My brother in law, Rob worked diligently as a technician then project manager in telecommunications for his 30+ year career. In 2015 his company offered early retirement options and at age 59 he decided to toss his name in the hat. He wanted to give the younger team members an opportunity to move up and saw that being able to transition out would benefit him, his team, his customers and his company. He envisioned a handing off of responsibilities over a period of time so was taken aback when he was unceremoniously given a package one Monday morning then asked to leave the building. The suddenness of the exit after years of allegiance was unsettling. It was October, cold winter months lay ahead and his passion was golf. He managed to get through the ‘honey do’ list my sister had for him during the winter months but by spring he was restless.
Being physically fit had been a lifelong interest for him but in the past few years he’d let the workouts slide. In an effort to get himself on track he’d begun walking daily on nearby trails through the winter months. By April the walks got longer and the trails more challenging. He wanted to explore areas beyond those closest to his home in Mississauga so decided to begin hiking sections of the Bruce Trail, from it’s start in Niagara. Three mornings a week, he’d be out the door by 6am driving to the next segment of the trail. After parking his car, he’d hike until he got tired (4-6 hours), then either call Uber or a friend to pick him up and take him back to his car. It was a hot humid summer yet he kept at it. As he said, it wasn’t glamourous. Hiking gear was a necessity – including a backpack with supplies, walking poles for the hills, a safari hat with netting, and his pants tucked into his boots to protect him from bug bites and spiders. Although his initial plan hadn’t been to walk the full trail, it was satisfying in ways he hadn’t envisioned. The sense of purpose and accomplishment propelled him to keep on the path. On August 18th he reached Tobermory having walked all 885km of the Bruce Trail.
My brother in law is not known for being an emotional guy but at the end of his journey he sent a touching email out to family and friends in thanks for the support he’d received. Some of his learnings were personal, like facing his lifelong fear of spiders. Others had more of a universal message that touched us all “I heartily recommend walking the Bruce, maybe not to find yourself but to find a connection you didn’t know you were missing.”
Over Christmas dinner that year he shared an interest in walking the Camino de Santiago not necessarily for the spiritual experience but because it would allow him to have a new hiking experience on a well trod path in a foreign country. There’s still snow on some portions of the Camino in April but he went anyways. The solitude of having few other walkers on the trails, the breathtaking scenery and experiences including Easter celebrated in a small village in Spain all made it more of a spiritual adventure than he’d envisioned. He met people from around the world, doing the same journey for different reasons. In May he returned home and shared his experience ”it was churches and bells, valleys and hills, with some wild horses, a million windmills, a few bagpipes (yes bagpipes – who knew) lots of religious processions with interesting headgear, massive amounts of Estella Galicia, constantly aching feet …….and worth every step along the 500 km.”
So what has this shift to a new routine in later life meant to him? It’s about uncovering an interest and finding it’s a passion. Rob found a sense of peace in trekking through forests. It didn’t occur to him until finishing the Bruce Trail that many years ago his major in university had been forestry. When I asked him how it felt to accomplish these treks, he said he found a sense of peace walking trails immersed in nature.
He hadn’t stopped to give the ‘whys?’ around his treks much thought, he just gave himself new benchmarks. Once achieved he made a new one. And he’s still finding new paths to explore simply by taking life one step at a time. When it feels right, all that’s required is a commitment to stay on the path and enjoy the journey.