A Long Road Ahead
An adventure travel fiction piece by Adam J. Cheshier.
He was pushing 30-years-young without ever doing anything he considered special. Granted, he had traveled the world and become accustomed to worldwide culture over the course of ten years, but still, nothing stood out as truly special to him.
He’d pretty much done everything in his life and, yet, his life still felt ordinary. After a two-year stint in Southeast Asia, living under palm trees and sipping morning coconuts, he came home to attend his brother’s wedding. When you go away for a while, you never come all the way back to where you were. A part of you is always somewhere else.
It didn’t take but two nights for him to round-up the ol’ troops. He and his buddies gathered at Tyler’s for beers. A few of the guys came to see him in either Asia or Europe, but most of the boys he hadn’t seen in upward of six or seven years — the better part of a decade. He had been on the move, you see.
First, in Europe. Then, in Africa. And, finally, Asia. It was true, he was pushing three decades on this Earth and he was continually maturing. Most of his friends back home recognized him as the crazy party animal he was when he left but he had grown.
However, he didn’t mind this reputation of being the not-serious guy. He could let loose and that’s something he could always look forward to when returning home. He could re-live his high school days in a month or two and then return to the real world — his real world — which was filled with much more worldly matter.
See, many people mistook his life abroad for a vacation. And even though, in many ways, it was, they never saw him working hard. Over ten years living in a dozen-or-so cities spread across the world, his heart had taken a lot — his mind had held even more. He had been through the wringer on the road. His travel was anything but a vacation and more of a test of human limit. This is not to say everything in the world is bad and every experience he had pulled him through hell, but let’s just say it’s not all as easy as life in his little suburbia-heaven of a hometown. There was a world outside of that one that none of his friends knew about.
That evening was unordinary for us or, at least, for me. I guess when I was gone, the guys filled my place with females. We never used to hang with girls, but now, being older, some had settled down and found a partner in crime or maybe even a wife. A lot of things had changed. Hell — even old Zach had a girlfriend and he’d never talked to girls before I left. Tommy has a kid now. He’s two.
So, anyway, their wives brought friends, and soon this squad of all guys was a mixed affair. One of the girls who were there, Daisy, I knew from high school but we never really talked. The fact that this story became about her — or our journey — is quite unbelievable still.
I only knew her as a girl who — let’s just say — was very forward about her intentions with guys and those intentions were never serious. To tell you the truth, I was kind of intimidated by her back then and, though she’s nonetheless stunning now, I have matured and am not as timid around girls.
After all, I’ve talked to all kinds of people abroad — anybody from diplomats to homeless — making friends with them all and it didn’t really matter who they were or what language they spoke. I must say I had become somewhat of a master conversationalist. I can talk to anyone and I have a feeling anyone can stand to be around me.
Actually, the fact that there were girls there that night played quite in my favor. After all, I was going to have my nights out with the opposite sex, but I never used to bring them around my friends because they were all awkward. It seems since they’ve become accustomed to having girls around, they’ve gotten more comfortable talking to them too. It was a nice night.
At one point, Daisy and I had struck up a conversation. She was going through the child adoption process. She knew it was a big commitment but was ready for a distraction from her normal life and something to consume a new life. She didn’t want to have a child with someone because that meant a commitment to someone else which she was far too afraid of. So, she liked the idea of a child. At least, she thought. Maybe all she needed was something new.
“Hey, I got something for you,” I said. “Four months from now. I’m going on a walk.”
“Oh, yeah? A walk? Well, I’m going to need something to distract me a little longer than that,” she said.
“Nah, not this. This is a different walk. A walk across five countries. It’ll take two months. How about that.”
“Five countries — OK. Which countries?”
“Does it matter?”
“Yeah, well, I mean, if I’m going to take a two-month vacation, I want to know where I’m going,” she said. She was just teasing, of course, no normal person would agree to something that outrageous so quickly. I went along with the game.
“I’m going to start in Croatia if you must know. Then, I’m going to continue on down through Bosnia and Herzegovina, into Montenegro, through the whole country in a few days, then down the only bit of the trek that’s unknown to a degree — Albania, where I’ll climb mountains and make it all the way to the southern Riviera and cross the border into my final country, Greece. My final destination will be an island right off the border called Corfu. It’s a magical island for tourists but I’m not so interested in that kind of stuff, just need a clear ending destination.”
“You seem like you know your way around.”
“Yeah, I’ve been traveling for a while,” I said.
