Coming of age on the road

Cindy Suplick (courtesy photo)

At 23, I chucked a conventional lifestyle to live simply, out of a backpack, traveling through 40 countries in search of high adventure. I hit the road then because I knew life would be more complicated later. 

In the 1970s, the American peace talks with North Vietnam broke down, the conservative Silent Majority reigned, and the Equal Rights Amendment was lost. Disillusioned with our country, my husband and I bought one-way tickets to a faraway place to work, travel and experience the real world at street level. 

Finland was a mecca for our teaching and architectural skills. We lived communally in a rustic rented cottage on the Baltic Sea. On the weekends we roamed the vast Lake Region of bays, inlets and islands in dense pine forests. We visited a Finnish family cottage in the outer archipelago, where we took saunas in the buff, then ran naked shrieking across the snow to plunge in a swimming hole chopped in the frozen water. 

Restless, we donned backpacks to travel Europe and beyond for six months by train, bus, hitchhiking, motorcycle and bicycle – camping along the way. Free spirits from Britain, Australia and New Zealand, all seeking adventure at budget prices, joined us. Vivid memories were etched of the ‘standing room’ seating for the Vienna symphony, fragrant fields of Edelweiss in Austria, a horse-drawn gypsy caravan along the Loire, and the hazy stench of coal smoke that masked bleak Soviet-built apartment buildings in Bulgaria. 

Striking East, we found a fellow driving to Bhutan who wanted the company of passengers. After 3,300 miles and a couple of crashes, we got out in Herat, Afghanistan. We holed up in a hotel looking out over a 4th century B.C. castle built by Alexander the Great. Camel trains and colorful horse taxis traveled the roads. Children pitched hashish and cheap trinkets in the streets. 

We headed West on native buses through Iran, enduring frequent military searches for contraband, then the Orient Express to Istanbul, and finally third-class boat passage to Crete, where we spent a wonderful Christmas in a Greek Taverna replete with dancing, singing and smashing glasses in the fireplace. 

Our last leg was bicycling through England, soaking tired feet in the Avon, bathing in hot springs at Bath, and repairing nightly to pubs for camaraderie. 

I had sought the far reaches for the sights and excitement. But it was the simple pleasures that linger: the waves lulling me to sleep, the celebratory midsummer solstice, the tender smile of a ragamuffin child. Life is grand, but it need not be lived grandly to be happy.