Hi RIP friends,
I’ve spent a week with one of my best friends on a small and humble trip along the Appian Way, from Formia to Rome and I tasted once more what life could be when FI is reached.
The trip has been intense, like any hiking trip is, both positively and negatively. I’ve been making FI metaphors all along the trip and I’d like to share these thoughts here with you, my friends.
Alone or with someone else
A metaphor of life. I’ve done 3 multiday hiking trips so far. The first one with a group of strangers (that soon became friends), the second one alone and this last one with a very good friend of mine. Never done one with a girlfriend even though Miss RIP is getting curious!
Walking alone has several benefits: you choose your time, your path, your pace, your destination. You go deep inside yourself and get to know better who you are. You have time to follow your curiosity. In my last trip (Italy Coast 2 Coast) I’ve read an entire 550 pages book (Wool, first one of The Silo trilogy, it was awesome) on evenings. I’ve skipped meals whenever I wanted and if I wanted to sleep under the stars I could (and I did).
Walking with someone else means sacrificing some of these aspects for the team. It means less privacy, less time for yourself, less introspection, less passions. You need to accept other’s defects, desires, routines… It’s not all roses.
In exchange you get some sort of “good feelings” (I don’t dare naming them differently) when you share experiences. You get a sense of belonging to a community.
Is it better to walk alone or with someone? There’s no general answer, each one is wired their own way. Did this hiking trip taught me something on this topic? I don’t know, I think I already knew these stuff but every time I re-do the same mistake of idealizing the quality of time spent with someone I care about.
I need to admit I value so much time spent alone. I kind of miss it.
Preparation is half the adventure
I and my friend started planning this “20 years of friendship” trip three months ago and since then we exchanged enthusiastic audio messages on Whatsapp at a rate of dozens per day. The whole September has been a gigantic countdown “Minus seventeen!! We’re getting close!“. We live 1000 kilometers away from each other but I was able to feel the warmth of my friend like he was living in a close neighborhood here in Switzerland.
This connection strengthened our friendship. The planning of our “incredible adventure” weakened barriers and made room for confessions about how hard life is and what are our current personal struggles, even though we live two very different lives. Getting close to the departure date we were kind of feeling sorry that all this was going to end soon after the trip.
Then the trip came and it was fun, sure, but not as “amazing” as we fantasized for almost three months. There have been physical problems, unpleasant moments (mostly due to a path hard to follow and a region, Lazio, which is built for cars and not for pilgrims) and decisions that had to me made quicker than our mutual agreement time.
The same apply to FI, I guess. I’m in the planning phase and I envision my FI life as perfect, full of things I like and people I love. With no problems and happiness all around myself! It won’t be like that. Stop idealizing your future. This is probably the most useful piece of awareness I came in contact with during this trip.
Things won’t go as planned
I had experiences with multiday hiking trips. This one was going to be the simplest of all of them. Just 6 days, no mountains to climb, 5 out of 6 stages of ~20km and only one above 25. Easy.
It has been the hardest.
My hiking shoes were lasting since 2003. I’ve hiked thousands of kilometers with them. I’ve hiked for 10 days this year, in May, with minimal problems. I don’t know what happened but at the end of day 1 I had blisters everywhere and in day 2, while crossing rough terrains, water came inside my shoes. The rest of the trip was so painful I’m not sure it was the right choice to keep going.
Today, the day after the end of our trip, I have hard time walking. Yesterday, the final stage of the trip, I limped the whole day. Last hiking trip I did I had to stop for a couple of physical problems I prevented this time. Who knew the feet were going to kill me this time.
Entering in Rome along the Appian Way is one of the most magnificent experience you can do. I strongly recommend you all to at least walk the final 15 kilometers, from Frattocchie to Circo Massimo in Rome.
Sadly, I had to do that with all my mental energies focused on making just one step at a time, thanks to my blisters, instead of enjoying the history all around me. I was angry with the bad luck, with my stupidity and with the feet themselves. It doesn’t make sense.
