My first major trip by myself came at the end of college. I decided to do a study abroad program. It cost the same as a semester on campus and I didn't figure I'd be in a financial position to travel after graduation so I signed up for Spring Semester in Ireland studying Irish Literature.
Not knowing another soul on the trip, it was a good learning experience. I got to know myself better as well as learn how to survive on my own. Every weekend myself and a couple of the other students would pick different spots on the map and backpack around. We stayed overnight in a castle that used to be a prison; we hiked to the monastery where the Book of Kells was made; and stayed on the Aran Islands. While Ireland is not as foreign as say, Egypt, it was a new experience for this mid-westerner.
The biggest adventure came when I found another student who was willing to travel with me to the politically distraught Northern Ireland to see a rock formation called the Giant's Causeway. We took a bus to a small town at the top of the country along the ocean. A few miles from where the bus dropped us off sat the Causeway. The formation consists of interlocking basalt columns that are the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. As the lava rose to the earth's surface it cooled and broke into perfect geometric shapes. The tallest are more than 35 feet high. After climbing the rocks for an hour, we started walking to search for a nearby town for dinner and find a youth hostel or low-cost bed and breakfast to stay for the night as was our usual routine. We mistakenly assumed that the north was as populated as southern areas of Ireland.
It was not.
We walked; and walked. This was before everyone had cell phones, not to mention smart phones. We had a map but it was not helpful. We did not pass a single building in the first hour. It started raining very hard; a downpour. My umbrella was mangled within moments. Wind was blowing from all directions. We had no other option so we put up our jacket hoods and walked. It was getting darker. We kept thinking that there had to be something just up over the next hill. Nothing ever came up except total darkness.
We passed a shed in a field, probably for sheep. It may have kept the rain off but we kept walking. Another hour passed and we came upon a telephone booth. We climbed inside and closed the door. The floor was a muddy puddle. We decided to try and make it work for the night. After a while it was clear that it would not work. We didn't know what else to do. My friend picked up the phone. He clicked the receiver a few times. The phone didn't work. He leaned his head against the side of the booth and let out a pained sigh. I asked who he was going to call way out here in the middle nowhere. We didn't even know how many numbers made up an Ireland telephone number. He said, "I don't know! My Mom?"
We could see a glow across the field and headed toward it. It was a house and a man was walking down the driveway. Hopeful, we stopped to ask directions. He started yelling at us in Gaelic while waving his arms angrily. We hurried off. We laughed about our one and only link to civilization being a man that didn't speak English.
At this point we had no idea how far we had gone. We were hungry and soaked. Our leg muscles were seizing up. We eventually made it to a hostel for the night; after walking for five hours in the dark rain. Some could have viewed this as a terrible experience but we treated it like an adventure and that made all the difference. I learned more about myself on my lost wandering journey in Ireland that any other experience I've had up to that point.
I think about this every time visitors stop by the office looking for outdoor activity information on rainy days. Alpena attracts adventure seekers. They don't let the weather spoil their sinkhole exploration, fossil hunt, or ride on the trails. So, why not you? We often get too comfortable with home so close by that we don't venture out if the weather is less than ideal. It's time to be open to adventure. Get outside and really fully experience northeast Michigan. Let the wind and the rain and the cold wake you up and make you feel alive. You may be surprised by what you discover.
Mary Beth Stutzman's Inspiring A-Town runs bi-weekly on Tuesdays. Follow Mary Beth on Twitter @mbstutz.