Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Art of the Journey

Brighton Lakes Trail - Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah

I just finished reading a couple of travel memoirs, and I have been trying to pinpoint why I enjoy reading these types of books so much. Several dot my shelves. They vary in subject matter from Robyn Davidson's camel journey across Australia in Tracks, to John Harrison's Amazonian basin river trip in Off the Map. One reason I like these books is that I can vicariously "experience" journeys I am never going to take. But I think I like them for deeper reasons as well.

In almost every case, these travelers meet kind people along the way who offer them a helping hand or encouragement or friendship in a moment of need. We don't fully appreciate the intricacies of the journeys our fellow travelers are on in this life. But we could all reach out in kindness to others to help them on their way. I know I have been blessed many times by a kind word, a smile, a note, a meal, or some other form of assistance in my journey through life.

In every journey, things don't go as planned. In Cheryl Strayed's Wild, her journey on the Pacific Crest Trail is derailed by unusually high snowfall. Several hikers abandon their trek and decide to come back in another year. Strayed continues on, but must adjust her plans. Instead of hiking a section of the snowed-in trail in California, she travels north and picks up the trail through Oregon. It requires acquiring new information for the sections of trail she hadn't planned to hike, and re-routing her supply boxes to mail drops in Oregon.  In John Harrison's Off the Map, he and his wife, Heather, become lost in the Amazon river basin. It takes some doing for them to find the correct pathway, and a journey that should have taken a few days, takes them several weeks and pushes them perilously close to their physical limits in a remote location.

Some trails are rocky - Bristlecone Pine Trail, Great Basin National Park

Every journey I read about has unexpected adventures come up. And I think that is what I like about them. Reading how other people cope when they get completely lost, or when plans change, or when journeys get interrupted has a direct application to life. In my life, at least, things rarely go as planned. On hikes, some trails are steep, some are rocky, some are beautiful. It is easy to twist an ankle, rub a blister, pull a muscle, take a fall. Likewise in life, we walk through pathways of grief, disappointment, stress and pain. But we also walk pathways of joy, love, connection and laughter. We have to make constant adjustments along the way. Sometimes we change trails, sometimes we change destinations. Sometimes it take some time and effort to figure out where we are, and where we want to go. I am finding that the real key is not the end result, but finding ways to enjoy the journey I am on, no matter how challenging it is.

"Life is like an old railway journey...." --Jenkin Lloyd Jones

My children are entering adulthood and discovering that their own journeys don't often go as planned. I would like to share with them this advice found in a quote from Jenkins Lloyd Jones, a Unitarian preacher who lived from 1843-1918. (Jones was quoted by Gordon B. Hinckley, president and prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and this quote has gained a lot of popularity among Mormons because of its basic truth.)
"Anyone who imagines that bliss is normal is going to waste a lot of time running around shouting that he has been robbed. The fact is that most putts don't drop, most beef is tough, most children grow up to be just ordinary people, most successful marriages require a high degree of mutual toleration, and most jobs are more often dull than otherwise. Life is like an old time rail journey...delays, sidetracks, smoke, dust, cinders, and jolts, interspersed only occasionally by beautiful vistas and thrilling bursts of speed. The trick is to thank the Lord for letting you have the ride."  --Jenkin Lloyd Jones

Just for today, enjoy your journey, and thank the Lord for letting you have the ride!


  1. I love this. For too much of my journey, I have spent time thinking "if I could just get there" instead of taking every moment and enjoying the ride. Thanks for this reminder!

    1. I think learning to enjoy the journey is a journey in and of itself!