Facing your emotions...
Tonight (I am in the Arcadia National Park, Maine, USA) I feel so vulnerable... I miss. The South African Afrikaans speaking folk have a wonderful expression: Ek Verlang! (I miss...). I miss the familiar, I miss my friends, I miss my family... I miss/ek verlang! What I would not give for an evening of familiar faces, a good glass of wine and some great conversation. I have been on the road now for nearly 3 weeks and this is the first evening I have been confronted with this emotion. A deep longing for the familiar.
I lit a fire and got my meat ready for the braai (or barbeque). I poured myself a scotch (Jane Walker my son in law bought for me) on the rocks and sat enjoying the sound of the breeze in the pines and the crackle of the fire. I have a longing in my heart. My mind wonders to times just like this where I would be camped at Beaverlac or Algeria in the Cederberg mountains of the Western Cape, South Africa. Times when I would be surrounded by my friends and have my partner with me. The conversations around the campfire would carry on deep into the night. Oh how I longed for this right now. These memories only served to exacerbate my sense of aloneness and longing.
Travelling alone is not for the faint hearted. While it has its benefits, there are some real challenges. Challenges I have come to appreciate on this road trip. The most prevalent one being that of loneliness. One has a lot of time to spend contemplating your surroundings, your feelings and your emotions. I have found that on this road trip I have been taken through waves of different engagements with myself, my feelings, my memories and then my emotions. From when I wake in the morning to when I close my eyes in the evening.... loneliness the biggest challenge of all.
When I decided to embark on this road trip on my own, I was very comfortable with the idea of travelling alone. Yes - I have travelled alone before. Just last year I did the Camino Frances, walking 800 kms (500 miles) across Spain from St Jean Pied de Port in France. I figured that if I could do that then road tripping on my own would be a piece of cake. Think again Suzi... this is very very different!
Let me explain. On the Camino, you are walking (not driving) and while you may be walking on your own, you are never really alone. Others doing the same thing, walk by. Some walk a while with you and chat, others pass by with a cheery "Buen Camino". There is constant people interaction throughout the day. Then (and I never appreciated this until now) at the end of each day, you eat a communal meal at your place of stay and get to converse with all the other pilgrims. You make friends, albeit they transient friends, they are friends with a common purpose in that moment, in that space on that journey. It was the same each day for the 39 days it took me to walk the Camino. When I arrived in Santiago and spent 3 days there before I flew out to London, it was like arriving at a party! I bumped into many pilgrims I had met along the way, drank Vino Tinto with them and had evening meals with them too. A bond had formed with every person on that Camino. So no, you were never really alone.
Road tripping on the other hand, is quite the opposite. You spend most of the time in your own company behind the wheel. I had hoped that I would get to meet people along the way, doing what I was doing and engaging with them for a couple of hours at least. I guess the mistake I made was to plan a very long trip with overnighting along the way in different campsites. I think in hindsight, you don't stay long enough to engage meaningfully with people. While people greet you, some even stop for a quick chat, none actually invite you over or stay long enough to get to know you. Then there is the other aspect, not many people road trip on their own here in the USA. I see many, many travelling in couples, families and groups of friends (the younger generation).
Not even when stopping at over looks to view the scenery and take photos or stopping for a nice break and coffee do people engage with you. My #blueberrycoach attracts attention and draws the odd person across for a chat, but a chat is what it is. No real engagement of any kind. There are days that I miss my road tripping partners. My sister Anne (we did Scotland together back in 2015 and Kalagahdi National Park, South Africa and Namibia in March 2018 ) and my Az who road tripped Namibia with me back in 2009. Two people I travel so well with.
I had no expectations that this would be the same as the Camino, but I did expect to engage more closely with other travellers. There were two couples that I connected with on this journey. Firstly, Paul and Jackie from PK Garage who took care of me at the beginning of this journey when I had problems with the coach. My road trip angels. Then there was Val and Christl Riedman from Gilboa, Upstate New York. Christl came and chatted to me initially. We were both camped in Waynesboro just outside the Shenandoah National Park. They were on their way home and invited me to overnight at their home on my way to Maine. I had the most wonderful evening with them. Christl had even served some South African red wine with dinner.
I have come to learn to be still in the silence... this is an amazing accomplishment for me. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love sound, music, the radio or just the sound of people chatting. I am not someone who likes silence. My own home for example, had a radio playing 24/7. If I walked in to a house and there was no radio/music, I would ask to put something on. Well, on this road trip, the radio had to be adjusted all the time as I moved further north and when I tired of this, I would then listen to Spotify. All the while there was music. When I entered into Canada, trying to pick up a radio signal proved difficult and without unlimited data on my USA number (I had to get a Canadian sim card), Spotify was out. So out came my iPod for a short time. Before long, I tired of this (I have to change up the music on the iPod). So my first day in Canada was spent mostly in silence. No radio and no music. I think it was when I arrived in Prince Edward Island, I realised that I was ok with the silence. I found that I had spent the day basically in a driving meditation... quite a unique experience. That day I came to understand that the only way to quell the emotions of loneliness, longing and aloneness, is to be present in the very moment. To do that, I had to quiet my mind and focus on the joy of the moment. Each kilometre/mile allowed me to practice this and as I drew closer to Prince Edward Island, the celebration of going over the Conferation Bridge was a beautiful reward for achieving something I thought I would struggle to do.
Emotions, feelings, memories ... I pick each one up, acknowledge it ... honour it and then let it go as the kilometres/miles disappear beneath me and I travel into my future!