The countdown continues to September 8th when I take off on my trip to Scotland and Ireland with my cousin. I made progress this week on my to-do and packing list. There’s enough time to get everything done now that I’m retired–unlike previous journeys where I was still working. It would seem that if you have a trip planned that it’s all about looking forward to the trip. But what I’ve found over the years with my fifteen solo journeys, is that as I get closer to the time to leave, I feel a surge of resistance to ‘crossing the threshold.’ It’s a counter pressure to walking out the door and leaving everything behind.
When I first looked at my solo journeys as being akin to people of faith taking pilgrimages to holy places, I found a book that became a reliable guide: The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred by Phil Cousineau. It helped me understand all aspects of taking a journey from the call that stirs your soul to understanding what you bring back and the impact it has on your life. In reading the section “The Threshold” I came to understand what the threshold represented in ancient times and how that applies to my life now.
Cousineau says that “Since at least Roman times, the threshold is “the slab or bar at the main doorway that prevents water or mud flowing into the house.” The threshold divides the inside from the outside, the sacred from the profane, the past from the future.” In thinking about a journey we’re about to embark on, crossing the threshold is leaving the familiar of our home and moving into the unfamiliar, the unknown. While we don’t face the dangers that ancient pilgrims faced, risking their lives to make the journey, when we set out on a new venture, we are going into the unknown. While that’s exciting it also brings anxiety.
I think that most of the time, we humans are more comfortable with the familiar than the unfamiliar, with sameness versus change. While we complain about the status quo, “the same old same old” — inside we resist change because we have to enter the world of the unknown.
Thinking back over the years of taking solo journeys, there are three ways that resistance has been evident.
In 2014, I planned to take a road trip to Michigan. We had just moved. Our house was filled with unpacked boxes and the usual disorganization of being in a new place and not being able to find things. Added to that, we had a leak in our ice maker that caused water damage resulting in the disruption of a restoration company taking over with loud fans and tools for repairs.
Looking about the chaos, I said to myself, “I can’t go on a trip now. It’s not the best time for that.”
I hadn’t made any plans for lodging in the heart of summer vacation season. I was tired and discouraged and I told my friend I thought I’d cancel that year’s journey.
“You can’t,” she said. “Taking solo journeys is what you do.”
She’d been a supporter of me and of my writing and in her opinion I’d let people down; I’d also let myself down. If I scratched my trip because it wasn’t the ‘best time,’ I had no guarantee that there would be another best time.
I took that road trip, and to this day, I’m glad I did.
Another form of resistance I’ve experienced is feeling the tug to stay back because “someone might need me.” More specifically, since my trips started after my two sons were grown and in college, my concern was always for my mother. In 2010 when I was preparing to go to Cape Vincent, New York, Mama was beginning to have issues with falling. Later we would find out it was due to how her dementia had impacted the movement center in her brain. I worried that she would fall again or something else would happen and send her to the hospital while I was away.
I was fortunate that my two sisters were back home and would be watching out for Mama– but still I felt uneasy about leaving. I finally let go of my worry and took off. She was fine while I was gone.
Over all fifteen trips, Mama only had to be in the hospital briefly during one and it didn’t require me returning home; but I could have. That was what I eventually had to realize in order to move forward. I’ll either change my flight or get in my car and head back to North Carolina. I didn’t need to hang on to that worry that would sabotage a chance for growth.
The third fear that often comes up right before time to leave, is what if I get hurt, what if I get sick during my trip. This is especially true when you’re traveling alone–but also changes things if you travel with another. On our trip to Paris in 2017, my husband and I had gone to an observation area to view the Eiffel Tower at night. On the way down the steps to get to the elevator, he missed the last step and went into a deep knee bend, injuring his leg. He was barely able to walk to the taxi stand and then get up to our room in the hotel. He was the one who could speak French, and with him in pain–it was on me to figure out what to do.
