Pen and Moon

from the writing nook of Theresa Jarosz Alberti

Travel Lessons

 

It’s hard to believe we’ve been back from our Miracle Do-Over Trip to Iceland and England for several weeks already. Some of you may have followed my trip-blogging on Facebook–writing about it helps me remember details and process my experience.  It was a fabulous trip for me in so many ways. I feel lucky to have had this unique opportunity to revisit the same places we’d just been a year before. Also, there was a real  Before and After element to this trip, since in between, I’d had such a major, transformative period in my life.

 

Before:  305 lbs, lots of pain, difficulty walking, had to sit out on hiking, relationship difficulties

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Bob, Theresa, Gio in 2014– Before

After:  240 lbs, much less pain, able to walk and keep up, no seat belt extenders on the plane (!), able to hike and climb, wonderful relationship transformation

 

These Before and Afters were great, and added to that were the many lessons I learned that have really helped me in my personal growth.  I’d like to share a few of them with you.

Me with Melissa Kaercher in the British Museum, 2015

Me with Melissa Kaercher in the British Museum, 2015

Lesson:  Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

The reason we got to return to England and Iceland this year was because Bob had a week-long security certification course* in London, and we extended it out into some extra vacation time.  While he was in class, I would have my days free to roam around the city on my own.  Great! … except I have a bad sense of direction and maps often confuse me.  When we travel to foreign cities, I leave all the public transit figurings to Bob, who has a great inner compass. I had seen the Tube map of London last year and it looked like spaghetti to me.  I was worried.

 

I didn’t have faith that I could do it– the mental block felt real, solid and insurmountable, but I really wanted to conquer this fear.  I had to get beyond my tendency to catastrophize. and realize I wouldn’t be forever stuck wandering the streets of London, never to return (sounds silly, but anxiety can lead to such extremes).  I mustered my wits (wink to MHL and Shakespeare fans) and started paying attention the weekend we arrived as Bob and friend Melissa Kaercher** maneuvered us around the city.  I found a good map of the city streets, and studied the spaghetti squiggles.  Since my phone was having Internet troubles and I wouldn’t be able to use navigation to help me out, I knew I needed to do it old school, using just my brain and some maps.

 

I went off, willing to fail, knowing I would figure out something eventually, but I was so pleased the moment everything started to make sense to me. The clouds in my mind cleared. Within a day of hopping on and off the Tube on my own, it began to feel second-nature to me.  Yay, confidence!  I visited the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Natural History Museum, Harrod’s, met up with Betsy-Tacy buddy Jess Hobart of London at The Tate Museum, among other places.

Me & Jess Hobart at the Borough Market in London

Me & Jess Hobart at the Borough Market in London

The lesson I learned was to not let my blocks– mental, emotional or physical– be unquestionable facts.  I hadn’t believed in my ability to get around London by myself, but once I was determined to figure it out, the block released.  It felt wonderful! Just because I have a block doesn’t mean I shouldn’t do it anyway.

 

*Congrats to Bob, who passed the certification test and is now a SABSA Certified Foundations practitioner (CSF).

**Melissa is from the Twin Cities and happened to be in London one of the days we were.  She was at the tail end of her trip, which had included hiking Hadrian’s Wall.

Bob at Skogafoss, Iceland

Bob at Skogafoss, Iceland

Lesson:  It’s Okay to Wing It

Yes, I’m a planner, especially with travel. It makes me feel more comfortable and in-control of uncertain circumstances to figure out in advance where we’ll stay, what we’ll do, and details about the environment.  Last year I booked every hotel of our 2 ½ week trip in advance.  I spent a lot of time researching and reading reviews on Tripadvisor to find good quality but less expensive places to stay.  I had done this for any trip we went on with the kids throughout the years, along with itineraries and packing lists.  I like the planning, but there’s also a neurotic component, being anxious over making the plans the Best They Can Be.

 

This year has been much more chaotic on many levels.  Bob and I did some general planning (our apartment in London was provided by his training company, which helped a lot) and I looked up some tourist attractions to visit.  Our 4 days in Iceland stymied us—  we had the general idea of renting a vehicle, but weren’t sure where we wanted to go.  We decided to, gulp, Wing It.

At the Blue Lagoon

At the Blue Lagoon

Bob always says he has a high tolerance for risk, but I really don’t.  Not planning often means my mind rampant around a field of What Could Happen, and it’s excellent at thinking of every bad possibility.  But this time, I just didn’t have the energy to do more planning, and so I made the decision to let go.  This isn’t easy for me, and I’ve been trying to practice it more lately, for my own sanity.  Control is an illusion, and even the best plans can go awry.  It will be fine, I told myself, everything will work out, and if it doesn’t, we can deal with it.

 

Bob on balcony of our last-minute Reykjavik apt.

Bob on balcony of our last-minute Reykjavik apt.

