We’re headed west under a slate grey sky. Drops of rain and snow chase one another in a diagonal race across the window panes of the train as the countryside goes whizzing by. Every so often one of the children will shout excitedly as they recognize a section of the cycle path that runs parallel to much of the train track. It’s hard to believe that what took us a month to traverse last summer on two wheels will pass in less than six hours today.
This is an important day. It is the 366th of our trip. One year ago, today, our old camper roared to life and we pushed off for the great unknown and our journey across parts of three continents, seven languages and more cultures than we can count. We left with three feet of snow still on the ground. It is appropriate that it is snowing here today. We left with a nest egg, a shiny map and an sack full of dreams. A year later, the nest egg is gone, the map is engraved on our hearts and the dream sack is overflowing with new friends, precious memories, and newer dreams that are bigger than ever. We need a larger sack. It has been a good year.
We have four days left before we switch continents again. We’ve reached the point of our adventure where the questions center around what our favorite things were, what we’ve learned and what we’ll do “next.” I wish we had some answers. We can’t agree on our favorite place… some say Italy, some Vienna, some the Czech, all agree that the very best part of our journey, hands down, has been the friends we’ve made along the way. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, it is a great joy to travel half way around the world to find yourself right at home with people you’ve never met. Just yesterday we added one more set of wonderful friends… just days before we leave the continent.
As for what we’ve learned? There isn’t any way to articulate it really. We’ve learned that the chopped salad that we loved so much in the Netherlands isn’t chopped salad at all, but some veggie you boil. We’ve learned that if you have a bunch of kids and are sick of hearing the half disparaging, “Are they ALL yours?” you should go to Italy and spend a few weeks being slapped on the back and congratulated for your virility by old men on street corners… it’s good for morale. We’ve learned that when making a Mediterranean ferry crossing one should take the maximum dose of anti-nausea drug AND keep a bag handy. We’ve learned that the hills really are alive with the sound of music in Austria. We’ve learned that literacy is not essential to survival… but it sure does make life easier! The children have learned that they really CAN do anything they put their minds to, from learning french on a playground, to pushing bikes up big hills, to pedaling nearly 9000 km completely by themselves… no one helped them, they did it under their own steam. On particularly horrific days Gabe will faithfully announce, “Well, it’s not as bad as (fill in the blank) and it just proves to us what we can really do!” A good “take home message.” We’ve learned that our little family is enough. We’re a team and we can make it. We’ve missed our friends and our extended family and our church and our community, but we’ve grown together in ways that would never have been possible with out struggling through the hard things holding hands. I’ve learned that I married the right guy. Who knew he had it in him fifteen years ago… long hair, knobby knees and a goofy smile… truly my knight in shining armor. He slammed down the visor on his metal helmet, stomped out of his castle, saddled up his iron steed, and jousted with the world for us, with three little squires in tow. What more could a two fair maidens ask for? We’ve learned that this is only the beginning; this trip is less of a “year off” and more of the beginning of a new way of life. It’s been a good year.
As for next… “That’s the $64,000,000 question,” as my Mim would say. The immediate next: Paris, bike boxes, and a long flight “home.” After that? At least 28 weeks of serious work. After that? Maybe South America for a winter, maybe a double hulled cruising catamaran and some ocean adventures, maybe a cabin built in the great north woods. We’re open to suggestion.
This time last year Tony was behind the wheel of our big camper bus, thermos of coffee wedged into the center of a roll of duct tape, praying for the beast to hold together through our midwest tour (which it did not… but we’ve got the good camper repair shops marked on the map!) Today he’s munching on some Czech salami and Edam cheese, planning our re-entry strategy on his iPhone (you can take the techie out of his job, but you can’t take away his gadgets!) This time last year I was cutting and pasting from guidebooks and wondering where in the world we’d be today. I’d never have guessed an IC train through the former eastern block. I’d never have guessed that we’d be ferrying between the homes of dear friends we hadn’t met yet. I’d never have guessed the path we’d take to get here. And yet, here we are. Have I mentioned that it’s been a good year?