El Camino – The Highlights

We started walking from St. Jean Pied de Port, France on 20 April. Thirty six days later, we walked in to Santiago de Compostela, Spain, traveling 497 miles (799 km) westward.

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Other than 5 miles (8 km) on horseback, 12 miles (20 km) in a taxi, and 110 miles (180 km) by bus from Burgos to Leon, we have traveled on these feet.

We walked 370 miles (590 km).

We slowed down. We rarely reserved beds in advance, trusting that we’d find something. We woke at 0600, walked for over an hour before coffee or breakfast. We learned to share space with other people – a LOT of other people. We met people from around the world – sharing laughter, tears, a meal, a few days walking together – glimpses of our lives.

We learned to appreciate every moment of peace. We ate when we were hungry, rested when we were tired. We redefined luxury – to include walking in solitude, wooden bunk bed ladders, and cloth sheets on a decent mattress. We carried in our packs a bare minimum of belongings – nothing unused. We washed our clothing by hand. We learned the power of restoration that comes through sleep. We lost an appreciable amount of weight without being hungry. We are harder to kill.

We accepted that the most environmentally responsible option for clearing our sinuses does not involve tissues. We saw enough spindly-legged old men in their undercrackers shuffling about hostels to last us a lifetime.* While many peregrinos leave their fecal matter a reasonable distance** from the trail, others seemed to have no problem leaving it mid-trail, for the rest of us to admire. We learned a teeny bit of Spanish – and although we didn’t always get it right, it was universally appreciated.

After five weeks, we thought we were done walking – even though the daily routine was deeply ingrained.

Arriving in Santiago last Friday, with a week to kill, we hopped a bus for the coast. We spent four days farting around by the sea at “the end of the world” – Fisterre and Muxia. But we were restless… We didn’t feel right NOT walking.
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When we arrived back in Santiago today, our plan was to take the airport bus to our hotel. It was only 12 km – so we walked it – in a chilly, misty drizzle.

It felt good…

Tomorrow, we’re off to fart around in Barcelona with an old friend, who has planned an intense repatriation experience.

And then home, for what lies ahead…

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* One. Exactly one of these is enough to last a lifetime. We saw dozens more.
** If you see an area adjacent to the trail littered with toilet paper? Probably not the best place to have a picnic. Humans can be really filthy animals…
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i go out walkin’….

It’s been less than a year since retirement. Nine months. We did not want to spend the first year getting oriented to our new lifestyle. Reflecting on past careers. Sifting through travel guides. Let ourselves get mired in “analysis paralysis.”

We decided to put a virtual taser to the gonads and shake shit up.

The key question we’ve set out to answer — “how do you travel when you have more time than money?” We’ve been fortunate to cover a lot of miles – we want to change how we go.

Shortly after retiring, we stumbled our first few miles on the Appalachian Trail last August, thinking that backpacking  would be the obvious means to travel on the cheap. What we quickly determined is that we were in no shape to tackle such adventures. At least not right away. i also was reminded how much i despise sleeping on dirt.

Studley’s daughter, Pixie, was very supportive of our pursuit of an adventurous travel habit. We discussed other options – including El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. “From what I have heard, one of the hardest things about doing the Camino is staying sober – they serve a LOT of Spanish wines during the meals there…”

Studley and i exchanged a glance – and a high five. “Drunk walk Spain? Yeah. We can do that…” We started planning our camino. While still chasing other adventures, staying in Turkey for a month, and living our regular lives, El Camino became a quest.

We started training. And by “training” i mean “walking” – because it’s really just a walk. Doing 30 half-marathons back to back, however, will wear down your body, so we have been walking. A lot. We’ve walked in rain. In snow. On the one warm day this season, we walked 12 miles. Has it been enough? Probably not. But here we are, about to get on an airplane.

i’ve got several friends who have taken on this pilgrimage. They have been our primary resource in thinking through what to pack. My cousin (who has walked El Camino twice) did a gear shakedown – we were pretty proud to show her that we’d gotten out packs down to 15 pounds.

Cousin L [pulling a tiny travel mug from Studley’s pack]: Isn’t that adorable. You know, they DO have cups in Spain.

