Several days ago we reached the halfway mark on our long walk across Europe – another major milestone to tick off on the list of major milestones. The crossing of borders, the reaching of round figures like the 1,000 km mark might also be on the list and duly ticked off. The next big milestone would have to be the boarding of the P&O ferry in Calais and leaving continental Europe behind us as we head towards Britain and another land mass to plough across. By the way, there is no actual list, but these watershed moments, whether past or yet to come, are always tucked away in the back of your mind, and allow a thing too big to comprehend as a whole to be broken up into manageable episodes.
I suppose most of us at one time or another are confronted with a seemingly insurmountable challenge. I’m not talking about the kind of seemingly insurmountable challenge like dragging yourself out of a warm bed on a cold morning, or assembling an IKEA chest of drawers with your equally clueless spouse without the whole thing ending in a row. I’m thinking more about the kind of challenge that is so big it stretches far beyond the horizon of your comprehension. There’s no way you can visualise the beginning and the end and all that lies between in one cohesive thought. The Long Walk Home is my seemingly insurmountable challenge and the milestones, well... let’s say they play their part.
The walk has shown me that a milestone can serve several purposes. Before it’s reached, it’s something to strive towards. It can make you go that extra mile and continue putting one foot in front of the other despite the intense pain you feel each time the foot hits the tarmac. When it’s reached, however, the milestone becomes an opportunity to reflect on what you have achieved and even give yourself (or each other) a congratulatory pat on the back. After the celebrations the milestone can serve as a launch pad for a fresh start. Shake off the dust, straighten yourself up, take a deep breath and set off again with the next milestone in your sights.
For all their importance as motivators though, these milestones eventually pale in the memory. They are completely overshadowed by the memories of unplanned and unexpected experiences along the route - spontaneous acts of generosity towards two complete strangers, or even simply the curiosity and interest expressed in our venture. Those are the things that stick. Those are the moments that prop up your sometimes weakened faith in humanity. And ultimately, those are the real milestones, the ones that drive you on and give you a much needed boost on the Long Walk Home.