“What’s your favorite place in the world?” she asked.
“That’s like asking a parent to chose their favorite child. There is no right answer to that,” I said. “Everywhere sparks new interests and I have fun for different reasons.”
“The girls?” she said with an eye roll. I laughed.
“Well, I can’t lie. Where I will walk seems to have some of the most beautiful girls in the world. Eastern Europeans are some of the most beautiful people I’ve ever seen. They’re all gorgeous, gorgeous people when they’re young — even the men. But from what I’ve noticed, there seems to be a wall that all Eastern Europeans hit. It comes at around 45 when they cross over into the ‘old’ phase of their life. And, by God, I’ve never seen a more distinct transformation in looks than climbing over that wall in east Europe. If they don’t become the ugliest motherfuckers I’ve ever seen — I mean — they may only be 45 but it seems half of those people had lived through World War II.”
She laughed and I could tell she dug this style of crude sense of humor.
“It has to be longer than two months, then,” she said.
“What do you mean?”
“Your walk. If I’m going to take that long off work, I’ll have to quit my job. So, it needs to consume my life for longer than a few weeks.”
“I’m sure we could stretch it to three months or maybe four, but the hike is only just over 500 miles in total. Theoretically, it could be done in a single month but I want to go slow. I have to fulfill an assignment as we go.”
“Oh yeah — what do you do?”
“What do you write?”
“I’m a writer for National Geographic. This walk is an assignment I’ve proposed to them. They like it, they want to see the draft. But that means I have to do the walk first. I’m sure if I write it right, they’ll love it. More importantly, the readers will love it.”
“So, you’re inviting me to be a part of your story?”
“I might mention you.”
“So, I might be famous?”
“Ha — if only my writing garnered that much attention. But I think this might be the breakout piece. The story that finally gets me recognized. The story that kickstarts my career after three years in the business.”
“Still, three months is too short. I can’t go with you. I can’t reason with myself to quit my life for a three-month plan,” she said.
“It doesn’t matter, I’m going to make the walk a two-month adventure anyway. So, even shorter.”
The way she spoke now made me think she had actually been contemplating this idea and it was more than just a playful joke to her.
“What about Indonesia,” she said.
“What about it?”
“Have you ever been?”
“Yeah, actually I have. I spent the better part of a year there last year, living on the island of Lombok. Ever heard of it?”
“There was a terrible earthquake that hit while I was there. One of the most gruesome things I’ve ever experienced. I feel for those people every day.”
“How sad. And so different than my girl friend’s experience in Indonesia. Ever heard of Bali?” she asked.
“Yes, of course, I know Bali. Everyone and their mom know Bali.”
“My friend went there and she says it is so beautiful.”
“Bali is right next door to Lombok — its sister island of sorts. And, I’ve got news for you, Bali isn’t even the most beautiful island in Indonesia. There are more than 17,000 islands in Indonesia and, yet, everyone focuses on just one. You should see some of the other ones east of Bali — like Lombok. It’s one of the wildest, untouched places I’ve ever been. Actually, I’m going to end up there after the walk some time to buy some property by the ocean and I’m going to start to settle down for once in my life.”
“Say, what do you think about walking to Indonesia?”
“Walking to Indonesia — are you fucking crazy?” I asked. “That’s halfway around the world, you know.”
“Maybe if I had two years to commit to an assignment then sure we could walk across the world. But I don’t have that kind of money. I need to keep working.”
“Is everything you do for an assignment?” she asked.
“I try not to make it that way, but it seems that’s what it has come to. Everything I do, every move I make — I remember when I was younger I used to do things for the thrill. I used to enjoy the experiences. Now, I’m too busy trying to make it as a writer and everybody knows writers don’t get paid shit.”
“I’m going to quit my job,” she said. “I don’t think I’m going to adopt a child. I’m going to walk with you.” “Are you serious? You are going to come on the walk?”
“Yes, I want to. I have to start training for it, though. I’m so out of shape.”
“Oh, don’t worry, I’m not going to go fast. Two-three months — nothing faster than that pace.”
At this point, I was getting quite excited about her enthusiasm for the adventure.
“But you have to promise me one thing,” she said.
“Let me go to Indonesia with you.”
“You want to go to Indonesia?”
“No,” she said. “I want to move to Indonesia.”
“I’m not. I figure I can find work out there–”
“You won’t get paid shit out there,” I interrupted her.
