For the timid of heart, may you find the courage to transform your demeanour into one of strength. From this place of openness, indeed, anything is possible.
I’d idolised and romanticised Palin’s gusto and vigour in Eighty Days, however fearlessly attacking adventure never came naturally to me. At times, the mere thought of leaving the house subdues me into a total state of paralysis. Still, somehow, through a consistent practice of a kind of self-authored immersion therapy, I’ve made a choice to allow myself to experience these fears.
To look at them not as dualistic measures of better or worse, dangerous or safe, but merely as situational lessons of transformation. Through this persistent personal inquiry, and while my entire being has wanted to go counter to life – I’ve allowed myself instead to encounter it. Herein lies one of these experiences – a brief overland trip to Mexico… from Canada.
The mantra of the explorer; I acknowledge this deep desire for change. I courageously allow myself to fall into adventure. May bravery be my companion.
I sit silently watching glassy rain droplets chase one another down the greenish hued window pane of a downtown Vancouver high rise. It’s another lonely January, and the neglected Christmas lights of yesteryear gloomily reflect along the waterlogged sidewalks of Granville Street.
I left Europe for Vancouver early last week to collect the last of my things from her house. It’s been two months since we broke up, and both the sadness and liberation of finality feels like a door’s been left ajar, and it leads to adventure. Among my stored possessions is a Triumph motorcycle. A naked cafe twin clad in British racing green.
As I’m currently on the road, my friend Joel has let me (and my Triumph) stay at his place while he’s away on business. I feel compelled to ride this bike to my new home, wherever in the world that may be, but it’s mid-winter, and this warm and cosy apartment only amplifies my reluctance to leave. All that’s inhibiting my escape is a sentry named comfort, whom I must first outwit or at very least evade.
The woman I’d spent the night with had left in the early hours of the morning. I’m both hungover and exhausted, but I know I have to depart today. Packed panniers and a full-face helmet occupy the space usually reserved for a welcome mat by the front door. My officious companion-despondency loyally watches on over my shoulder. She clings to me like a vampiress tick as we gaze out over this dingy winter cityscape together, questioning the viability of my objective.
A meteorologist on the radio predicts a clear weather window for the next two days, which should see me past the Cascade mountain range without the need for all-weather tyres, yet anticipation eats away my bravado. The later-than-planned departure resulting from my hangover will, however, unbeknownst to me, be paid for in torment and regret long into the night.
My motorcycle, fully laden with bags of clothes, writing accoutrements and camera equipment, stands weighed down and wide in the concrete basement parking area far beneath the city. I take in the West Coast metropolis from Joel’s balcony one last time, watching on as Vancouverites go about their brunch meetings and daily rituals. I envy them. I crave purpose, structure and lasting relationships. My hangover compresses my melancholy and loathing disgust toward my current self imposed situation. All I want is a home and a life here in Vancouver, and now I’m leaving that, heading across the border in the middle of winter nonetheless. I’m entirely subdued by the daring feat that lays ahead—a vast quest into the unknown.
I have no plans other than to head south to warmer weather. I don’t even have a final destination to aim for. Maybe I’ll ride all the way across the U.S. to New York and ship my bike back to the U.K. I’ve nowhere to stay, nowhere to be, no idea what lies ahead or if I’ll survive the dangers of cross country motorcycling. I dwell in my misery for two further hours until I overcome this self-deprecation. Then, with one deep reluctant breath, I grab my things, lock up the apartment and slide the key under the door, seamlessly sealing my Canadian chapter firmly shut.
Bravery awaits the unfaltering.
I ride away from town as the midwinter light begins to grow dull. The further I get from the city centre, the more I want to turn back and stay. The activity of riding alone is already subduing my lust for adventure. I long for connection more than ever. I drop off a couple of the things I couldn’t carry at Owen’s house on my way out of town, and if at that moment Big O had offered up his spare room for rent, I probably would have taken it. Loneliness has been such a motivator for me, but too often, it’s motivated me to stay unmotivated. Luckily for me, Owen doesn’t offer. He instead confuses me by stating how envious he is of the freedom I have, of how incredible this journey seems. As it turns out, many think they would like this life, but they often don’t consider the sacrifice required to live this way, to live freely.
There’s always a cost required to receive a payoff. Living untethered often means never having a place to call home or a consistent group of friends with whom to grow old. I’ve missed spending time with family and rarely participate in loved one’s lives in person. I’ve missed important events, weddings, birthdays, career changes, and it’s so easy to grow apart. I often feel selfish for not fitting into a career-focused life or having consistent stability, but every time I try, it breaks my soul. I liken it to living in never-never land, where everyone you care about is living in another, more stable world, one where people have dinners, meetings, weekend plans and calendar events. It may sound as though I lack gratitude, but it’s so ingrained in our society the opinion’s hard to break. I thank Owen, mount my bike, fire up the engine and wave goodbye, and discreetly talk myself out of giving up immediately. I would quit at this precise moment if I only knew the ways my resolve will be tested far into tonight. I would, however, forsake the experience of knowing myself fully, understanding my incredible persistence and realising what a strong mother fucker I really am.
