Mostly gone are the days of long journeys taking more than a day of travel. Back when I was still starting to travel I actually looked into being a “stowaway” on a cargo ship because I thought that the month-long time of quiet would be valuable, but the cost was significantly higher than flying in a jet so I took the obvious choice. Recently though I finally found myself in a long journey – two weeks by the longest measure or six straight days by the shortest. It was a memorable experience so I thought I might share with you the story of my recent fortnight.
It was my plan and intention to spend about a month in Germany (as I have become wont to do as an annual retreat) and also a month in Finland. One day though, while hiking in the quiet and solitude which my sabbatical break has given me, a deep and compelling unease grew in me and I stirred in restlessness – that night I was completely unable to fall asleep. Though I didn’t understand the feeling or the rationale I knew I needed to come home and urgently so. Only once previously in my life had I felt such a compulsion and I knew that even without understanding, even though it would cost me my plans and a wad of cash, even though I didn’t know what I would do when I got there – I had to get home.
On Tuesday I decided to break my plans and actually go home. My friends in Germany persuaded me to stay through the following weekend (and I’m glad I did) but my mind was restless and it was Tuesday when my mind started its journey.
I’m thankful for the delay though. During the following days I took advantage of my time and probably made a better use of it than I would have had I not seen the deadline approaching – something something scarcity yada yada.
Six days after my mind shifted I started physically traveling. My German host was kind enough to drive me to the train station in Denzlingen where I took a train into Freiburg. At Freiburg I hopped on the FlixBus for the ride through the Rhine valley to the Basel-Mulhaus-Freiburg EuroAirport. Somehow I made a mistake and arrived two hours earlier than I thought and planned that I would and this airport, my friend, is not the exciting city that London Heathrow is. Regardless I sat upstairs in the cafeteria and watched flights take off and land from the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Eventually landing in Heathrow brought my first day to a close. I took a black cab to one of the airport hotels. The London cabs are fun with a large passenger area and six seats in two rows that face each other. My hotel had an excellent breakfast but I filled my plate before I realized it wasn’t included in the price of the room – oops. Oh well, a strong and healthy breakfast is worth its weight when spending all day in a metal tube at 38,000 feet.
Even when I’m hastily changing my plans I pick my flights first by the plane. The newest generation of wide-body airliners are my favorites because they pressurize the cabin at a lower equivalent altitude. This may sound oddly technical but I don’t sleep or rest well on long flights (or any flights) and the air pressure is a large contributor to that discomfort. The lower the pressure in the air the less oxygen we get into our bodies and if the plane has a lower equivalent altitude it basically means that the air pressure is higher and closer to that which we experience on the ground – this means I don’t get as fatigued or stressed.
Waking up in Chicago I rode with my friend to a cafe by his workplace, waited a few hours, took a lift down to the Greyhound bus station, rode a bus to West Lafayette, and finally caught another lift to get to where my car was parked at my brother’s house. That is exhausting!
Early the next morning I awoke and retraced my bus-drive from the previous day but turned westward instead of northward once I got to Chicago. Somehow I was able to get 35.4 mpg on my trip from West Lafayette to Omaha. The stars must have been in alignment or maybe I slept with a pea under my mattress or something.
On the last day of my return I had a tough decision to make: take the seven-hour drive from Albuquerque straight to Tucson or divert through Flagstaff where my friends were. It took me considerable deliberation to choose and I changed my mind several times – end the trip or visit the handful of my people who were chilling in the cooler weather in northern Arizona at the Celtic festival. I diverted.
A couch was offered to me so that I could stay overnight there and drive home after a night’s rest. It would end up taking about five hours to get to Flagstaff and then another four or five to get through Phoenix traffic and home to Tucson.
The reason for being at the Celtic festival is that my friend Mike plays bag pipes there in the competition. He and the rest of the Tucson and District Piping Band performed well and scored first-place in several categories. There’s a full week of “piping camp” preceding the festival and people from all over Arizona come to hone up on their musical skills. It’s not a very quiet place for that week.
The Wicket Tinkers also played there and they were great but I didn’t stay too long. I had decided to stay on the couch but after a couple hours in the sun I changed my mind once more: I had to finish my journey.
From the time I decided to leave it was two weeks. From the time I set out in the first car to travel home it was six full days of travel: each day a new city to sleep in, each day a new time one, and plenty of jet lag. All-in-all I traveled 4500 miles of air flight and 2500 miles of driving for a total distance of 7000 miles to follow my heart.
Thankfully my home is a great place – Tucson, Arizona.