“That’s fine. My friend told me Bali is super cheap. I could in Bali and–”
“You could live on an island cheaper than Bali,” I interrupted again.
“OK — where are you living?”
“You want to live with me?”
“Well, not with you, but. . . where are you living?”
I couldn’t believe this. I was reeling in the entertainment.
“Jesus, you are crazy, you know that?” I said. “I don’t know where I’ll end up. Somewhere east of Bali. Not living in Bali, though. I’m going to jump around the islands and scout some nice surfing spots. I need to learn how to surf — I should’ve last year. I want to find someplace — nice and wild — no commercialism — where I can settle down and do some serious writing. I’m going to find a small plot of land to buy and build a small house with a children’s library somewhere on the property.”
“Yeah, it’s something I’ve wanted to do. Something simple to give back. But I don’t know — I may never get to it. I may not even ever buy the land.”
“Suppose you do buy the land — do you know how to build a house?” she asked.
“Woah, let’s take this one step at a time. I’m focused on the walk. Not on what follows.”
“So, when do you plan on being in Indonesia? Is that fair of me to ask?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought about it. I guess I was planning on going almost immediately following the walk.”
“But you don’t have a set date or any time you need to be there?”
She paused and contemplated. Finally, she spoke.
“Let’s hitchhike to Indonesia.”
“Good Lord, this girl is crazy,” I said over the commotion in the room. Now, I spoke to the whole room, “She says she wants to move to Indonesia with me next year.”
“Not with you. I just want to go as well.”
“Yeah, whatever. She says she’s going to do the walk with me and then go to Indonesia — not with me — only at the same time and probably the same place.”
“Look, I need something to do. I can’t take this counseling job anymore. It’s driving me crazy — I feel like I need a therapist these days. It’s not worth it and I’m done working the 9-to-5.”
“OK — look — you realize to hitchhike to Indonesia from Europe, we’ll be crossing the entirety of the Middle East. Unless you wanted to go south through northern India — but, still, we’d probably have to cross through Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan — those kinds of places. I mean — have you even looked at a map?”
“Yeah, I studied world geography in high school. Remember Mr. Hardy?”
“Yeah,” I said with a giggle. “That old perv. I remember him.”
“He always tried to hit on me but — anyway — if you don’t want to, I’ll do it by myself,” she said.
“I didn’t say I didn’t want to. Sometimes, you just need to run through the logistics before you commit to something this crazy.”
“No, actually, I think it’s better if I didn’t look at the logistics. I’m afraid I might talk myself out of it. I’d rather just go.”
“So, you’re saying right now that you’d walk through five countries with a guy you — theoretically — just met tonight. . . what if I’m a serial killer or something?”
“Oh, c’mon. You’re friends with Jared and I know Linda would vouch for Jared’s friends.”
“OK — fair. I’m not a serial killer. But what about finances. You’ll have to take at least a year off work the way I see it.”
“Yeah, trust me, I’m fine in that department. Counseling is miserable but it pays well.”
“OK — what about family. Surely, they won’t feel comfortable with you doing something like this.”
“Oh, c’mon. My family is fine. I’m a grown woman, getting older by the day, and it’s time for me to do something like this. Look, you don’t have to ask me if it’s right for me. I’m going to make this decision on my own. It’s just whether or not you are joining.”
“Woah, woah, woah. Understand that, for the past year-plus, I’ve been plotting this trip for myself. Let me just have some time to let all of this sink in and I’ll let you know. And as for hitchhiking to Indonesia — I still think you’re crazy. I have to read up on the idea and see if it’s plausible.”
“What — are you going to see if you can pitch an assignment for it?” she said.
“Yeah, I might. What of it?”
“No, nothing — I just thought you might want to do this for the hell of it, you know? As you said, everything you do now is for the assignment.”
She had a point. My conscious had been aching for an adventure for the hell of it and I knew it.
“Look, OK, if you do the walk, I’ll hitchhike to Indonesia with you. Just for the hell of it. But you know we can’t get to the islands by hitchhiking, right?”
“I know. We’ll sail. We’ll hitchhike a sailboat,” she said.
“You really are out of your mind, aren’t you?” I said.
“Yeah, maybe. But maybe I’m just crazy enough,” she said with a smile.
She called me up the next day, maybe to prove she was serious and not just drunk. Her first question was:
“OK — so, where do I start?”
And, to be honest, I didn’t really have a clue. I’d never traveled as two — I hardly ever knew where to start myself.
