Writers Of Our Discontent

Thursday, April 7, 2011

We usually experience epic moments in the down-and-out. It’s what makes for good stories because (hopefully) these moments are not part of the normal day-to-day. Rain, snow, heat and cold, when we gently suffer through discomfort a bed (even a hostel bed) never feels so cozy.

Often, travel woes are what ear-mark great writers. In a recent article in the Toronto Star, six authors were highlighted for their hard-times stories. They really just have had the worst luck with pleasant traveling (and perhaps that is the spirit of the travel writer: throwing yourself into the uncomfortable muck of things and then telling others about it).

It also reminds me of one of my favorite travel writers, Paul Theroux, whose self-induced discomfort (traveling all over the world by train, no matter what the condition) makes for those existential moments captured in a phrase. We can lament for him, take his eloquent words of wisdom and be grateful it wasn’t us.

The picture above was taken last year in the town called San Carlos de Bariloche, an Andean-town that looks like Switzerland (or how I would imagine the place to look like): mountains, chalets and Saint-Bernards. This mountain top was rated one of National Geographic’s most impressive views and to get there you can do it the easy way or the grueling way.

A group of us chose the grueling way, taking rented bicycles up and around the winding mountain road. Some in the group made the personal goal of not getting off the bicycle (and they succeeded). My personal goal was just to make it. My muscles had never quivered so violently as we rounded the last curve.

There were moments when I wanted to give up, hail a cab (of which there were none), throw the bike in the trunk, curl up in the back seat and have a nap. It wasn’t just the physical strain that was getting to me. Not knowing the “end” was a mental mind trick. I had to keep telling myself: just keep on keeping on. On the post-excursion bus-ride back to the in-town hostel, we all fell asleep.

Perhaps some of us live our lives symbolically. We need these experiences to prove to ourselves that through the low times (even self-induced bicycle torture), we climb back up, where the view is amazing. Pushing our mental and physical limits — hoping that there is a cup of hot chocolate and sleep at the end — gives you that existential (or endorphin) boost that some of us crave. And then some people write about it and it makes me wonder: when writing about travel, perhaps we seek the discomforts of abroad to us appreciate the comforts of home.

By Brit Weaver


About the Author

Toronto born and based, Brit is an avid leisure cyclist, coffee drinker and under-a-tree park-ist. She often finds herself meandering foreign cities looking for street eats to nibble, trees to climb, a patch of grass to sit on, or a small bookstore to sift through. You can find her musing life on her personal blog, TheBubblesAreDead.wordpress.com.

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