Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.
The extent of our travel when I was young was an annual summertime drive from Ohio (or later, New Jersey) to Winfield, Kansas, where we spent the entirety of my father’s two-week vacation on my maternal grandparents’ dairy farm. I really enjoyed those trips, and the two- or three-day ride in the back of our big old station wagon afforded me and my younger brother the opportunity to devise a wide variety of ways to amuse ourselves, including tying plastic army men to long strings and dangling them out of the back window, which was always slightly cracked open because we had no air conditioning. And we nearly always had free road maps from the gas stations open on our laps, tracing our route the whole way.
My first time in a commercial jet didn’t happen until I was in the seventh or eighth grade. We had moved to Kansas by then, and I was invited to be an usher at my aunt’s wedding back in Ohio. I don’t know how we afforded it back then, but our whole family of six flew to Dayton, and although the first few moments of my first take-off were a bit tense for me, I quickly fell in love with air travel.
Perhaps less than a year later, on a Sunday after church my dad loaded us all up in the car and drove us to the local airport, where the flying club was giving “short hop” flights for a penny a pound. He had always wanted to learn to fly, and he was probably checking out the possibility of flying lessons at the time, though my mother eventually put the kibosh on that. Three of us, my dad, my brother, and I walked out across the tarmac and climbed into a small high-wing Cessna (I’ll bet my dad still remembers the exact model) and were taken on a short flight over Lawrence, where we were able to see our house, the KU campus, and even the public schools we attended at the time. I decided then and there that small planes were my favorite mode of transportation. (And my dad finally earned his pilot’s license at age 75.)
When I was in high school, my best friend and I planned a 700-mile bike trip to Wisconsin for a church youth conference the summer before our senior year. It was a very difficult, seven-day ride, and we roughed it, sleeping under the stars in sleeping bags laid on a large plastic sheet. It was the first time I ever thought of my bicycle as more than local transportation, and it was, at the time, the most adventurous thing I had ever done. (Sadly, that was my last long-distance ride…so far.)
In 2018 my wife and I, after watching (and obsessing over) the film The Way, decided to walk the Camino de Santiago (Way of St. James) pilgrimage in Galicia, in northwest Spain. The pilgrimage, which was established in the 10th century, has many routes throughout Europe that converge on the Cathedral of St. James, in the city of Santiago de Compostela. The classic route, the Camino Francés, stretches from the French Pyrenees mountains to Santiago, a walk of 800 kilometers that takes at a month or more. Because we only had a week for the walk, we chose the English Way (Camino Inglés), which begins on the north coast of Spain at Ferrol and ends about 110 kilometers to the south at Santiago. In stages ranging from 12 to 24 kilometers per day, we completed the walk in seven days in early May. Our walk through Galician cities, towns and villages and through the forests and country lanes was one of the most profound experiences of my life. We met fellow pilgrims along the way from Russia, South Korea, Germany, England, Ireland, Spain, Canada and the U.S., and almost invariably, the locals would greet us on the street with a cheery, “Buen Camino!” (literally, “Good way!”)
In seven days of walking at a fairly leisurely pace we were able to bask in the beauty of the Galician region, stop to appreciate the broad vistas from the hills in the earlier stages, breathe deeply along the winding paths through fragrant eucalyptus forests, enjoy a leisurely cafe de leche at almost every cafe bar along the way, and be tired enough to sleep deeply each night in the albergues (municipal hostels), even among dozens of other snoring pilgrims. Although I had some issues with blisters (my wife had none), when we arrived at Santiago, I knew that, given the opportunity, I would do it again. I’m hopeful that sometime soon I’ll have the chance to walk a longer trek somewhere in the world.
I suppose that over the course of my life, my preferred mode of travel has slowed down, more or less, and probably for good reasons. The cliché “stop and smell the roses” is actually very good advice for travelers with the luxury of time and the ability to walk longer distances. I do love to travel, regardless of the mode, and while walking isn’t always practical, the older I get, the more I love seeing the countryside go by at two or thee miles per hour. I believe there is much to be said for spending more time covering less ground, instead of the other way around.