Solo Travel

The power of symbolism

I find life easiest when it’s compartmentalized.  That’s why I like New Year’s so much.  Not for the parties or the fanfare, but for the symbolic closing of a chapter and the idea that one can start completely fresh.  Today was my last day at my UCD library jobs and tomorrow will be the last at the maternity hospital.  I decided to pack it in early, leaving room between ending those parts of my life and beginning a new story on the 16th at my new job.  Since I came back from a month home in the States in May and commenced these three jobs, my work life has been hectic.  Up until last month, I was shuffling around between three different buildings each week, coordinating with three different supervisors.  Things felt extremely frantic and fragmented, like I was never fully settled.  For that reason, I was largely unhappy with my situation.  And although I like to try to keep my work life and my personal life separate, there is inevitable spillover when one area isn’t going so well.

I have 9 days before I start my new job and with the closing of a particularly unpleasant chapter, I like to end with another symbolic gesture: cleansing and balancing myself.  Today I booked four nights at a hostel in Westport, Count Mayo.  I will hike Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holiest mountain, on Tuesday then cycle the 42 km of the Greenway from Achill Island back into Westport on Wednesday.  While this itinerary may sound the opposite of relaxing, I picked it for both the physical exertion and the aspect of being immersed and alone in nature.

Before I moved to Spain in 2014, I had faced a considerable amount of stress leading up to my departure.  Two days prior to my flight, I decided to hike the bottom half of the Appalachian Trail, from Greenbrier State Park to Harper’s Ferry, WV, with a good friend from high school.   During the hike, I reached a state of total mental nothingness.  I was too exhausted to feel feelings or ruminate on any of the stressors that had been following me like a dark cloud; I simply focused on the rhythm of my steps and the sounds of the forest around me.  Nine and a half hours and 24 miles later, we staggered into WV, the soles literally falling off of my sneakers.  I was completely physically exhausted but mentally clear.  It felt like a purge of all the negative energy I had been building up.  I left for Spain feeling renewed.

In four days time I will be away from this city and its noise and traffic.  I will make my own sort of pilgrimage to the top of Croagh Patrick where I can leave all my baggage on its peak.  I will glide down the coast on the Great Western Greenway, wind wiping at my face, mind free and focused on the ride and scenery.  After those rituals are complete, I can return to Dublin refreshed and ready to start anew in this next section of life’s meandering journey.


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