After thirteen weeks of roaming around the United States, I finally returned home to Madison at the beginning of December. I had always planned on returning to Wisconsin for the holidays, mostly to spend time with my family and friends, but also to switch out gear and prepare for the noticeably colder road ahead of me. This intermission has also given me plenty of time to reflect on my journey thus far. That pondering and reminiscing often reminds me of this traditional Celtic blessing:
May the road rise to meet you.
may the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand
Whether you call it serendipity or fate, but I am constantly reminded that this trip is precisely what I should be doing at this stage of my life. Chance has played an integral role in the success of my journey, something I cannot take credit for. Whether it takes the form of a friend’s schedule freeing up hours before they were scheduled to be done with work, a hurricane unleashing a river through a National Park to create a water-filled wonderland, a windy night inspiring a starlit wander through massive sand dunes, or countless spectacular sunrises and sunsets punctuating the beginning and end of each day, I feel that the universe is conspiring to encourage me onwards. The road is rising to meet me.
Yet that serendipitous feeling partially betrays the efforts of so many people to support me along the way. When I returned to Madison, I started to pore over folder after folder of photographs, review my different maps, and think back on the experiences linking those photographs to those places. The majesty of the Rocky Mountains lay in a folder nestled next to the rolling ridges of western North Carolina, alongside yet another folder brimming with waterfowl, sandy beaches, and aquamarine waves from Florida. Paired with that natural beauty, however, were dozens and dozens of smiling faces. Over the course of these past few months, I have reconnected with well over one hundred people from different phases of my life. From mentors, to roommates, to students, to teammates, to colleagues, to lifting partners, to co-leaders, more than a hundred people have in some way or another restructured their daily routines to accommodate my visits. Slight as it may seem, that simple form of generosity has made a tangible difference in my adventure.
When I envisioned this journey, I came to terms with the fact that I would, to a certain extent, be relying on the kindness of others. I could spend every night sleeping in my car or in the backcountry, eating food that I had cobbled together, and refused all hospitable offers of warm food, a real bed, or a hot shower. That might have allowed me to maintain a greater level of independence, but it would have undoubtedly led to a lonelier, smellier, and colder trip. I understood very early on that I would have to get used to accepting people’s generosity, knowing that there was very little I could do to repay them at that time.
Time, however, is something that I can and will readily give. In July, while my Dad and I were hiking in England, I sent out over a hundred personalized messages to friends that I wanted to see during my travels. Once I had locations for most people, I stitched together a route between the National Parks that would guarantee visits to as many friends as possible. This route undoubtedly added mileage to my trip, but I would challenge anyone who questions the worth of those extra tanks of gas. From day one, I made it a priority to be generous with my time and to be completely present with the people I am with.
The generosity I have experienced, frankly, has been overwhelming. From hot showers to fresh sheets in a warm bed, from opportunities to cook (in a full-sized kitchen!) to suggestions about local trails or eats, from steaming cups of coffee to countless hours of focused conversation, friends, both new and old, have intertwined part of themselves with my adventure. Most importantly, they have shared their time. I have been humbled at every turn by the unrelenting kindness of the people that I care about most in this world. I’ve always had a feeling that I had picked a good bunch of friends, but this trip has reaffirmed that sentiment ten fold.
Expressing my gratitude to each and every one of you will come later, but for now, let me simply acknowledge your generosity. Whether you bought me a beer or a cup of coffee, put a roof over my head, or simply shared a few minutes out of your busy schedule, you have made me a happier, healthier person and have rejuvenated my energy in one way or another. The questions you have asked me or the stories you have shared have added a depth to my travels that I didn’t know I was missing. I couldn’t have done this trip without you.
Kara Beth Barber
Mary Carroll Dodd
Robin Gibson Brown
Elizabeth San Soucie
Ellie Van Gemeren
Abby Verney Fink
I cannot, however, forget the many types of generosity that I have experienced thus far. Sure, plenty have come in the form of food, shelter, and good company, but countless other acts of kindness have impacted my trip as well. Via different social media platforms, I have received dozens of recommendations, words of encouragement, and questions about my adventure from friends, acquaintances, and total strangers. In coffee shops around America, I have found smiling faces and warm curiosity from people I have braved introductions with. When books on tapes, podcasts, or music just won’t cut it, friends and family have happily picked up their phones when I come calling. I cannot name all of the people who have connected with me thus far, but I owe them all a debt of gratitude.
Lastly, I never could have made it this far without the constant encouragement and love of my family. You guys rock!
Thank you all for an amazing 2015 and I hope the road rises to meet you in 2016.