Disastrous Days Out Are Gifts From Heaven

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Remember the series of hikes in the Münsterland we undertook last summer? I told you stories about moated castles, stately homes and the poetess Annette von Droste Hülshoff…

"A disastrous days out in the Wasserburg Vischering in Luedinghausen in Muensterland"

But not about the one we took to Ibbenbüren to hike through the Teutoburg Forest.

Disastrous Days Out

I have been silent about this day for a good reason, as you soon shall see, but since today, the last day of the year 2011, is the day for overdue confessions, here we go.

Our plan was to walk on the new-ish “X18” trail from Ibbenbüren to Tecklenburg. We found the trail’s starting point all right, and eventually the trail marks, too, even if it took us a while.

However, It took us much longer to realize that we were walking the trail in the wrong direction, away from Tecklenburg rather than towards it, and that we, having followed a written description of the “phantom walk” to Tecklenburg down to the last turn, had lost the trail, too.

And that we, since this description of the walk was all that I had brought along rather than a proper map, had no idea where we actually were.

I can actually pinpoint our moment of enlightenment: it occurred at the hard shoulder of what was, according to our description, a “small and quaint” country road, but what looked in fact very much like an Autobahn-ish superspeed highway. Something had clearly gone wrong.

"Easy Hiker on a disastrous days out  on a rainy day"

And then it started to rain.

Which was when we broke off our trip. We took a bus to the next town, sat down to dry out, had a hot coffee and Mrs. Easy Hiker bought herself a dress. In the end, it turned out to be not such a bad day after all. Still, the trip made its way on our list of Disastrous Days Out.

DDOs are the price you have to pay for letting your holidays breathe, for the courage not to stifle all the fun in detailed planning, for letting room for the unexpected: the little adventures, and seen under a proper perspective, Disastrous Days Out are gifts from heaven.

For one, because they are funny.

Things going to plan is not funny. Nobody laughs at the orderly procession of statesmen at a ceremonial Opening of Parliament or any other highly orchestrated event – but just imagine what would happen if the Bishop of Chichester were to slip on a banana skin.

Every joke you have heard in your life involves such a mishap of sorts, even if its only a misunderstanding. Things going wrong is funny – and this is no less true if you are directly concerned rather than a mere bystander. We just need to lighten up a little.

Obviously, when I say going wrong, I don’t mean seriously wrong, as in: and then the dog jumped into the lake and drowned, but only a little wrong, as in: and then the dog jumped into the lake and got really really wet and dirty and Mum did not allow him to sleep on the bed for three weeks.

Secondly, things going wrong are the stuff that memories are made of.

If everything about your trip goes according to plan, your day will be pleasant but, ultimately, also rather dull. In essence, you will just be ticking off the different items on a schedule –visit a castle tick, sit down to eat an ice cream tick, have a picnic in the forest tick. Chances are, a week later you will have forgotten everything about the details of that day.

But not when a bear has stolen your sandwiches.

Come to think of it, this is not such a bad deal: a cheese bap for a memory that will last you a lifetime. Adversity provided the gristles that make an experience stick in your mind.

Thirdly, shared misery is what defines and unites a group, any group, no matter what size: nations as well as families and even couples.

And the more misery has been shared, the closer the community. Think about it.

Mention “Les Eyzies” around our family dinner table, and all of us (all three of us) will chuckle, remembering the day when we were stuck for a whole day in a town so small that it did not even have a bar bistro because Dad could not read a bus schedule properly.

You can explain that to outsiders such as in-laws, but they will never fully understand what it means to us because their hearts did not sink along with ours when we found out that the bus back to town would not arrive before evening and that we had to spend another six hours in this godforsaken place. How did we do that? By sitting on the side of the road, presumably.

As Tolstoy very nearly said: all pleasant trips are alike, but DDOs are disastrous each in their own way.

Which is why this will be my resolution for the New Year: to muster the courage to leave room in our holidays for the unexpected, the magical, even if this means that, occasionally, the odd trip will disappear down the drain. To get the balance right between irresponsibility and the kind of meticulous planning that sucks out all the fun.

And never ever to set out on a hiking trip again without a proper map.


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