Did I say the stages were all of around 20km? False. They turn out being no less than 30. Each one! Once due to getting lost, once due to alternative routes because of too many cars on the main path and once due to “this one is short, let’s save 5-6 tomorrow kms!” – that ended up being 8km more and not in the right direction, but 2km out of track because there were no lodging solutions there.
Did I mention that the two central stages (from Terracina to Cisterna di Latina) were not well designed? The “official” path were very dangerous, sharing the street with cars and trucks. Many of them. 50km on a straight line.
Instead of praying, like good pilgrims should do, we spent time cursing the author of the book that led us in that situation. We tried to find alternatives whenever we were able to, but it turned out to be longer than expected and not as fun as planned. In general, I can safely say that I’ve been walking more enjoyable paths in the past.
Bottom line is: it doesn’t matter how much you plan and which family of problems you’re going to anticipate, there will always be external factors that will set you back. Wisdom (and I lack it so much) and happiness lie on being able to face them – not solving them – at your best.
It’s hard to share your passions
My passion for hiking and biking trips is not easy to explain. I sometimes get depressed when I try to show my enthusiasm to friends, family or random people. Those who never considered the possibility of using their body to go from A to B usually react like this: “uh… you going from A to B by foot? Why? Can’t you take a train? What? You actually like it?? Why?”
My first reaction is chaos. I think something like: “What? How can you not understand why I love it? And how can you survive without having ever done a trip like that??” but luckily enough I don’t speak out loud my thoughts. Then I think: “ok, well, maybe this person never tried or never thought about it. Maybe this person doesn’t have time or is simply scared. Or worse, they may get bored by not having to do something, because walking leaves you a lot of time with yourself… let’s see… how can I start making this person more curious and interested in trying?“. So my mind flies for a while backward in time in search of the root cause that makes me so happy when dreaming about a slow trip, powered by my muscles. I think at self reliance, I think at Thoreau, I think about the inner beauty of physical work, I think about the art of Vagabonding, I think at minimalism and frugality… and time passes, while my friend is staring at me waiting for an answer. So I shrug and frown and say something stupid like “I just like it 🙂“.
I’m not good at transferring passions, I must admit it.
Same happened while walking, on a different topic, within my inner circle: I tried to explain to my dear friend what this blogging thing is. My friend and I have opposite working conditions: I have a well paying job while he struggles finding a stable one. Both of us value money very much. We have different goals though: I aim to FI while he is a black belt in extreme frugality. He claims that he and his girlfriend can live with as little as 500 Euro per month (the two of them, not 500 each), but still they struggle every month with their bills, since she’s not working and he works when he finds a temporary job with minimum wage.
At one point during our walk he said “If only I could make 1000 Euro per month, I’d be the richest on earth!”
“Holy sheet” – I thought – “I already have more than 1300 Euro per month, forever, without having to work!”
So I started the discussion with him along this topic, trying to show him how little wealth he would need to become FI, what’s the importance of the saving rate, how to explore ways to increase their income… but still I couldn’t dig into his defensive wall of generic useless complains. I think I made him curious about it, but it simply can’t happen that you’ll stop working one day.
Maybe I’m not a good storyteller nor a good leader. Maybe I need to show people a success story instead of cold formulas. Anyway, it’s hard to share your passions.
Freedom doesn’t imply Happiness
We were so excited about this trip! We were both overwhelmed by our individual lives and we both desired so much to take a breath and feel free as in freedom. I thought we would be laughing and feeling happy all the time. It simply doesn’t work this way.
Was the trip a failure? Absolutely not!
Was it fun? Yes, we had good time.
Was I happy during the trip? Well, I wouldn’t say that. But I felt free.
I tend to think that with (financial) freedom happiness will follow. It’s not true. It’s not guaranteed. With freedom comes responsibility. You’re in full charge of your happiness. You’re the sailor at the helm of your life. This alone can send people to asylum. If you don’t know how to drive it, don’t aim to freedom. Stay where you are, succumb to your Stockholm Syndrome, don’t leave Plato’s caves.
I, myself, love freedom more than anything else. Will I enjoy it? Who knows.
But sure as hell I want it! I want to be on charge of the helm!