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She was brutal, questioning each item. With her help, we further lightened our loads. Base weight of my pack is 10 pounds (4.5 kg). This is a very good start. With water and consumables, i’ll be at about 13 pounds (7 kg).

One of the most challenging aspects has been preparing to be GONE for so long. Bill paying, mail, home maintenance, appointments. All of this must be squared away so we can disappear. Taking my cat to go stay with a friend was difficult. This is also training…

We’ve walked. We’ve packed, repacked, and packed again.  There’s not much more to do but get to the airport. And start walking…

Rain Gear

For decades my “power word” has been “onward”. When i felt mired in the muck of life, or quicksand of toxic relationships, i have grabbed that word as my shield and plowed ahead. Within Camino culture, there is an ancient equivalent – “Ultreia” (old Spanish spelling – “Ultreya”). Rough translation – ‘Onward! Beyond!’

 

Road nuggets

Somewhere between London and Philadelphia, the fever hit. i have spent the past week dealing with a mild case of the flu, while managing re-entry after being away from home for a month. Some random nuggets…

  • Thirty days. That is the longest i’ve ever been away from ‘home’ as an adult. This is mostly because of The Job, which i no longer have. Studley and i were very deliberate about pushing our comfort limits, and we’re still sorting out how we feel. Not seriously considering life as ex-pats, but some gentle experience should we ever choose that route.B1
  • i missed my pets. If i am going to do this on a fairly regular basis, i probably should not have pets. My live-in pet sitter had a pre-planned trip in the middle of that 30 days, so i scrambled to hire people, and find a friend, who could cover those 10 days. One of the most stressful aspects of being gone – and most expensive. i took to feeding treats to the street cats and dogs. cIMG_6363
  • Air travel is still pretty awesome – about 12,000 miles flown on this trip. How long would it have taken by ship? Who knows? Luggage lost on the way to Athens, but it found us a couple of days later. British Airways thought we hadn’t shown up for our flights TO Athens, so they canceled our return, but still managed to get us on a flight home. For all the barking about how shitty air travel is, it’s pretty amazing when you stand back a bit…izmir to istablnu
  • Turkey – Izmir is a lovely city – about the size of Chicago. The public transit cards include use of buses, ferries, trams and bike share. To the people who consider this a ‘third world country’? Rethink that shit… We were out and about alone, day and night, and i NEVER felt unsafe.10
  • Plumbing – in Turkey, there are bins in the toilet stalls for the collection of used paper. The plumbing systems and sanitary waste processing facilities do not handle toilet paper. Surprising how fast you get used to this. On the plus side? Most toilets in Izmir (public, private) have built in bidet functions. Surprising how fast you get used to this, too. Exploring options to upgrade my home toilet…IMG_6268
  • Language – We started using an app (Duolingo) to learn Turkish about two months before launch. The Girl emphasized the need to be fluent in numbers – enabling basic commerce. We thought we’d done ok. We were wrong. i DID have a really cool conversation with my son-in-laws 2 year old niece about colors and animals. i think this topic requires a separate post, as there are numerous examples of how things worked, and didn’t, and many lessons learned along the way!b13
  • Baggage – The Girl had a list of things she wanted us to bring, and we hauled another bag of Christmas gifts from The Girl’s Dad and his wife. We had to bring the big suitcases. Limited to 50 pounds each, we still had to deploy two roll aboard suitcases, along with our standard travel backpacks. Didn’t leave a lot of space for our personal belongings – so we packed REALLY light. Turns out, i can live for a month with just a few shirts, trousers/leggings, a dress, a fleece jacket, raincoat, two pairs of socks, one extra pair of shoes, and four pair of undercrackers. Excellent training for what lies ahead…55

Improvisational dance

May, 2004:  The Girl had signed up for Semester at Sea, sailing around the world on a cruise ship full of undergrads and a few brave faculty members. There was to be a “parent meet up” opportunity somewhere along the way – for that trip, it was Vietnam.

