I changed and made some landmarks in my life

The fall when I was 32 years old, I was getting tired of my job. I hadn’t taken a good vacation in years, and hadn’t even managed a week off that summer. The company I worked for was beginning its slow slide into being absorbed by another company. It was time for a change.

So I changed. I went and saw a travel agent, a first for me. I talked with her about going someplace warm in the wintertime, a first for me by myself. (I’d helped my parents set up in Florida a few years previously.) I’d leave the United States, something I’d never done before, except to visit Canada (which, apologies to all Canadians, I didn’t think of as TRAVEL) and a business trip to Germany.

My travel agent gave me brochures for all sorts of places, mostly in the Caribbean, but a few in the Antipodes. I saw all those wonderful beaches in Queensland, and that settled it: I was going to spend 21 days on a beach in Queensland. What could be more relaxing?

Then reality set in. 21 days on a beach in Queensland? More like one day on a beach in Queensland, 20 days recovering from the sun poisoning. I’d had sun poisoning before. I was not tempted to try it again. So I gave up on that idea. And I noticed that all those Australia brochures had one or two suggested trips to New Zealand . . . which was not so tropical. And so New Zealand it was.

Making the trip, my first vacation overseas, was one landmark. The second? I was going on a five-day hike. I’d never even hiked with a backpack. But I was going to do it. The third? I didn’t want to be bothered bringing shaving equipment on the hike. The less I carried, the better. So I decided to grow a beard. Never mind everyone told me I’d look terrible. I was going to do it anyhow.

So here I am, sitting on Quintin’s Rock, at the top of Mackinnon Pass in the Southern Alps, 3000 feet above the ground underneath my feet. It was cold, and the wind was blowing from behind me. No one else in our group of 40 hikers sat on the rock that day. I was tough. I was up for the challenge. I was . . . terrified. I’m afraid of heights, especially when I don’t feel securely grounded and balanced. With the wind behind me, I was NOT secure. But I HAD to do this. You see, besides all the other landmarks, it was my birthday. I was turning 33.

It’s summer, can’t you tell?

The beard, incidentally, looked wonderful. I’ve kept it ever since. Shaved it off twice, looked in the mirror both times, and decided I had to grow it back immediately! It may be mostly gray now, but without it . . . well, you’d think there was a village somewhere missing its idiot.

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12 thoughts on “I changed and made some landmarks in my life

  1. crimsonprose

    Brian, you’ve never mentioned your New Zealand adventure before. And never before shared your fear of heights (and that surprises me since I’m sure I’ve mentioned mine). And to sit on that rock … I feel unbalanced just to look at you there. Eeks! Beware.
    But overall, it’s great to see you posting posts again. I’ve missed you (despite the not-so-occasional micro-fiction added into my comments) Yay! Look, everyone, Brian is back with the writing thing.

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  2. Joy Pixley

    Oh my, it’s triggering my fear of heights just looking at that photo! How very brave to sit there, good on you! And how very brave to take the plunge and go somewhere new and exciting. I love to travel but I’ve never been to New Zealand. Now I wish I’d gone hiking there before my knees got worse (although to be fair, they were unsteady already in my 20s). Ah well, I’m sure there’s plenty of beauty I could see without risking having to walk down steep hills.

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    1. Brian Bixby Post author

      Indeed. My partner, who is a cartoonist, hates climbing hills. So I was able to persuade her, several years ago, to take a trip to Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, by pointing out that the highest point in all three countries was only about 1000 feet! You’d probably have enjoyed joining us in trying to track down an ancient pagan altar stone in a Lithuanian national park (which also featured a former Soviet nuclear missile silo, talk about context switching!).

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      1. Joy Pixley

        That does sound interesting! I actually really enjoy hiking, and especially hiking up hills. The problem is that once you get up the hill, you generally have to walk back *down* again, and that’s the part that strains my knees too much and leaves me in excruciating pain. So my perfect outdoor hike is lovely paths through woods and past waterfalls and scenic views, going up and up, and hidden on the other side of the hill once I get to the top is a convenient funicular to take me back down. 🙂

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      2. Brian Bixby Post author

        You’re in good company: the national park staff there in N.Z. were saying how most of the injuries on the trail come from strain as people descend from the pass.

        Obviously, the world is suffering from a funicular shortage. I was trying to recall if I’ve ever been on one. Turns out I have, in New Zealand! There’s a cable car in Wellington that’s built on a slant to go up the hill.

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