Override Autopilot

“One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.” -henry.miller


Today I almost started crying in the middle of Lyon, France because I couldn’t find a cup of coffee anywhere.

I mean, it was more than the coffee, but being overwhelmed and undercaffeneited is never a good combination.

I had been traveling all day, and most of the day before. I had navigated my way from one hostel to a train station, to the correct train, from another train station, to another hostel. I had acquired food for myself. My phone was hovering at a dangerous 15% and somehow both of the iPhone chargers I had brought with me had coordinated to stop working today. I had found my way to the center of the city. But I couldn’t find a damn cup of coffee. It was already 7pm, but I was on a mission to find a new phone charger, explore Lyon, and eventually find some dinner. I knew that I would never be able to do any of this without coffee.

I walked into three different cafes that told me they were closing, or no longer serving coffee, or something else that I could tell meant I wasn’t getting coffee (I’m not entirely sure what was said, I don’t speak French). Meanwhile, I was growing more and more panicked at not being able to find a store to buy a phone charger. I am alone in a country where I don’t speak the language and my phone was going to die and I was not going to be able to recharge it. The stress of this worry would have been easier to manage if I had had my coffee (or maybe had the language skills to ask someone for help).

IMG_6903I eventually found both a phone charger and a cup of coffee. Everything felt less dramatic after that. I sat for a moment and watched a beautiful sunset. I ended up eating a delicious dinner. I explored the streets and found some cool buildings. It was a good night.

Do you ever realize in your day to day life that you have been going through the motions but you don’t particularly remember any of them? You managed to wake up, make coffee, get to work. You ate lunch, commuted home, had dinner. The day is suddenly gone and you don’t feel as though you were even an active participant. You were there physically, but your brain had drifted into other places as you methodically went through the motions that were simply second nature. It’s easy to be removed from a routine.

IMG_2464A day traveling is the complete opposite of that. I am constantly thinking, and constantly deciding. Everyday I wake up and I think about what I want to do that day. And then, basically, I do it. I spent a couple of days planning my route to veer towards going to the coast because I wanted to go to the beach. Now, I have been traversing in the search of some mountains (I can see them from the distance tonight; by Monday I will stay among them). Living a life dictated by whimsies is certainly enthralling.

But there are constant other decisions too. Nothing is done without having to think about it first. Every time I am hungry, I must find somewhere to eat. I must decide which direction to walk, how much money to spend, what kind of place I want to go to. I must study the menu (sometimes in a language I don’t speak) and decide what to get and figure out if I am supposed to pay the bill at the counter or the table. Every time I want to go from one place to another, I must actively figure out how to do so. I look at maps and figure out metro passes and schedules or calculate walking time. And then, when I get lost, I course correct. Each new location I go to involves thinking about where to stay–close to the train station, the city center, or the beach? A private room or a hostel bunk? It involves figuring out how to best get there. It involves figuring out where the light switch is and how to work a new shower.

I am thinking constantly about all of the things that are done in autopilot in my normal life–where and when to eat, how to shower, what street to walk down, which language to say hello or thank you in (and if I even know how to say it). All of this thinking can be a lot (and is easier when I’ve had enough coffee), but it also means that my brain is already highly tuned in to the world around me. I get to think about other things as well, things I never really thought to think about before now.

IMG_6417Had the clouds always looked like this?

I don’t know what it was, but I couldn’t stop staring intently at the clouds outside the train window on my way from Madrid to Valencia. I don’t know if it was Spain, or the tinting on the train window, or if my eyesight is suddenly improving, but they were more dimensional than I had ever seen. Or┬ámaybe I’ve just never truly taken the time to look.

Is the how the clouds have always been? Is this what I have been missing?


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1 Response to Override Autopilot

  1. Katie says:

    Great writing McKenzie. Hope you enjoy every second of your journey.


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