A festival of folly

Today is an auspicious anniversary in my travel history. Four years ago, on this very day, I wobbled out of Inuvik with rosy cheeks and absolutely no idea what the hell I was doing.

June 16, 2009

June 16, 2009

Back then the plan was modest: I would cycle amid international fanfare and then spend my remaining days cloaked and cross-legged, stroking a long white beard on a mountain named after a dragon.

While I may not be a sage or a kung-fu master (yet), I like to think that my travels have bestowed some wisdom upon me. You might even say that I’m a man of the world. After all, it isn’t just anyone who can curse in six languages.

But prudence is a confounding thing. The good decisions I make now mean little unless I compare them with my most fantastic blunders over the past four years. And there are many.

In fact, 2009 was a banner year in my break from reason. I arrived at the edge of the Arctic Ocean without a raincoat – or a coat of any kind, for that matter.

Mountaineer Mike

Mountaineer Mike

I spent a week under freezing downpours before admitting that my 1970’s windbreaker vest wasn’t quite as all-season as I had imagined.

That was the same year I armed myself with a bologna sandwich and tried to climb a mountain. Desperately clutching a rock face, I came to understand the subtleties that exist between prairie hiking and alpine sport.

Later that summer, with no appreciable swimming or paddling skills, I eagerly joined my friends for a canoe trip. It was sometime between our boat capsizing and my swallowing half the river that I realized I should have worn a life jacket.

The next year I gradually began to reduce the torrid pace at which I’d been using my nine lives. My ignorance left the realm of mortal danger and simply became an annoying waste of time.

My very own El Dorado

My very own El Dorado

My entire first day in Europe was spent looking for the town of Centrum. A sign would point left and I’d go left. Another would direct me right and I’d turn right. Forwards, backwards, this way and that, I cycled 80 km through God’s green acres trying to find Centrum.

It wasn’t until I sat defeated on a park bench that I realized Centrum wasn’t a village at all. It is the Dutch word for city centre and I’d passed about 20 of them on my odyssey through the countryside.

My road to enlightenment was under construction in 2011. I spent the first half of the year bleeding into a toilet and much of the rest feverishly battling tropical disease.  We’ll give that period a pass, and just as well, because my ineptitude reached exciting new heights soon after.

Packing  everything but a clue

Packing everything but a clue

Since I was a kid I have consistently managed to wander onto the wrong bus, train or plane. Put a ticket in my hand and I turn into Mr. Magoo. My magnum opus came in Singapore when I carried a boarding pass for Darwin onto a plane bound for Melbourne.

The flight to Darwin was supposed to take three hours. By hour six I was getting suspicious. Then I had a revelation. Suddenly I knew why there was an old lady in my seat and why the captain kept blabbing on and on about the weather in Melbourne.

An airline agent met me when we landed. She took my hand and led me to the gate where the next flight for Darwin was departing. Leaning over me with her hands on her knees, she asked with effusive enunciation if I could get myself onto the plane. I said I’d do my best.

And I have. In a way, I hope this journey will always be checkered with my monumental screw-ups. It’s the wrong turns and soppy shoes that have delivered me to some of the most incredible people and places the world has to offer. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.

People often tell me they love the idea of cycle touring but don’t know how to do it. My response is always the same: Me neither.  

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11 responses to “A festival of folly

  1. Miss you , love and wish you were ready to be home….waiting for you to get here, mean while bike safe & keep up the post really enjoy reading them Love Auntie Val

  2. “Its the wrong turns and soppy shoes that have delivered me to some of the most incredible people and places the world has to offer. I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”

    … I know what you mean, Mike! Still enjoying reading about your adventures. Am having quite a few of my own too – although they’ve taken a more domestic turn of late. I hope all the babies that have come into existence since you left get the opportunity to meet you and your beard on Dragon-Mountain one day. Take care!

  3. One of the (many) things I’ve learned from my travels is that “dumb” mistakes are unavoidable, the real skill comes in being able to take them in stride!

    • Agreed. A bit of patience and good humour goes a long way when travelling. 🙂

  4. Re: arrival date – the best estimate science has to offer is Aug 13/14, so only about a month left… am eager to see how the birth will unfold and to meet the mysterious creature that’s been so close yet so far these past 8 months.

    • I’m eager to meet the little one too. Be sure to send photos so I can ooh and ahh from afar.

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