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.
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.