Crossings. My life has been a continual series of crossings. One of my earliest memories is of a little towheaded guy, maybe six years old, crossing the vastness of America with his Dad at the wheel of a '56 red & white Chevy. We sailed wide-eyed across cowboy country, the Rockies, and Mojave Desert until we simply ran out of land at the Pacific Ocean and California, that land of dreams. And then we drove back.
That pattern would continue as my family relocated every few years. The years we weren't putting our lives into boxes, we voluntarily loaded three kids, two adults (who should have known better), and five suitcases into one overstuffed car for two weeks of non-stop driving everyday from one old battlefield to very new ones we'd create. Never put three lively kids together in the backseat all day.
That pattern was to become my life.
My love and obsession with crossings continued to follow me, or me it, into my so-called adult life. My life as a kid in western Pennsylvania was uprooted to attend school at one of the few liberal universities in the south, only to throw myself a few years later into New York's acting jungle, and a year later to head west to pursue work then back to the Carolinas, back to the Northwest, then to Alaska, back to the Carolinas, back to Alaska, then off to Hawaii, then to... Well, you get the picture. If you got frequent traveler miles for human ping-ponging, I'd be in the Million Miles Club by now.
Fortune is an elusive lady. Fame is fleeting. But each move brought new challenges, friends, and adventures. My parents learned to write my address in pencil into their address books. Wanderlust became an intimate friend and I grew to look forward to, and to embrace change. As luck would have it, just when I finally had enough money scraped together, another recession took its toll and I took the opportunity to hit the road--on another crossing.
Fortunately, I'd met a lady who made me laugh, a fellow wanderer who shared this passion. We became a team. At a moment's notice, we'd toss whatever we needed into backpacks and set off for months at a time. We had mental lists of places we wanted to explore, things we wanted to do. Who needed bucket lists when we could heed the sirens and do it now. And we did. Our wanderings took us around the world with backpacks a couple times to 100 countries or more.
As bootstrap, low budget adventurers, nothing was out of bounds. We crossed Africa for 7 months overland, first with an ill-fated, Ship of Fools group and then, when patience ran low, independently. We met some of the most amazing people and experienced many of the adventures you imagine when you think of Africa: crossing the Sahara, climbing Kilimanjaro, dancing by moonlight with pygmies, photo-stalking mountain gorillas, whitewater rafting down the Zambezi River, and so much more. No, it was not your typical honeymoon. I captured this experience in my true, raw adventure book "Dead Men Don't Leave Tips." It remains unsanitized for your protection.
Then our usual smorgasbord of travel changed.
One day while innocently hanging out in a Colorado library, we read about a trail crossing Tibet. It was an ancient pilgrim's path that'd been closed since Chinese occupation in the 1950s. Well, to us, Tibet was the ultimate destination. Without much hesitation (or detailed planning) we set off for Kathmandu--not knowing if we would even be allowed to cross the border into Tibet--let alone cross the country. As fate would have it, the border opened just the day before we applied for visas--for the first time in decades. It was pure synchronicity.
Traveling deliberately across Tibet, one step at a time, we never knew where we'd find food, water, or a place to lay our heads. We learned to trust in the universe, while practicing begging skills learned from Buddhist monks--and to rely on the kindness of strangers. At the end of each weary, exciting day, I'd sit by candlelight and write about our experiences: the people we met, the challenges, the hunger, the joy, the disappointments--while our muscles still ached and our sweat was barely dry. Capturing my feelings and thoughts while they were fresh allowed me to describe the experience as it happened, not some quixotic recollection a year or more later. I wanted readers to feel as if they were walking with us and our Tibetan horse through all the bad and good, the blisters and pain, the blizzards and 17,000 foot passes, the bullets and self-doubt. Those raw and uncensored diaries and photos were to become the basis for my first IPPY Award-winning book, "Yak Butter Blues."
That experience was life changing in many ways.
I learned to never say "Impossible!" I learned to have faith. I learned to appreciate the small victories day to day. And I found a way to follow my personal passion and tell a true story while helping raise awareness about a fragile corner of our planet and its peoples' struggle to survive.
I was hooked. I wanted more of the same intense experience on the road. It wouldn't take long.
A second seminal event in my life occurred when I walked the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage route across Spain in 1999. That month led me to question my life's path and when I returned I devoted myself to writing fulltime. Over the next 15 years, I continued hiking these historic pilgrimage paths nearly every year across Europe: Norway, England, France, Italy and Spain several more times. As physically exhausting as walking 25-30 kilometers a day can be, they nourished me on many levels.
But it was all just preparation for one penultimate destination--Jerusalem.
It led to my most demanding crossing and a tale as old and yet unique as those once told by Chaucer. In 2006, a 68 year-old French friend and I set off on the historic pilgrimage trek. Walking 4500 miles from France to Jerusalem across thirteen countries, we retraced the route of the First Crusades on what I liked to call "a walk for peace." Ironically, the usual daily surprises were easily surpassed when war broke out along the way. Still, we were undeterred in our quest. For me, this odyssey became an inward journey as well as a physical one. A little enlightenment surfaced one step at a time.
I returned deeply changed and was pleasantly surprised when The Society of American Travel Writers named "Along the Templar Trail: Seven Million Steps for Peace" 2009 Best Travel Book and I received the Lowell Thomas Gold Award, the Pulitzer of our genre.
Today, my wanderlust continues. Most recently, my wife and I were seduced into hiking the length of the Alps on the Via Alpina. Over four and a half months, we climbed the equivalent of twelve Mt. Everests across eight countries. I swiftly, painfully, learned this is not a challenge to be taken lightly (or in one giant gulp) by any sane couple. It was not "a walk in the park" by any stretch of my bizarre imagination. However, we accepted the challenge--and witnessed first-hand the vanishing Alpine culture along with disappearing glaciers--as we breached the far reaches of an "Everyman's" endurance.
Join us as we traverse the highs and lows of that crossing in "Over the Top & Back Again", named ForeWord Reviews 2011 Bronze Award winner for Best Adventure.
Crossings. This one word captures my life, my loves, my travels and writings. Crossings inspire. They add meaning. They test. They push you to your limits. They reward. They lead you to the hidden magic in the world. They've made me the person I've become.
My tales are real, sometimes raw, often on the edge as two ordinary people deal with extraordinary challenges. These are not travel stories where everything is predictably perfect. Yes, it's sometimes like making sausage. It's not always a pretty process, but perhaps it's a delicious snack for your traveler's soul.
Join me on these and my future crossings. You'll never return quite the same.
Meanwhile, please join me on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Brandon-Wilson-Adventure-Travel-Author/156521417709244?ref=ts