“What’s your travel experience?” I asked, trying to sound like I knew how to handle this.
“I guess I used to go on family vacations. My friends and I went to Vegas last summer for a bachelorette weekend.”
“Your Vegas weekend won’t help you much over there. Have you ever been abroad?”
“Yeah, my family and I went to Mexico a few times. We stayed in resorts, though.”
“You’ll see it’s a whole different animal to go abroad. You’ll be OK in Europe — hopefully, you’ll get all of the culture shocks out of the way while we are there so you’re ready for the big show afterward.”
“OK — so, you haven’t told me where to start.”
“The trip is four months away, right? I think I’ll give you a couple of books. When can we meet up?”
“What are you doing right now?”
“Right now? I’m in bed. I just woke up.”
“OK — I’ll come over.”
“Wait,” I said. “I’m in my parents’ place. I don’t have my own place here.”
“So, shouldn’t we meet up somewhere else?”
“Oh, my God. We aren’t hooking up. You said you are going to give me some books. Doesn’t your mom know you hang out with women?”
“Yeah, but, still. . . it’s weird at our age, no?”
“Fine,” she said. “Remember where the Applebees is?”
“Meet me there. Just a heads up — it’s not an Applebees anymore. It got remodeled into some second-hand shop. You probably haven’t been around since that happened.”
“You’re kidding — that used to be my stomping grounds in high school,” I said.
“Yeah, you and every other high school kid in this city. I’ll see you there in twenty?”
And, so, we met up. Grabbed a coffee. I had to scramble to find the books I said I would offer her.
That evening, I met up with Jared again. He asked about her.
“Are you fucking crazy, man?” That’s the first thing he said when he heard our plan.
“No, no — it’s not whether or not I’m crazy. She’s the crazy one, man. I tried to talk her out of it, believe me. I pulled out every stop I know and she kept persistent.”
“You know you’re basically kidnapping this girl and pulling her into your lifestyle. Now, I don’t know everything you’ve been through and done, but I’ve read some stories and heard you speak a few times about things. That lifestyle isn’t for everyone — it certainly isn’t for me.”
“I know, man. I told her I was walking across five countries — hitchhiking was her idea! Across Syria, Iraq — dangerous fucking countries.”
“You know you’re going to fall in love, right?” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“Oh, c’mon. Daisy is a beautiful girl. And she likes that type of adventure shit obviously. Or, at least, she is spontaneous enough to try it. Who else do you know who would do this?”
“Yeah, well, we’ll see if she follows through. She was talking about buying her plane ticket already. I won’t believe her until she shows up to the airport.”
“Jack, you’re almost thirty years old. When are you going to take the next step and find a woman?”
“Jared, that’s your next step, but it doesn’t have to be mine. Daisy is cool, but that’s not on my agenda. You know this trip was about so much more for me. It’s about so much more than she even knows. She’ll find out that I don’t have time for that kind of thing — if that’s even her intention.”
“Jack, she willingly signed up for a year-long stint with you. She’s obviously smitten a little. Just give her a chance is all I’m saying.”
“Yeah, I think she’s pretty cool, but I practically only met her last night, dude. Chill.”
“She’s out of your league anyway, dude. Trust me.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Oh, you know you’re an ugly-ass mofo. Look, all I’m saying is while you’ve been gone, there have been a few dudes who have been suckered into her games. She has gained a reputation for being conniving. Just don’t get wrapped in it. Stay true to your mission and don’t let it slow that mission down.”
“Trust me, dude. At this point, I’ll be surprised if it even happens.”
Four months passed in an instant, and I have to say, I was falling for Daisy. We saw each other nearly every day — at first, to talk about the trip. But after we got nearly every detail plotted, we still wanted to be with each other. There was an apparent connection between us. Nothing ever amounted to it, at least, yet, but things were getting hot leading up to departure day.
The one thing I couldn’t stand, though, was that she brought her ex up in conversation nearly every time we saw each other. It was a guy I knew. A guy from our graduating class. I could tell she was still in love with him, but I thought maybe she was in love with me too. I knew if she got out of her way, she would soon forget about the guy.
And I was right. Almost immediately after landing in Croatia, there was hardly a peep about this guy from her mouth. She was too consumed by everything else this new life brought her and her wonder for everything. She would only occasionally bring up his name. I knew this gave me a chance — she just wanted to be adored and I could give her that attention without any distraction from her old life.
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** This article was originally published at www.adamcheshier.com **