Saturday, March 26, 2011

VoM2: Route Planning

Most of the time, traveling only on the surface of the earth is wonderfully rewarding. It gives me a fantastic sense of how every place, person and thing is connected to every other. It also allows me to travel at a more authentic “nomadic” pace, to experience subtle shifts in culture, climate, geography, economics, politics, etc. If you ever take a long voyage of your own, I strongly recommend sticking to the surface of the earth.

Surface travel is more complicated than flying point to point, however, and since it generally involves many more transport connections, it requires some concentrated time and effort to sort out along the way. Fortunately, the occasional “planning day” is available on long voyages like this.

Sometimes, I’ll admit, surface travel planning can be pretty challenging. Once in a while it can even make me question my commitment to it. Then, just when I’ve all but thrown up my hands and said “I can’t get there from here!” something clicks into place and all is well again on the Voyage of Macgellan: A route is charted which — despite being complicated, indirect and lengthy — has a certain elegance of its own.

Today has been such a day of planning, and I offer you this updated map segment to illustrate.

Boiled down to its core challenge, there is no surface travel option available from Ireland — or anywhere in the UK — to the Faroe Islands. There have been ferries from Scotland and the Shetlands in the past, but all those routes have been abandoned in recent years. In fact, the only way I can find to sail to the Faroes — and on to Iceland — is from Hirtshals, Denmark, out at the very tip of the peninsula. It’s a once-a-week ferry that runs overnight to the Faroes, then overnight again to Iceland, and a two-night return along the same route.

So, to get to the Faroe Islands from Ireland I will travel as follows:

1) Return ferry from Dublin to Holyhead, Wales.
2) All-day trains from Holyhead to Harwich on the SE coast of England.
3) Overnight ferry from Harwich to Esbjerg, Denmark.
4) All-day train from Esbjerg to Hirtshals, Denmark.
5) Overnight ferry from Hirtshals to Torshavn, Faroe.

The train and ferry schedules don’t sync-up particularly well, of course, so there will be a few “waiting” days at points along the way. Bottom line: I’ll leave Dublin on April 28 and arrive in Torshavn, Faroe Islands, on May 9, a total of 11 days later!

After exploring the Faroe Islands for the remainder of May, I will continue the ferry run out to Iceland for the month of June. Early in July, I will take the return ferry run back to Hirtshals, Denmark, and continue on to Poland and out through the Baltic States before entering Russia mid-August for the Trans-Siberian journey. How I will arrange all those logistics I have no idea. Raise your hand if you see another “planning day” in my future!

The truth is, despite moments of semi-exasperation and the necessity of some long indirect slogs between points, I really enjoy all this logistical planning and execution. First, I’ve always enjoyed a good puzzle, and figuring out how to get around on the surface of the earth is one of the biggest, most interesting puzzles I’ve found.

Second, though it’s hard to put into words, there is truth to the notion that it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts. When the world-at-large weighs in and superimposes its variables and constraints on my journey, it’s a surprisingly profound experience: Something in the neighborhood of “it is what it is”, “go with the flow”, “let it be” and “you’re not in control.” Put a gun to my head and I couldn’t give you a better reason for doing what I do than to be reminded of these truths.

Finally, I’ve found that the character of the route significantly affects the character of the journey. Traveling to and through unintended places gives the voyage even stronger dimensions of spontaneity, adventure and exploration. Color me happy… Stay tuned!

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