They say it’s not about the destination but the journey itself. This year, for me, that’s very much the case. Alongside my wife Posie, and our younger, eleven-year old son Noel, we are taking as much as a full year out from our home in the Catskills Mountains of New York State to travel the world. On a budget, with everything needed fitted tightly into two back-packs. (Our son is carrying his guitar on his back, making the adult loads that much more compact.) It’s an incredibly exciting if daunting adventure. One for us, which is long overdue – we had arrived at the point in our lives where we felt if we didn’t take time out to travel now, we might never see the many countries and cultures we have long been so desperate to experience first-hand.
For me, among the many other changes in everyday living, the travel means that 2016 will be a year without my familiar competitions. No Boston Marathon; no Escarpment Run or Manitou’s Revenge ultras in the Catskills; no summer cross-country series with that keg of Keegan Ales’ IPA at the end; no skiing on Hunter Mountain, swimming the local lakes or cycling the hills. No assuring myself that THIS is the year to step up from an Olympic to a Half-triathlon; none of the regular weekend short races or long training runs with familiar faces. No, instead 2016 involves slowing down my competitive instincts, and learning better how to walk and not run. In short (or at length!) making the most of the journey itself.
The Journey has just Begun
Six weeks in, and I would like to believe I have adapted. For sure, I have not given up the exercise. I have jogged barefoot on the sands of the Mediteranean in Spain, the Sahara desert in Morocoo and the Indian Ocean in Zanzibar. I have run in the foothills of Morocco’s Rif Valley, and up Tanzania’s Great Rift Valley. I’ve jogged through the streets of Cordoba in Spain and I’ve joined in with the impressively healthy residents of Malaga for a couple of long beach-side weekend runs.
All of these bar one have been before breakfast. Indeed, many of them have been before what I always thought to be my essential wake-up cup of coffee. Arising on travels earlier than I often do back home (a result itself of going to bed earlier, at the same time as our son given that we’re often all sharing a room or a hut). Many has been the morning where I’ve done my best to let the others sleep and simply set off to enjoy the scenery at hand. Watching the sun come up over Malaga (whether from the beach or the Gibralfaro high above town) became something of a habit during our time there. Not too much of a bind, given that Spain’s insistence on keeping time with the rest of continental Europe postpones dawn during winter until 8:30 am.
Early to Bed, Early to Rise
If one bonus of these early morning starts has been a reduction in my caffeine intake, another has come in the form of increased energy. Given I’m not engaging in the sort of tough training or racing which often puts pay to the rest of the day. Without the call of endless errands or the pull of television and internet, our days have been largely spent together, doing whatever the location brings. From the aforementioned camel trek, to tours of the great Mezquito in Cordoba and Alhambra in Granada, the medina of Fes, and nature’s bounty of beautiful animals in Tanzania’s Tarangire Park and Ngorongoro Crater. My wife being a keen walker and our son a solid companion, we’ve successfully undertaken a couple of major vertical hikes during our travels, the kind that surprise some of our fellow travelers, but are second nature to many in our home area of the Catskills.
I admit, I have felt the pull of competition. It was especially hard to be based at the foot of Tanzania’s imposing Mount Meru for a week, knowing that the four-day climb was not on our schedule. It was tough to stay in Chefchaouen in Morocco and not get to run up the local mountain there, either. When I noticed the Marathon in Marrakesh at the end of January and the Kilimanjaro Marathon at the end of February almost coincided with our visits to those regions, I briefly wondered whether I could have planned our year around such events. But these feelings have quickly passed. I’m slowing down as promised, letting go those competitive instincts and making the most of our entire family’s fortunate state of fitness. Somewhere over the course of the year, I trust I’ll land in the right place at the right time to race to a finish line. In the meantime, I’m loving the journey.