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.
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.
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 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.
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.