I rang in 2013 at a palace in Jaisalmer, India, huddled around a bonfire underneath a dark desert sky. Music thumped from the dance floor. When midnight arrived fireworks exploded above me and I raised my head to watch. Rockets boomed and fell to the ground in a medley of color and smoke. Above the chaos, a pinprick of stars held steady and unshaken.
My Rickshaw Run teammate, Hannah, leaned over and knocked her Kingfisher against mine. “To our first full year of freedom,” she said. It gave me goose bumps because the air smelled of change, like so much possibility. Later, in the first hours of 2013, I walked back to my hotel behind the walls of the old Jaisalmer Fort. I closed my eyes that night knowing I had witnessed the birth of a year that was mine to do with as I pleased.
The next day, January 1, 2013, I climbed into a three-wheeled rickshaw and drove 3,000 kilometers down the length of India in the most mind-blowing and ridiculous adventure I have ever had in my life. It was a journey that changed the core of me. A year later I’m still trying to understand how.
Afterwards, I moved to the beach. Brian and I rented an apartment in Palolem, India. I went running and wrote all day. In the evenings I met friends for drinks. Most nights, Brian and I walked hand in hand to a seaside restaurant and ate dinner by candlelight, calmed by the rhythm of the waves. It felt like home. We were happy.
But we got antsy. The mountains called. We went to Nepal and walked to Annapurna Base Camp. It wasn’t enough. We walked the Annapurna Circuit. We made Pokhara home base. We thought we had it all figured out. Slow travel, that was our mantra. We were electrified. We had hit our stride.
We returned to the States for the summer. Ohio. Midwest. Ten years removed. We were bored and unhappy. Stuck. Two versions of life slammed into each other head on. It undid us for awhile. But there were bright spots, too. Time with family and friends. Caring for our dogs again.
The summer turned cool. Fall arrived. I headed to Spain, alone, to walk the Camino de Santiago. 34 days later I stood at the Atlantic coast with tears in my eyes and a deep well of pride blooming inside of me. I navigated an entire country on foot, 555 miles, by myself. I felt whole and filled. Just like in India, I felt changed. Just like India, it is too soon to say how.
Brian came to Spain. We rented a car and drove through Andalucía with the windows down. We took a boat to Morocco. We drank wine. I tried to explain my time on the Camino. I couldn’t. Some things are yours alone.
We joined forces with eurail.com on a whirlwind tour of Europe by train. Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, Czech Republic, Hungary. Six countries in as many weeks. Museums and historical squares and Christmas markets. Christmas markets. Because the year is coming to a close again.
Tomorrow we board a flight to Vietnam. This year when the proverbial calendar page turns over and 2013 blows away with the wind, we will be in SE Asia. We will be there with good friends and sore butts, bicycling our way through the Vietnamese countryside.
A year in the world. One hard, crazy, unpredictable, beautiful, exhausting, exhilarating year. Even to read it, to have lived it, it seems almost impossible.
As I scan back over the year, I keep coming back to where it all began: Three years ago this month, when I launched this blog. Then, I was dreaming of exactly what I have now. Writing. Traveling. I had no idea if it was possible. It felt impossible. But now I am here. I did it. It makes me wonder, what will the next three years hold?
I realize now more than ever how much power we have over our own lives. Most things are within our reach but we have to be brave enough to grab for them and flexible enough to accept that they might not look exactly like we think they will — and we have to trust.
We have to trust that if we do the hard work all of the other things we can’t control will fall into place. We have to understand that we don’t know the whole story, that we can’t see the big picture when we’re standing in the center of the stage. And we have to be patient and persevere.
Also, no excuses. No fucking excuses.
When I think back on this year, I see the faces of the countless men who fixed the rickshaw I drove through the chaotic beauty of India. I see the family whose kiosk we ate breakfast at in Pokhara each morning, their black-haired, wide-eyed baby staring out at me from the sling on her mothers chest. I feel the red dirt between my toes as I walk down our street in Palolem. I smell the fresh mountain air in Nepal, hear the lull of the train as it knocks down the tracks through the countryside of France.
I remember the laughter, the conversations, the tears, the fights, and all of the amazing and beautiful people I have crossed paths with these past twelve months. It has been such an intense year. It has been transformative, it has been challenging. It has been the most fulfilling year of my life. I am grateful.
Onward, to 2014.
I wrote a book about how to live your dreams. You can buy it on Amazon for $8.99.