The world is full of empty numbers. Ages, grades, dates and dollars – they’re all around us. But find a number polished and round, turn it over in your mind, and suddenly it matters. It becomes a milestone.
I can’t help but think this one is important.
I’ve been on the road for 2,000 days. On a chill summer’s morning in 2009 I left Inuvik in Canada’s Northwest Territories and started pedalling east. Now I rest in the mountains of New Zealand, at the opposite end of the world, and wonder what it all means.
In my early travel journals I find the words of someone angry and young, someone who thought the world would look best under his boot. I was wrong. My journey brought me as close as anyone can come to nature. I slept on the earth, under the stars. I was burned by the sun and numbed by the snow, day after day, and not once was it a victory. I didn’t conquer anything.
Nature is not an obstacle, nor something to be overcome. It’s family. I am inseparable from it, and it from me. I walk through its woods for guidance and climb its hills for company. Never do I breathe more deeply than on its salty shores.
If there is an end to the beauty and enormity of this world, I haven’t found it. I’m overwhelmed at every turn, and in my smallness I am grateful. I could disappear into the ocean without a ripple. I could wander in the desert and the wind would wipe my footprints from the sand. Such insignificance isn’t a burden – it’s a revelation. It’s freedom.
My ego isn’t dead – it never will be – but travel has changed it. No longer do I take myself so seriously. I seek no comfort yet find it wherever I go. I worry less and care more. I find the best in people, in situations, no matter how bleak, because I have faith. In goodness. In tomorrow.
I’ve learned, too, what mustn’t rattle that resolve. From the first, I refused to let people fill me with their fears. It was a cold choice, and it was right. I pedalled through lands said to be littered with terrorists and thieving Gypsies, and all I met was love. I’ve been nose to nose with a bear and pushed my bike across crocodile rivers. Guns were pointed at me, fevers shook me, hunger hit me hard.
Maybe I should have been afraid, but often I wasn’t. It was for me alone to decide.
After all this time, my fears are few. I’m most scared of the person I was before I left, the boy with a bottle who pushed people away so viciously. It pains me to remember how smart I thought I was, yet how far I was from the answer.
And believe me, people are the answer.
Don’t trust all you watch and read. Friendly faces are not doomed to black and white photographs from the good old days. They’re everywhere, in every colour, and they are waiting for you now. Share their warmth, their laughter. Embrace them, touch their wrinkled hands and let their children play on your lap. Seek them out, offer all you have, and you’ll find the last thing you ever expected – yourself.
Is it naive? Am I a romantic, a dreamer?
I hope so.
In my time away, I’ve lived a lifetime, and nothing would be easier than believing I’ve seen and done it all. I could cling to the tough times and twist my heart into the soul of a cynic. But I won’t. I’m here, on the other side, more in love with the world than I ever was. I’m proud of my goofy grin and my purple prose. They are my badges of honour.
I may not travel another 2,000 days, but then again, I just might. For all I’ve learned on the road, I still don’t know how to quit. That lesson will come in time. Until then, I’ll keep moving, because it’s exactly where I want to be.
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by Philip Chapman-Bell, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0