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Note to self: Glen Mutel

Travel is often about challenging yourself. But to do this, it helps to understand your own limitations

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All truly great people have a nemesis. Sherlock Holmes had Moriarty. Muhammad Ali had Joe Frazier. Wile E. Coyote had Road Runner. And I’m proud to say I have one too — an archrival I’m determined to thwart at every turn.

His name is Future Glen, and it really must appear to the world as though I hate him. I certainly seem to spend most of my life trying to ruin his. Sometimes, I’ll spend all of Friday loafing about at work, making Future Glen so busy on Monday morning that he wants to cry. On other occasions, I might stay out till 4am on a weeknight, even though Future Glen has to be up at 6:30 the next morning. And sometimes, I like to drink too much and say ridiculous, regrettable things to my friends, knowing that Future Glen will have to spend the following week picking up the pieces. Yes, that’s usually enough to wipe that self-satisfied smirk off his face.

This vindictiveness towards my future self really comes into its own when I’m travelling. What I often find myself doing is eagerly saying yes to things there’s every chance Future Glen will find stressful, challenging and hard to enjoy.

At its most simple, this could mean committing him to a long-haul flight to somewhere like Chile or Mexico, even though I know he’s a poor flyer. Then, later, as he’s being jostled around by turbulence somewhere over the Atlantic, I’ll know he’ll be cursing me and swearing he’ll never fly again.

Or I might agree to climb a tall building such as the Eiffel Tower, knowing full well he suffers from vertigo. Then later, after he’s inched his way up to the first level, he’ll gingerly peek down at the tiny Parisians beneath him and curse me to hell.

But the thing I like doing best is signing him up to mildly perilous activities, like skiing or scuba diving. These things always seem so harmless to me, but I know what he’s like. As he’s waiting to get started he’ll focus on all the things that might go wrong, and then by the time it’s his turn, he’ll be a complete nervous wreck. On top of that, he’s uncomfortable on fast-moving vehicles over which he has little control — which is a real shame for him, as I’ve just committed him to an afternoon of dog sledding in Norway.

But the thing is, for all his theatrics, panicking and palpitations, it always turns out OK in the end. After the first few stressful minutes have elapsed, and that horrible plunging sensation in his stomach has receded, he usually finds a way to cope. Then he starts to relax. In fact, occasionally, he’s even been known to enjoy himself. And once the thing is finally done, I know he’s often flooded with the euphoria of achievement. Then we can both add that activity to our list of accomplishments — and if I ever commit him to doing it again, I know he’ll barely raise an eyebrow.

What’s more, I’m not totally heartless. Although I enjoy toying with Future Glen, there are some lines I just won’t cross. For example, I would never commit him to a bungee jump. Elastic cord or no elastic cord, I believe a man should only ever throw himself from a bridge if his heart is truly in it. Nor would I make him camp in a rainforest. It’s one thing to see a huge spider in the corner of your hotel room — but a tent full of them? Well, I don’t think the poor lamb could survive that.

So, you see, I don’t hate Future Glen — no matter what he may think to the contrary. In fact, I’ve usually got his best interests at heart. No, there’s only one person I hate. There’s only one man on earth I can honestly say I actually despise. He’s called Past Glen, and he’s a real nasty piece of work. If I ever meet that vindictive swine, I’m going to really give him something to think about.

 

Published in the May/Jun 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)