Traveling solo, i joined a group of about 50 wealthy white people* in Bangkok, and we made our way to Vietnam to meet the ship as it pulled into port. We had a couple days in Bangkok, touring together, which told me i was sort of the odd (wo)man out – only a couple of us on the trip without mates, no interest in shopping, i was pretty content to just chill on my own.

After we met up with the students, we had time in Ho Chi Minh City to explore. The tour company handling the parents put us on buses, and we went to various museums. It was on this afternoon i met two couples who were not like the others – a brother and sister, traveling with their spouses, they had been students with Semester at Sea back in the 70’s. They were on the trip to meet with a son/nephew and do some exploring of their own while halfway around the world.

We were headed back to the hotel and the bus driver stopped at a Vietnam Airlines storefront. The two couples said their goodbyes and prepared to hop off the bus – “We’re going to see if we can find some cheap flights to Halong Bay while we’re here. Wander a bit, then maybe fly over to Phuket for some diving before we head home…”

i looked at The Girl after they departed. “i would love to be able to travel like that! Just make it up as you go! i don’t think i’ll ever have that confidence!”

February, 2018: Driving by the Izmir train station.“You know, next time we’re here, maybe we should hop a train? Let’s just see where we can go…”

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* The demographic on the ship was heavily skewed to kids with money. The Girl managed to find her way into the tribe of the hippies on board. She often referred to the ship as the “Aryan Nation Love Boat”. 

Fierce…

She was born and raised in a small village on the Black Sea, but married and moved to a larger city years later. Ayse is 65 years old, and a widow. We met her while visiting friends of The Girl.

The Girl’s friend, Sevda is married to Pete (from the US). They had a son, Ender, about a year ago, and Ayse spends time with them, helping with the little boy, and managing the household. Ayse has four daughters, three (including Sevda) are engineers, and the fourth is trained as a social worker.

We are working on learning Turkish, but our skills are rudimentary at best. With translation assistance from Sevda and The Girl, i told Ayse that she should be very proud of raising four smart, professional daughters. “In my family, everyone must do something.”

Ayse did not go to college herself, but clearly understands the value of education.

As we picked up Ender’s books, we started sounding out words – numbers, colors, animals. She looked at Sevda with a very determined look on her face, threw a side eye toward Pete, and spoke at length in Turkish.

Sevda said she is going to study English, and was inspired to tackle it because we were trying to learn Turkish. She also said that our Turkish is already better than Pete’s, and thinks he should make the same effort after living in Turkey for so long!

Ayse is a thin woman, wearing modest clothing*, taking the occasional break to go out on the porch and smoke. Her eyes are sharp, and her face looks younger to me than her 65 years. Despite Sevda telling us that she has had trouble with her back, she picks up Ender with ease, slinging him onto her shoulders, her back, turning him a million different ways as she carries him from room to room.

“She could juggle babies! Wow!”

Sevda showed me her garden, which includes herbs, peppers, greens. “That’s an olive tree! We just had a harvest, and made olive oil! Pete and I were picking them from the low branches, but my mother climbed up the tree! She has practically build this entire garden herself! I’ll send home some of the tomato sauce she made this summer!”

As we said our goodbyes**, Ayse invited us to visit us in her home town when we visit again. i told her that we’d help her practice her English if she’d help us practice our Turkish!

In the car on the drive home, i was commenting on how fierce Ayse is – “She is extraordinary! She is fierce, smart – and can juggle babies! How cool is that?”

The Girl seemed a little sad as she said “Yeah… I think she’s sick. Cancer. Not sure of the details, but it’s not a great prognosis…”

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Image found here. A famous ‘baby juggler’ statue in Oslo. Who knew?

* In Izmir, women are free to choose to wear modest clothing (hijab) or not. Based on several visits here, and observation, i’d say around a quarter to a third of women – of all ages – make this choice. 

** Saying goodbye in Turkish culture takes approximately 30-45 minutes. There are a dozen words for “goodbye” and the process is complicated, but heart felt. We are still getting the hang of cheek-kissing (right side, left side, right side again for family… i think…)

Ye (ancient) gods…

How would you travel if you had more time than money?

That is the question we chew on now that we are retired. Even with very reasonable retirement incomes, we make less money than we did while working – but must maintain our travel habit!

