With the end of the year rapidly approaching, I thought it would be fun to write a little round-up of favorite travel moments from 2018. As regular readers are well aware, I’m still in the thick of posting about my Pennine Way adventure from June/July, and as a result, haven’t mentioned much (if anything!) of other travels.
So this post will give you a little taste of some of the other things I’ve been up to, as well as give me a chance to dive deep back into those memories.
I really loved the travel experiences I had in 2018; for the majority of the year I’m home and working, and my days are very routined. But for a few months in the summer and a few weeks scattered here and there throughout the year, I’m able to plan trips and small adventures, and this year had a good balance. Some new places, a return to some familiar places. Time walking, time writing, time exploring. Time with family and friends, time alone.
In chronological order, here are five travel highlights of my year:
A sunrise wedding in the Buttermilks, CA
In early January (almost a full year ago now!), I traveled with some friends to see two other friends get married in the mountains near Bishop, CA. The couple are both avid rock climbers and they chose to have a sunrise ceremony underneath a boulder in the Buttermilks. I’ve never been to that part of California or ever been in a such a landscape, and it was incredible. Soft golden light and long shadows and sandy paths and massive, smooth boulders and a beautiful wedding.
There were so many other, little parts of this trip that I adored: staying up until 4am with a friend who drove in to hangout for a night/morning, driving past Lake Tahoe and stopping for photos and to marvel at the huge pinecones, taking a call from my mechanic moments after I climbed out of a natural hot spring (my car broke down the morning of my flight out to CA, of course), my friend and I being rather overdressed for the wedding reception (“But the invitation said sequins! And cocktail attire!”), winning about $40 at the slots in Reno and Vegas (the only time I’ve ever played a slot machine; I’ll take it!).
Pilgrimage to Ben Orr’s gravesite, Geauga County, OH
In mid-April, I drove out to Cleveland to visit my sister and to attend the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. It’s the second time I’ve been to an Induction Ceremony and both experiences have been fabulous, and leave me remembering just why I love music. I wasn’t a huge fan of any of the inductees, though The Cars, The Moody Blues and The Dire Straights were all bands whose music I’d connected to at some point in my life.
And without a doubt, The Cars were the highlight of the show. My sister and I listened to some of their music in the days leading up to the show, and I read about the band, hoping to learn a little before we saw them perform. “Ben Orr died sometime in the early 2000’s,” my sister told me. Along with Ric Ocasek, Orr sang vocals on many of the band’s hit songs, including “Drive”, my favorite.
One thing led to another, and on the day following the Induction Ceremony, my sister and I found ourselves driving out to the cemetery where Orr is buried. When we learned that it was only about an hour away from Cleveland, it seemed like a no-brainer. We listened to The Cars’ music on the drive and then stood in the rain in the small cemetery, and studied the mementos and notes left by other fans in front of Orr’s gravesite.
I can’t claim to be a true fan, of either Ben Orr or The Cars, but this is what I love about travel. It gives you the opportunity to experience new things and it opens your mind to possibilities, it lets you make connections and it takes you down roads you might never have known existed at all.
I let the lyrics of “Drive” run through mind, and remembered the times that song played out in my own life, who I was in those moments and who I was in that moment, standing in a cemetery in the rain.
“Thanks for the music, Ben.”
Walking with Jane through the moors of Northern England
There was a lot I loved about the Pennine Way, but I think the best part might have been my decision to buy a copy of Jane Eyre when I stopped in Haworth. I’ve written about that part already, but I should say here that I never regretted the extra weight of that book in my pack. Every night I would read a chapter or two, tucked in my sleep sac, often in a bunk bed in a large and empty room. Sometimes I sipped a mug of tea and I nearly always had a package of ginger biscuits and there was something so satisfying and comforting about reading that book as I walked through the countrysides and moorlands and hills and mountains of the Pennine Way. I was alone for so much of my walk, but I never felt lonely. Jane became, in a way, a companion to me, I could almost imagine myself as one of the characters in a Brontë novel. And if not a character in a novel, then a very real woman walking through landscapes in the footsteps of women who have walked those landscapes long before.
Cheering for the cyclists in the Tour de France
What an unexpected highlight of my time at my writer’s retreat in southern France! This was the 4th time I’d been to La Muse, and I pretty much knew what to expect. I knew my room and favorite shelves for my food in the kitchen, and I even had learned how to shop for a week’s worth of groceries and where everything was located in the massive Carrefour store. I knew the walking trails and the hills and some of the villagers and most of the village dogs, and I even knew some of the other residents.
I already had my routines, the patterns of my days, and I didn’t think that this visit would bring many- or any- new experiences.
But then one day a few of us ran into the mayor of Labastide, and he told us that one of the stages of the Tour de France would be passing very close to the village.
I did some research; I pulled out my computer and a large map of the area and plotted how we could get there; a few days later the mayor took me and a couple others in his car to scout out our walking path. (This tiny road trip was another highlight; Régis, the mayor, is in his 80’s and barely speaks a word of English. He is kind, regal. Tall, with bright blue eyes and long fingers. He drove us all over the mountains that afternoon, taking us up to the Pic de Nore, the highest point in the Montagne Noire, and then to the lake, where he bought us beers and we sat around a table and drank in the summer sunshine).
