Wednesday, October 14, 2015

The Anti-Bucket List

Some people see it as a challenge, others find it to be an entertaining conversation starter. It's all over my Facebook feed, people talking about their Bucket List. Travel websites endlessly list places to visit and things that we must do before kicking the proverbial bucket. Because otherwise you just haven't lived. That's too much pressure! Today I offer you a different perspective. Don't wait. How about a "do now" list or a "living list." Or what if, dare I say it? No list at all.

Pick your jaw up off the floor. Clean up all the coffee you spilled all over your desk. It's ok I'll wait.

Seriously, I don't have one. No Bucket List here. Sure there are places I want to see, things I want to do, but I don't keep a list. I do this for a couple of reasons. The first and probably the one that rules my life is that I just never buckled down to plot it out, and if I did, I can no longer find the napkin or scrap of paper it was written on. It's not my fault great ideas find me when all I have is a golf pencil and a bar napkin. The other more eloquent reason for my lack of list deals with spontaneity and freedom. By not having a list I am not ruled by checking things off when I do them. Instead, if someone tells me about an awesome place, I just go. If I happen to stumble upon a new place while wandering aimlessly in a city, then I can just be present in the moment. Plans are meant to be changed, and travel is meant to be malleable in both what we decide to do and how we allow it to impact our mental and spiritual selves.

Small church in Znojmo
One of the unexpected benefits of this way of operating was revealed to me on a recent trip to the Czech Republic. My original plan included hopping all over the place. I had about ten days to work with, and my first thought was to pack in as much as possible. How many countries could I set foot on in that time frame? I drove myself crazy trying to determine the best itinerary. At one point, my plans included stomping through five different countries in a two week period. It just doesn't make sense. Eventually I went with my gut and a series of recommendations to spend the bulk of my time in Prague and four days in Mikulov in the south. It was simple; it made sense. But it didn't stop the bucket lister to creep back in. "Vienna is only 2 1/2 hours away," it whispered, "why don't you do a day trip?" I tossed aside the idea of listening to Mozart while eating Viennese pastries and hopped on a train in the opposite direction. What I found was a stunningly beautiful place that I had all to myself: the town of Znojmo. It was completely off my radar, and it never would have made it to a Bucket List. But it has catapulted to the top of my best travel memories list. A list that I think is infinitely more important than a list taunting me about all the things I haven't yet done.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Hiking Philosophies

Maybe I'm just making this all up, but I really think that there are two schools of thought when it comes to hiking. The first group trudges through the terrain with astounding displays of physical fitness. Somehow they are able to see every rock and navigate hanging branches without looking like a swarm of bees is attacking them. They move quickly like gazelles, able to take in their surroundings with eyes darting in every direction. Somehow they reach the destination whether it be mountain top or waterfall with energy to spare to play a round of ultimate frisbee or splash carelessly at the base of the falls.

This group is not me. I belong to the other hiking philosophy. I am all tortoise exhibiting no physical prowess, and instead I do my best to focus on not falling to my death. I like to break frequently for water and to admire large leaves or strange looking bugs. I listen for new sounds and wonder if I'm hearing monkeys or frogs in the trees. While walking, my head stays focused squarely on the ground for fear that I will trip, which I often do even if my gaze never leaves the earth. My energy comes and goes in spurts as does my breath, and when the destination is reached, I plop lazily on the nearest flat rock to admire the fruits of my labor. I have a snack and reach a meditative state as I watch birds with blue wings swoop overhead and a butterfly the size of my head flutter past. I like the alone time.

It's hard when these two types of hikers converge as they did today at Pico Bonito National Park in Honduras. The former want to go, explore, and play, while I want to think, reflect, and absorb. I feel as though I'm not going fast enough, and they feel like they are constantly waiting. And in an effort to keep up, I hit a slippery rock the wrong way and careen to the ground. Don't worry, I'm ok. I got right up and continued onward until I was comfortably sitting in the taxi taking pleasure in watching the pineapple fields on both sides of the road.