First up? Couch surfing with my daughter in Turkey! She camped under my roof for a couple of decades, so it’s time for her to repay the favor!

Given the political climate* between the U.S. and Turkey, getting the visa to stay for a month wasn’t trivial. In November, i had been stalking some travel websites, and learned that there was still a process allowing to obtain walk-up visas in the Istanbul airport – but only if you spent a few days in another country. This became Plan A.

Plan A, however, was scuttled somewhere around November 20th, as this work around was shut down – but both embassies announced that a limited number of visas would be processed. This became Plan B – we decided that we’d burn up some frequent flier miles, and hotel points, and plan to spend some time in Athens. Worst case? The Girl could hop over and visit with us, even if we were not given the opportunity to visit Turkey.

The application process was messy, requiring a metric ton of documentation – including pay statements from my son-in-law, a copy of the deed to their home. We had to provide proof of income as well.

We hired a service to expedite visa processing in Washington to hand carry our passports to the Turkish consulate. That was right before we took off for our Christmas holiday in mid-December. Much to my complete and total amazement, we were notified that the visas were granted just a few days later!

As excited as we were to have the visas, there was this bit of news. The US and Turkey came to an agreement to stand down, and return to normal visa processing about a week after we got our pretty stamps in the passports. Because of course they did…

We decided to proceed with a short stay in Athens on our way to Izmir. The Girl joined us, as neither she or Studley had been there before.  Thanks to my 20+ years as a business road warrior, the hotel gave us a room on the executive floor, providing free breakfast, and a happy hour with snacks! These served as two of our daily meals!

i’ll let some photos do the rest of the talking…

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Breakfast on the hotel terrace. That is the Acropolis in the distance. Truly a cradle of civilization, wandering the temples, gardens and facades scattered through the modern city provides a powerful perspective on “old”…

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One of my favorite things about the old section of Athens is riding the Metro! As the Greeks prepared for the 2004 Olympics, they wanted to improve public transportation through the addition of a subway – but when you’re digging in Greece, every hole is full of treasures! Rather than remove them all, many were incorporated into displays at the Metro stops!

Street critters were generally well fed and cared for by some combination of residents and the city government. Many were tagged, giving some evidence of the “Trap, Neuter, Release” program. How very civilized. The U.S. could take a serious lesson here… Did i mention that they seem quite well fed? The three fat pups welcomed us to the Agora, near Monastiraki Square.

Street art abounds! i’m a fan of high quality graffiti, and Athens was not lacking.

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No visit to Europe is complete without time spent in sidewalk cafes. A bit chilly in January, we still managed to find several nice stops – for coffee in the morning, and beer in the afternoon.

We’re both embracing the gray hairs. Life is much simpler since i shaved my head. Studley still isn’t sure about the beard…

 

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Being devoted “booze travelers”, we visited Brettos – a bar and tasting room operating since 1909. Ouzo, brandy and wine are available for tasting. Being in Greece, we chose the ouzo tasting!

i’ve had better ideas. The equivalent of one serious glass of ouzo got me pretty lit!  Stumbling Walking a few doors further, we stopped for a late lunch.  A giant plate of grilled meat helped me stabilize enough to hop the Metro back to the hotel! Perhaps the wine tasting is a better option?

Three days was enough! In general, i can highly recommend a few days in Athens – and January is perfect for missing the crowds (if you don’t mind a little chill in the air). Five suitcases and three backpacks into a taxi, and off to the airport for the next round…

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* Two nominally adult men waging battle over the size of their weiners…

Projectionist

We signed up for a Mediterranean cruise last November, at the urging of my friend, Dee. Single, 40-something, with a great sense of fun and adventure, she asked us to join up with a larger group of friends. “You and Studley need to go on this cruise! I really want to get back to SCUBA diving, and I’m terrified of going it alone!”

So we did.

The cruise organizer is a former colleague, Ted. Ten years ago, he beat the odds against aggressive brain cancer. Every year, he arranges a cruise holiday with friends and family to celebrate another year of remission. Yet another great reason to sign up…

Studley and i decided to hit Rome early and spend a few days there before boarding the ship. We weren’t sure we could get off the ship and to the airport in time for a same-day departure, so we also booked a night at an airport hotel before our return flight. It was pricey, so i used some of my banked hotel points for a free room.

