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 has subdued me into a total state of paralysis. Still, somehow, through a consistent practice of (a kind of) self-authored immersion therapy, I’ve decided 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 as 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 feel 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 at my bravado. However, unbeknownst to me, the later-than-planned departure caused by my hungover state will 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 distant 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 possibility, 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 across the U.S. to New York and ship my bike back to the U.K. I’ve nowhere to stay, nowhere to be, and no idea what lies ahead or if I’ll survive the dangers of cross-country motorcycling. I dwell in my misery for two more 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 fades to dullness. The further I get from the city centre, the more I want to turn back and stay. Riding alone begins to quell my lust for adventure. I long for connection more than ever. I drop off a few things I couldn’t carry at my friend Owen’s house on my way out of town, and if Big O had offered up his spare room for rent at that moment, I probably would have taken it. Loneliness has been a great motivator for me, but too often, it’s motivated me to stay unmotivated. Luckily for me, the offer isn’t extended. 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 it–to live freely.
There’s a cost to every payoff. Living untethered often means not 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 ones’ lives in person; missing important events, weddings, birthdays, and career changes, it’s too 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 lives in another, more structured world, where people have dinners, meetings, weekend plans and calendar events. A life of introspective hedonism outweighs a routine existence of corporate beck and call.
I thank Owen, mount my bike, fire up the engine and wave goodbye, discreetly talking myself out of giving up immediately. I would quit at this precise moment if I only knew the ways my resolve would be tested long 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.
It’s late when I clear customs at the U.S. border, and dusk marches in on the double. A footslog of merciless demoralisation, worsened by the sombre sight of grey clouds rolling in to my south. Distant thunder sounds like shutters slamming closed over the clear weather window I was promised earlier. My Canadian SIM card stops working as soon as I cross into the states, and because a paper map is too bulky for my already overloaded panniers, I rely on road signs as my only form of navigation. However, daylight is 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 just fifteen feet away.
The temperature outside plummets to well below freezing, and visibility reduces to around ten feet. I’ve only been in the U.S. for an hour and still have 200 miles to Portland, my first stop. 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. Eventually, I find the perfect throttle position to synchronise my chattering teeth and groans to the engine resonance coming up through the handlebars. We’re in this together. My tyres skip and glide across lake-sized deposits of oily freeway water. I’m shivering, and my eyes are watering. My vision is blurred, so I lock onto the hazy red glimmer of a car’s taillights ahead, which scarcely hold 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 on my already dwindling energy levels. My ears are getting destroyed by the low-frequency rumblings of wind noise. It’s like a full sensory assault, a total trial of vigour. I can’t see the road signs in these conditions until it’s too late. My contact lenses are misting up from the temperate variance inside and outside my helmet. I pull over and switch to the World War 2 glass goggles my brother gifted me before the trip. They saved my life that night. The warm, clammy air from my breath can now escape the confines of my helmet. The trade-off, however, is that the gaps around the goggles allow freezing air to batter my face, resulting in a persistent ice cream headache. Mucus flows down my philtrum, creating a layer of salty, frozen crust on my lips and chin. I regret 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 layer every item of cold-weather gear in my pack. I put on a thermal base layer shirt, a t-shirt, sweater, gilet and a down jacket before squeezing back into my water-laden leathers. I pull thick hiking socks up to my knees and don thermal long-johns under my sweat pants. They lay trapped tightly under my kevlar armoured jeans, which I seal under shin-high Redwing leather boots and rain overalls. I wear a woollen hat with a down hood, sealing my helmet firmly to my head. Lastly, 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 becomes 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 works. I’m freezing and tired and can’t raise my core temperature enough to cease my incessant shivering. I’m showing signs of stage one hypothermia. I’m wearing enough layers to survive an arctic excursion, and I’m sitting in a warm diner drinking hot drinks, but the shaking persists. I’m making bad and potentially dangerous decisions, but I must press on. Failure on day one is off the cards.
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 pulling off the freeway again. It’s just too cold. I go into a McDonald’s and order tea. At long last, I find 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 the main road, five miles each way twice, at around twenty miles per hour. I then spend another hour scouring for wifi, to no avail. Finally, exhausted and depleted, I pull into the parking lot of a pizza joint. I offer a delivery driver some cash to show me the way to Tim’s address, which is scrappily jotted down in my notebook. Raindrops cause the pages to ripple and distort, making 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.