This is a story for everyone who gets off course sometimes. If you find yourself taking the “scenic route”, or stuck on a detour, or if you believe that the good stuff is worth going out of your way for, this is for you.
“Wow, that’s far.”
In the course of conversation, I hear this a lot.
In comparison to where I live, apparently the gym I go to “is far”, the butcher I shop at “is far”, the activities and sport facilities I attend are “far”, where I choose to walk to (rather than drive), “is far”.
Let me be clear: I live in a big city. Nothing is actually that far, at least by Canadian standards. This is not driving for hours on a country road. This is taking the effort to travel -- typically by foot and/or public transit -- to places in the city that I deem special.
Of course, all these things could be closer.
I could just go to the grocery store right by house, the gym a couple blocks away.
But what people really mean, when they say this, is that where I go is not convenient.
Convenience -- the thing that is closest, fastest and most direct -- is generally considered better.
This assumption -- that quicker and more convenient is somehow better -- has got me thinking.
Why is the fastest route prized?
Is efficiency and saving time really the ultimate goal?
And most importantly: What is the value in travelling, taking detours, checking out side trails and taking the longer route?
I’ve learned that sometimes we go the extra mile deliberately, sometimes accidentally. Sometimes the extra mile takes us somewhere special. Sometimes it is merely a detour.
But sometimes it leads to something more.
“An unexplored trail is an opportunity wasted.”
Last summer I was on an ambitious backpacking trip that had me, along with a guide and a small group of fellow backpackers, trekking from campsite to campsite in the mountains. Because of the distances we needed to hike each day, we couldn’t stop for too long at any one break.
We took in the scenery, but we also had a schedule to keep.
We took turns leading the group. During my turn to lead, I faced a fork in the road. One of the paths looked slightly less groomed, but interesting. Is it possible this forked path was also a viable trail?
I started down the path.
Turns out, it led nowhere.
Instead of complaining about doubling back, Nathan, the guide, simply said, “a trail unexplored is an opportunity wasted.”
The daily opportunity -- aka, are you wasting your time?
In my daily life, I tend to think of my time spent “en route” as opportunities.
I cross the city -- sometimes by foot, often by help of public transit -- to get to where the good stuff is.
I travel to meet people where they are at, because they are wonderful people and it is worth it to be with them, to share in what they have to offer. I am lucky to live in a city with opportunities like this.
But I do not treat this time -- this ‘in between’, transient time, linking me from place to place -- as wasted.
I travel because traveling itself is of value. Even when it's just from one part of the city to another.
When I walk, I get ideas. I write in my head. Things settle for me. Sometimes I listen to podcasts and I get more ideas, I learn, and I laugh. If I’m on the subway, I read or write, sometimes doing some of my best work.
Some truly wonderful moments in my life have taken place walking to the subway. That’s because these short walks, these little interruptions to my day, give me a sense of reprieve and observation. They allow me some perspective. These breaks have led me to feel a sense of celebration and joy in what would otherwise be an ordinary day.
This is not to say I wander aimlessly all day long. I, too, want to move fast. I want to be productive; I work hard to make my time count.
But wandering off course is good too.
Sometimes you even have to get a little bit lost in order to get to where you’re going.
The detours make the story
I interview and listen to many different people of different walks of life, and it seems to me that our best stories come from our detours.
The most interesting, successful, fascinating people have had multiple detours in their lives. Their careers and successes are not just one straightforward path; they are winding, sometimes with strange curves, wild ups and down, sometimes dead ends and surprising detours.
I’ve learned: if we jump to the end of a story, we don’t really have a story.
A story is a quest, a process, a series of steps. It’s made up of the in-between times, the travels, the waits, the returns, the circuitous steps that make up progress. The story is the wandering that leads to arrival.
In other words, as the cliché goes, it really is about the journey.
Getting lost and wasting time in South Africa
My husband and I traveled to South Africa for a very special, bucket-list sort of trip.
On a trip where each day feels like precious time, we completely wasted our last day.
We drove for what wound up being hours without actually doing anything. Not ideal, especially considering our journey home would take 32 hours.
We were trying to find hiking trails -- first in the mountains and then in the dunefields. But in each case we found we were without the right permits and we didn’t have enough cash. We were unprepared, and going on the hopes that things would somehow work out. So we drove. Up into the mountains. The drive getting longer and longer, steeper and steeper, curvier and curvier.
The mountains were lush and green. Our ears popped from the sudden altitude. Monkeys interrupted the twisting road.
Ultimately the road went nowhere. We couldn’t hike, were turned away. We had to drive back down.
But in the meantime -- oh, what a view.
We got out of the car and looked down at how high we were. The rolling hills and slopes stretched out below us. Where we started was just a tiny speck in the distance.
“Wow,” I said. “That’s far”.