Now, since it’s our one-year birthday here at the Displaced Nation — okay, let’s hear some crazy party horns <|8-P~ <|8-P~ — I thought I’d ask you about your most memorable birthday experiences whilst traveling. Crazy drunken escapades? Chance meetings with exotic strangers?
Everyone has a tale inside them, so it’s said.
It is better to wear out than to rust out.
—Bishop Richard Cumberland
It was cold. Chillingly, bone-achingly cold — and wet. Rain drenched the outside of me, remorselessly overpowering every chink in my defenses. Neckline, accidentally exposed cuffs — all were soaking wet in spite of my otherwise impenetrable Gore-Tex-clad outline.
My fingers and toes were freezing. My feet were blistered. The bag on my back was so heavy I could barely breathe beneath its crushing weight, and the effort of carrying it was causing me to sweat profusely. It was very nearly as moist inside my clothes as it was outside them.
It was my birthday, and I was utterly, utterly miserable.
Now, spending a birthday hiking through the vast Australian wilderness can sound like a dream to some — whereas other people, more sensible than I, might think of it as more of a nightmare.
I was torn between the two. On the one hand, I was out there, achieving something awesome with the people I loved most in the world — my girlfriend and my sister. On the other hand…well, did I mention the rain?
It hadn’t stopped for two weeks straight.
So far the three of us had hiked over 150 miles in it, and to be honest my enthusiasm was getting a little damp.
I remember wondering what kind of idiot hikes nearly twenty miles in the filthiest weather known to man, with his only goal being to reach a three-sided wooden shelter where he could collapse exhausted? I would then go to sleep — on a bed made of planks — only to wake up the next morning and do it all over again!
Apparently, I am just that kind of idiot.
But extremes of hardship give you more than a feeling of triumph just for surviving; they also make you appreciate the little things.
On that particular evening, as I stripped off my sopping trousers and unrolled my sleeping bag, I had all but forgotten about my birthday. Back home I might have hoped for a novel the size of a house-brick or some awesome piece of electronic gadgetry; here, with no power, the light failing rapidly and a rucksack already verging on the spine-snapping, all I wanted was sleep.
But my girlfriend, Roo, was determined to celebrate. And she was nothing if not resourceful. It had been three days since we’d seen another human soul (unless you count my sister; I usually don’t) — yet somehow Roo had acquired and carefully preserved my present until now.
She unveiled it with a flourish: a marshmallow!
Unbeknownst to me, she’d carried it all the way from home unsquashed, in some hidden corner of her bag. In the top she stuck a tiny candle which she must have begged off the last group of hikers we met. The plan had been to use a match in lieu of a candle, she said, until by pure chance she’d met an old lady who’d been carrying this. Amazing!
I blew it out and made a wish. Actually I made two. “Please, God,” I thought, “let me be in a better place this time next year. Or, ideally, tomorrow morning. And more than anything, tonight, let me sleep…”
The marshmallow I would save for breakfast.
I slept remarkably well that night.
In the morning I woke up in the same place — but the sun was shining, a phenomenon I’d started to think I’d never see again! I stood outside in my underwear and luxuriated in the warmth, safe in the knowledge that no one would see me. Something was going right for a change, and that by itself was a minor miracle.
A pity the same couldn’t be said for my marshmallow.
I’d placed it next to my tiny travel pillow as I slept; mere inches from my nostrils (which were the only part of me that dared protrude from the sleeping bag).
Now, the bright sunlight revealed the damage; my marshmallow was half eaten, having been thoroughly enjoyed in the middle of the night by some kind of rodent. I could only be grateful that the tip of my nose hadn’t shared the same fate.
Did I eat the rest of it though? That’s what you really want to know, isn’t it?
Well, you know what? There are some things better left unsaid…
“I’ll do better next year,” Roo promised as we shouldered our rucksacks for the hike ahead.
“Ipad?” I asked.
“Hm. We’ll work up to that. Next year you can have two marshmallows…”
I’ve had birthdays on four different continents, but this one has always stood out for me. So what I’d like to know from you kind folks is this:
What is YOUR most memorable birthday abroad?
Tell me about ’em in the comments!
I’m looking forward to reading… <l:0
STAY TUNED for Wednesday’s post, a virtual celebration with all of our Random Nomads of the past year!
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