Fortunately, the desk clerk at the hotel was a college student who spoke great English and French. The next morning, she called the emergency health service through our travelers’ insurance. Amazingly, a physician was at our door within two hours on a Saturday morning in Paris; that wouldn’t have happened in the US!
While the incident delayed our leaving for a day, and I had to change our Eurail reservations, it all worked out. We were at an advantage boarding the train; the staff saw my husband on crutches and moved us to the front of the line. While it wasn’t ideal, he missed seeing things to care for his hurt leg, we did most of what we’d planned.
While on that trip my husband and I had each other, all of my other trips I’ve been alone. To overcome that resistance to the fears of “what if?” I’ve relied on my faith with my rebuttal. I’ve trusted that God would provide “people in my path” to help me.
On my journey to Colorado Springs in 2013, I tried to go to the summit of Pike’s Peak on the Cog Rail. While I’ve never liked heights, I thought I’d be fine in the containment of that rail car. But what I didn’t factor in, was the quick rise in altitude from the 6000 feet of Colorado Springs to the end point on that windy day of 11,500 feet. When we reached that point, I became ill with altitude sickness. I’ll spare you the details of what happened (it’ll be in my upcoming memoir!). Later, I was barely able to drive back to my guesthouse lodging. I was grateful it wasn’t a motel chain because the owners heard what happened and came to my room with medicine and advice on handling altitude sickness; they took care of me.
Now, as it grows closer to time to leave, I feel myself holding on to the people and familiar things in my life and knowing that soon I’ll need to let go. This feeling can also happen if your threshold is not about traveling to an unfamiliar location. It could be a journey into a new phase of your life, taking on some new challenge. It’s easier, safer to stay with what you know. But to open yourself up fully, whether it’s to the new world of travel or to new possibilities of another type, you have to release the comfortable and fall into what is next.
My hope is that we will cross that threshold and find the new world that is waiting for us, assured that we’ll be okay in that uncertainty, there will be people in our path to assist us, and something better awaits us–ready for discovery.
Blessings on you,
7 thoughts on “The Things That Hold Us Back: Solo Journeys”
Thanks very much Connie for this inspiring blog on this topic. I plan to take a pilgrimage trip in 2023 to Italy to walk 500 miles (Camino trail). I have already started having some of these same fears. It’s great to know that these are normal feelings and in the end, it is all going to be alright. I should not miss out on this opportunity. I sincerely appreciate you sharing your experiences and wisdom.
It’s wonderful to hear that you’re going to walk the Camino. Everyone I’ve heard of that has taken that pilgrimage has been changed by the experience. Five-hundred miles will give you enough time to delve deeply and to meet incredible strangers who become fellow sojourners–with both of your lives impacted.
Yes—everything will be alright. You can let go of thinking it has to be planned and carried out perfectly; however it turns out will be as it should.
I’d really recommend the guidebook I mentioned– The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau. It will help you get ready for your journey. Being intentional in how you approach it will make a difference.
I wish you the best,
I see that we are in another year and you are off on another Journey. Even with your cousin with you, there will be double-solo journies with a companion not far away to share the experiences. You may start something for your cousin that will change her life. In your reference to the Threshold, when you look in the direction you are always leaving the past and into the future. Deep within your journey, you will be crossing thresholds into an adventure. Great post. Much Love and blessings to you. John.
Thanks for reminding me that when you cross the Threshold— you’re looking forward, not back. I needed to hear that now as I’ve been struggling with letting go of some of the recent past and moving on.
I hope you’re right that something will start in Kim that will impact her life, her direction.
Wishing you the best, John, whatever Threshold you need to cross over, whatever adventure awaits you.
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You are welcome.
Looking forward to seeing you soon Connie! Pack a raincoat 🙂
I, no we’re, looking forward to seeing you, too Marie. Yes– I have a raincoat and other waterproofs! It’s been so dry here in our part of the South that the rain will feel good– at least for a while!