Our non-stop flight from Iceland to Kansas City touched down in KC the evening of June 22nd. Three days later and I am still catching up on mail, bills, time with family, and reacquainting myself with the marvels of my own bed and shower. My backpack and assorted items from the journey remain piled on a chair in our bedroom, demanding my attention. Perhaps later today, but first these closing “Thoughts” from the journey.
March 5, 2017 was the day that I “met” Carmen. She was the telephone agent for Viking Ocean Cruises. We talked for almost an hour, first about the details of booking a transatlantic repositioning cruise that would take us from Puerto Rico to Barcelona Spain, and then about life and family. We became Facebook friends and Carmen has followed our wanderings ever since. April 11, 2017 was the day that we booked the cruise and thus took the first tangible steps in translating a dream into a reality.
Christine and I have mused about an extended trip abroad since the early days of our marriage. Contemplation became earnest with our retirements in 2015 and the structure of such a journey began to take form in our discussions. With the completion of our goal to camp in 49 States, 8 Canadian Provinces, and the Yukon Territory it became our “next thing”.
August 31, 2017, we purchased one-way travel aboard an Icelandair flight from Oslo Norway to Kansas City, with a one-week stopover in Iceland. This secured the bookends of our journey. We now knew the date of our departure from Kansas City to Puerto Rico, March 24, 2018, and the date of our return to Kansas City, June 22, 2018. On October 22, 2017 we purchased Eurail passes that would allow 60 days of open rail travel throughout most of Europe. Except booking accommodations for our arrivals in San Juan and Barcelona the pages of our storybook journey would remain mostly blank until we were actually on the road.
Friends provided us with insights into their own travel experiences. We listened, learned, and a plan developed. Neighbors Charlie and Mary, and my friend Hugh provided us with insight into Ireland. Moira and Gene lent us maps and advise on Scotland. Cal and Nancy shared their own plans for walking the Camino Portuguese. We would miss seeing them in Porto by only a couple of days. Kris and Dennis provided us with details from their own experience walking the Camino Portuguese and their plans to walk the Highlands of Scotland. We would miss seeing them in Port William Scotland by less than a week. We will now miss seeing Dennis ever again in this lifetime as he tragically perished on May 30th while hiking in those Highlands.
One can pour over maps, talk with friends, cruise the internet and thus come to understand and anticipate the places and things that will unfold in the course of a trip, a vacation, or a journey. However, trips and vacations are primarily about places. A journey is also about people. There are no resources to anticipate the chance interpersonal encounters of a journey. Preparation for those encounters is a matter predetermined by one’s own interpersonal skills. Like flowers on the tundra which must adjust their lifecycle to fit within an abbreviated growing season, a journey compresses the time within which relationships can form. Our journey was filled with new relationships and the brevity of the encounters did nothing to diminish the depth and richness of the experiences. In another post to follow I intend to acknowledge as many of those relationships as my memory will allow and to extend my gratitude and affection to those who allowed us into their lives and thus became a part of our life “story”. But first…
For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed watching people. I love to be invisible to those around me and become a part of the wallpaper of a place. I imagine what they see as they cast their eyes about. I wonder who they are, where they have been and where they are going. I look for answers to those questions in the clues of their dress, gate, and facial expressions. If their eyes should pass across me I wonder how I appear to them. I ask myself the question of what they see when they look into a mirror and if there is a disconnect with what I and others see when looking at them.
By the numbers we have been outside of the United States and “on the road” for 91 days, traveled nearly 22,000 miles/35,200 km (a distance that nearly equals the circumference of the Earth) through 16 countries, and visited as many capitals. We have been exposed to media within those countries and the opinions of those who we have encountered. As citizens of the United States we have been a magnet for the expression of those opinions. We have had the opportunity to watch our Nation from abroad through the eyes of others. As a temporary outsider I have found myself wondering what the United States sees when it casts its eyes around the world. As a temporary outsider I wondered about the United States, where has it been, and where it is going. I have looked for answers to those questions in what the United States projects onto the world stage, in the consistency of its policies, the effectiveness of its institutions, its reliability as an international friend and partner to its allies. I have asked myself the question, “What do the people of the United States see when as a country they look in the mirror.” Is there a disconnect with what those outside the United States see when they look at us? Our journey gave me pause to ask these questions and then to answer them for myself. I invite similar reflections from you.
Peace Everyone. Pete