It was 1983, and I had just gotten laid off from what was then Martin Marietta Aerospace. They had struggled through a takeover attempt and many of us were the detritus of the Bendix takeover effort, layoffs to help reduce the cost of saving the most profitable part of the company.
I got kicked to the curb and given about twelve grand for my contribution.
That was the about the time that The Man From Snowy River and Road Warrior had come out, two Aussie movies that had captured my imagination (and everyone else’s, it seemed) and Crocodile Dundee was being used to entice us to visit the Land Down Under.
Since I’d signed up for United Airlines Mileage Plus Program around 1980, I had piles of miles, since I had been doing legislative work for solar energy and was flying constantly between DC and Denver. Suddenly, Australia had formed a deal with United: for not that many miles, come on down!
First Time Overseas, and Alone
By the end of 1983 I had a fully loaded (read: grossly overloaded) backpack, had made a lot of incomprehensibly stupid claims to my lobbyist friends back in DC (I’m going to walk around Australia….um right) and I left for Oz, with a good long stopover in New Zealand to get me started.
After a fifteen-hour trip during which I failed to loosen the laces on my hiking boots, which resulted in some very impressive swelling of the lower legs, I landed in Auckland. The hostel wasn’t open yet. I was tired, scared and hungry. A Kiwi, upon hearing my accent, directed me towards the local McDonald’s.
Exhausted, I wailed, “I didn’t just fly fifteen thousand miles to eat at a MCDONALDS!!!”
Thus began my first trip overseas.
What was to have been a three-month journey morphed into four years.
I did not walk around Australia. I did, however, hitch all over New Zealand, Oz and Fiji. Scuba dived the then- still magnificent Barrier Reef. Learned to fly ultralights over Geelong. Took the endless bus ride across the Nullabor (no trees, no kidding)Plain to Perth for the America’s Cup.
I had wild sex under a pool table in Upper Hutt, then wrote about it, then mistakenly sent that journal segment to the kind boyfriend who immediately became my ex upon reading it. That is, after graciously informing me that I “might have sent this package to the wrong person.”
Ahem. Well shit. Live and learn.
I smoked my first and last weed in Cairns at a hostel, then promptly raided every single cupboard and refrigerator shelf in the building, only to wake up the next morning surrounded by wrappers belonging to everyone else’s food supply and a vicious stomach ache.
Shit. Live and learn.
I dove wrecks off Geraldton and got stung by a baby jelly right across my bare left nipple while skinny dipping near Albany.
In Cairns, where you could get to spectacular parts of the Reef, I ate fresh shrimp and fish and “bugs” ( a kind of Aussie lobster, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slipper_lobster) right off the boat. I got bitten and stung by things you never want to see in a nightmare, much less up close. But those are for another story.
Suffice it to say it was one hell of a trip.
When I came back in 1988, I had one friend, and one friend only, who sat me down and demanded that I tell her everything. And she meant it. Beginning with my first step off the plane in Auckland, she wanted to hear it all. That is a true friend.
Everyone else asked me if I’d had a good time. When I said yes, we were done talking about me and then I got to listen to what they had done for the previous four years. I quickly learned two things: nobody gave a shit about my adventures (but for the one friend) everyone but everyone was going to go to Australia “someday.”
Someday is Bullshit
Fast forward three and a half decades.
For the last eight years, the siren song that had woven itself into my DNA during my time in the Southern Hemisphere has called me forth to many, many other countries and even more extreme adventures. Each year I visit two to four new countries, and push myself further. It’s who I am. I do not live for someday. As long as I can cop an assignment or save the dime to do another trip I am on the next plane out.
As for all those folks who claimed they would visit Australia (or anywhere else for that matter) someday never came. Not a single person who told me that they would absolutely, positively get to see the land of the roos and the Red Rocks has left their state, much less the country.
This isn’t a judgment. It’s a statement of fact. Someday is bullshit. Same for “I’ll try to do that.” There is do or not do, to quote Yoda from Star Wars. For some of us, life gets the in the way, or we let it give us excuses. “After I finish college.” “After we have our first kid.” “After I get the mortgage/car/student loan paid down.”
Bullshit. There is no after. You’re either serious, which means you have passion and you will make it happen, or you are blowing smoke up our butts, and by the way, your own. If you really were going to head to Australia, mates, you’d be researching the airfares, the hotels, hostels, activities, costs, transportation, deals, have a copy of the Lonely Planet in hand…you get my drift.
