I quite like having my ducks in a row.
A few years back I had life, in my view, quite neatly organized. I had a very good job, I travelled internationally for work, I had a clear career path, I was fit, healthy, driven & focused. I was on track. I'm not quite sure what I was on track to, but life had focus and purpose and I felt I was ticking boxes that were required of me. Although by whom, I am also not quite so clear.
And then I made a decision that has left my ducks scattered. Upside down. In disarray.
I decided to take a year off to finish my studies. That was two years ago. And I still haven’t finished them. Instead I find myself at age 35, a full time student doing odd jobs for change and looking after other peoples houses in order to keep my costs down. But I also get to call one of the most beautiful towns on this fine earth home. Living in Wanaka, where the picturesque snow capped southern alps wind their way through my backyard, wilderness is at my doorstep. It is a playground for the adventurous. I can ride for miles on single track, winding my way alongside pristine alpine lakes and turquoise glacial rivers. And yet everyone seems intent on asking when I will complete my studies. It sometimes feels as if the world would like to know when I will return to a normal path and be on track again.
Except, time changes things. Alters your perspective. And the longer my ducks remain scattered, the more I start to contemplate whether my old plan is worth it. What if it that was just a chapter? What if it’s done? Finished. What if the only way forward is to come up with a Plan B?
I had a clear plan when I flew to China. The route was sketched out. The dates locked in. And as was my life, all was going to plan. Until that all changed.
Two weeks ago I found out that my much loved Grandmother was starting to slip away from us. It seemed time was short. And I here I was, stuck in some far flung corner of China riding my bicycle. For the next week I pedaled my way across the desert as my heart slowly broke. Each morning I would wake, always earlier than Rebecca, and quietly reach for my phone to check for news from home. Each day I would find a message from my mother, letting me know the updates and that my Grandmother was still with us. She is stubborn too. Just like I am. And loves a bit of a fuss. And just to prove it, makes it to her 95th birthday. But we lose her a few short days later.
I still remember at primary school when I was told off for spelling Grandba wrong. I love that memory. Probably because it turned out I had it right all along. Nothing quite like me at 8 years old, finding out I’m right after all. Barbara Brown. Aunty Ba to some. Grandba to me.
The day I found out we were losing her was, thankfully, a rest day. I spent the morning sat in my hotel bed, tears streaming down my face as I wrote a letter of farewell to my beloved Grandba, asking my parents to please read it to her, knowing I would not see her again. Every few days I called home, and would hear the fatigue and emotion in the voices of my loved ones, knowing the toll this was taking on them.
And the hours to think.
Oh the hours you have to spend in your own thoughts while pedaling a bicycle. We were covering the vast distances we set out to, but of those days I have nothing to tell you. I did not notice it. My heart was elsewhere. My body dutifully propelling me onwards while my heart and mind flew homewards.
In the end the decision was easy. There will be other Christmases. But I will never have another Grandba.
And so tomorrow I will be making the journey back to New Zealand to be present at my Grandmother's funeral. I want to stand alongside my mother as we reminisce and say a final farewell to my grandmother. I want to be there to represent the grandchildren, all of us scattered across the globe, but all of whom loved and admired our Grandba.
One of the harder parts of this decision was, once again, to watch my neatly organized plans get scattered. The 2018 China Traverse. Where I am supposed to ride all the way across China. But in flying home for a week my carefully laid plans go awry. Suddenly, there is no chance I will finish this journey before Christmas. We have 2000-kilometers to run before December 13th, when both Rebecca’s parents and my Dad fly to join us, and where we part ways. Rebecca and her parents to Laos while Dad and I continue eastwards for around another 1000-kilometers in search of the South China Sea. Rebecca and I debated it. Whether to bury ourselves, riding long distances every day in order to tick the box of riding the whole way. But to what end? To be so tired and weary on this adventure that I miss the delight and charm that China has to offer? Or to shelve my ego, letting go of my neat little plans and rather to recognize what is truly Important in the midst of my aspirations. To recognize that sometimes, some things are to be valued more highly than executing a plan perfectly.
It is time for Plan B.
Rebecca will take a few days off to visit Xi'an and check off a visit to the Terracotta Warriors from her bucket list, before she returns to Lanzhou and resumes her journey across China. Without me. And when I return to China later this week I will catch a train to rejoin her. I would love to have ridden the entire distance, but sometimes we must simply accept that there are things that are more important than having our ducks lined up. And I have been encouraged reading the blogs of numerous other adventurers in past weeks, and in almost every tale this same dilemma is struck. Denied visas. Mechanical failures. Weather. Illness or injury. Life just doesn’t go to plan. And so we had best learn to adapt. Because life is as messy as it is beautiful.
I shall leave those diabolical little ducks scattered.
I am gradually coming to accept that that is ok. Life seems to have a habit of disrupting my neat little schemes anyway. And really, that's just, well … life. Rather, I will continue to try and put value where it truly matters. Not in perfection. Not in the ticking of boxes or in the staying on track. But in embracing the turbulence of the waters, and letting the river flow where it may. Perhaps I am no longer on the path I once thought I would be on, but I am still moving forwards. Perhaps at times more slowly than I would like. And perhaps also with less clarity and conviction than I once held. But as I wrote in an earlier post, hindsight can be a wonderful teacher, and only time will tell where this will journey lead.