On the roadby Charlie Boscoe Sep/2012
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I don't remember who it was that said "Life is a journey, not a destination", but I know what they mean.
I've been on the road for almost 4 months straight, and memories are flooding back in uncontrollable bursts as the train passes through the familiar scenery of North West England. I've travelled through this countryside so many times, and it makes part of me strangely happy that not much ever seems to change. Housing developments spring up here and there, a Sainsbury's becomes a Tesco, and the faces are different, but there is a real sense of continuity, of permanence.
A familiar looking bridge flashes by and for some reason I start trying to work out how many airports I've passed through in little over 15 weeks. Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton (and that's just London) Miami, Kathmandu, Geneva, La Paz, Abu Dhabi, Agadir, some other one near Colombia. Lucky I ran for the direct flight in Miami, or I would have added Boston to the list. Does Lukla count? Flying always seems like it's going to be a lot more glamorous than it actually turns out to be – recycled air, awful food and bleary-eyed arrivals halls – but there is nothing quite like arriving somewhere new and not knowing what's coming around the corner. A mate of mine used to call it "getting your game face on" and he's right. Deal with immigration, pick up your bag, head out into the heat and humidity and car horns, look for the guy who knows your name, ignore the guy pulling at your arm pretending to be the guy who knows your name, look around without letting on that you're looking around, and so it goes on. I start to think about how many places I've slept, but quickly lose interest. "Lots".
I flash back into reality and suddenly panic that I've been daydreaming for hours and have missed my stop. I know I haven't but it still relaxes me when the "train manager" announces that the next stop is the one before mine. Drifting away from third world airports and back into (supposedly) developed Northern England, I notice my fellow passengers for the first time. Most of them look pretty bored, and something tells me that looks aren't deceiving on this occasion. When I'm away I sometimes long for stability, I dream of not dreaming, I wish for my desires to extend only to a steady job and a suburban semi. Looking around me I realise that I'll take the occasional loneliness, the discomfort, the constant uncertainty without hesitation. Anything but this. Anything other than regret. "Regret what you did, not what you didn't do". Another quote whose author I can't remember.
I suspect that most people find that they constantly pine for the greener grass, for certainty or uncertainty depending on the choices they've made. I love being in my adopted home of Chamonix, but when I'm there I do find myself staring at the pictures flashing up on my laptop screensaver and wishing that I could be "out there". When I'm away the thought of my little flat, my friends and drinkable tap water seems so appealing. The problem is that once you get used to movement, to constant stimulation and excitement, it's impossible to give it up.
"We are attempting to live lives which spiral upwards rather than downwards."
I went on the London Eye a while back, and it dawned on me as I looked out across the strangely familiar skyline that a fortnight before I'd been narrowly avoiding a mugging in South America, and 5 days hence I'd be in the Himalayan foothills. In between I've climbed 2 major alpine peaks and driven from Chamonix to UK. Morocco had been far in the future then, now it's in the recent past, but I've got another trip there booked for February. That feels a long time away too but it will come round fast enough, once I've done Scotland, weddings, Christmas and another long drive to the Alps.
Sometimes it seems that I never stop to think about experiences, to relish and consider them - to get out of them what I sought in the first place. A guy died in front of me a month back. It still doesn't seem real, and having travelled non-stop ever since, this is the first time that I've actually considered that there is a family somewhere who just lost a father, brother, husband, friend. Would it make a difference if I thought about it more? No, but I still feel guilty for being so blasé. I heard someone try to sound macho a while back when he said that, "it's better to die on your feet than to live on your knees". I used to agree with the sentiment, now I'm not so sure.
My stop is approaching, so I get up with plenty of time to spare in order to move my 3 bags towards the door. You always get a few stares when you've got 3 massive holdalls on a train, so I put my headphones in to avoid having to make any small talk. Isn't it strange how the more people you encounter, the less you want to chat? A friend got chatting to a lady on a plane last year and now he's engaged to her daughter. I can't remember the last time I spoke to anyone on a plane. The last time I did this train journey I sat next to an old lady who asked me to wake her when her stop was approaching, but as it turned out she was getting off at the same place as me so I helped her off the train and into the arrivals hall. As I left she thanked me for my help and said, "Enjoy your life, lad." I don't know why it stuck in my head; maybe it was the look of regret, of envy on her face at meeting someone with it all to come, almost as if she'd not spoken to anyone young for a long time and had something she wanted to get off her chest.
"She stands at the shoreline with hands in the air, her words pierce the dark night, "does anyone care?"
"Help is on the Way", Rise Against.
Another train and a taxi ride takes me back to the house my parents have lived in since I was born. Chamonix is great, but this is "home". I don't really know many people around here anymore, but this is the only place in the world where it never feels like I've been away, and it's always nice to slump onto the familiar couch and hear the cat whining, demanding to be let in. The farmer will drive past sooner or later and stop for a chat. He never asks where I've been and I'd hate it if he did. I want to hear about how the lambs are, and talk to someone who never has, and never will, leave this little corner of rural Lancashire. Just one of the joys of being in familiar surroundings. The pleasure is only tempered by the fact that after a few days I'll be going through my photos, updating blogs and putting a bit of blubber back on, and I know how I'll feel. I'll want to be walking down the aisle of a plane, looking for my seat, and wishing I was home.
Charlie Boscoe is a skier and climber based in Chamonix, France. In between running his successful blog on Chamonix climbing conditions he also heads up expeditions and has recently lead a group up Kilimanjaro, Africa's highest mountain. You could say he has started the 'Seven Summits'. He likes Rugby, but we don't hold that against him too much.