By Margaret Kinney
In August 2021, longtime Community Reporter board member Julie Borgerding July and her husband Ellery July left their home of 20 years in St. Paul’s West End to go on a journey of a lifetime, following a loosely formed plan to spend one-year visiting countries in Europe. Both are experienced hikers and retired from their careers. So with nothing but backpacks, they started their year-long exploration of Europe, beginning with an 84-mile walk across England.
The Omicron variant of COVID-19 had started its surge by the time they arrived, so the pair went where COVID restrictions would allow. By October, they were in Finland, walking along the broad boulevards of Helsinki, with more hiking in the city’s many parks. A trip to the Arctic Circle was what Ellery wanted for his birthday, so that’s where they went. By January, they were visiting Dubai, rubbernecking at the world’s tallest building and taking water taxis for 27 cents.
It was after I read Julie‘s email about Dubai that, I began to marvel at their intrepid spirits, their ability to be resilient and adaptable in the face of not only a pandemic, but challenges around visas, bad weather, and non-English languages. I asked Julie and Ellery for some specific information, not only to satisfy my curiosity about what it takes to be on a trip like that but also to share with their many neighbors in our West End.
What have been some of your interesting interactions with the people you have met along the way?
Julie: We get lots of help from people in the travel industry, of course, but even people on the street want to give us help if we look lost (often), or even just to practice their English. People are very kind everywhere we’ve been. The reality of the war in Ukraine puts a pall on all good things.
Ellery: Human behaviors are much the same in every place. We see lazy, industrious, happy, sad, optimistic, hostile, and indifferent people. Everyone knows a little or much English, and even people with no English try to help and understand us.
What have been some of your most physical challenges?
J: Physically, our hike in England had some very long days, and since last summer I have had plantar fasciitis [a painful disorder affecting the connective tissue of the foot], which is now just getting better. But we haven’t really walked anywhere. We are always walking. Our hike in Israel, about 10 miles a day, went well.
E: My body does not recover as fast as when I was in my 30s. I can say the same for Julie.
What have been some mental or emotional challenges?
J: It has been refreshing to not have any responsibilities except to get to where we plan to go. When we are lost it can get tense, carrying our packs and maybe being a bit hungry, but I try to remember that eventually, we will get there. It’s an adventure. We have been pretty good at pivoting when needed.
E: We are together 24/7, and our external support systems are just not that easy to speak with or discuss things with. Also, I love to bike, but I only biked about seven of the last 150 days.
What has been an unexpected challenge?
J: When we were planning this trip, we knew nothing of the Schengen Rules, mandating that non-EU citizens cannot stay in the EU for more than three months in 180 days. Then we learned that moving every month could make for a nice trip.
Also, we had thought that we would mostly be using trains and buses, but when we picked trips that trains didn’t go to, we flew. It is more affordable to fly on this side of the Atlantic. We had not originally thought of Egypt or UAE, but since they were non-EU countries, we researched them and decided to go. Also of course COVID-19 has added a layer of planning and being flexible, with tests, quarantines, and country and airline requirements to fulfill. We just read up and do what we need to do.
E: When we were planning this trip, the big idea was to visit various countries. Not just the big cities but the outback and off-the-beaten-trail places. We have been able to accomplish that aspect. COVID has dictated more of our movements than we anticipated.
Have you been homesick?
J: I think of home but have not yet been homesick. We have been comfortable in the places that we have stayed, and we start to think of neighborhoods as our own, especially if we are there for a whole month.
E: I have missed friends, nieces, nephews, and workmates. Those conversations are what I miss.
What sorts of things have you been learning?
J: The books I have read on this trip have added to the interest in places we have seen. I read about Pompeii before visiting there, and we watched a movie about it afterward. I have been reading murder mysteries taking place in Egypt in the 1920s, so our trip there gave me an idea of distances and appreciation of the advances in travel. I’m also learning a lot about my phone, and I expect that I will learn more. Ellery helps by showing me ways to use it more efficiently.
E: There are some great places where we could have a great life, and where people treat each other with a high level of dignity. I originally thought that traveling this much would be stressful, but it has gotten easier.
Julie and Ellery plan to return to Minnesota on Aug. 2 of this year.
Margaret Kinney is a visual artist and writer in the West End. She also serves as a board member for the Community Reporter.