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What I learned sailing at 5 mph for 87 days

There is something to be said about traveling slowly. There are many ways one could choose to travel slowly, and, in my particular story, it was by sailboat. It took my best friend and me 87 days to get from Northern Michigan to the border of Florida in a 27-foot sailboat.

Averaging 25 miles a day and 4.5 knots, we sailed down Lake Michigan and entered the seam of America, stitching our way south along the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee, and Tombigbee rivers until we met the Gulf of Mexico. I could have driven that distance in 18 hours. I could have flown it in four hours. Heck, I could have roller-skated faster.

I would spend eight hours a day sitting in the cockpit holding a beautifully handcrafted wooden tiller, doing absolutely nothing but steering the boat and dodging unidentified floating objects. No place to be, no meetings to attend, no friends to meet. On this trip I had my best friend and nothing else but time to think …

 Time to think back

When time is no barrier, you find the opportunity to push rewind, play or even pause when necessary. You have time to think about all the reasons you are where you are. You have time to think through all those decisions you made in the past that maybe were never actually thought through enough. Sure, you get stuck on the things you hate thinking about the most … the things you stowed away in a very secure place years ago, with no intentions to ever examine them again. You peel back the years, the layers, and toss the clutter you no longer need and rejoice in what you have.

Time to be present

On trips like these, you don’t miss a beat; it’s impossible. You see every bird, every animal, every type of tree, every cloud formation, every bend and every movement of the water. You look at it for more than a few seconds, too, because you have time! And you don’t just look at it because it’s all that’s in front of you; you become fascinated with it. With the fascination comes curiosity, with curiosity comes questions. The art of being present is rather educational because you have the time to try and find the answers.

Time to discover

By being in a constant stream of odd situations, you discover things in which you’re great and things in which you’re not so great. You discover resource management and how to budget. You discover how to be a jack-of-all-trades. The side streets? You discover those, too. You even discover how to talk to strangers. You discover beauty in everything—even mud. You discover your priorities. You discover exactly how little you require to be happy.

Time to appreciate

Allow me to take the word appreciation to a whole new altitude. I am taking it off the rolling hill in Iowa and putting it on top of Alaska’s Mount Denali. From the simplest of amenities like running water, electricity, refrigeration, controlled climates and plumbing to the clouds that block the sun (even if it’s just for a moment) to your new power-boater friend who offered you ice. Don’t forget about the kind couple anchored next to you with the right size wrench or the family you met while aimlessly wandering in town who offered their spare bed and a hot meal. Not only do you learn how to appreciate, but you learn how to appreciate with your whole heart.

Time to pay forward

While traveling down those rivers, I began a list that I still add to today. I included a long list of people who went out of their way to do something for us throughout our journey, whether it was lending a tool, cooking a meal, towing us off the ground or spending hours in our ridiculously small engine room (we referred to that as “the basement”). While we understand that there’s a good chance we will never be able to re-pay favors to these particular people, helping hands, encouragement, and willingness to teach can be passed on to anyone. The rest of my time on that boat—and beyond—has been spent figuring out how I was going to spend the rest of my life doing exactly that.

Thirteen states, three countries and nearly two years later, I was still sitting in that same cockpit, holding a beautifully handcrafted wooden tiller (the third one; we split the first two!) and dodging more unidentified floating objects. I was days away from sailing into the same bay in Northern Michigan that I once left from and I realized that one journey taught me everything I wanted to learn.