Sunday, 30 December 2012

Day 128 to 131 – to home!

27 to 30 July    Kms travelled – 32,414

Rolling into Bellingham on a misty early morning, rested and refreshed from a wonderful 4 days on the Alaska Marine Highway, really did feel like the end of a long journey.  Idris and I only had the relatively short run down to Seattle together before I handed it over to the transport agents.  Seattle was the end of the road, but first there was Bellingham, and the promise of a farewell breakfast with Michael.  The lack of phone and WiFi connections on the boat meant that we needed to hook up with the world again at our earliest convenience... not least to check that the arrangements put in place before I left Haines to get Idris and myself home had not fallen apart in the intervening days.  This also meant that once disembarked Michael and I were looking for a local fast food joint that would offer an early breakfast and a ready supply of free internet.

Before ending up under the golden arches of the big M, we managed to get a nice little tour of the town, which I have to say looked the sort of place I should have spent more time in.  But as so often was the case on this journey, I was soon saying goodbye to Bellingham, and Michael for that matter, and hitting the motorway south for the final stretch of road.

The landscape was hilly, very green and quite charming... at least what you could gather from the multi-lane freeway and increasing levels of traffic that were reaching out to greet us each mile south we covered.  A while before hitting the outskirts of Seattle, the road ground to a halt.  Sheer weight of traffic was the only cause... a mix of grid-lock and slow moving three lane madness.  I hadn´t experienced this level of gas burning asphalt since Buenos Aires oh so long ago. 

It felt alien, it felt wrong.  Perhaps it was me.  Had I spent too much of the trip avoiding populated areas, favouring the countryside and missing the countries themselves?  I was struck by the sheer volume of vehicles alongside, in front, and behind that were being employed transporting just a single person.  OK, I recognise the irony in that.  Idris was doing the same.  But Idris had returned an impressive average 72 mpg on this journey, and I couldn’t help but think there was unlikely to be any other vehicle on this road this day that could match Idris´ incredible economy and low emissions.

But the traffic did flow, eventually, and before I knew it, or at least before midday, I was rolling my trusty steed into the transport agent´s compound.  Idris was due to be collected from here the following week, taken by road down to LA, and then popped on a boat back to the UK.  KGM made the farewells easy, and before I knew it I was jumping into a taxi and heading for an airport hotel with my roll-bag full of the gear I needed to stick on the plane with me.

My flight to Barcelona, via Philadelphia, was leaving the next day, so I had an afternoon to kill.  Seattle beckoned, and the easy airport light rail link facilitated the run into the city centre.  Years of watching episodes of Frasier had prepared me for what I was likely to expect in terms of the fixed sights to see, but it in no way prepared me for how I would feel walking again in a busy, bustling city.  Indeed, if it wasn´t for the people I might well have enjoyed wandering around the waterfront area, with its regenerated markets and craft shops – even sight of the original Starbucks – it seemed a bit like Sydney harbour! 

But there were people, and lots of them.  It was a Saturday afternoon and there was some sort of festival taking place that evening.  It wasn´t long before I started feeling uncomfortable.  This was strange.  Was I going to feel so alien in all situations I found myself from now on?  Had I been affected so much during this trip?  But with questions unanswered, the fact remained that I was experiencing a touch of anxiety – I needed to get off the street and find space to relax.  Not knowing my surrounds, I opted for the cinema.  The Dark Knight was an inviting option, though due to the recent shootings in Montana, having to pass through security to watch a film was, yet another, odd experience.

However, the American Airlines flights the next day were fine.  The service good, the food passable, and schedule maintained... what more do you want from a long-haul airline.  Even the short layover in Philadelphia was pain free.  And the following morning I was landing in a sunny Barcelona airport.  My physical journey was over...  but somehow I felt that my mental one still had some way to go.

Thoughts for the day
Time on the Alaska Marine Highway and on the flight home gave the opportunity to ponder what I had seen and experienced on the journey... and what that meant to me.  It also allowed me time to think about life at home, and those doubts about how I would be received after 131 days away could not help but creep into my consciousness.  I had already been unsettled by big city life, how easily would I be able to adjust to domestic life again.  I was secure in my feelings for my wife and family, but was that enough – and would they be so secure in theirs in return.  It is curious how these questions linger on a long journey, and build space in your mind as that journey nears its end, no matter how well or unfounded.

My return home was to an empty house – but that was expected.  People have to work, and not all can get the sort of time off necessary to do a trip like this.  But walking through my front door to the sight of a welcome home and congratulatory signs lifted a weight of worry off my shoulders that I hadn’t realised had settled there until that moment.  I literally breathed a sigh of relief and all was well with the world.  Conversations with Mrs Pat that day, and the reunion later was wonderful, and not for recording here.  Other thoughts from the journey are, however.

The trip had changed me... I really did feel different.  I was calmer for one thing, more relaxed and at ease with people and the world in general.  I seemed to have shrugged off, to a degree, that fear (or is it suspicion) that many of us in western society harbour about strangers.  Time on the road alone has resulted in me often seeking out company, being the first to initiate contact, putting myself in positions of vulnerability.  It was often an exercise born out of necessity...  we are social animals after all, and crave company.  But that process was an education in itself, and an education it would be remiss to not openly recognise. 

Most people are not out to cause us harm, most people don´t have a hidden agenda, most people are actually pretty decent and only willing to help, or just chat.  I didn´t meet a single idiot on the whole trip.  131 days on the road and not one person caused me grief or cause for concern.  Why is it then that the western media keeps telling me that all these people I met should have been out to do me harm?  Why is it that they say that I should be afraid to travel through the countries I visited?  Perhaps I was just lucky, my wife does say I am the luckiest guy around, but I prefer to think it is something more than that.

Media is business – and fear and violence sells.  It is nothing more than that; simple economics.  If you want to learn about the world, you need to go beyond the headlines on a global news channel.  The world is a glorious mix of people and places – with each having its own story to tell.  And there really are stories out there worthy of being read or experienced first-hand.  But these are not often covered by the business of mass media.  

The stories I heard were about pride and love.  They were about countries and peoples striving for betterment, when they were limited in real resources to help them achieve such goals.  The stories from Pat Around the Americas were about generosity and desires to do the right thing at the individual level, even though there was little to offer.  And when there was little to offer, people gave their time; a commodity so difficult to come by in our daily lives.

On my boat and plane journey home, I decided to report my experiences so that others might be inspired to look beyond the headline and reach out to a world interested in receiving their embrace.  I decided to dedicate some of my time to putting my full story into words, building on the headlines recorded in this blog.  And I decided to seek further public support through those words for Unicef´s work with children around the globe. 

So in addition to the fundraising through this blog, I´ll be writing a book about the trip with all my proceeds going to Unicef.  I have already been enriched beyond measure from the journey; I am not making any money from this experience.  But I do want to do more to help the children I saw along the way.  They are the futures of these countries – and futures that can only be fully realised through greater health and education services.  Unicef can help with that.  And we can help Unicef.  

If you have enjoyed following my travels in these postings, please feel free to become part of the journey yourself.  The links on the top right of this page will take you to more information on Unicef´s excellent work - and my just giving page, where you can send a contribution direct to Unicef.  Go on - start 2013 by helping kids who are not getting the life chances we had.

On the trip, I also resolved to give more of my time to do (as St David said) the little things – I can´t think of a better legacy from Pat Around the Americas. 

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