This is a guest post by Patricia Maurice. An accomplished professor, mother, and a voracious student of life.
There’s nothing like a solo hike up the side of a rugged mountain peak to organize one’s thoughts and create a little time for reminiscing. But, it wasn’t until I got back to camp this evening and raced to warm a bowl of soup in the path of a thunderstorm that clarity finally struck me… at 55 years old, I am happier than I’ve ever been in my life.
This journey towards happiness has not been steady or linear by any means. Mine has been a life of long periods of chaos punctuated by sudden epiphanies that have arrived like thunderbolts from out of the blue. I could, and perhaps will write about several of them. But, surely, one of the most important occurred a little over a decade ago. In my mid-40s, life had become a seemingly endless, exhausting ping-pong match of career and family. I wasn’t sleeping, was hardly eating… and it always seemed like the harder I worked, the more behind I fell.
A certain energy was in the air. It was one of those rare mornings when you wake up conscious of your surroundings and what you're about to do because it's the day.
My sister and I rolled up our sleeping bags, broke down the tent, and packed everything with a hushed fever and deliberateness. After failing to do so almost exactly two years previous due to an unprecedented August snowstorm, we once again found ourselves at Guitar Lake, preparing to make our second attempt at the 14,505ft Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain in the continental United States.
It was 2:15am. Four of us stood around trying to maintain a degree of stoicism toward the effort that lay ahead, distracted and awed by the stars above. Well above the treeline, our surroundings consisted of rock and dirt, giving us an unobstructed view of the Milky Way that spanned across the entire night sky. The air felt like one would imagine space to feel if it were hospitable—cold, crisp, still. My hands were crammed into a pair of used, crusty wool socks for warmth. Unable to use my thumbs, I awkwardly attempted uncomfortable grip variations of my trekking poles.
Not long ago, I couldn't even entertain the possibility of doing a handstand. Now, I can hold one for five or six seconds. At a glance, that's really not all that impressive. However, what happened between these two points in time is quite worthy of mention.
Way back when I was a little kid at recess, a bunch of my classmates were doing handstands, cartwheels, and other gymnastic type stuff. One week, it was just what everybody was doing. I'd never really tried or learned anything of a gymnastic nature and, unsurprisingly, I sucked at it. On the other hand, I played a lot of sports at home, and on the elementary school playground I always did quite well. I concluded that I was athletic, but not acrobatic.
For the next fifteen years or so, the belief that I was “athletic, but not acrobatic” shaped my life. I practiced and played all sorts of sports, believing that I was athletic, I got pretty good at many of them. I sought out athletic opportunities, but avoided acrobatic ones—I knew I was bad at those. Many years later, I still am.
I've spent a majority of the past two years traveling and honed some serious ultra-cheap traveling skills. I've bicycled across the United States, lived like a local in Mexico, worked as a deckhand on a cruise ship, and had many other adventures on a shoestring budget.
I am not rich, nor do I have passive income. I just picked up skills, strategies, and a host of resources along the way that make traveling insanely cheap. I suppose you could call me a “travel hacker.” A quick example: I spent two and a half months on the Big Island of Hawaii last summer for $669 (including airfare) without budgeting or “penny pinching.”
Here are 10 rules I attempt to follow that produce some insanely inexpensive trips:
I tried to focus as the professor droned on about enzyme structures in biochemistry class, but I constantly drifted towards it. It consumed my thoughts as I ran. It filled the moments before I fell asleep and the dreams afterwards. I couldn't stop thinking about all I had to say.
I couldn't stop thinking about this website.
A string of events led to this obsession. It started with a mosquito bite. That bite led to an infection of the fluid surrounding my brain and spine, causing it to swell. The pressure caused seizures and a brain-damaging stroke, which began a multi-year struggle of rehab and dedication towards returning to the “old me.” Around the time two years had passed, I began to wonder if I'd made it back to normal. I thought about that a lot. One day, I asked myself the right question, which stopped the wondering altogether—“Why stop at normal?”
Work trade organizations like WWOOF and HelpX make experiencing anywhere around the globe remarkably affordable. In exchange for part-time work, hosts will provide you with food and a place to stay, leaving you with next to no expenses virtually anywhere on earth!
To give you an idea of how cheap we're talking, I spent two and a half months WWOOFing in Hawaii for $669 (including the plane ticket). I worked 20 hours per week, got my own cabin, and our hosts took us around the island quite frequently on days off. However, I met other WWOOFers that summer who picked weeds for 30 hours a week and in exchange for nothing more than a place to pitch a tent.
It's absolutely vital to go over the specifics of your work trade arrangement with your hosts before you go. Know exactly what to expect before you commit to insure you end up in a situation you love – not loathe.
One of the most influential books I've ever encountered is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. I knew I would be retracing part of the path of my cross country bike ride as I drove up to my summer job in Montana, which closely parallels the story line of the book, so I picked it up again for a second read on my trip north.
Yesterday, I was hiding out from a thunderstorm in the mountains just east of Jackson, WY. I read a couple chapters as I laid in this remarkably cozy nest of a bed I made with the back seats down in the used SUV I recently bought.
In the book, the main character is riding west on a motorcycle tour and begins recognizing places he can't remember being. His previous self was this philosophical genius of sorts who lost it and had his personality and memories destroyed through shock therapy. As he retraces his old route and returns to places he'd once been, the things he re-encounters drudge up memories and thoughts of that previous self. This previous self haunts him, almost like – as he says – a ghost.