You know what?  It did all work out, and our free-form time in Iceland ended up turning out pretty magical.  We rented a jeep, drove along the southern coast of Iceland, found a sweet mountain hotel to stay in, and then discovered a bunch of beautiful natural sites to explore in that area– numerous gorgeous waterfalls, caves, and rock formations.  We looked online to find an apartment in Reykjavik the day we needed it, and it was a great find.  Not planning felt like we were explorers, ready to follow any whim we had.

 

I’m sure I’ll still do some planning for future trips, but now I can see that great things can happen when you don’t plan every last detail.  My risk tolerance has gotten a bit higher, and there’s some real fun in being an adventurer.

Hiking Carl Wark in the Peak District, England

Hiking Carl Wark in the Peak District, England

Lesson:  I Can Climb a Mountain, One Step at a Time

When we decided we were going to Sheffield again, to visit our good friend and archaeologist Dr. Giovanna Fregni, I knew that I had a challenge I needed to face.  Last year, Gio had taken us out to the Peak District in Derbyshire, England’s first national park, the “shire” Tolkien was inspired by, and the filming location of several scenes of “The Princess Bride.”  We were going to hike to the scenic hilltops Higger Tor and Carl Wark, but after a half-hour of crossing the rocky muddy path on the moor I was in too much pain to continue.  I told Gio and Bob to go on ahead, and I sat and meditated on some large rocks for 2 ½ hours while they continued with the adventure. I was okay, but it didn’t feel wonderful to sit out because of physical issues.

 

This past year, as my weight came down and my pain lessened, I started going on walks.  With this trip on the horizon, I became dedicated to walking most days.  I had my goal in mind of finally climbing those hills in the Peak District.

 

On Higger Tor

On Higger Tor

And I did!  (You can read more about it here.)  It wasn’t easy but it was do-able and fun, not to mention gorgeous scenery.  When I got to the top of Carl Wark, I had to take a minute to sit down and cry– I was overwhelmed by a wave of emotions about all I’ve gone through in the last year, the major changes, and how different I am now.  Happy, sad, proud of all the work I’ve done, physically, mentally, emotionally, to get to this moment where I could now do this challenging climb.

 

Little did I know that that wouldn’t end up being the biggest challenge of the trip.  When Bob and I were in Iceland, we decided to go on an adventure to find a hidden hot spring, following directions in a blog we’d seen online.  What was presented as “an easy 45-minute 3 kilometer hike” to the spring ended up being (for us) a grueling 2-hour climb through the mountains.  The trail started off with a nice flat gravel path, then took us constantly upward around mountain passes, turned into a bumpy, rocky path, had us stepping over streams and walking along cliff edges.  My knees were sore, my legs grew tired, and the upward path kept me breathing hard.  Despite all my physical progress, I had a meltdown half-way through.  “Why is everything still so hard for me?”  I sat on a rock and cried while Bob encouraged me.

The beginning of the Iceland hike

The beginning of the Iceland hike

You can read more about the journey here, and see photos of it here.  Suffice to say, we did get to the hot spring, had a midnight soak, then had to face the hard walk back, 2 more hours, and going downhill hurt just as much.  We were cold and tired and dirty, the wind blew fiercely and we walked through freezing sleet pelting us in the face.  It seemed never-ending, but we did it, arriving back at our apartment at 4:30 am.

 

During the hike, it felt like such a huge and difficult endeavor.  I held Bob’s hand the whole way down (neither of us wanted to stumble on a rock and fall down the cliff), and gritted my teeth.  I knew the only thing to do was keep walking, one step at a time.  That would get me there.

 

I’m trying to remember this in my everyday life now.  I sometimes look at a challenge now and state fiercely “I’ve got this.  I can climb a mountain!”  If I’d looked at that mountain as a single task, this huge obstacle, I might never have believed I could do it.  But now I know that each mountain is made up of thousands of steps, and I can walk this step, and then the next, and so on.  That was how I did it, and that is how I can do anything I want.

 

I’m so full of gratitude for these and all the lessons I learned on our trip— not to mention the trip itself. It was life-changing for me in ways I couldn’t have anticipated.  Now I know I can hike mountains, let go of the control of planning and face my fears to do things I didn’t think I could.  I’m excited to see what’s next!

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At the well dressing in Tissington, England

 

{If you’d like to read my Facebook blogging about the trip and see the photos, you can start here on my page, click on my name, and scroll through May 2015.}

[Photos by Theresa and Bob Alberti]

2 Comments

  1. Stephanie Smith

    June 18, 2015 at 5:28 pm

    Wow! Just Wow! I immediately flipped back in my mind to your essay when you courageously began to exercise, and you were terrified to just JOIN AN EXERCISE CLASS! You are such an inspiration to us all. So happy to see the growth and confidence in you; although it has been hard, it has BEEN WORTH EVERY STEP OF THE WAY.

  2. You write so beautifully and with such insight. I am so happy that you were able to experience this do over.

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