Why everyone should take a detour every now and then.
Five years ago, I spent six weeks in Ireland on an undergraduate research abroad grant. Caught up in a kind of whirlwind adventure mode that is very uncharacteristic of my family, my parents and four aunts and uncles took advantage of the situation and decided to come visit me for a week. Being Irish, it was the perfect excuse for the McPhillips family to visit the country of our ancestry.
Until they came in the middle of my stay, I was pretty much bound to the paths accessible by public transportation. On a few different bus trips, I had passed a small sign on the road promising sight of a waterfall. When we passed the sign in our rental car, I leveraged my power as backseat driver and official Ireland expert and decided it was finally time to follow the sign.
The signs, however, soon disappeared, and we found ourselves on a mountainside pasture trail. We went up and around, we said hello to some sheep. We went down, and found the sign again to be sure we were on the right road—or on a road at all. We went up again.
It had been a foggy, dreary day (as most days were during my summer in Ireland). But by our second trip around this trail, the fog was beginning to lift, and when we stopped at the top of the trail to get our bearings and confer with the other vehicle, we finally saw it.
We’re pretty sure, anyway, that the trickling stream we spotted contained a waterfall.
And you might be thinking: well, that sucks. That’s a shitty end to an adventure.
But that’s only if you’re focusing on the waterfall.
Of course I was hoping to discover a beautiful landscape, an overlooked treasure among the emerald hills, off the usual tourist trails. And while our discovery was a little less majestic than I hoped, our little excursion was one of my favorite parts of the trip, precisely because it was a discovery.
We followed the hundreds of tourists up the spiral stairs to kiss the Blarney Stone. We took a soggy carriage ride to see the Gap of Dunloe. We drove around the Ring of Kerry, saw the Cliffs of Moher, toured the Guinness factory, and were duly amazed and wonder-struck by all of it.
But of all the thousands of tourists to visit Ireland every year, I wonder how many have wandered into that rocky pasture to take pictures with the sheep.
There’s something to be said about the freedom of being lost, the laughter that comes from thwarted expectations, and the wonderment of finding joy in the ordinary—things that are rarely possible if you stick to well-worn highways.
And that’s not just true when you’re traversing foreign countries.
On a daily basis, we tend to run on a “Point A to Point B” autopilot mode, where the top priority is covering that distance as quickly as possible. I’m not saying that’s always a bad thing, and it’s often unavoidable. Sometimes time really is money. Sometimes Point B is super exciting, and we don’t want to waste any time getting there.
But every once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to slow down and take up a backroad mentality by getting off the smoothly paved highways and enjoying the dusty (or foggy, or sheepish) in-between.
Part of my motivation for launching Backroads Brummer was to do more of that.
To slow down, spend less time focused on my plans (which never work out right anyway), and more time just letting ordinary, honest, beautiful things happen.
Like sheep paths and sorry-looking waterfalls.
Because life is just more fun that way.