At 18 I dreamed about backpacking – first across Canada, then around Europe. I got as far as buying the backpack – a bright red one – and then detoured into Katimavik and onto a different path. It hasn’t included much travelling, and I’ve been fine with that.
But in September I celebrated 60 with a new backpack.
I mentioned our trip was 30 days – this backpack is the only luggage I carried. LW and I each had one, and they are brilliant! (Tortuga Outbreaker 35L, which is carry-on size.) When they arrived in the mail, I was dubious I’d be able to squash everything I’d need for a month inside mine, but I did.
I’ll be honest. Backpacking at 60 isn’t quite the same experience it is at 18.
Somewhere over the Atlantic, I noticed an alarming development on my forearm. It actually started a few days before, when a spattering of small red spots appeared above a lump on my wrist. Famous in my family for Google-doctoring, I naturally investigated possible causes. I diagnosed the spots as petechiae, which, according to Clinical Advisor, could indicate a whole range of life-threatening conditions. Not that I’m an alarmist.
But when I happened to push up my sleeve on the plane and noticed this, I was alarmed!
My mind went into overdrive. Eight-hour flight, family history of cardiovascular disease … you might guess where those thoughts led. Convinced I was going into sepsis, at the first opportunity I emailed the photo of my huge “purpura” to our family’s two nurses and asked if I should be concerned.
My nephew Nick emailed back immediately:
“I don’t know, Baka. (I could see him shaking his head as he said it: I dunno, Baka.) It just looks like an ordinary bruise to me.”
I was skeptical. I’ve never bruised like that before, for no reason!
Nick took his time replying, carefully choosing his words:
“Well, you’re not a spring chicken anymore. Think of yourself as a well-ripened fruit that bruises easily.”
For the next 30 days, any time LW wanted to make me laugh, all she had to do was shake her head and say, “I dunno, Baka …” (Baka is Croatian for Granny, by the way.)
As it turned out, Nick was right. The life-threatening “purpura” was an ordinary bruise, caused by the strap of my backpack scraping my arm as I hoisted it onto my back. Within a couple of weeks, it had faded and disappeared. I relaxed. I learned to be more careful putting my backpack on.
Waking early on our second day in Ireland, having slept around the clock the first day, I creep downstairs to the kitchen of our Drogheda hostel, Spoon and the Stars (“ideally placed for avoiding the hustle and bustle of Dublin and sampling the charm of real Ireland”). I boil the kettle, make coffee, and carry my cup out onto the patio. For half an hour I sit alone, drinking in a scene straight out of Katimavik:
A large canvas tent forms a canopy over a picnic table covered in oilcloth. Outside its boundary, marked by faded, frayed flags of a score of countries, pots of tomatoes and rambling vines share space with bicycles and eclectic charity-shop furniture. Music drifts through the open office window.
“The times they are a-changin’,” Dylan sings.
So they are: I’m not 18 anymore. I’m a well-ripened fruit, backpacking in Ireland.
I could not possibly feel happier.