By the time I reach the U.S. border and clear customs, daylight is already fading. With the short winter days of the Pacific North West, time is against me. That clear weather window is also beginning to look questionable. My Canadian sim card stops working as soon as I cross into the states, and as a paper map is too bulky to store in my already overloaded panniers, I rely on road signs as my only form of navigation. However, daylight’s soon blanketed by darkness and seemingly impenetrable, vision-obscuring fog. I stop somewhere in North Washington for coffee and directions. The scene outside resembles a ‘no man’s land’ establishing shot from a World War 1 movie set. A thick smoky haze blankets everything, and passing vehicles look like distant searchlights. I can barely see my bike from the window of the rest stop, which is only fifteen feet away.
The temperature outside plummets to well below freezing, and visibility reduces to around ten feet. I’m only an hour in the U.S. and still have about 200 miles to my intended destination of Portland. I decide the best course of action is to power on as fast as possible through these misty hours of darkness. I’m flying along at 90mph, hoping to end this onslaught of discomfort as soon as possible. My tyres skip and glide across lake sized deposits of oily freeway water. I’m shivering, and my eyes are watering, blurring my vision entirely. Eventually, I find the perfect throttle position to synchronise my chattering teeth and groans to the engine resonance coming up through the handlebars. I lock onto the hazy red glimmer of a car’s taillights in front, which scarcely holds me on course. The 900cc twin vibrates furiously through my bones, and the icy wind whistles through the gaps in my helmet-freezing my forehead numb.
Riding this naked cafe-racer is wreaking havoc with my energy levels. My ears are getting destroyed by the low-frequency rumbling of wind noise. It’s like a full sensory assault, a total trial of vigour. In these conditions, I can’t see the road signs until it’s too late. My contact lenses are misting up due to the temperate variance inside and outside my helmet. I pull over and switch to the glass World War 2 pilot’s goggles my brother gifted me before the trip. They saved my life that night, allowing the air to vent and reduce misting. The trade-off is that the cold air circulating around my helmet due to the gaps around the goggles is giving me an ice cream headache. Mucus flows down my philtrum, creating a salty frozen crust on my lips and chin. I’m regretting removing the tiny headlight fairing the Triumph came with, and I’d give anything for a Pinloc system instead of this beautiful retro-inspired bucket right now.
I pull over to don every item of cold-weather gear in my pack. I put on a thermal base layer shirt, followed by a t-shirt, a sweater, a down gilet and a down jacket, before squeezing back into my water-laden leathers. I pull thick hiking socks up to my knees and put thermal long-johns on under my sweat pants. They sit under my kevlar armoured jeans, which I seal under shin-high leather boots and rain overalls. I wear a wooden hat with a down hood on top, clenching my helmet firmly to my head. I pull thermal gloves over my frozen wrinkled fingers and cover them with electric heated gloves. I can barely move but manage to ride on another twenty minutes before the cold once again gets too much to bear. I pull off the freeway to take refuge from the elements in a small-town diner. I order coffee, hot chocolate and warm food but nothing is working. I’m freezing, tired, and I can’t raise my core temperature enough to cease the incessant shivering. I’m showing signs of stage one hypothermia. I’m wearing enough layers to survive an arctic camping excursion, and I’m sat in a warm diner drinking hot drinks but can’t stop shaking. I’m making bad and potentially dangerous decisions, but I must go on.
There’s a family in the next booth, and, as there’s no wifi, I ask to borrow their phone. Begrudgingly the father hands over his cell. I call my friend Tim, whose sofa I’ve asked to sleep on tonight, but get no answer. I text him to let him know I’m delayed. It’s now 11pm. With no response, I pay my bill and get back on the Triumph. I astound myself with stubborn determination, unwilling to admit defeat or stop to get a motel room on my first night. I only make it another fifteen minutes before I have to pull off the freeway again. It’s just too cold. I go into a McDonald’s and order a tea. At long last, I find some wifi. I have a text showing a picture of a lamp with a key on top. Finally, I have a warm, dry destination to focus on. Now I just need to get there, and more importantly, find it before I freeze or crash.
I roll into Portland around midnight. I know I’m close, but I can’t find the street sign I need. I drive up and down this main road, five miles each way twice at around twenty miles per hour. I then spend a further hour scouring this road for wifi, all to no avail. Finally, exhausted and depleted, I pull into a pizza restaurant. I offer to pay a delivery driver to show me the way Tim’s address, which is scrappily jotted down in my notebook and covered with raindrops which cause the paper to ripple. This makes the written location almost illegible, yet following behind a Domino topped escort car, I finally arrive. Frozen, battered, frustrated and alone, I scramble for the key atop the lamp shown in his message. With numb hands and an unbroken will, I unload the bike, stagger inside and drop to the floor of Tim’s apartment. I look down at my blue fingers and dripping wet boots, knowing I’ve overcome the most difficult challenge of any venture – taking the first step.
We're lying on the brightest patch of pitch-black beach, a galactic spotlight shining over us as we fly through space at an all too fast rate of travel. Only the zephyr's salty gust can guide us homeward now.