I spent the last week literally walking across Scotland.
At some point during the hiking trip I decided we could officially get away with saying we were walking across Scotland. It's a bigger country than a week's worth of walking, but we started on the West coast, and finished on the Northeast coast. We traversed the entire Great Glen, or valley, a huge v-shaped crevice 73 miles long and marked the whole way by lakes and rivers and canals.
There were four members of our crack team of hikers: Alex from Bath, England; Stuart from Sussex, England; Peter from Omagh, Northern Ireland; and myself. An epic reunion from my six month dream existence studying abroad in London three years ago. Each member contributed to the gloriousity (that should be a word) of the adventure - chief wood gatherers for consistently successful bonfires, head chefs overseeing very un-camping-like feasts on the open fire, navigators ensuring that we saw a most varied and awe-inspiring terrain.
We walked by Scotland's largest, Ben Nevis and it's partners in snowy domination of the landscape. We climbed directly up mountains holding onto Scottish heather to keep from falling. We slid directly down mountains, mostly on our butts. We fought through 4-foot high forests of fern, making me feel like a giant from Gulliver's Travels amidst an endless pygmy jungle.
We wandered through one forest after another, pine, birch, ash, oak, foxgloves and gorse bushes and rhododendrons galore along the paths. We swam in frigid-pure waters of forest streams, we walked the entire length of the great Loch Ness, wondering what lay in its freezing cold 600 foot depths. We aimed every day for the sparsely placed Scottish pubs that would give us a moment's reprieve from the rains, a pint of Guinness to dull the joint pain, and a table to lay out the survey map and plan our attack.
And on the last night of camping, we found a pleasant, if official, campsite situated in a bog on the high ground above Loch Ness. The fire was already going when we arrived at 11 pm, and so we set out to make a dent in our ample food supplies. We drank soup from semi-clean plastic mugs, and Peter made tea, as usual. Stuart fried sausage, bacon, and black pudding in an enclave within the bonfire, and then passed the pan to me to cook up some eggs for our 1 AM classic english fry-up. Baked beans and bread rolls filled up whatever space left on our plates; a true feast. And then, not for the first time, the whiskey and Robert Burns poetry came out of the bags simultaneously, and we read and listened and drank until our wee-hours bedtime, in tents arranged over thickly lain moss to even out the ground.
The next day saw our triumphant completion of a 6-day journey from Fort William to Inverness, across the Scottish Highlands.
And so, I'm back at headquarters here in Surrey Quays, London, home of my intrepid explorer-mates. Being in London, yammering away with my old friends, drinking tea all the time, arguing about international politics, afternoon trips to the pub, it's all so very nostalgic. I realize, I love nostalgia.
Wikipedia says: "Nostalgia describes a longing for the past, often idealized." Well, that fits; read any of my blog entries for examples of me idealizing my experiences in the world.
I wanted to look this word up before I used it improperly. No matter; I think it applies perfectly to what I'm feeling about home right now: Idealized longing for Great America; idealized longing for family; idealized longing for the basement LEGO room of my parent's home; idealized longing for a slice of Papa Gino's pizza.
Because, America may be my boring old self-involved English-speaking home, I may feel a lack of independence around my family sometimes, the LEGO room might be a filthy labyrinth of broken pieces and spider webs, and my first slice of Papa Gino's pizza might have way too much dried tomato sauce lining the crust, but I am not going to be taking anything for granted for quite a while. Shortly after leaving the U.S., I realized that this was a good thing, and a major reason why I travel - I marvel at the things that I don't have, the wonders of the rest of the world, and I remember what it is that I do have, and what is so amazing. Traveling isn't just a self-contained break from routine; I want it to affect me everywhere, all the time. I want to realize how amazing everything in the world is, halfway around the world, and in my very own home. That's the challenge.