There’s an old sycamore tree where I live. It’s branches reach so high into the air that it seems to touch the clouds. In summer, shards of light creep through the tree to the ancient bark below.
We plan the perfect meal. A chicken dinner, with potatoes and mint tea. All fresh from the farm. Hand picked by myself and the farm runner, Cesily. Completely organic, completely healthy. There’s just one problem and it’s outside. It’s running around on the grass, pecking at the ground. From time to time it makes a noise. The noise is “CLUCK.”
The English don’t hike. We walk. Over massive mountains, through slithering streams, between towering trees. We walk.
Putting one foot in front of the other is nothing to an Englishman. It’s the first thing we learn after we’re born, so why should it be such a challenge when we’re adults? We’ve been doing it so long that it means nothing to us. And so. We walk.
Towards the end of my travels I hit a bit of a dip. There was only one week left before I had to go home, I’d said goodbye to almost all of the friends I’d made and loved and it didn’t feel like there was enough time to make more. My money was running low and I didn’t think I could afford another adventure. Then I came across Maia and Miles on CouchSurfing. CouchSurfing is a website that allows you to visit a city and sleep on somebody’s couch. This is great for two reasons, first it gives you a friend in a city, so you can get to know a place from a local’s point of view. Secondly, it’s cheap, sleeping on a couch costs nothing.
Throughout my trip I’d been planning to go to Seattle. I’d found some pictures of ridiculous beef-burgers on the internet and I just had to have one. I’d tell people from time to time I planned to go to Seattle and usually they’d ask why, I’d say “to get a burger.” “You’re going to travel hundreds of miles for a burger!?” “They do good milkshakes as well.” “Oh, now it makes sense.” Nobody seemed to understand, but to me it was as good a reason as any to travel somewhere. Isn’t it the journey that’s fun? Not the goal? So does it matter if the goal is as ridiculous as a beef-burger?
I stumble upwards, crawling my way up boulders, heading for the summit one hundred feet above. I’ve been hiking since dawn, my body aches, but I scramble forwards anyway.
Although the sun is hidden by the trees I know it’s going down quickly. The sky is turning from blue to purple, the first sign that the day is ending. My hands painfully scrape the rocks but I know it’ll be worth it. There’s a view waiting at the top. A view. What the hell is a “view” anyway?
Rewind 15 years. I’m 10 years old. My dad is driving the family along a steep country road. As the road winds around hills, I feel my stomach starting to turn. Motion sickness. I groan and my mam turns around. “Don’t worry. We’re nearly there.” Moments later I’m dry heaving into a plastic bag as the car stops. My parents scramble out of the car and look out at the “view”. Perfect green hills roll away from us, going on forever, disappearing into a misty distance. “Look at that view!” my mam says. “Isn’t it beautiful?!” I look out. I see. Well. Hills. Nothing but a load of bloody hills. Big deal! My mother smiles happily and I promptly vomit on the ground. No view in the world could be worth this.
Some journeys you take so often that eventually you stop noticing you’re on a journey. Your brain decides the intricate details of the trip are no longer important and your focus shifts inwards to thoughts and daydreams. In my last year of university I took an hour long commute, and most days I’d step onto the train and within the blink of an eye I’d arrive at my stop.
This jump inward doesn’t just happen while travelling. It happens wherever you go. From the first moment you step into a new environment your brain is training itself to block out details for the next time you visit. This is why new environments can create anxiety. Your brain overflows with information and it doesn’t know how to cope. At home your brain can shut off. It knows everything, so you can relax.
Have you ever noticed how a long walk through a new environment seems to take forever? Your mind is so conscious, taking in all the details that you don’t get a chance to daydream. Walking back you always say to yourself “it seemed shorter on the return.” This is because your brain is less conscious of the environment, you’ve already seen it, so you’ve got more time to lose in your mind.