Four days left. Witty day-significance mathematics now escapes me. Four days is significant because, well… its four days until it all begins. Which seems like a good enough reason right now. Yesterday my bed left. And it took the children. Or at least all my clothes, wall hangings, books and pretty much everything else I own (with the exception of the computer I am typing this on and enough clothes to last me until Thursday). So this post is being blogged from my little nest on the floor of the white box that was once my room.
Not that I needed any reminders of the immediacy of setting off at this point, but no longer having an identifiable environment (identifiable meaning containing stuff to remind me of the fact that I am rooted here) just adds one more straw to the entire weight of pre-trip anxiety. Unavoidable and at least left until the last minute, but one more milestone to getting out that front door.
I’ve taken to trying to capture some of what is going through my head at this point in the books I will be taking with to record the journey, as I suspect that what I feel now will make for interesting reading when I am in a completely different head space two months from now. What most preoccupies me these last few days has been the surprising effect of anticipation on my state of mind. I had presumed all those months ago that the hardest part of this trip would be planning the logistics. Things like gear, visas and transport routes.
Our stories explain why we change in the ways we do, how we are growing as human beings and why anything we do really matters.
Sure, there was a fair amount of work involved in getting everything together, but by far the hardest part has been the last few days. Mentally, something about the sheer closeness of departure day has me sleeping odd hours, bouncing around the house and feeling on and off mixtures of butterflies, glee and nausea. It’s not fear – I haven’t had a doubt about setting off on this quest – nor does it seem to be any specific excitement. I can’t link what I seem to be feeling with any particular clear thoughts I have had about setting off, other than some broad notion of “it’s something to do with the trip”.
One idea leading to another and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about ideas of stories in our lives. That we build stories around who we are, where we go and who we are to give meaning and purpose to the things we do. Our stories explain why we change in the ways we do, how we are growing as human beings and why anything we do really matters. They are stories we tell of ourselves, yet they are as real to us as the air we breathe and the space in which we move.
Travel makes for the construction of particularly exotic stories. Ones where we can be the hero in the strange land for a time. The protagonist who learns, grows and changes in response to the challenges of a world they have never seen before and must now navigate. Only to return, in the end, different to who they were when they set off. Like the hobbits in Lord of the Rings, no longer able to fit into the lives they left, we are different at the end of each story – changed in a manner that where we came from can no longer accommodate.
Like it or not, setting off means taking the first steps away from a shire that I will never quite be able to fit into the same way again.
These stories can be big or they can be small. They can be played out in our minds, using the surroundings we have, or they can be lived out in foreign lands where there is no option except to suspend reality. Cape to Cairo is, in its own way, a story – a way of exploring what it means to be the protagonist on so long and strange a journey. Chosen deliberately to be as far from the world I know as possible. As stories go, it is unquestionably the strangest I have ever been a part of.
Hand in hand with that realisation comes recognising that, in the end, pyramids in sight, I will have changed. I will have overcome, learned and grown from my travels in ways which will make me a different person in many respects from who I am now. Like it or not, setting off means taking the first steps away from a shire that I will never quite be able to fit into the same way again.
Knowing this before I go, I think, is the hardest part of it all. Exhilarating, magical, full of the anticipation of memories I will hold onto for many years – but tinged with just enough trepidation to bring out the flavour.