Those Perfect, Precious Moments
Shortly after high school, whether we are headed to college or not, we have this perfect moment during which we can make a few decisions which will determine where life takes us next. While we can always redirect, that perfect, precious moment is before kids (for most) and before the mortgage and life demands. It doesn’t often come a second time although for some of us, those moments happen repeatedly. In that “tween time” before we take on the big shit we have to do- or think we have to do- love, marriage, kids, family, house, school, blah blah blah, we can step outside the mainstream. Dare to dream a little. When we claim “someday I’m gonna..” we’re lying to ourselves and here’s why:
- Shit happens. Life just gets in the way if you don’t get off your butt and get moving.
- Others will determine your life for you. Your family, church, boss, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friends, people who do not share your hopes and dreams. Not the ones that really, truly matter, like that wee small voice that says (I would really like to work on a fishing boat in Alaska for a summer…) In fact, the sad truth is that far too many folks around us are hard at work talking us out of our dreams. They seem full of reasons why not. Your real friends are helping you research how to get to Alaska and they have three key words for you: Just DO it. You will never see life the same way and that’s a good thing. A VERY good thing.
- Really bad shit happens: you get sick, you get killed. Tomorrow is not guaranteed to any of us despite the fact that we all live with the hubris that we will be here forever. Um, not we won’t. Not only that, the longer we put off that African safari or that trip to Costa Rica or that drive across Death Valley, the easier it is to make excuses…until one day you are too old or too infirm or too something or other. This also goes for a partner or a child. Once we’ve made some of those big commitments, they own us- as they well should- which argues even more strenuously for following your heart before we are locked into engagements that we cannot break. Or, conversely, if we find ourselves with time (or single) late in life, then what on earth are we waiting for?
- We do what’s really important to us. That’s all right. Just stop claiming you’re going to do this or that someday. Because you aren’t, until you start making that dream happen. Saying you’re going to do it someday provides soothing for that part of you that desperately wants to realize your dream while at the same time you have a handy raft of excuses for why not RIGHT NOW. You are doing what you have created in your life. And please, don’t haul off and get royally pissed or jealous at those of us who do take the risks and pay the price. Above all, don’t insult what we go through by saying “oh you’re just (lucky, rich, life is SO much easier for you).” No it isn’t. To live a dream, you sacrifice, sometimes a great deal. Including possibly, your life. Ask any adventure traveler’s wife or husband when their partner comes home in a box. Or someone who tried and failed miserably. I’ve come home in a wheelchair or on a stretcher plenty of times. Don’t tell me how easy it is to rehab a smashed pelvis or a broken back. I chose this. This is the price I am willing to shell out for some of life’s most spectacular experiences. Risk can cost, but my god, does it pay off.
My mother, who died at 91 some years ago, always wanted to see Africa. I’ve been five times. She wanted to shoot an oryx. I’ve shot lots of them, along with lions, giraffes, rhinos, zebras, you name it…with my camera. I summitted Kilimanjaro at sixty and have tracked chimps and gorillas and rafted the Class V Rapids of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda. I have driven solo through game parks and parked myself mere inches from animals most people have only see in photos. I go back this November to Madagascar. This isn’t luck. It takes work, and a willingness to be very uncomfortable for long periods of time for me to do and see what I get to see. It means that I give up many luxuries and comforts others take for granted. For me, it’s worth it because that is where I am happiest.
What’s Your Someday?
Each of us harbors a wild hair that never leaves us alone. It’s as unique and personal to us as our fingerprints. Your someday may be to adopt a child. To volunteer overseas. To bike across British Columbia. It makes no difference whatsoever what your itch may be. The great tragedy in life, the way I see it, is that we don’t give ourselves permission to scratch that itch. We don’t deserve it, someone won’t approve, I’d be too uncomfortable. Um, yup, if you say so. Whatever works to be able to give you the feeling of relief for not having tried to realize your dream.
A Medium reader wrote me recently and most kindly commented that when she read my articles she realized that “it might not be too late.” As long as you are alive and at least somewhat mobile, you can do something. Everything comes at a cost; we pay for our perspectives, our growth and experiences. Some wait so long that they no longer have the years nor the physical ability to do much of anything but lie in bed and wait for death.
And wonder about the somedays that never came.
What are you willing to do to make Someday into Today?
You can have excuses, or amazing stories. You can have a life or a legacy of reasons why you didn’t have a life. You can have moments of supremely exquisite existence, or you can have an unremarkable every day being. Nothing wrong with that..unless it cost you your heartfelt dream.
Each choice has tradeoffs. I’ve been alone much of my adult life. No family. Much of what others take for granted, I don’t have. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. What are you willing to pay to realize your dream?
I will leave you with this, attributed to Goethe, but actually written by William Hutchison Murray, from his 1951 book The Scottish Himalaya Expedition:
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back — concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans:
that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man (or woman, my addition) could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”