Many people dream of going on an adventure. I know this because they told me.
‘I’d love to have an adventure but I’m not as brave as you.’
‘You’re so lucky to be able to do this.’
‘I’m gonna do that when [the kids grow up…]’ replace content in brackets with,
… when I get married
… the children finish Uni
… the house/extension is paid for
… I’m fit enough
… I’ve saved enough money
… I’ve finished the current work project
I said those things too. Years passed by and there was always a new milestone to reach.
One day, the day before my forty fourth birthday as it happened, I left Ireland on a plane bound for Glasgow. From there I caught a train to Oban then climbed aboard an old wooden boat heading to the Arctic. It was July, 2010. Everything I thought I would need was packed into a secondhand bag and weighed 15 kg all in. I had five days sailing experience, £2,957 and a hunger to see the world. I was terrified and excited at the same time.
After thirteen months at sea and two different yachts, one named Faraway, the other the She of Feock, I sailed into Hamble, England, with Dan, the only other human I’d seen in the final eleven days of the journey. My adventure was over, it was time to celebrate. Except it wasn’t. I had no welcoming party, no money, no job and nowhere to live. We didn’t even have a mooring for the boat.
What I did have was a great big bag of dirty laundry. For me, dirty laundry became a reminder of the past adventures; good times; fun times; and wild times.
A couple of weeks later, we got a mooring in the river opposite Dan’s work. He started back at his old job and I spent my days huddled below decks updating my CV and applying for jobs. For the first time in my life, I had a taste of what it must be like for a homeless person (without an address) trying to get a foot on the employment ladder. All my clothes were in tatters and my hair had gone feral. Each morning, no matter what the weather, I rowed across the River Hamble to drop Dan off then rowed back to pick him up when his work was over.
Most mornings, I’d watch the sunrise and listen to the oyster catchers smash shells on the pontoon. Sometimes I felt lonely and cried, then a message from a dear friend in Ireland would arrive. I’d share what was happening along the river with her and she’d write beautiful tales of her joy of living with her dearest doggies. Once I saw a boat that looked like a shoe sailing by. I didn’t dare tell her that. She might have thought I’d gone loopy. I’d listen to BBC’s Woman’s Hour while I tidied up and tune into the afternoon play if I fancied it. I’d sit on deck with a cup of tea and wave to the Harbour Master and read. In the evenings, I watched people tie up their boats and go home. As the weeks went by, sunset arrived earlier and I looked forward to the laundry trip to the King and Queen pub and hours spent by the open fire.
By November we’d found somewhere to live and could giggle at our first house-hunting experience. Within a couple of weeks, I’d found a job in the marine industry and we were learning to live in a house as a couple. We had hot showers when we felt like it, a place to stretch out, heating and a real bed. Dan was able to stand up straight and we had an automatic washing machine. Although I missed the sound of water lapping against the boat’s hull, the wind whistling in the rigging and being surrounded by water, I had a garden, with a fragrant rose arch. My love of plants was rekindled and I put my name on the waiting list for an allotment. I joined a yoga class and a Zumba class and made new friends. We bought a car. We were back on the normality treadmill and that scared the bejeezus out of me.
That first Christmas, we drove up to Coventry to visit Dan’s folks, then Yorkshire to see my brother Dallas and his family. I went rollerskating around their kitchen and crashed into the dishwasher and the oven and the sink and the table. I realised that going on an adventure had made me willing to try new or silly things. I got a bike, became a freelance writer and began to grow food. I taught myself new skills, some useful, others bordering on ridiculous. I didn’t care if I failed or if somebody laughed. What did it matter. Adventures are by definition, ‘Unusual and exciting or daring experiences.’ When I ride my bike I always feel like I’m going on an adventure, like I did when I was a child and had big dreams of sailing around the world.
Even a short trip away like an overnight on the South Downs makes for a pile of dirty clothes. It symbolises the end of each adventure and the opportunity to start again. I still dream big. I dream of cycling around the world. Some day…
…when I get this dirty laundry washed.