Dee was making her own arrangements. She pinged along the way, finally telling Studley that she was too scared to go it alone, and asked if she could connect up with us for the days in Rome. He shared our hotel info, and flight arrangements with her. She decided to also spend the extra night in Rome on the return, but found out our hotel was way out of her price range – and didn’t have points to burn. Since she knew many others on the trip, she emphasized that she didn’t expect to tag along with us for the entire trip, and said she’d figure something out.

We got to Rome and hopped the train to Termini station. Dee has not traveled much, and we made sure to share the process with her – coaching along the way*. Tracking train schedules, buying tickets, map navigation, avoiding touts and pickpockets. We had booked a sweet little place in Rome, and had a blast farting around for a couple of days. At breakfast, on the morning of our departure for the cruise terminal…

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daisyfae: Have you figured out where you’re going to stay on that last night in Rome?

Dee: Not yet. I need to get on that…

daisyfae: This hotel is terrific – maybe ask to see if they’ve got a room available?

Dee: I don’t know if I can get back to the train station by myself…

daisyfae: You’ve done it six times since we’ve been here! You’re a ninja! You got this!

Dee: I don’t know…

The cruise was fun – we are not particularly fond of big cruise ships, but it is nice to unpack once and then wake up every day in a different port… Sometimes a different country. Florence, Cannes, Mallorca, Barcelona, Naples… It was a grand trip!

Periodically, i’d ask Dee if she’d figured out what she would be doing for that last night… Suggested talking to the Guest Services staff on board, stopping in the internet café to get online and do some checking. She continued to procrastinate. It was frustrating for Studley and me – we are not over-planners, but having a place to stay is one of those things you really need to take care of when traveling! Trying to help her learn to travel independently, i got a little agitated that the student wasn’t taking initiative!

Studley had arranged a few adventures on shore for the two of us. We rented Vespas in Cannes – managing to get lost a few times, but still finding some gorgeous spots on the French Riviera! He also arranged our dive trip near Naples – Roman ruins, dating back to Emperor Claudius! Not the “warm water, pretty reefs and colored fishies” dives that we’re used to, but absolutely fascinating!

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The last night on board, Dee still hadn’t made her hotel arrangements. i insisted that she go to the guest services desk.

daisyfae (to Studley): It’s like she’s not even trying! She is fully capable of taking care of this! i just don’t get it!

Studley: You know, not everyone aspires to be an independent traveler. I think she just wants someone else to deal with it…

daisyfae : …

Studley: Some people want to be taken care of… and there’s nothing wrong with that!

daisyfae [lightbulb over head]: You’re absolutely right. Holy shit! i’ve been projecting MY need to be independent onto her. That’s not what she wants…

In the end it was Eddie, the internet café manager, who hooked her up with lodgings. The hotel was a short taxi ride from the train station. When we got to our hotel near the airport, i sent Dee a text…Checking to see if she’d gotten to her hotel…

daisyfae: We made it! Are you settled? Best option for a train from Termini is the Leonardo Express – look for the separate ticket kiosk at the station.

Dee: Made it ok! I’m just going to take a taxi to the airport tomorrow.

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*”Adventure shared is adventure squared!” Encouraging others to “Get off the sofa” is absolute joy!

As the Dust Settles…

Coming up for air as things settle into transient equilibrium in my inconsequential corner of the universe… Sharing a few observations, lessons, and a glimpse of ‘scores and highlights’ from the past few weeks… Not writing. Just reporting.

Wedding: My sister T’s wedding earlier this month went off with only one hitch – and that ‘hitch’ was to her partner! i was anxious regarding the coalescence of family around an emotionally charged event. Whether they all buried their respective shit out of respect for my sister, or because of my pointed directive prior to travel simply doesn’t matter – all went well, and it was a celebration!

