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Not as brave as you think
Reflecting on my first year with Gus the Bus
[Lire en Français ici] - or listen to me narrating by clicking on the audio link above !
You may think I am fearless, travelling on my own like this, staying overnight in strangers’ homes, hiking alone on unfrequented trails, swimming in the sea on a deserted beach, or sleeping in a parking lot in the middle of a big city.. What you don’t see is that I am sometimes terrified before doing it. But I know that fear is like a locked door, a door behind which wonderful experiences lie in wait for me. Courage is only the key that opens these doors. And often courage is brandished with a trembling hand.
Today it will be a year that Gus the Bus and I set out officially on our great nomadic adventure. Our first night was spent five kilometres away from the family farm, in a motorhome aire on the edge of my sister’s town. It was the start of my new life. A very small step, but a step nonetheless. You don’t need to jump from the ten-meter board to get into the swimming pool, you can start by dipping your toes in slowly.. It’s okay. What’s important is to start. It’s the hardest step of all really, so make it as small and manageable as you can.
One year later, it is a very different woman sitting here behind the wheel. I could not have imagined how this experience would change me. It’s become a whole lot easier for me to meet people. And I am not so afraid to ask for help anymore !
I hadn’t imagined that one day on the road my roof window would fly off as a truck roared past me, leaving a gaping hole above my head… Now I’m not one to panic. I am the mother who calms everyone down in a sticky situation, finds the solutions and keeps my cool. Not that day. There was no-one else that needed to be looked after, so I let the panic take hold of me. I pulled over as soon as I could, not caring that it was someone’s driveway, and grabbed my phone to find a solution on the internet.. a motorhome mechanic maybe ? no network. That’s the downside of taking the small country roads.. Starting to hyperventilate, I opened my door and saw someone behind a hedge, so, lost for any other kind of solution, I approached them and started blurting out my story. Beyond all of my expectations, the man didn’t roar at me for parking in his driveway, didn’t eat me up or chase me away. He said, come, show me what’s the problem. He listened as I explained more slowly, then he looked at me and said, well, you’re not hurt. The window didn’t strike anyone. So it’s okay ! We’ll work it out. He came with me into the field to find the panels, walked me back, and told me where to find a mechanic that would help me secure the parts back on. And wished me safe travels.
If the situation had been reversed, I would of course have done the same for him. But I have always feared people. With no good reason I do admit. Being faced with a such kind stranger was revelatory for me ! It was a big step on my journey to start trusting people. Yes, I know there are still unscrupulous types out there, but that’s the thing, humans are good first.
The fact that I’m writing this at all is a huge step in itself. Admitting my greatest weakness, knowing that people who know me will be reading this, and may laugh at my silly little fears, is terrifying.
This morning as I tidied up and washed the dishes, I listened to one of my favourite podcasts, The Boomer Woman’s Podcast, with the guestthe “Nomadic Color Guru” who lives on the road and writes a blog about her experiences and facing her fears. Hearing her relate the way she faced her fears, fears which are hers only but fears nonetheless, how she had the courage to write about them, that inspired me. I thought, well, maybe if I talk about my silly little fears, someone else out there who thinks their fear is silly might come to realise that they’re not alone and that might give them courage to face them and find the marvellous adventure that lies beyond those locked doors…
I once went to talk to a cyclist couple as we were enjoying a magnificent lake view, because they were speaking English, and we ended up spending the evening together playing pétanque and sharing life stories...
I've started talking to people fishing on the beach at low tide, they like to show me and explain what they’re doing, and that's interesting.
Another way of meeting people is online, where I get to know them first from a distance, then end up meeting in person - weird, I know, but it works for me!
On Friday night, it was the start of the Rugby World Cup. France against New Zealand. Last year we had the Football World Cup and sitting in my van alone I could hear people in pubs and even other vans cheering along and I felt quite lonely - even though I don’t like football, it’s really fun to watch in a crowd and feel the energy. So this time I wasn’t going to take it. The full meaning of FOMO hit me (that’s Fear-Of-Missing-Out, so I’ve learned) I planned ahead, parked up in a little port town with a café (I made sure on internet first that they were screening the game), I plucked up my courage and walked into the crowded place alone. Trembling a little inside, but looking quite sure of myself. Sat on my own with my pint of craft beer, feeling silly. But soon enough I wasn’t on my own, there were fans all around me and we cheered at the same things and shared the joy of victory. Afterwards, as everyone left the stifling hot little room, I found myself with half a glass to finish which I wasn’t going to waste, so I stood outside in the fresh air on my own and just watched the people around me. And someone came to talk to me and invited me to join their group. And another wondered how a lone woman could seem so interested in rugby, and I said I’m from South Africa and it’s a religion there, so.. in the end I spent the entire night with two friendly guys just listening to music and talking about travelling, and people and motorbikes and camper vans, and I watched the sun rise - I haven’t done that in I don’t know how long.. If I hadn’t taken that key firmly in my hands and opened that door, I would have missed out on this wonderful experience…
My cousin persuaded me to take a chair-lift up the mountain in the Alps. I was paralysed with my fear of heights, sitting there on an open contraption with nothing but thin air between me and the rocks below…. But what an experience !!! Now I’ll do it again with pleasure…
Something else happened this year that was entirely unexpected. I read the words of a wise woman friend back in South Africa who talked about the fear of pain. (I wrote how I felt about it in one of my last posts) How because of that pain, we are afraid of falling in love. She could have been reading straight into my heart. So I understood her words and finally decided it was time to break down the walls I’d been hiding behind for so long… The Breton fairies conspired and… I fell in love... deeply... Love makes you vulnerable to pain, but it’s an adventure not to be missed... I’m glad I unlocked this door, behind which waited a magical universe. I am petrified of talking about it, but since this post is about the fears I have overcome, I might as well do the same with this one...
I started my travels with the aim of seeing as much of France as I could, but in the end, it’s the people I’ve spoken with more than the places I’ve seen, that have expanded my mind and changed the way I see life ! So here’s to all the wonderful humans who have crossed my path and shared their stories with me this year !
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