On Tour de France day, six of us walked from La Muse to the nearest road of that day’s stage. The trip was about 7km and the weather couldn’t have been better: blue skies and temperatures in the mid-70’s. We brought lots of water and snacks and found a spot on the grass to camp out for the afternoon. We all felt kind of giddy, none of us could believe that we would get to experience part of the Tour de France.
About an hour before the riders cycled past, we got to experience something called ‘the caravan’: dozens of vehicles drove by, many outfitted with characters or people in costumes or colorful banners and signs, and each one had several people tossing out swag. Biscuits and gummy candies and small packets of laundry detergent and shopping bags and hats and magnets and juice boxes. We were thrilled, but then again, the experience was thrilling. There was nothing contained or regulated about the caravan: the vehicles sped past, there were no barriers and sometimes it felt as though there were only inches between the spectators lining the sides of the road and the vans or trucks speeding by. The people with the swag didn’t toss the items gently into the air, but rather, they hurled these things down at the ground as hard as they could. There would be a manic scrambling for these items, children and grandmothers got into the action, everyone fighting for their prize.
Maybe the caravan knows what it’s doing, because by the time the Tour de France cyclists came through, we were cheering and yelling like everyone else, like we’d always done this. The cyclists were gone within minutes- we were standing on a downhill section- but it didn’t matter. We clapped and cheered and walked home with great smiles on our faces.
An unexpected performance in a chapel on Le Chemin du Puy
After my writer’s retreat I had three free days, and since I was in an area of France not far from where I’d stopped walking the Chemin du Puy the year before, I decided to walk a few more days of the pilgrimage route. I left La Muse on a Tuesday morning, took a train ride to Cahors, and was on the Chemin by noon. If I can ever finish writing about the Pennine Way, I’d love to tell you about my three days on Le Puy; after 20 minutes of walking that first day I thought I might have to quit- my pack might have been 50 pounds (seriously) and I was walking through a heat wave and I was seriously questioning the decision to do this tiny part of a pilgrimage. But, as it is with nearly any Camino, I was so happy I’d gone. I still can’t believe how much life I fit into those three days, and it was incredible that I could drop into the middle of a pilgrimage route, be there for only moments, but still experience some of the magic of the Camino.
One of these moments of magic was on the second day of walking. I’d stopped for a break at a picnic table outside of a small chapel, and was just finishing some plums that I’d bought from a man at the side of the road a few kilometers earlier, when I saw a car drive up. A middle-aged woman jumped out of the car and walked briskly into the chapel. I didn’t give her much thought until a few minutes later, when I heard a clear, bright voice singing Ave Maria.
I walked into the chapel, slowly, and took a seat in one of the pews in the back. The woman was standing in the altar, her arms stretched out, her hands gripping the edges of a large stone slab. She finished Ave Maria and began another song, and when she finished this second one, she stood still for a moment, and then turned around and walked away quickly.
I heard her car door slam shut and an engine start and she was gone before I could even think about what I’d just heard.
It happened so fast, it was almost as if I’d never heard it at all.
A Fox in the Alps
After the Chemin, I spent the last few days of my summer trip in Italy, with a friend I’d met on my first Camino. He was working in Sappada, a small town in the Dolomites, and I spent several wonderful days doing nothing but hiking and writing and eating pasta and drinking a lot of espresso.
One evening we took a walk after dinner; darkness had fallen and the streets were quiet. “There’s a fox here,” my friend said. “Sometimes one of the neighbors comes out to feed it.”
“Hmm,” I replied, a little absentmindedly. I was only half-listening, my attention diverted to the dark, looming mountains surrounding us, the warm lights in the windows of the cottages, the cool evening air.
But then I saw a shadow in the field to my left, and a moment later, a small fox trotted into the street in front of us. My friend and I froze as the fox walked straight towards us, and I swear that he looked into my eyes as he approached. When he was just before us he stopped, and turned his head to the side. It was then that I noticed a woman on the side of the road, holding out a large piece of meat. The fox walked over to her, slowly took the meat in its mouth, and then darted away, back into the black shadows of the field.
I still don’t know how our timing could have been that perfect, and sometimes it feels to me as though we were meant to see the fox. Or, that it had wanted to see us. Maybe it was the mountains, the air, the feeling of a journey at its end, the unrealness of an encounter with a wild creature, a brush with magic.
These are just a few of the things I got to do, the people I was with, and the places I saw in 2018. I think about the year ahead, how some things are planned but so much isn’t yet. Sitting here now, I can’t begin to imagine the kinds of experiences that 2019 will bring.
I hope you all have had restful, peaceful and joyous ends to this year. And that the coming year will bring new opportunities, new hopes, new dreams, new walks, new relationships, new happiness.
All my best, and I’ll be back with more soon.