Expectations Reduce Joy

See, the problem is, when I don’t really hear what someone said, I don’t just ask the person what they said. Instead, I go ahead and say what I thought I heard. While this usually just makes me sound like a crazy person with a hearing impairment, it sometimes also leads to sayings that persist for years.

The most-used saying that was derived this way came from a (misunderstood) conversation. I had in Kenya. I was on safari in Amboseli with a group of VSO volunteers I had just met. These were some of the best people I had met in ages, and I was having the time of my life, even though this was a time when I was severely struggling with my day-to-day life back home. I was laughing incredibly heartily on a regular basis, developing inside jokes, and just feeling incredibly connected with these people who were, literally a day ago, strangers. As we were climbing some stairs to a lookout area where we would eat our lunch while watching hippos wallow in a waterhole, I was behind a gal who was talking about a meditation retreat she had attended. She said a phrase she heard at the retreat that had really stuck with her, but I was sure I wasn’t hearing correctly. I should have just asked what she was saying. Instead, I said, questioningly, “Did you say, ‘Expect tasty juice joy’?” This lovely human turned to me and said through laughter, with highly exaggerated diction, “Expectations. Reduce. Joy!” 

Amboseli, above the hippos, 2011

Expectations reduce joy.

I now, instead of saying the exact phrase that was intended, still find myself saying, “Expect tasty juice joy,” to indicate that the very expectation (and then presumed lack of “delivery” on the universe’s part) can make what is still a very joyous occasion seem like a disappointment.

There is nowhere in my life than in travel where I see this more obviously. I’m currently in England, about halfway through a hike across the country, following the length of Hadrian’s Wall. When you read guidebooks (as is the case with just any guidebook, I suppose), the pictures are magnificent. They depict people walking jauntily along fully exposed sections of a wall that is nearly two thousand years old. TWO THOUSAND. In the pictures, vistas abound, with breathtaking scenery and amazing historical remnants. 

Weeellllllllll, the first two days were a bit …disappointing. My expectations? Walk at my usual pace, be in scenic places, surrounded by nature and interesting historical ruins/sites, maybe get rained on, but finish the day in a tired stupor of nature-induced bliss. Or something equally as magical. Well, not so much. None of those things. So I found myself feeling disappointed at points. Frustrated. And only because my expectations weren’t being met. We were already well into an amazing trip, creating stories, including our own misunderstandings based on mishearing people (“Why did she just say poop cup?” “Ummm… I don’t think she would have said poop cup.”). The first day of walking, we were surrounded by interesting urban landscape, but I was disappointed because I wasn’t getting what I’d expected. Now, with even a couple of days’ perspective on the experience, I can find immense gratitude for the things that I did get to experience. Not the least of those things is simply a reiteration of the lesson that expectations reduce joy. 

Newcastle, along the Tyne River

 I would, however, consider revising that to say that high (positive) expectations reduce joy. When you’re expecting nothing but a pile of shit (which, we did see a whole lot of poop along the way), you may just get a beautiful vista. But when I have absolutely no expectations and take things as they come, without plans, without expectations, that is where the joy comes flowing through every situation. Sound like a goal for the rest of the trip!

Couldn’t help but end this post with some sheep poop. We’ve seen a lot now. But seriously, those patterns are beautiful! Okay, that’s enough poop for a while. You’ll be safe reading my next post.

Halfway There

I have often lived in places surrounded by people who are doing much more interesting and, quite frankly, more badass things than I am doing. My current home is no exception. If I run a marathon, someone is running an ultra. If I do 20-mile day hikes, someone is doing a thru hike logging 40 miles a day for weeks on end. If I make it back from Bike to Beers without wiping out, someone I’m chatting with is headed off to ride the Tour Divide. Seriously. But I love being surrounded by people who challenge the limits of what I see as impossible or, alternately, as achievable.

Years ago, I was brought along on my first backpacking trip. I was nervous as hell. It was a relatively short hike mileage-wise, not too far from where I lived in Anchorage. Since I hadn’t backpacked before, I was a bit nervous, but my hiking partner/fiance was encouraging. And kind enough to carry a much larger portion of the gear so it wouldn’t be so hard for me, which is honestly probably why I agreed to go in the first place. Still, the hike in was tough. I had never carried a pack before, and I’m certain my (whole other kind of ) pack-a-day habit sure wasn’t helping anything. But after getting about ten miles in with some significant climbs and descents, we set up camp in a valley about as picturesque as you can imagine in Alaska. I took off my boots, put sandals on my weary feet, and ate the first meal I felt like I’d really earned in a long time. I was content.

