25: Why I Still Travel to the Wild

25: Why I Still Travel to the Wild

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

Why I Still Travel to the Wild

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.

~Seneca

Friends always ask why I, a middle-aged klutz with no athletic aptitude, travel to perilous places — the jungles of Thailand or Borneo or Papua New Guinea, for example, where the water is often unsafe and the food chancy; places with infectious diseases, malarial mosquitoes, venomous snakes and the wildest of animals; some places where the locals are just a few generations past headhunting.

I never know how to answer. Because I want to wiggle my toes in the mud of adventure? Feel the spine tingle of danger? Run my fingers over the inscription on a rough-hewn beam erected six thousand years ago? Because I want to share in my husband’s fearless and irrepressible wanderlust?

My travel decisions assumed a new gravity nine years ago after I suffered a stroke caused by an unpronounceable autoimmune disease that turns my blood to sludge. (It’s called antiphospholipid syndrome or APS.) To prevent another stroke, my doctors told me, I’d have to take dangerously high levels of blood thinner for the rest of my life. Any travel remote from medical help would be risky. An infected finger, a slip on a damp temple step, even a minor traffic smash-up would no longer be mere annoyances — they could be life threatening. Not to mention autoimmune flares, overreaction to heat, or a jet-lagged mistake taking more, or less, of those hazardous blood-thinning pills.

I had to think about what was important to me: family, of course, and friends. But then what? No matter how many times I racked it up, no bucket list was complete without travel. Then I had to decide how I might manage the risk. I had to decide how lucky I felt.

My return to travel after my stroke came in baby steps — a symposium in Texas, a visit to my mom in Virginia, a vacation with a girlfriend to England. It all came back, like sliding into the bucket seat of my fifteen-year-old car: the vagabond freedom from routine, the excitement of discovery, the fresh air of change, the thrill of just going.

The first real test of my travel moxie came nine months after my stroke when I joined my husband, Jack, on a business trip to China. Touring near Guilin, we swung like acrobats on a windy chairlift ride for 3,000 feet up Yao Mountain, adventure enough for one day, I thought. But after we’d toured the remains of a Tang Dynasty temple and savored the misty and ethereal view, Jack wanted to ride down on a toboggan that looked to me like a silver husk bobbling on a twisted ribbon lying unanchored on the ground.

Before the stroke it would’ve seemed like fun. But now? I cringed. I waffled. My mental klaxon screamed warnings about lax safety standards, the consequences of a cut, a fall, a crash. My stomach flipped and flopped for seconds that seemed like minutes. Then, snatching confidence from who knows where, I shrugged my shoulders, crouched and lowered myself gingerly into the wobbly thing, feeling like a human cannonball — and just about as smart.

That flying toboggan ride down the mountain marked my adventure travel comeback.

In the years since then, I’ve traveled about twenty-five percent of the time — much of it with Jack. We’ve tracked leopards in Botswana and grizzlies in Alaska, climbed temples and crawled caves from India to China and back again. We’ve sailed the Yangtze River in China and the Mekong in Laos; visited hill tribes in Burma and Vietnam, Lost Generation cafés in Paris, the opera in Vienna and Prague. Traveling with girlfriends, I’ve explored Mayan villages in Guatemala, dodged snakes in Costa Rica, discovered the charms of Provence.

I’ve also walked the floor with two newborn grandchildren. I’ve traveled to D.C. for one best friend’s wedding, to Chicago to celebrate another’s sixtieth birthday, to Denver to hold a third friend’s hand when she buried her husband, dead too young at fifty-two.

Through it all, my luck’s held out — no hippo maulings, no deadly falls, no car wrecks or crushing infections.

For me, adventure travel is a risk worth taking. Travel broadens my world, keeps me connected to the earth’s hum, to family, to friends. Most of all, saying “yes” to travel keeps me connected to myself.

After 9/11 and the terror threats and reactions that followed, friends often asked me whether I was afraid to travel. That always got my dander up. If we let ourselves be afraid to travel, I said, then the terrorists win. I guess I feel the same way about my personal terrors, stroke and APS. I’m careful. I watch my medicine like a hawk. I get my blood tested. I weigh the risks. Then, if I decide it’s okay, like that toboggan ride down Yao Mountain, I just jump in, let go and savor the ride.

~Anne Sigmon

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