. “I want you to get to a point where you will consider a 3 hour walk into town and a 2 euro bus ticket and say ‘eh, let’s walk it.’ I want you to think ‘hey, I have two legs, plenty of food, and a place to sleep. I’m good’ “
“Yeah that sounds like a good place to be.”
“Patience. Now let’s get to Slieve League asap.”
And off you went, but the talk continued in the car. Here you determined two things: 1 – a hot coffee is all you need to lift your spirits 1000% and 2 – you need a stronger core. Let’s call that physical goal no. 1 (physical goal no. 2 is more flexible hamstrings).
Back to nostalgia and trips in general…Maria explained to you that there are three different types of positive memories. The first are the specific days or instances that stick out in your mind, such as “remember the time that I left my passport in the car with those girls in Arklow?” Then, there are positive habits like “I remember in San Francisco, going to the farmers market every Sunday at Civic Center.” Finally, there are larger chunks of time, like “When I was in college for 4 years…” And the important thing, is recognizing the difference when you want to make memories for yourself.
The thing is, the best stories, the most positive memories are often when things are a little bit rocky, not ideal, challenging, or frustrating. You considered this as you climbed the windy road to Slieve League. It was dusk and you wanted to get there before it was completely dark.
You made it, but barely. You reached a plateau, a parking lot of sorts, a few kilometers away from the main start of the trail. The daylight was fading quickly, but you were the only ones around for miles. The gate to the top was closed, but not locked (you found out later this gate is always closed, to keep the mountain sheep from escaping) so you hopped it and began an adventure to the top in the near darkness.
My god, the wind was incredible. Maria snapped a few photos of you leaning into a gust, allowing it to support your full body weight with no problem. The two of you pranced around on this deserted road between gorgeous cliffs, observing sheep grazing next to you and the most intense wind you have ever encountered. On your way up, you heard some guy on the radio warning about gusts of wind averaging 120 k/h.
You felt better. This was more like it. Hopping over a fence into a tourist attraction after dark in harsh conditions because you could. Because you were there. This is traveling. Now back to the van, you decided to keep it parked there over night because who is going to tell you you can’t? No one in their right mind would be up here trying to police you. It is actually a tough mental exercise, snapping out of the American mindset of “I am not allowed to do this” because there is no person or sign there to permit you. Fortunately, Ireland lends itself nicely to practicing autonomy in this regard.
You found out quickly that sleep would be illusive since you parked in a wind tunnel. The van was literally rocking back and forth ominously the entire night, and made a shrill whistling sound through the front windows which were cracked a tiny bit for ventilation. Thankfully, Maria had earplugs.
At least it was “warm” outside (about 6 degrees C). Seriously though, you were secretly glad to be trapped in a freezing box as it teetered back and forth in the hail and rain, because you welcomed the opportunity to try and achieve your goal of being a badass. What better place to start than by precariously parking your van in 120 k/h gusts of wind and rain next to a cliff? You want to endure and enjoy, and do things with yourself that are extraordinary and challenging, and then live to tell about it.
As the thought came to you, you hoped consciously that the van didn’t blow away and roll off the cliff in the night.