About that time, the wind picked up. And the rain started. Overnight, it consistently blasted against the tent in what we’d later learn were 60+mph winds. When we woke in the morning, we didn’t bother to try to cook a warm breakfast and instead started packing up our waterlogged gear. I’m not proud of the things I mumbled under my breath, but I was not a happy camper. And now we couldn’t go out the (much shorter) way we’d intended as it was now snowed in. We’d have to go out the same route we’d come in. At the peak (valley?) of this experience, with my foot stuck solidly between two rocks, my boots filled with water to overflowing, and cold rain slashing at my face, I screeched at my at-the-time-fiance-now-ex-husband (shocked?), at the top of my lungs, “YOU NEED TO MARRY SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO DO THIS STUPID SHIT!” I’m pretty sure he has looked back on that day more than once and thought he should have listened more closely to me in that moment.

All that to say, I’ve not always really been the outdoorsy type. I have always loved and appreciated nature even while being a city gal at heart, but sometimes photos of nature were juuuuust fine by me. Gradually, though, I’ve been getting out into it more and more. I’m lucky enough to live in a town that is known for its access to trails, and when I got divorced and only got to see my dog when on walks, I started hitting the trails. Hard. I’d log hours at a time every day after work to be able to spend time with my Maggie Mutt. And I set a goal with her to cover every inch of the Superior Hiking Trail. She didn’t make it (she died this past fall), but I still intend to make good on that.

TrailMaggie
My Maggie Mutt on The Trail
People close to me have heard me say that The Trail healed my heart over the past year. While this is true, it’s also a place where I felt safe enough to let my heart completely shatter. There are places on the trail where I’ve sobbed uncontrollably, tears freezing on my cheeks in -20 degree weather, my cries luckily being heard only by the woodland creatures. But logging the miles helped me put it all back together. And the endorphin bath for my brain surely didn’t hurt, either.

TrailMushrooms

I’m minutes away from getting on a plane for a several-week trip to England, Scotland and Iceland. I’ll then return for three weeks before going to Cambodia and other random places for nearly six months. This made me realize that there’s no way I’m going to be able to cover all the rest of The Trail this summer as I initially thought I could, but I wanted to see how much I’d already done. Using some rudimentary math, my well-worn Guide to the Superior Hiking Trail, and trail maps with completed portions highlighted, I calculated that I have traveled almost exactly half of The Trail.

Book and Map
Horrible picture (you’ll hear me blame my $20 camera plenty in posts to come), but you get the idea…
While initially disappointed at how little I’d covered so far, I realized that (1) the miles I counted are only a portion of the trail miles I’ve logged since this fall when I started this project, (2) I’ve gone out-and-back on all of these miles so I’ve really done twice that number, and (3) this means I’ve still hiked OVER 300 NOVEL MILES on this particular trail in less than a year. Now, I know many people can say that they’ve done so much more than that. So much more. I mean, now that I’ve calculated that, I’m sure I’ll meet some joker who’s done twice that in a weekend. But for a gal who used to have a pack-a-day habit and scream angry words about never hiking again, I’d say it’s not been a bad year on the trail.

trailmuddyfoot.jpg
When my feet look like this, it’s usually been a darn good day.
TrailSmile
I call this feeling “trail content.” It’s a whole ‘nother kind of content. Not a bad year on the trail at all.
I’m already excited for the next 300 miles or so that will be here waiting for me when I get back. Maybe I’m becoming “SOMEONE WHO LIKES TO DO THIS STUPID SHIT!” Whaddya know…

“You Should Blog About It!”

…says every human being when you tell them about an upcoming trip.

People have always told me to blog when I’m embarking on travels, especially extended ones. They are clearly unaware that I’m not used to or comfortable with writing for an audience. Interestingly enough, though, the two times I have blogged regularly are (1) when I moved to a place where I felt like there was nothing interesting going on in my life, and (2) when I felt like there was nothing interesting going on in my life so I forced myself to do one new thing each week. I’ve never written publicly when doing things that would traditionally be considered “interesting.”

Globe
This outdated globe sits in my living room, a reminder of what else is out there (and, charmed life example #793, someone anonymously paid for it for me!).

When I do get out and travel, I like to take it all in and process it for myself, but I often don’t get around to processing it for anyone else. When people ask me how travels were, I sometimes show pictures (they’re worth thousands of words, right???) or give somewhat generic answers (‘it was great,’ or ‘the food was amazing,’ or something equally as noncommittal), but it’s difficult for me to go into detail about the things I experienced. Part of this comes from feeling a little strange pointing out differences when traveling within cultures that are significantly different than ours. I mean, of COURSE this is what people want you to talk about. They want to hear about squatting over a pit to shit. They want to hear about the untreated medical conditions you see in the educational centers. About the chickens between your feet and the goats in the back of the matatu. And I get it. I totally get it. I am a lover of stories. But sometimes it feels like these stories contribute to the perception of “them” and “there.” Almost like I am lengthening the distance. Building the wall.

As I start this blog, I plan to write about things I do close to home as well as across the globe (and YES, I realize what an insanely charmed life I lead to be able to even write that sentence, much less live it!). I can’t possibly predict whether this will create more distance between you and the people, places, or events I discuss or will create a greater understanding of the wide range of experiences both near and far. Or maybe neither of those. All I know is that people have said, “You should blog about it!” So here goes…