A few weeks ago, I spent a weekend with a friend who is like a sister to me as we viewed exquisite works of art and learned about a new place. Since we met a number of years ago, my friend and I have both felt a friendship connection and we share a number of abilities and interests. It came as a surprise to me during one of our afternoon conversations over that weekend when my sister-friend, a highly accomplished professional, disclosed that she had a fear of venturing out and traveling on her own. She said, having been married at 18 and divorced late in life, that she did not experience that phase between leaving home and settling with a partner, in which many travel and come to know self as a single, independent individual. I, on the other hand, left home in my early twenties, traveled on two continents, studied in three different countries, hiked and camped alone in the Rockies and Adirondacks, and had (and continue to have) myriads of self-directed experiences. Our conversation aroused my reflection, leading me to wonder what brings one person to the point of liberated wanderlust, while others are not impelled to, in the words of an eminent Canadian woman, follow their bliss (Leroux, 1994).
A similar story of the desire to travel, yet an extreme example, piqued my curiosity even more. I read an article yesterday about Sarah Marquis, a solo extreme walker, who trekked alone from Siberia to Australia, and across that continent’s deserted outback and plains. That is, she walked 10,000 miles from Siberia, across the Gobi Desert, through China, Laos, Thailand, by boat to Australia, finally crossing it in its entirety.
I ask, from whence such courage? I will admit that many people in my life have thought it abnormal for me to have – still, in my seventies – such a burning desire to see new places, to learn about new cultures. For Sarah Marquis, it began when, at the age of eight, she left her home one day to explore without her parents’ knowledge and spent the night in a cave alone. For me, my parents tell of a time before my own memories when I climbed out my window at naptime and went to have tea at a neighbor’s home. Then there was the time as a second grader that I skipped school for half a day and spent the morning playing with my doll in the forest near our home. When a world globe arrived at our house, my younger brother and I would entertain ourselves for hours trying to note remote places on it and challenging the other to find them. Still, these memories do not tell why, or where, the courage originates.
Sarah Marquis’ statement of courage and drive is as follows. “For me, walking is more than walking. I’m like a little bridge between humans and nature. I’m just there to try to communicate this connection that we’ve all got. It takes determination, a lot of courage, and a lot of perseverance. It takes a lot, but anybody can do it.”
For myself, though in hindsight I realize I have been in risky situations that could have easily turned dangerous, it is not so much the courage to endure the physical hardship like a true hiker or extreme trekker. Rather, my challenge was to have the courage to be alone with myself in strange places.
Being alone in a strange place is what I see aging as; the courage to be alone, even when one has a partner, in a new and strange place. There are different ways to view this new kind of aloneness. The byline of this blog is, “finding joy in the journey.” In a future post, I will share some of the ways that courage and other elements are integral to finding joy in aging.
Cahall. F. (2014). Adventurers of the year: Explorer Sarah Marquis. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://adventure.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/adventurers-of-the-year/2014/sarah-marquis/
Leroux, J.A. (1994). A tapestry of values: Gifted women speak out. Gifted Education International, 9 (3), 167-171.
*Photo by Amanda Sandlin ~ https://goo.gl/RDQRbB