You can believe you’re a person who is relaxed, able to be spontaneous and flexible – those are admirable character traits right? But then something happens that changes the way you thought a situation was going, the way you wanted it to be, and you realise you’re actually not so relaxed and flexible after all.
I haven’t been walking much recently. First a rest week in Rachiv was extended to 10 days, then I walked a very slow four days across the border and into Romania where I came to a house in a small village where I’ve been waiting another four days for a package to arrive. In the planning of this journey I created the idea of regular supply packages coming to and from the UK, containing fresh maps, warmer or cooler clothing, replacements for broken things or things I would run out of such as vitamins or kinesiology tape.
I’m feeling pretty stubborn about using paper maps – of course I could turn on my phone and use a free app with GPS tracking but something in me is repelled by the idea of trudging along with my nose in my electronic device, not to mention the extra, very heavy, battery bank I’d need to buy, plus the money I’d spend on ensuring I had phone reception in each country. Paper maps are simpler and more beautiful, a more satisfying way to travel. But of course I can’t simply swap to new maps at the border, it’s troublesome to source them for each new country and…as it turns out…even more troublesome to get them sent to me.
I won’t go into the courier details, especially as the package is not even in my hands yet and I don’t want to jinx it, but a process I assessed in the planning as taking a maximum of 5 days, has taken 2.5 weeks. I wanted to be much further into Romania by now, I didn’t want to wait in one place with nothing to do. And there is my frustration, the whole point of a walk across Europe is to be walking and suddenly, when I find myself ground to a halt, an anxious frustrated rage sets in. These have happened to be my final few days without snow. If I receive the package today, I’ll be setting out to walk tomorrow with an estimated overnight temperature of minus 9. I don’t feel ready for it. And maybe that’s the problem too, the winter is coming and I am more than nervous about it. If I’m walking then at least I feel like I’m making progress, that the miles grind down under my feet and I am heading south to warmer parts.
But it’s an illusion, the meagre progress that my missed week would give me won’t get me all the way to Bulgaria. It will eventually snow there anyway. Winter will last all the way until March and I cannot outrun it.
If I’m paused I feel like a failure, if I’m not walking then what’s the point of saying I’m on a walk. Anxiety builds until I realise that this delay is completely out of my control and I need to let it go, experience this time positively, not in anger. I am simply a human allowing time to pass, spending a few days in a warm house, eating delicious food with kind and interesting people, making my first steps into learning about Transylvanian culture. The need to walk is an illusion too, the idea that I’m failing if I’m not fast enough. But we phone the courier company to try and trace the package, which has been showing as static since Sunday, and my stomach churns – back and forth, stress and acceptance, stress and acceptance. I suppose I should be thankful that I can at least release the stress, not wallow in it, not constantly, impotently rage, that I can at least see what I’m feeling and identify the need to let go.
So there we are, an update about an imposed pause and the fact that I see in myself an inflexibility, an impetuousness, an unwillingness to wait. To undertake a journey of this size and nature means I will see myself in many forms and not always at my best. I could return home the same or as a better person, a walk of thousands of miles can be transformative; but only if I allow it, only if I follow where it takes me and bend so it doesn’t break me.