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Sensi Magazine

Trip of a Lifetime

Apr 23, 2019 08:04PM ● By Leland Rucker
A few decades ago, on a drive across Salisbury Plain in Southwestern England, my love Billie and I were spending a night in the village of wells. After finishing dinner at a local pub, it was still light, and we headed out a windering country road to get a look over the Moors of Somerset at sunset. 

Near the top of the Mendip hills, we were startled by a raucous herd of sheep, and I pulled off the road along a low stone wall and parked at the edge of a field to listen. The receding sun shone across the gently sloping hills and dales, manicured fields, fences, and farmhouses while hundreds of rams and ewes bleated in the twilight.

But my eye went straight to a mound rising out of the mist. A pyramidal hill with something at its crest, looking for all the world like the lowest rung on the stair-way to heaven. The mysterious prominence reached out, shimmering in its ghostly light. “I’m here,” it said. “Come on over and see me some time.” I was spellbound, unable to take my eyes away. What was this hill calling me like a siren?

We had noticed it earlier looming over Glastonbury Abbey ruins while we stood before a thorn tree that the signage explained bloomed from a cutting that grew from a staff that Joseph of Arimathea himself stuck in the ground right here. Huh? The hill loomed above us while we examined the spot where medieval monks found mysterious bones that they proclaimed were the very skeletons of King Arthur and Guinevere. What?

This was long before the internet, and we left the next morning, so it wasn’t until I got back home and did some research that I found out that structure was the Glastonbury Tor, beckoning to me was the just as it has to humans for centuries. I found out more about how Joseph, a minor New Testament character, got mixed in with the legends of the Knights of the Round Table. I learned that some stories claim that Joseph, while spreading the Gospel, brought the Holy Grail to the Glastonbury area a place where many Arthurian legends linger. In the early 19th century, poet William Blake imagined the possibility that Jesus even came to this spot when he was young, and his piece titled “Jerusalem” notes the below passage:

And did those feet in ancient times
Walk upon England’s mountains green
And was the Holy Lamb of God
On England’s pleasant pastures seen?

Even earlier, the Tor was considered the place where fairies entered and left the earth. The more I studied and learned about the area, the more fascinating it all became. Two years later, Billie and I returned, this time to climb and stand atop the Tor and breathe in all that mythology/history/splendor for ourselves.

Our Glastonbury experience taught us perhaps the two
most important tenets of travel: You never know when or
where the really cool stuff is going to happen, and sometimes
the trip itself is only the beginning of the journey.

Vacation is Static; Travel is Action
No matter the convenience or conveyance we started by walking, remember humans have always loved to travel. Lusted to travel. To go places we haven’t seen. To see things we didn’t know existed. To cross impassable rivers and climb distant mountains. We will go to incredible lengths to reach out-of-the-way places for that moment of complete, total, gobsmacking surprise that stays with us forever.

Travel expands our boundaries and expands our worldview. Moving from one place to another and seeing locales that were once no more than dots on a map is easier than ever, although almost anyone who’s been flying for more than 20 years knows it can be a lot less fun than it used to be, too.

Early travelers used natural landmarks as guideposts to other places. Today, we just dial in the GPS and sit back. Soon we’ll have driver less vehicles and, if the billionaires have their way, tourist space vehicles, and people will pony up and stand in line to board, no matter the cost.

Vacations are one thing, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with hopping a jet and sitting in a beach chair contemplating the horizon while sipping fruity rum drinks. We can all use that tropical getaway every now and again.

But travel is something else. Vacation is static; travel is action. It is doing something you might not ordinarily do, something distinct from your daily routine, and it involves an ability to sometimes just let go and allow things to happen. It isn’t magic. You might return from a vacation tanned and rested, but travel might leave you more tired and worn out than when you left. But taking that chance makes moments like finding Glastonbury Tor out there in the mist even greater experiences.

That doesn’t mean you don’t plan for your travels. Today, you can seriously research before you depart on your adventure to help you make better decisions on the road. To find places otherwise hidden. To look for out of the way places. One resource I mine regularly for ideas is Atlas Obscura, a simple guide to little known curiosities all over the world. Think things through before you leave, knowing you can’t plan for everything. And after you get home from any trip, head for the library or the internet to find out as much as you can about what you’ve seen and done.

Travel involves risks, many unseen. At Glastonbury, we mistakenly left all our travel cash on a bench inside the church grounds, and we spent 45 nervous minutes searching before a wonderful English lady returned it to us just as she found it.

Or there was that time I made the mistake of eating smoked salmon just before climbing on a tour boat for Kenai Fjords National Park in Alaska. I saw mostly the interior of a commode, but still managed to view icebergs calving and the breaching of sperm whales around us.

Then there was the eight-hour flight in the middle of the 80th row of the largest jumbo jet I’ve ever seen that included a metal pipe where my right leg was supposed to reside really unpleasant. The payoff: a week up close and personal with African elephants. Worth every second of torture. I’d sign up again in a flash.

And that’s why we keep coming back. Traveling can do wonders for your self-confidence and esteem. I was terrified about all aspects of spending four days camping at McNeil River in Alaska with brown bears everywhere. But in the process, I lost my fear of small airplanes and learned to respect grizzlies as the intelligent creatures they are. Today I’m more afraid to drive from one city to another than I was walking out there with the bears.

Travel builds the spirit, even if you aren’t always in control. That evening in Glastonbury was 45 years ago. Even without cellphones and selfies, I can still be on the Tor looking out over the moors anytime I want.

May all your travels be adventures.