My anxiety was driven by a series of messages and e-mails the week prior to the wedding. My brother couldn’t understand why my niece was invited, and he couldn’t stand being in the same room with her. My niece, and sister S, were both barking because my brother would be there. In a group e-mail to the clan sharing logistics and plans for the weekend, i added the following line: “There will be no drama.  i will drown the first person to be rude.” Regardless of the reason, everyone was cordial and nobody got drunk and stupid… Well, i might have had a few too many once i got on a plane toward home…

And then there was the suggested dress for the wedding – “Nautical Chic”… Us ‘Trailer Park People’ had to request clarification on this one. In southern Ohio, “Nautical Chic” means “Dress for a day of boatin’ on the Ohio River”, and would lead us toward cut off blue jeans and flip flops. i suggested Khaki trousers, polo shirt, or if going more “yacht club”, wearing the khaki’s with a light blue oxford and a blue blazer. Boat shoes for the gents, of course. My sister S’s husband J won the prize by asking if his old pair of disco shoes would be ok…

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Kitchen Remodel: Today is the ninth day with skilled laborers in my home. Tear out began on 27 April, and there has been a tremendous amount of work done – making my new space look like a real kitchen again. A dream kitchen, in fact. Fortunately, my boss and the nature of my work has allowed me to work from home while construction is underway.

i sit in my home office, dog at my feet, bashing through e-mail, documents, presentations and conference calls. They tear out walls, install wiring, plumb gas lines, place flooring and trim, make all things perfectly flush and level, and haul a 10′ 6″ long slab of manufactured quartz that weighs 830 pounds into place on top of the new kitchen island.

In awe of their knowledge and skill, I’ve tried to stay out of the way – but have bootlegged the chance to learn something. What have i learned? We need to send fewer people to universities and instead develop more skilled tradesmen. They don’t need to leave at lunch to go to the gym to get exercise – they use their lunch breaks to rest.

Working with my designer, and lead contractor, i’ve also had to do some juggling and dancing to keep the project on track as various components were damaged or delayed. This morning? Flooring contractors were finishing up as the plumbers arrived. They were mostly finished by the time the refrigerator was delivered and installed. i really need to have the kitchen operational soon, because…

Adventure: There is a cruise in my immediate future. Not the type of holiday we usually take, this one is special for two reasons. The first? A former boss organizes an annual family and friends cruise to celebrate remission from brain cancer. Seven years ago he was given a 20% chance of getting on the other side of an aggressive tumor.  He did it.

The second reason? A friend, who has attached to us because she wants to be more adventurous, invited us along – with a request: “Please come on this cruise – I want to go diving with you guys in the Mediterranean!”  So we plan to be diving ruins in Naples along with a few other adventures – a bit more aggressive than typical shore excursions.

Studley had to carry the football on this trip because i handled travel logistics for the wedding, and am working logistics on a late summer trip to see The Girl in Turkey. So much to look forward to… but i am a bit overwhelmed.

This arrived today – i have a luggage fetish and am smitten with Samsonite Fiero. A new mid-sized piece for the collection. Time to get the kitchen re-organized and start loading this baby…

packing

Life is short. Don’t postpone joy…

Road hard

Three weeks of nearly continuous business travel. Given the run of frigid weather in February, i did gain some time in sunny, relatively warm California. Sure, i got to enjoy it a bit, walking to and from the rental car, and a few days spent dining al fresco for conference luncheons… but mostly, i was in meetings from 7am until 7pm or later.

Jacked up flights, due to weather.  i missed a connection at O’Hare by fivefuckingminutes, which led to a complete re-route to an airport near my destination, requiring a rental car and about six extra hours of travel time.  Missed a half day of work as a result, but made it. And didn’t get particularly stressed out.

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Similar jackage the next trip. i was halfway through a cardio workout in a hotel fitness center, when my phone lit up – 800 number.  i knew immediately that it was from the airline, likely delivering shitty news regarding my scheduled flight home the next afternoon. Rather than take the call, i finished my workout, then hauled my sweaty arse back to my room to deal with it.

