colorado garden of the gods 2013

Life. It is not nicely packaged with a pretty bow around it. It does not come with a set of instructions. It doesn't even have any guarantees. What it does come with is possibilities. The way we see those possibilities will determine what becomes of this thing called life. The adventure that is ours for exploring, if we so choose.

People. They come into our lives for various reasons. Some are around for a short while to enable us to move forward to our next journey. To help us see something we have chosen to close our eyes to or to help us get over a fear of doing something we've never thought possible. Other people are around for a longer time.

Regardless of the time frame, we affect others along this journey. We shape their adventure as they shape ours, intentional or otherwise.

Think of it in terms of the ripple effect  or the butterfly effect where the outcome of your life is affected by that one interaction by that stranger on the train you would not have met had you not spilled coffee on yourself and had to run back to the hotel, causing you to be late and thus taking a train other than the one you had initially planned on taking.

Unpredictable. Such is both life and travel. Even with the best laid out plans we cannot predict what will happen in either case. 

You can sit at your desk researching a new city or country for months for your upcoming adventure, but then something or someone comes along and changes the course you initially set out to take. You might see that as unfair because you had everything planned out so perfectly - down to the restaurants you'd visit and the tourist spots you'd see for the day. Or you can see it as something that was meant to happen.

When I went on my 6-day journey up to the East Coast this past month, I had a different view of how that would turn out. I started out in Baltimore, where I stayed two nights alone at a hotel close to the airport, and then traveled to upstate New York where I met up with someone I met online over four years ago. She was my supplier of luxury handspun merino wool yarns I used for the newborn hats I hand knit for newborn photographers. She wrote a book and asked me to come to her book signing.

Baltimore was never to be in the picture. Yet, somehow it was meant to happen as it did. I'd never been to Maryland and was curious to see it as it was not too out of the way. I mean, it's not as if I was going to Tokyo.

The first day I spent walking around downtown Baltimore, in new boots. My trusty 20-year old lace up boots fell apart on my Chicago trip and I tried replacing them to no avail. After walking around for about two hours, I ended up with blisters limping around whilst looking for a not-too-scary place to eat.

I boarded the train to downtown Baltimore and exited at the first exit where I noticed many people leaving the train. I had no idea where I was and quickly grew to dislike the city. It was scary. I walked for hours all over the map and finally found a place to eat a sandwich and soup. It was in a nicer part of town where the medical university was located but I was ready to head back to the hotel.

On the train, I sat for what seemed forever but enjoyed the long ride back. I ended up striking a conversation with Joey, a 31-year old guy who shared with me his life story of growing up in downtown Baltimore. He was on his way to see his two children, ages 11 and 7. Tattoos covered his arms and neck - something he seemed to have regretted doing. He ended up telling me about his various times in jail when he was younger and how he decided he wanted to counsel youth about the choices they end up making and how those choices affect the course of our lives.

As I exited at my stop, he joined me on a bench while I waited for the shuttle to drive me back to the hotel. Little did I know I had to call the shuttle (which made no difference since my phone battery went dead at that precise moment), so I waited for at least an hour.

During that time, Joey continued his life story and we ended up exchanging many thoughts I would never had the chance to do had I climbed aboard the train 15 minutes before or after I actually did. Engrossed in our conversation, I almost missed the shuttle as it happened to drive by. I quickly said goodbye and went back to the hotel where I fell asleep as soon as my body hit the bed.

The following day, I decided I would go to DC. I've also never been to DC, so I was surprised what a contrast that city was to Baltimore. I had the hotel shuttle drive me to the train station where I purchased tickets for the MARC train. I waited, along with many other people, and when a train finally arrived I asked a lady if this was headed to DC. Yes, it was.

The train pulled away from the station and the conductor made his rounds to check tickets. "You're on an Amtrak train. This ticket is for the MARC train", he tells me. Panic struck as I envisioned being thrown off the train. I guess I should have known that a train for $6 to DC (as opposed to the $39 on Amtrak) would not have electrical outlets to charge your iDevices or laptops. I didn't know what to do. The man was kind. He told me that I needed to exit at the next stop and wait for the MARC train.

Waiting on the platform, I noticed two other people leaving the train. It turns out they too were visiting DC for the first time. I struck up a conversation with the two men and found out that the son was in the Army, stationed in Italy, and came back to the States for his grandmother's funeral. He and his father decided to explore DC for the day and invited me to tag along, which I was glad to do as they became my personal escorts on the walk through DC.

At times I wondered if I should simply leave and let them have their day together. But I stayed behind them, limping my way through the streets of DC. The new boots were proving to be a real problem, but somehow I made it to the White House and finally to Old Ebbit Grill where we had dinner at the bar and finally exchanged names. The father had just then realised we'd never introduced ourselves.

On the taxicab ride back to the train station, we parted ways once we returned to Baltimore. An unexpected day that would not have happened had I boarded the correct train. Perhaps I would have reached the Tryst coffeehouse - my initial goal - but I would not have experienced the company of two interesting people I suspect I will never cross paths with again.

Such is travel and life. People come your way and can influence your future in ways you knew not existed. Sometimes the unplanned is far more of an experience than the planned in both life and travel.