Somewhere in the last year, sometime amidst the craziness that is my regular life, my subconscious slid across a nebulous threshold, and on my behalf it decided: I would travel soon. It began as little pecks on the inside of my skull; hints of this wisp, this not-put-in-words-yet, this leap. The idea scratched to get out in the dark moments: when I was struck with loneliness, when I experienced loss, or when I examined the skeletal shadows of my life.
As my intellect began to form itself around this embryo growing inside it, I mused on where I would aim for. “How high do I want to reach?” I wondered. “My own success will not frighten me,” I replied, and the seed of the World was planted in the imagination-rich recesses of my thoughts.
This idea a kernel now in my mind, its maturation was given direction. Basic building blocks added weight. But still it remained on the fringes of my reality, a deniable escape route for the indeterminate future, a fantasy of adventure glimpsed only from the periphery.
Despite the as-yet incorporeal composition of this tugging in my mind, I became aware of the presence of the bicycle; aware that the bike had been there, growing with it, from its very conception. In every wet dream of exotic travel, there was a bike between my legs. It was assumed; no other option even occurred to me. I guess some trips evolve into flight plans and car rentals, and some grow up to be ditch-camping bike tours. It’s in the genes of the thing.
Eventually, after much fantasizing and daydreaming, I found it had developed too far to be contained any longer. With an audible power, it wrenched itself from my subconscious: “I will ride my bicycle around the world.” And as I spoke this into the universe, I felt momentum accelerate; I was going over the crest of a hill, with a great view of the world below. A shift in perspective. When those words passed my lips, suddenly I was regarding it realistically. No longer an internal figment that I can choose to abort, now the bike tour was looking serious, determined to hatch before the next snow.
So, come hell or high water, I was going to ride my bicycle around the world. Even if I wasn’t prepared, I would leave. Some few major things were necessary(passport, bike), but as for the remainder of the infinite preparations one could make, I’d just have to do my best before I leave, or I’d still be stuffing sacks and studying maps when I’m 64. Not having a particular comfort, or even being injured or in danger, and not being prepared for it, can be hell. But suffering on the road is something I know I can handle. Moving backwards, and reneging on my declaration – now that just can’t happen. Even pushing it back to next spring would taste like failure.
But is it worth it? This stubborn integrity, could it be the death of me? I may find that a little more research, just a little more, would have saved my tour. Ah, well, roll them dice Charlie – at least it will be an interesting story.
I didn’t leave everything up in the air, however. I already had a passport, so that left the bicycle as priority number one. I’d need time to ride, to work out the kinks, to get to know the bike before committing to such an important union.
I see a lot of bikes come through the shop. I fix them all; road bikes, tri bikes, mountain bikes, cross bikes, kids bikes, hybrid bikes, cruiser bikes, BMX bikes, 3-speed bikes, fixed-gear bikes… and once in a while, touring bikes. I have blessedly expansive exposure to the full spectrum, and the option to play with almost anything I see. I choose touring. That’s my sport. I don’t have to request off of work every Sunday to race the mountain bike circuit- I’ll just save up and just before winter rolls around I’ll take a leave of absence for a few years. But I need the right bike first….
Many of my co-workers take full advantage of pro deals and employee purchase programs, owning ten bikes or more. I would love to have such a fortune, but saving money has never been my strong suit, and even at 40% off, a good touring bike would cost a full paycheck. I salivated over the bike I wanted while wanderlust slowly infiltrated my chest. I saw people buy the same model and take it home, while I’m stuck with my fixie. I did tune-ups on these bikes that had been out on tours, feeling the need for something more appropriate than my old mountain tourer. I “test-rode” the floor model all the time, and perched like a vulture whenever anyone bought a touring bike from us. I built several out of the box as well(at my shop this is a very comprehensive process), learning the tiny intricacies before I even had my own. I knew it would be mine.
Finally, as a particularly green-scented spring bloomed, with my 28th birthday around the corner, I decided to let the other bills slide for a month, and ordered it. I built it at the shop on my birthday and installed a cyclometer, and the next day took it for its first ride. It was glorious! My alley bike was put in the basement with the mountain bike; it was all touring break-in from then on.
Time wore on, into the summer. I found myself picking up reasons to leave with increasing frequency. Not that my relationships or circumstances weren’t still fulfilling, or even enviable; but some things happened, some people got hurt. Myself among them. I usually try not to run from my problems, since, well, you know. But I must admit, ‘escape’ is on the same list of reasons as ‘quest’ is, if not quite as high. Dysfunctional? Sure, why not.
I also realized I needed to defend my crazy idea, so vulnerable in its early stages of life. I would say, “Yeah I’m gonna ride this bike around the world,” and most people did not believe. Perhaps I could have been more convincing, but I think it’s just the nature of such an adventure – “I’ll have to see that with my own eyes.”
Well, you will.
Gaining confidence now, eyes fully open to the world, the plot transformed into a plan.
My first route was mapped on the glass display case at work with four colors of Sharpie and a hazy recollection of world geography. Set into my mind that day at work, it was a first impression that I always went back to. East into the rising sun.
In order to be properly immunized, I had to narrow down which countries I would be going to. I gave the doctor my best guess, and added a few to be safe. I was dosed with antibodies of rabies, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, polio, typhoid, and hepatitis, and filled a scrip for various malaria meds. “This will make your arm sore for awhile, and you’ll feel sick for a day or two,” intoned the nurse practitioner. Over and over, and over. So many shots.
And then there was money, I’d need money. Hmm. I could save up, so I could purchase what I need to stay on the road, and maintain my self-reliance. I could join a cause or get a sponsor and ride off of donations, turn it into a charity ride. Or, I could stray cat my way across the world, stealing to eat and charming old ladies for a warm place to sleep. I’ve been ignoring financial planning as much as usual, irresponsibly trusting it will work out. Now it’s looking like it will be a mixture of the three, though this part of the plan, like most parts, remains flexible.
In fact, most things are still up in the air, to be decided much closer to their actual occurrence. I won’t look at a map of Illinois until I’m a day away. I don’t even want to know how I’m going to get across the Atlantic Ocean – I’ll just go to the dock and see someone about a boat.
Does that sound crazy? Sounds a little stupid to me, but it’s crazy, not stupid. I will get across that ocean. I’ll find a way across the Pacific too, and that little task will probably be carried out in a country for which I do not have the native language. I can’t wait.
Now it is September, and the winter is around the corner. I sit on the verge, almost completely consumed by this tour. It is so very large now! Hard to believe it was once just a twinkle in my eye. The process was always exhilerating, from motivation to implementation. Soon I will be alone, on the road, all things familiar left behind, with nothing but light-weight mementos to keep me company. I wonder… ah, so many wonderings, it really is time for me to fly, to just get out there and do it. I depart on the 15th of September, 2007.
Shall I weep a tear for the wind, or shout at it to bring the thunder? Shall I whip the infidels, or show them the truth of their folly? Shall I speak another charm, a ward for balanced pain? What shall become of my soul’s deep desire, my love, my joy? Shall I claim the wretched’s prize?
We’ll see. We will see.
Crazy?!? I’ve come to the right place then.