Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 24, 2016

Bad Travel Day: Conclusion

This post only makes sense in context of the previous post. You can read it HERE.

My point in writing this two-part series is that most travel writing only relates the interesting, successful aspects of travel and disregards the reality that not every moment of traveling is enjoyable.

To prove my point, I first described a two-week trip I took to England several decades ago, describing only a few of the good parts. (As I wrote it, I was impressed with what a fantastically great trip it was).

That surprised me, because I came home from that trip feeling that it had been a failure. I fooled even myself in the retelling!

Why was it a failure? Because there were large swathes of the time that I wasted. Why? I didn’t plan enough of what I would see, I didn’t know enough about the places I’d pass through, and I failed in a number of preparations.

I’m not arguing for having every step of your travels planned. I made some unforgettable happenstance discoveries on that trip, sometimes through luck, sometimes courtesy of my native curiosity. The intriguing town of Glastonbury is one example of lucky discoveries.

Glastonbury Tor Brad Nixon 5632 (640x420)

Glastonbury Tor

Unfortunately, there were negative aspects of that trip aplenty.

First, some practicalities. I planned to travel by bicycle during a large portion of the trip, beginning with a 300 km (180 mile) stretch from Preston, northwest of Manchester, to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

Stratford Brad Nixon 3274 (640x429)

On a July day, it was chilly and raining, as it was for the majority of the 3 days I pedaled from Preston to Stratford and beyond. I’m not complaining about rain. Rain is a fact of life in England. However, I didn’t have the proper gear for cycling in the rain. That was foolish.

A worse aspect of those miles and days to Stratford was that I did almost nothing but pedal. I didn’t tour any sights, and, other than what my road map told me, knew very little about the country through which I was passing. Three days of grinding. Hardly a vacation. I did take a detour to see the site of Bosworth Field, which led to the happy discovery of Sheepy Magna and Sheepy Parva, so luck was with me there.

Another stretch on which my failure to note any notable sights was lonely B3157 from Weymouth through Abbotsbury and beyond.

Weymouth - Abbotsbury Google

I planned to hitchhike that route. Here’s a sample view.

Dorset road Brad Nixon 3306 (640x478)

It’s lovely country: Thomas Hardy Country.

Also rather lonely. I got no rides.

I estimate I walked 15 miles that day, a distance I counted on covering in a couple of hours or less, depending on luck.

Walking long distances is part of the Zen of travel, but I’d planned to reach Lyme Regis in a reasonable time. Instead, I was left to cover a long stretch on foot, with no local buses running along that rather rural route as an alternative. In those days before mobile devices and the World Wide Web, there was no opportunity to do some last-minute scouting about interesting things that might be just a few hundred yards off the road.

I hit several tranches of similar long, unguided wandering during the 2 weeks. My lack of local knowledge and failure to research the countryside I’d pass through gave me little flexibility. I had certain goals in mind, and I wasn’t as well prepared to improvise as I should have been.

Exeter and the Book

My best illustration of this point is a place I mentioned in that first post: Exeter, home of a remarkable cathedral. Its library holds a unique treasure. One of my primary goals in traveling across Dorsetshire into Devonshire was to see it: The Old English Exeter Book.

You may not have noticed it, but I didn’t describe the town, the cathedral or my long-awaited look at that storied text.

That’s because I didn’t see The Exeter Book.

The cathedral library was closed the day I got there. It was a crushing disappointment. I would have had to stay around for another entire day in order to see it, and I had plans to reach my cousin’s house in Wales. True, it was more difficult in those Webless day to research opening hours for facilities, but not impossible. I failed. I traveled on, and was fortunate enough to discover Glastonbury as a partial consolation, but I’ve never seen The Exeter Book. As the Old English poet said (IN the Exeter Book) þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg (That has passed over, so may this).

My point is, I can tell two utterly opposite tales of this long-ago journey.

In Part 1, I related only memorable, remarkable and fascinating experiences I had. Today, I’ve barely scratched the surface of a number of discouraging, dogged days I spent crossing that green and storied land. It’s a question of perspective.

I returned home feeling the trip was a failure. Rather than exhilarated and refreshed by travel, I felt ground down and worn out from too many days of wandering, too many hours spent on roads bound for uncertain destinations.

I take heart, though. It was a once in a lifetime experience. More than anything else, I saw people, family members of my English grandparents, whom I would never see again, and who long ago left this world. I met others, too, who told me their stories, invited me to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in their village, gave me a place to stay or offered me rides. I’ll close with this lovely couple from Wales, photographed on Sugarloaf, one of the Black Mountains of Monmouthshire near Abergavenny.

Aren’t they handsome? They were en route to Sunday tea with her mother, and invited a bedraggled young Yank they picked up on the road to sit at the table with them. What stunning kindness. If they’re still alive, they’re nearly forty years older now, as am I.

No traveler who’s received such hospitality should consider his journey a failure.

Do you have a not-so-great travel story? I’d love to have your comments.

© Brad Nixon 2016, 2017

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Responses

  1. Wonderful ending to the story — and lovely photo. Here’s to the kindness of strangers and the fortuitous connections we experience as we travel through this world.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t see your trip as a failure at all. You have a lot of great memories and photos of your time spent across The Pond. You were able to see many once-in-a-lifetime sites.

    And when you are a student, you have the luxury to make time-wasting mistakes that are much more costly when you have only a week or two vacation after you enter the workforce.

    Often, it’s the unexpected and the unforeseen that create our most lasting memories and help to trigger memories of what we had originally hoped our trip would be.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I am now going to tell you about a real bad travel day. Many years ago I went to Napa Valley, California wine country, to tour the local wineries. I will never go back.

    One night after dinner I was driving along a pitch dark narrow residential street trying to find my way back to Highway 29 and ultimately to my bread and breakfast hotel. I then saw a flashing red light behind me. Police had pulled me over for “going over the centerline” (there was no line – it was a residential street, remember?).

    Did the cops ask me if I was lost and if I needed help with directions? No. Rookie cop said if I continued to drive he would arrest me and throw me in jail.

    I asked older cop to give me a breathalyzer test. He ageed, and the reading showed “0.00.” I asked him if it was ok for me to drive. He said “yes.” Adrenaline pumped rookie, presumably unhappy about this turn of events, then slammed his baton into the side of my NEW car. “Wow, thanks for the dent, officer!” No, of course I didn’t say that.

    When I told this story to my hotel owner, she said that it’s common for Napa cops to target tourists (hard for tourists to defend charges).

    Over the years I have had many unpleasant encounters with police who had no legal basis to detain me or reason to be hostile to me, and I’m Caucasian! In fact, in my 65 years I have never seen police show any kindness or civility to anyone. This is a lesson when limitless unrestrained power is granted to anyone who is not held accountable for his actions.

    Like


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