The guards stationed at the Southfury River gave me little more than a nod as I strode, filled with confidence and re-energized by purpose, out of the great Horde capital city. Instead of the dust-covered brown landscape of Durotar, the Barrens were covered in light scrub, which walking through would have been terrible in my old, worn leather boots. The new clothes Zallas had provided me were holding up well, and I could already tell that my journey would be a great deal more comfortable than the miles I had already hiked.

Soon the pathway out of Orgrimmar was lost in the brush; apparently there weren’t many foot travelers this way any more. Knowing that I needed to find “the Crossroads,” a settlement that seemed to be at the center of local trade, I pressed on, stopping to gaze in wonder at the new creatures I saw in the rolling hills around me. Giraffe, twice as tall as an orc, strode without care through the grasses, looking for fresh leaves to eat in the sparse trees. Even though I could see Durotar just across the river, I marveled at how different the wildlife was on this side. Savanna lions prowled in large prides, though luckily for me they weren’t very keen on the idea of hunting in the middle of the night. I let them be, and they returned to their lazing.

Before long a series of hard-packed cobblestones crossed my path, and while I assumed the Crossroads were still a good ways to the South, heading East to other environs would likely help me get my bearings, or at least update my map with more relevant information than I was able to gather back in Orgrimmar. I saw a signpost pointing out the Boulder Lode Mine, and knowing that miners had to eat and sleep somewhere, I adjusted my small traveling pack and made my way up and into the hills.

Stopping to pick up some Earthroot I saw near the path, yelling from a nearby tower caught me by surprise. Someone was shouting excitedly, in a language I didn’t understand, and it wasn’t until they peered over the railing that I finally caught on – two goblins and a dwarf were gibbering angrily, pointing at my direction, trying to raise an alarm – I was not welcome! Leaving the Earthroot behind, I ran as fast as I could back to the relative safety of the savanna. Apparently the crude sign hadn’t been meant as a waypoint, but rather as a warning that unaligned and hostile forces were ahead. If I had a carving knife I would have updated the sign so others didn’t stumble into their midst like I had. I was very fortunate that the camp was largely distracted by the morning’s breakfast to have chased after me in force.

With a deep breath to center myself, and the light of the dawn sun starting to brighten the skies to the East, I continued on my way, no less confident than before, but certainly more wary.

There weren’t other travelers on the road, though whether due to the early hour or the nearby mining company I couldn’t guess. I had heard that this was once a major travel route between Orgrimmar and the rest of the continent, but maybe after the establishment of the flight paths, travel by foot had become less favorable. Others can say what they want about convenience, but I have no intention of trusting my life to a simple beast that merely flies back and forth between two points; who knows what would scare it, sending me catastrophically tumbling to the ground?

Stopping to eat some light breakfast of my own, little more than trail rations a supplier had recommended, I watched a family of plainstriders approach the river in the early dawn light. Two adults stood watch as the chicks drank, ignorant of whatever dangers may lurk nearby. A zhevra, also sensing the coast was clear, approached the water and drank, hopefully before the rising sun woke local predators that may make mid-day stops treacherous. Growing up we mostly saw ground squirrels and other rodents – we didn’t have the water, grasses, or wide-open spaces that would support as diverse an ecosystem as this. Returning my rations to the sturdy pack I carried, I rose to my feet, thankful for the brief reprieve and the moment of reflection.

My sister told me that the most interesting part of traveling, she shared during one of her returns to the homestead, wasn’t the new sights and creatures, but rather what seeing those things made her think of, how she reacted and what it made her contemplate. I didn’t quite understand at the time – after all, wasn’t seeing something new far more remarkable than just thinking about the world – but out in the wilds, particularly watching the early-morning herbivores, I think I started to see where she was coming from.

Any journey, no matter how short or far, isn’t about the place, or the people, or even the trip itself. Really the journey is about who and how you grow as a person – in this case, how I started to see the world from a much broader perspective. Even just the short tour to Orgrimmar showed me more about the world than I could have ever expected, had I stayed on the farm. Now, miles and miles farther afield, clad in armour finer than anything our family had ever owned, each step taking me into new lands, I realized the joy of exploration that my sister described – the joy of self-discovery, as much as wonder at the outside world.

By mid-day I had reached the Far Watch Post, a Horde base camp that helped secure the roads against any threats that would come through the Barrens toward the capital. Wiping sweat from my brow, I saluted the guards, and was warmly received into the small outpost. There wasn’t much for a common traveler – it was after all a military installation – but it did offer a welcome reprieve from the blistering sun and its hottest hours of the day. Nodding to the only other patron of the small tavern, a ruggedly-dressed orc hunter, I prepared to enjoy some hot food and cool drink until the weather outside was more amenable to hiking.