As expected, my Wednesday afternoon flight was bagged, due to ice in Dallas, but they had conveniently re-booked me on the same flight for Thursday. “Well, that’s not gonna work!” A rookie traveler might have lost her shit at this point.

i dialed up my travel agent on one phone, and dialed the airline on my business mobile, while peeling off my sweaty gear. “Due to inclement weather, we are experiencing delays in customer service…” on both lines. Plugged in the phones, set both to speaker, and proceeded to call room service to order dinner…

i knew i’d have to bag the morning meetings and hook an early flight toward the east coast.  i set up my laptop, finished up the work that was required for the next morning. Room service arrived, bringing me a marginally edible flat bread pizza and a glass of wine.

As i emptied the wine glass, my travel office came back on line. Agent was able to wade through a pile of options and get me re-booked for a 6am flight. i finished the pizza. Once confirmed, it was about 9pm local time, meaning i had about 6 hours before my 3am wake up call.

Packed my clothes, sent my work off into the ether, set three alarms and was in bed within fifteen minutes. Was on the road to an airport an hour away by 4am, on a plane at half past five, and headed east around 6am.

Looking out the window. Thinking back on all the years i’ve been doing this. There was a  time when i loved it! Exciting, glamorous and chubb-inducing business action – i was a cog in my small corner of the technology world, and i enjoyed mixing it up with others in the field.

Now? It’s nice to bank all those airline miles and hotel points, but it’s just a longer commute. i try to be good at what i’m doing, but it is no longer my passion. Looking out the window of a plane, i just wanted to get home to my own bed, and my manimals.

And looking forward to the day – not that far away – when i will travel for only for recreation! Retirement lurks, and those airline miles are going to fuel a lot of roadtrips. Dive trips. Backpacking trips abroad – open ended, with no return flights booked.

Studley and i are in the midst of planning three trips between now and September. Uncharted territory – emotionally, mentally and geographically. i will continue to hop planes as a commuter, but i can assure you when i board those planes for uncharted territory, i am going to be one delighted adventurer…

i genuinely believe that a key element to happiness is having things to look forward to… i may be exhausted, but i am incredibly happy at this moment in life!

Bubbles

In 9th grade, i won the “Klutz of the Year” award at the High School Band Awards dinner.  i tripped over a music stand on my way to receive the trophy.

i have never been graceful.

In 2006 i got my SCUBA certification.  The same year i got divorced, became an empty-nester, and got cancer.  It wasn’t until 2009, when Studley became a certified diver, that i had a chance to put more than my toe in the water.

And it was life-changing…  We had quite an adventure in Cozumel!  Weighing myself down with far too much lead, unable to find neutral buoyancy, and being terrified during a night dive with a five mile per hour current did not dampen my enthusiasm for diving.

i wanted needed more. i’ve gotten it.

Not a cheap hobby by any stretch, so dive trips to sunny, warm-water locales with pretty colored fish have been a bit of a luxury.  Even so, we’ve managed some extraordinary excursions over the past five years.

The most recent adventure last week to The Cayman Islands is now tucked under my weight belt.  On this trip?  i hit the milestone “100th Dive”.  Celebrated with the dive boat crew, and my fellow divers.  It was a good thing that i was still dripping with sea water, or they might have noticed that i was crying…

How did i get here?

100

It wasn’t just the milestone dive that triggered tears.  That was just a number.  It was more than that…

No longer struggling to manage my air, i was returning to the boat with almost a third of my tank untouched after an hour underwater.  Buoyancy isn’t such an issue.  i can get in a very Zen-like trance floating alongside a coral wall at 100’… a wall that has no bottom for another 6,000 feet.  The gear doesn’t confuse me – i can easily rig my own stuff, and get in and out of the water without assistance — even perfecting the James Bond Backroll from the side of the boat!

It’s not really all of that.

Moving effortlessly underwater with a school of fish.  Face to face with a friendly grouper.  While most divers use a standard kick, or frog kick, to move along, i’ve adopted the double fin kick…

In the water, i move like a motherfucking mermaid.  For the first time in my life?  i am graceful. It feels good.

74

That’s me, doing the inverted photo-bomb as Studley and i explore a wrecked Russian frigate.  For once in my life, i am not clumsy.

It feels wonderful…