Mike and I are sitting in the lounge of the hotel awaiting transfer in about one hour to Terminal 1 at Manchester International Airport where Aer Lingus will take us home. I’ve used the quiet moments here to reflect on the events of the past ten days but also on the rolling ride of the past three years that brought me personally to this place at this time. Followers and family will know that I had a birthday on this trip commencing my 75th year of life. So that is another cause for reflection.
This journey across England had been little more than a pipe dream when it first presented itself to me during my COVID isolation. I had seen a presentation about Alfred Wainwright’s Coast-to-Coast Walk by Julia Bradbury of the BBC. (You can watch this program for yourself on YouTube.) Watching Ms. Bradbury and listening to the overdubbing of an avuncular reading of Wainwright’s own words sparked my imagination. “Just think of it,” I said to myself, “putting what you need in a backpack and crossing an entire country along seaside cliffs, through mountain passes, around tranquil lakes and across vast expanses of moorland – all on your own feet!” But it was put aside as so many imaginings are, relegated to the pile of life’s countless cast-off dreams. Fun to think about but….. Too impractical. Too expensive. Too silly.
Then, in 2022, my life took an unexpected turn when I suffered a personal setback which caused me to take stock of my life and to resolve to care for myself better and to understand what it is that I really need in life. I undertook several strategies to approach this task – more time with grandchildren, less time at work, building my own home violin workshop, therapy, less drinking, more walking, writing and more. Early in this process, it occurred to me, admittedly with a dash of self-pity, that I might retrieve one or more of those discarded dreams and make them a reality. The Coast-to-Coast Walk was so near the top of the pile it was easy picking. In a fit of impulsivity, I found MACS Adventures in Glasgow and booked the trip for myself. A week or so later I had recruited my brother to join me.
Of course you all recall that the journey started last September and was cut short by a family tragedy. Just like that, I had another reason to take stock and to double down in my quest to live my life fully and meaningfully. Life is a fragile and fleeting gift. The intervening year has been one of enormous personal growth for me. I suspect there are those who might not share this assessment of me and I have no illusions that I am a completed project. Even in what is politely referred to as “late middle age” there is time and need for growth. But the Dennis that set out this past September 3 from Boston to Manchester was a much different person than the one who came here last year.
In 2022, I was still operating in a mode of escape – using the trip as a distraction from hurt and disappointment. In 2023, I came here to have experiences, to meet fellow travelers, to test my own resolve and to test my own limits both physical and emotional. Sitting here now in a posh executive lounge wearing a sweater and slacks and sipping coffee from a proper cup next to my packed suitcase and my brother, I can say: “Mission accomplished.” – mostly. I experienced the stark moors of Emily Bronte’s novels. I made many friends – Sally from Juneau, Jean from Yorkshire, Curt and Susan from Portland, an uber-cop from Belgium, Pat and his wife from Toronto, the Rafferty’s from Colorado and Virginia, Andy and Bruna from Orton, many nameless hikers who were only nodding acquaintances and nearly countless English innkeepers, shopkeepers and hospitality workers. I summoned unfamiliar resolve within myself to conquer punishing hills (both up AND down), and seemingly endless muddy pathways through mountaintop bogs. I overcame the disappointments of having walked 15 miles non-stop and exhaustedly looking at the GPS to find that there were nearly five miles remaining before the next stop. And I endured almost all of this while dealing with the pain of an open blister on my left heel. And I am as happy as a lark.
If you were paying attention up to this point, you did not miss the floating adverb “mostly” in the previous paragraph. I honestly cannot say that I understand the meaning of that myself except that there is an abiding conviction that the project of me is far from finished. And if you have read this far, I admire your resolve in putting up with such a self-centered meditation.