I am half way into my big east coast trip, and I am definitely getting back into the swing is travel again. I forgot how much I loved getting on a plane, knowing that soon you will be in a totally different place. What’s more, an unknown place yet to be explored by you. Sadly, in exactly two weeks, I leave the USA and return to New Zealand. I am excited to return, see family and friends, and start work as a real lawyer, but I am sad to say goodbye to America me. To California. And to this life. I left New Zealand nine months ago, and returning means the end of travel for a while. So I am definitely appreciating it while I can, doing lots, sleeping little, and visiting as many places as possible.
And this trip is also full of many firsts. The first time to many American states – Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, Illinois, and Washington, D.C. (Although not technically a state). I am half way through, on a bus en route to Philly. I am also doing things a bit differently, I am couch surfing my way through all these places. Yes, I stay at a strangers house, though hopefully by the time I leave we will be friends. So far I have slept in the living room of a house, on a couch, in a private room on a loft bed, and shared a studio on an air bed. All experiences, all part of my trip, and it has led to unique things I wouldn’t have done otherwise.
And to me, that is what travel is all about. Going outside your comfort zone, leaving your mark, and taking part of a place away with you. Keeping memories of every single destination in your heart. And being a traveller, not a tourist. Tourists observe from the outside, and never truly immerse themselves. Travelers, however, experience a place in all it’s glory. I have been reading a book by Paul Theroux, called ‘The Tao of Travel’ and in it he states that ‘In Mumbai: A tourist would have been in a temple or a museum. I had been in a slum.’ Of course I did museums, and there were no slums to be found in Boston or New York. However I love this quote and can relate to it. Because travel not only holds the possibility of excitement, but also reinvention and discovery of ones self. And the possibility that you may fall in love with a place, be for the museums, skyscrapers, food, culture or even it’s slums, and never want to leave.
When I arrived in Boston, I stayed out in Cambridge. My first evening was spent at a birthday celebration, at a bar on the other side of town near the end of the subway (“T”) line. I tried local brews, and socialized with people i had never met, in a bar I would have never been to otherwise. I fit right in, and by the end of the evening knew all the gossip of the group, and got back to Cambridge at 4am. Tuesday night was bluegrass at a local bar, and Wednesday drinks at the Cambridge brewing Company with couch surfing hosts and surfers. In New York, I stayed in Hell’s Kitchen and Inwood (end of the A line, up at 207th street). I went to the Brooklyn flea market and Hell’s Kitchen flea market, neither in the lonely planet. Had the most amazing grilled cheese from this deli on 10th and west 47th. Took the bus to New Jersey for lunch (no normal sane tourist would ever do that!!) And went to a movie on my last night with my host and her friend. All these people whom I had never met, taking me into their homes, sharing their lives. This human interaction, for me, is what travel is about. You can move through a city totally alone and invisible, as if people see through you. Once you leave, no one notices. It is as if you were never there, apart from the pictures on your camera. But if you interact with people there, your absence is noted. As was your presence. And these moments are not on your camera, they instead last as memories, in your head and heart.
Of course I have done tourist things. In Boston I did the freedom trail, had chowda and explored Harvard and MIT. It snowed, and I experienced some very very cold weather (-16 degrees C one day! I went for a 5km run around Harvard when it was -12). I had a martini at the Top of the Hub, 52nd floor of the Provincial building. In New York I went to the Met, MoMA, and the museum of natural history. I saw Chicago, went to the opera, and explored the Chelsea markets. However I also achieved another first while in New York – I ran my first half marathon.
As many know, I injured my knee last April. I had been in recovery all last year and only was able to run again as of October 2012. I decided to do the half marathon 6 weeks prior to it taking place. I semi trained, and my goal was to finish. Not be constrained by my knee, or my asthma. No goal for time. If I had properly trained and planned months in advance, my goal would have been 2:15. 13.1 miles. Two hours fifteen seemed like a reasonable first marathon goal, had that been my goal.
I completed it in 1:54. 1:54. I still can’t believe it. It was the hardest half marathon of all NY ones, as many runners after told me, and probably one of the hardest half marathons in my life, according to some. There was snow on the ground, it was -6 degrees Celsius, and the course was two loops around and through Central Park, which included one very steep and difficult hill – the Harlem Hill.
I woke at 6, had a bagel with peanut butter, a banana, Gatorade, and put on my many layers. Stretched, made sure I had my inhaler, and took the subway two stops uptown to the park. Told myself ‘you can do this’. I kept thinking positive. Thought ‘You can totally do this.’ And I did. In under two hours. I still can’t believe it. I was in the top 2/5th of finishers. Number 60 in my age and gender group. My first half marathon, in New York, in the middle of Central Park, with snow on the ground. That, is a traveler story, I will never forget. The whole trip could be a failure, but it would still be my best visit to NYC, because of that achievement.
And as I write this, I am on a bus to Philadelphia. Taking in the sights of the countryside, on this cloudy cold winter day. Moving south onwards to DC. More sights to see, more people to meet (and couches to sleep on!), more fun to be had. Hell if I have to leave America, put away my passport and say goodbye to traveling for a while, I am going out with a bang.