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Grateful Traveler: The Book of Love

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Mount KailashQuick. Your 70th birthday is looming on the horizon and your significant other has offered to take you anywhere in the world.

Book a cruise to the Caribbean?

See Paris in the springtime?

Relax on the beach in Bali?

Nah.

How about walking the circumference of Tibet’s sacred Mount Kailash?

The grueling trails and freezing temperatures will punish you every step of the way, but the view at 19,000 feet can’t be beat. So says Pat Herson, which for anyone who knows her, does not come as a surprise.

Some people are born to teach. Others to play music, become moms, gourmet cooks or weavers. Pat does all of these like a pro, but nothing gets her blood stirred up and her muscles moving like a good hike—preferably in the Himalayas. When I asked her why she had gone back to this region of the world so many times (she and her husband Ron walked the Annapurna Circuit for her 60th birthday and hiked to the base camp on Everest when she was 65), Pat says simply, “I like the people.”

That’s quite an endorsement from a woman who is herself a natural Eskimo—always ready to help another.

Got a problem? Pat’s listening. Feeling down? She’s got a smile. A family friend since I was 13, Pat recently got me thinking. What makes a traveler? Is it a special gene that presents life like it’s a book you can’t put down?

Pat chalks it up to curiosity: “I’m anxious to see how people are in the rest of the world. How they live. What their dreams are. You never know what you are going to find out there that’s life-changing.”

She wonders if maybe her curiosity was unleashed by her early travels. As soon as World War II ended, Pat’s mother booked tickets for them both on a Sunderland Flying Boat that took them from their home in London through Asia and onto Australia. From there they made their way to the Western United States. “By 19, I had been around the world.”

But that doesn’t explain Pat’s husband, Ron. Raised in Westchester, New York, he had never been anywhere until he met Pat.

grateful-traveler-1.jpeg Yet by his 80th birthday, the two of them had traveled to Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, Malta, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland, France, Switzerland, Lapland, Japan, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Austria, China, Tibet, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Samoa, Tonga, Jamaica, Poland, Papua New Guinea, Thailand, Antarctica, Tahiti, Bora Bora, Spain, Portugal, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Patagonia, Galapagos, Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, Shetlands, Sikkim, India, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, British Virgin Islands, American Virgin Islands, Grenadines, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, Costa Rica, Panama, Bali, Singapore, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Alaska and Korea. To name a few.

And they didn’t just visit. They took helicopters to the top of mountains and climbed down using crampons, ice axes and chutzpah. (They’d had no mountaineering training).

They captained sailboats through the Mediterranean. As a doctor, Ron volunteered his services in Jamaica.

They walked from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) to Moscow on the Soviet-American Peace Walk. There wasn’t a place on Earth they weren’t interested in or thrilled by.

Which is why I have trouble believing that curiosity could be the sole motivating factor in their travels. There has to be something more. Why so many places? So much daring?

“I think it may have something to do with feeling immortal in the same way a teenager does,” says Pat. “I never believed anything bad would ever happen to me. And it never did.”

grateful-traveler-4.jpeg Certainly it helped to have a husband who learned to love travel and adventure as much as Pat did. “Ron was always up for anything. I was lucky that way.” Having known Pat most of my life, I don’t know that it was all luck. Among all the travelers in my life, Pat stands out. Maybe it’s because she comes out to meet life with her arms wide open and the world seems to return her embrace.

Last month, Pat lost her favorite hiking partner. Ron succumbed to the Parkinson’s disease that had been plaguing him for the past seven years.

When I called her to ask if I could write about the two of them, she was her usual gracious self. She talked about her deep sadness over losing Ron and, then, in passing, mentioned that it had been almost a week since she’d sat down. Literally. Seems she’d taken a mule down to visit the Grand Canyon’s Phantom Ranch and gotten deep, painful gashes on her legs that made sitting too painful.

Of course, she said this with great amusement, reminding me that she’s 82 years old, reeling from her loss and still on the move. Life remains a book she can’t put down and it seems she’s only halfway through.

By Jamie Simons for PeterGreenberg.com.

Read more stories of life, love, loss, serendipity and our wide, wide world in the Grateful Traveler series.

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