Several years ago I went on a little journey. I was visiting my uncle who lives in one of the most spectacular landscapes in the world near Queenstown, New Zealand. It was not far from the little village where I spent several happy summer holidays as a child. During one of those summers when I was about 12, my father decided to take me and my younger brother on a hike through the rivers and over the mountains to an old, abandoned settlement from the gold rush days. I remember the walk, under the hot central Otago sun, as being grueling but incredible. We were pushed beyond our physical limits to traverse the terrain, to wade through chest-deep freezing rivers and to walk for some eight hours almost vertically. I felt a great sense of accomplishment upon arriving at our destination, a few ramshackle buildings, piles of rocks really, hidden among the tall, dry grass.
I set out that bright and early morning in order to revisit this place. I was encouraged by the blue sky and calm breeze. I made my way by mountain bike to the entrance of the hike, stopping for an apricot and chicken pie on the way. I decided that I would do everything from memory so I didn’t do any prior research, I would just see where my intuition would take me. Things started off well enough but then I realized after about an hour, as the stony hills became progressively steeper and the sun started to beat down on my pasty skin, leaving a pink ting, that it was perhaps a bit ambitious to be walking all that way alone on such a hot day with minimal supplies. Still, I persevered and paddled through rivers and clambered over rocks. Marveling at the sheer beauty of it all. I eventually noticed that there was a kind of road, probably leading in the direction I was going. As if I had willed it, two minutes later a black SUV came roaring along and stopped next to me. A woman in her late 40’s or early 50’s appeared as her window in the passenger’s side slid down. We exchanged pleasantries and it turned out her and her husband, visiting from Australia, were heading to the same place. They offered me a ride. I thought twice – I had wanted to walk and feel that same sense of accomplishment I had felt all those years ago, knowing that the destination is not as important as the journey. But, I knew that I wouldn’t make it if I tried to walk so I jumped into the backseat and off we went. Mr. Australia skillfully navigated the rocky, narrow road and after a few minutes found a couple panting up the hill, weighed down by giant backpacks. We stopped and picked them up too. The man was from NZ and his wife was from England. They were tan and fit, having been hiking around all of New Zealand for the past few months.
We drove for at least thirty minutes and ended up in an open field with the long, yellow, dry grass that I remembered. Together we sat near the abandoned, restored structures that were once houses, a bakery, a schoolhouse. Things seemed smaller than I remembered. The older Australian couple had recently sold their environmental sustainability consulting firm for a lot of money and had been travelling around the world. The younger couple had also sold their artisan cottage industries and their house and were planning on backpacking around the world and then settling in the Caribbean to restart their businesses again. Both couples spoke of their dislike of children. Of how they never wanted them and will never have them. “I tell my friends ‘I’ll look after your dog, but I won’t look after your kids!'” said the Australian woman. There was too much of the world to explore.
They exchanged heart-wrenching stories of those near and dear to them who had passed away too young. They shared the same philosophy that you can’t delay things like travel until retirement. They’ve known too many people who have died from heart attacks, cancer and other illnesses before they’ve had the opportunity to explore the world.
And there I was, listening, observing, wondering. I was at a cross-roads in my life. Wondering where I would live next, what I would do, if I wanted to have children. At that time, everything was so up in the air. I wasn’t sure. Three years later, things are still confusing and unsure, but now I think the child piece has been put soundly to sleep. As for traveling, I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot while young. Still, I think there’s a long way to go.