Thursday, January 23, 2020

Really Slowing Down

With everything else going on, I haven't stopped my recreational reading, but I'm not getting a book a day read, the way I did last year or the year before.  Much of what I read is what my mother would call "light and frivolous," and is the perfect antidote to loom time, photography processing, and learning marketing.  In other words, mostly mindless.

On occasion I come across something that takes a bit more time to get into and digest--something actually worth holding on to.  Polly Letofsky's 3 mph is just such a book.  So if your 12-year-old self read an article about a man walking around the world, and you decided that was something you wanted to do, tell me if you followed that dream.  Frankly, I'd like to know if you've done anything your twelve-year-old self dreamt.  I have.  When I was twelve, I bought an LP (remember them) of selected pieces by Jean Sibelius, the great Finnish composer who gave us Finlandia, the tune for hymns 437 (This Is My Song), 534 (Be Still, My Soul), and the choral response for Psalm 13 in the Psalter.  (All are in the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal).  Many of the pieces on that LP were part of the tone poems Sibelius wrote based on the Finnish National Epic, the Kalevala.  I fell in love with Sibelius.  I borrowed the Kalevala from the Richmond (California) Public Library and I read the thing...all of it.  I fell in love with Finland.  In 1985, I was given a round-trip air ticket Los Angeles to Helsinki on Finnair, and I spent two weeks in that country.  It was a dream, yes deferred for over 30 years, but realized none-the-less.

My Chariot for the 17 hour flight Los Angeles to Helsinki

Twelve-year old Polly Letofsky read an article about a man walking around the world and decided she wanted to do the same.  It didn't take her 30+ years, but well over twenty years later the world aligned in such a way that Polly could walk around it.  Now technically speaking, she didn't walk the entire circumference of our globe.  Guiness, who sets the rules for such things, allows you to fly across the Pacific, and, for that matter, any other large bodies of water you may encounter along the way.  Guiness does have specifications, however, if you intend to get your name in their book of records.  Ms. Letofsky wasn't sure if she needed, or even wanted, Guiness's approval, but thought it best to follow their guidelines, just in case.  This wasn't going to be a trial run. 

Having assembled what she thought would be a good support crew, Letofsky left her home in Vail, Colorado, and walked to Los Angeles, California.  She walked across the Colorado Rockies, through the Arizona desert, and even worse, the Mohave desert, arriving at her father's home in LA.  From LA, she flew to Auckland, New Zealand, and proceeded to walk the length of that island nation. 

Once in Australia, she walked over 2,000 miles up the east coast, and early on met a member of the Lions Club.  This was a major turning point for her.  The original Lion got in touch with a fellow Lion in the next community, and set up a relay system where Letofsky was passed, Lion to Lion, as she headed north.  Along the way, she met a man who was a national officer, and she presented the case to him that the Lions Club should sponsor her walk, at least across Australia. 

My partner Kevin is Lion Kevin in the Plains, Montana chapter of Lions Club International, so I know a little about their philathropic work, especially in the area of vision and eye care.  I know they are also active in the fight against diabetes.  Letofsky had set off with the goal of raising awareness of breast cancer issues, and the Australian Lions were happy to get on board.  Not only did they monitor her progress on the road, but they set up meet and greet sessions, press briefings, and other opportunities for fund raising.  If I remember right, Letofsky and the Lions raised over $35,000 for breast cancer awareness in Australia.

It was an Australian Lion who purchased Letofsky's air ticket from Brisbane to Singapore, and who set up a contact for her in that city-state.  From Singapore, Letofsky walked onto the Malay Peninsula, and was in that Muslim country on September 11th, 2001.  Malaysian Lions guarded and guided her through some of the more religiously conservative parts of their country, and she passed without incident into Thailand. 

Once across Thailand, Letofsky faced a dilemma.  Getting a visa for China would not be feasible, as there was no way she could cross that vast country on foot in the amount of time allowed by a Chinese visa.  She hoped to cross Burma/Myanmar to reach India, but that too proved impossible.  In such an instance, consider it the same as crossing an ocean.  Letofsky flew from Thailand to Kolkata, where another Lion took her in.

Things were a bit dicey in India, as I'm sure anyone who has visited that beautiful but chaotic country can appreciate.  Apparently, the Indians suffer from a type of hearing defect in that they hear only what they want to hear.  At least that was Letofsky's experience.  The Lion connections were sporadic at best, as were accommodations and even food.  In time, she reached the west coast of the subcontinent where she faced yet another problem with her itinerary.  In the wake of 9/11, she decided that it would not be a good idea to walk across Iran, Iraq and Syria to reach the relative safety of Turkey.  Once again, she took flight.

Arriving in Istanbul, she was once again under the capable care of the Lions, and she walked from Turkey's largest city down the Aegean coast to Bodrum, visiting many of the places I had visited the year before when I spent October, 2000, in that beautiful  and hospitable country.  Bodrum, a resort community, was the site of King Mausolus's tomb, the original Mausoleum at Hallicarnassus, as Bodrum was known in ancient times.  Bodrum is a lovely town on the Aegean, I speak from personal knowledge, and from the waterfront, you can see Greece.  Well, you can see islands that are part of Greece.  It was Letofsky's intent to cross to one of those islands and enter Europe. 

Who knew that the most difficult part of walking around the world would be Europe.  The Greeks were crabby.  The Italians wanted more money that Letofsky had budgeted for food.  And we won't go into the attitude of the Austrians and Germans.  Now admittedly, Europe, even then, was beginning to feel the effect of way too many refugees appearing on its doorstep, and Letofsky, after over three years walking, looked a lot like a refugee.  That's how she describes her appearance, in an attempt to justify, if not forgive, the way she was treated in continental Europe.  And for whatever reason, the Lions were not stepping up to the plate. 

Eventually, however, Letofsky crossed the Channel from the Netherlands to England, and once again, her Lions Club support was fully available.  English, Scottish, Irish (both northern and republican) Lions were always present to watch over her passage, set up meals and receptions, and do a jolly good job of fund-raising for breast cancer awareness. 

From Ireland, she flew to New York City, and was able to walk home to Vail, Colorado, albeit by a somewhat less than direct route.  Her itinerary took her across Ontario and into Minnesota, her childhood home state.  After a visit with her grandmother and her sisters, she walked south across Iowa, into Missouri, then west into Kansas, and finally Colorado, where she reached home after five years.  She walked 14,124 niles across four continents and 22 countries.  In the process she raised over $250,000 for breast cancer awareness.

I believe every Lion should read 3mph if for no other reason than to fully appreciate just what that organization is capable of doing on an international scale.  I believe as well that this is a book for anyone interested in travel, in human diversity, and in the indomitable human spirit.  In short, for anyone I consider a friend.  I read the book on my Kindle Fire, and the link at the top of the post will get you a Kindle version of the book.  The link at the bottom will get you a real book, if that's what you prefer.   There is also a video available, made by Polly's brother, but you'll have to find the link for that on your own.

Polly Letofsky's travels did not take her to Finland, but mine did, and I close with a photo taken the morning after I arrived in Helsinki.  Jet lagged, and not prepared for the climate, I went sailing on the Baltic with my Finnish host and her husband.  They then treated me to a dinner of crawfish and Aquavit, and then took me to a chamber music concert.  Can I help it if I fell asleep before the intermission?

Get the book.  You will enjoy it!


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