We should all follow Billy
I remember sitting with my dad at the kitchen table while he read -front to back- the entire local newspaper (remember those things? Big sheets of paper with small print that someone delivered to your front step every morning back in the ole’days), mindlessly scooping out sections of grapefruit with a little spiky spoon. He would pass me the funnies, and I would read all the great ones: Garfield, The Far Side, Family Circus, Peanuts, Dilbert. Sundays were the best, of course, because the funnies were in color, and funnier than usual.
There was one family circus cartoon that apparently struck a chord with me, because I remember it vividly, and think back on it with surprising frequency. Little Billy, tugging his grandmother along, suggests they take a shortcut through the park, and then proceeds to run and climb and jump and twirl through every square inch of the park. He meets his grandmother, who walked straight down the sidewalk, on the other side. She reminds him “the shortest distance between two points is a straight line”. To which he knowingly replies, “yes, but it’s the least interesting too”.
I stared at that cartoon for an entire grapefruit half. I followed Billy’s every step as he clamored over rocks, climbed up trees, chased butterflies, crawled under benches and splashed in the fountain. I imagined the dirt on his hands and the bruises on his knees. I invented the conversations he had with other park goers. It was almost as if I had been the one scrambling through the park.
Maybe that cartoon changed the course of my life, or maybe – and perhaps more likely – I was so drawn to it because I was already on my own wiggly path through life. I didn’t know it at the time, but looking back, the first time I left the sidewalk to follow Billy and clamor over some rocks in the park, I was literally climbing rocks.
My high school has a two-season sports requirement; which, despite the story that follows, I maintain is a great program. It gets high school students, otherwise glued to screens and trapped in classrooms, running and jumping. And puts them on a team, which teaches them invaluable skills of yada yada yada.
It’s just that me and the sports requirement program – we just didn’t get along. I was already taking piano lessons and was active in theater – building sets and running backstage stuff for plays. Adding a sport into that mix was an ambitious undertaking at 14. It’s not that I wasn’t athletic; I just already had a full plate. My friend Erin was in the same situation. So we powwowed at the beginning of the year and chose field hockey as our fall sport because the game schedule didn’t clash with “hell week” (the week of little sleep leading up to and through the opening of the play). But it wasn’t a perfect alignment.
When we asked to leave practice early one day for a theater obligation, our coached sighed mightily, but let us go. The next day before practice, the whole team received a lecture about the importance of putting Field Hockey first. “You chose to be here, so you need to make it your top priority,” she asserted, apparently without irony. “Show up on time, stay to the end, and give it 100% of your focus and energy.” She added, in typical coach-lecture fashion. I was livid. I didn’t choose to play field hockey – it was a requirement! I didn’t want to be there, I wanted to be somewhere else.
So I found a loophole. With a little bit of subtle inquiring, I learned that if you participated in a sport off-campus, something the school didn’t offer, you could get a waiver and use that to fulfill one of your two sports requirements. I had just started rock climbing, and the climbing gym had quickly become my sacred space. It took some parental convincing, but I formed my case carefully and soon got the go-ahead.
Life was great. I split my time between the theater and the climbing gym, at my own discretion. I found my happy place up on the wall, dangling from a hard problem, knees shaking and fingers sweating, chalk streaking my face. I found a wonderful community of confident outdoorsy people that taught me more than a season of field hockey ever could. I also met my future husband (yes, we met when I was 15. No, we didn’t start dating until much later.)
I left the sidewalk, and a world I didn’t know existed opened up to me. Perhaps even my 15-year old brain took note of that correlation. Since that first bold step out of field hockey and into rock climbing, my life is full of these moments, moments when I leave the sidewalk – sometimes hesitantly and other times already at a full sprint. I have never regretted taking a looping adventure through the park instead of keeping inside the edges of the sidewalk.
And now, of course, I live life on a sailboat: the ultimate meandering path. A straight line is usually not even an option. Physics, weather and geographic structures don’t allow us the simplicity of a straight line very often. But they do afford dramatic views, great fishing, challenging sailing, and the inspiration to keep exploring. Getting off the sidewalk, living outside the box, defying expectations – it’s become something of a theme in our life.
This summer we will wander even further, and take on something few have done. Less people have been through the Northwest Passage than have stood on the summit of Mt. Everest. Our friends call us crazy, and perhaps we are, but boy are we having fun.
To keep up with our meandering path through life, I’ve made a few changes to the blog. I’ve broken the content into two adventures so far – first, our latitude reduction program, which took us from Seattle to Panama over the last two years. The second is our upcoming Northwest Passage expedition, from Seattle to Greenland over the top of Canada. We leave on June 2 for this 6,000 mile adventure. My next post will go into the details of this trip, I promise. In the meantime, this is about what I’m going to look like for the next 3 months…
This lifestyle is only feasible with our strong and tenacious network supporting us – you are the ones that keep us inspired to journey further, write better, edit faster, and evolve every day. I love writing for you all. I love sharing our experiences and I especially love influencing you to wander off the sidewalk now and again to see what happens.
We want to find more people like you. We want to grow our support network, and by extension, our own courage and capabilities. So we have added a channel to share our work. We are members of Patreon, and we think you should be too.
Patreon is a platform that connects artists and adventurers with the people that encourage them. It allows people like you to add monetary support to the emotional support and inspiration you already offer to the artists you love. And it allows musicians, painters, photographers, filmmakers, podcasters, writers and adventures to do what they do, and also eat. Check out our Patreon tab for some more info on how it works.
If you want to become a Patron, you’ll get opportunities to interact with us more, and there will be some extra stories along the way. But don’t worry – the blog is not going away! This is my home, and I’m not leaving it. I will continue to dish up stories about our battles with rats and overly dramatic passages – for free – right here. We cherish you, just the way you are.
But can I still ask a small favor? Will you help us broaden our reach? Will you share our story with people like you? You could share this blog or direct them straight to our patreon page using use this url: patreon.com/johnandbecca. Perhaps you would send out a quick email to friends, or post it on facebook, or you can always use the share buttons at the bottom of the page. That sure would be great of you.
I love that you have joined us on this crazy meandering path through life. I hope you find value and inspiration in the stories we share. And perhaps the courage you instill in us will in turn bolster you to step off that sidewalk more often and see what you discover! I can promise you one thing about it – it’s much more interesting.