I have just arrived back to my trusty computer after having a wonderful meeting with Andrew and Friedel Grant from www.travellingtwo.com. This wonderful married couple from Canada have been on the road 2.5 years on their bicycles, covering much of Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
The just finished cycling the length of New Zealand, and are in Auckland for a few days checking out the far north of the country before heading back to North America for the final 5,000km of their journey.
It was a delight to meet them and have the chance to talk about travelling. Just to be able to relive my experiences and through discussion confirm many of the feelings common to long distance human powered travellers, was a refreshing time of processing.
Friedel interviewed me for a podcast that they will be editing and putting up on their website soon, so be sure to check their website out. I think I may have freaked them out a little with my stories of disorientation and disconnection after I got back from my trip, but I’m sure they will be OK (they will be finishing up in about four months time after 3 whole years on the road).
A big thanks to Andrew and Friedel for a lovely time!
Change to longboard
Once I arrived in Switzerland, after just under 12,000km and 9 months on the road on my bicycle, I decided to up the ante of the journey and sample a vastly different mode of transport. The longboard. The idea had been spawned long before I actually made the switch in Switzerland. Five months earlier I was walking impatiently around Tashkent, the capital of the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan, running to and from embassies as I juggled visa applications for onward travel – such was the rigmarole of the bureaucracy of those Central Asian countries. At the time I remember thinking to myself how much more convenient it would be to have a skateboard on which to scoot around town with more efficiency. From this came the dream of being free from the bulky bicycle and taking on the challenge of ultra-light travel.
The idea percolated in my mind for those five months from Uzbekistan to Switzerland. In Switzerland the roads at last started becoming smoother. If ever I was going to capitalise on the opportunity to try out the insane idea of travelling on my own by skateboard, this would be it. I had done my homework; previous prominent cross-country longboard journeys, although still very rare, had all been highly organised and supported. The skater skated ahead of a support vehicle carrying all the supplies. Such journeys included a crossing of Australia by skateboard and numerous trans-USA journeys. I was excited in my belief in a story of an exciting adventure, living free and on the edge, travelling by skateboard carrying all my equipment on my back.
When I announced my goal to complete the remaining 1,500km from Switzerland to England by skateboard, the response was varied. The Brit who had skated across Australia was supportive, but warned me that skating with up to 15kg on my back would be tough work. Friends who had cycled in Europe warned me that it would be next to impossible to skate the roads in Europe. A concerned blog reader suggested that I hitch-hike entire sections of my route so as ‘not to die’. But this was my opportunity to explore the idea, and I decided to take advantage of the opportunity.
I am glad that I didn’t believe in those stories I heard from people, especially those who could only try to imagine what obstcles I would face in pursuing my idea. After only a few day on the board skating through Switzerland, I was certain that I would be able to achieve the goal of skating to England. I was doing between 60km and 80km a day, sometimes up to 100km a day on the board. It was tougher going than the bike, but not impossible.
I realised that so often, we compose our assumptions on what we percieve to be reality, or are told by other people “this is the reality”. But often these assumptions are just composed based on fearful intrepidation. So often our fear creeps into our life story and composes lines of belief that will hold us back from pursuing opportunity. The philosophy behind the skateboard journey was, to borrow arctic adventurer Ben Saunders’ line, “questioning accepted practice, exploring new possibilities, and asking why and, more importantly, why not?”
It has been a long hard road since I arrived back home five months ago. Time has gone at times too slowly, and at times too quickly. In any case, I am now at a stage where I am feeling comfortable about the prospect of speaking to audiences about my journey. It is an exciting prospect speaking to groups about the journey; the transferrable principles that I learned on the road about having clear goals, a supportive community, being open to change, creating opportunities, and having the courage to take steps towards one’s dreams are exciting topics that I really enjoy talking about.
If you or anyone you know would be keen for me to visit your group for an inspiring multi-media presentation, get a hold of me or my agent. Below is a brochure I have put together to give a better idea of what I can offer, and agent contact details.
It’s no secret that I am offering these talks at a small cost; I have debts to pay from the trip and am now a student again. But by all means, even if you are involved in an organisation that is not used to paying for guest speakers, do get a hold of me; I’m happy to work to your circumstances.
I am now offering some of my visual art from around the world for display and purchase. If you own a cafe or corporate office that would benefit from some high quality photography from my collection hanging on its walls, then please email me your interest. I am finalising the photos to be available, and a browse-able online gallery will be available soon.
Very basically it would work something like this:
I’m putting this out there to guage interest, so do get a hold of me if you are even mildly interested.
I can be contacted by:
Phone: +64 (0)21 0223 0655 (New Zealand number)
A bit of a brain dump for you…
The significance of goals during my journey cannot be understated. They were both the life and the death of my journey. They served me as faithful coaches leading me to achieve what I set out to do, but at times they also took on the role as merciless, oppressive task-masters. These contrasting characteristics of goals has led me to now to rewrite what the story I believe in says about ambition. It was a difficult place to be in, during the last 3 months of the journey. Physical exhaustion and the accompanying symptoms haunted me the entire 5.5 months it took to skate across China. I was a shell of a human, operating on the fumes of the singular vision of being the first human to skate across China. Over-exertion and exhaustion would not allow me to sleep at night. I couldn’t digest food. I was losing weight. I knew that what I was doing was adding to a corporate understanding and exploration of the world (I had over 5,000 people following my journey online). I’m sure that this sense of communal participation in something bigger than my individual goal was certainly the only thing that kept me going across China. I am sure my achievements meant much much more to the emerging global long distance skateboarding community than perhaps the average blog reader, and in the end my achievements meant nothing to me.
Arrival in Shanghai, the terminus of my world record breaking journey, was more of an anti-climax than I care to recall. There was no one to greet me at People’s Square in Shanghai, and I felt nothing. I just felt empty. No sense of achievement. Looking back now, I realise a big mistake that I made was that I lost sight of what my end goals were there for. I ended up serving my goals rather than my goals serving me. Until the China leg of the journey, my goals were not ends in and of themselves. They were a means to an end. They were a means to discovery. A means to adventure. In China however, my goal of skating to Shanghai became the end in itself. I had unwittingly bought into a story that told me that ambition for ambition’s sake was fulfilling and worthwhile. At the time I still wanted to beleive that story. I wanted it to be true. But the reality was that my daily existence was hollow and unfulfilling.
Social sicence experiement
In retrospect, I consider my journey, especially the China leg, to be a social-science experiment of intensely personal degrees. I pushed my body to the absolute limit of my own strength. In the last 1,000km approaching Shanghai, I struggled to cover more than 50km a day. I had chronic indigestion, I slept less than 4 hours a day, my feet ached. I was exhausted. Like I said, my non-negotiable goal of getting to Shanghai on my longboard was the only thing that kept me going. It was not only physical exhaustion that ailed me however. Surrounded by millions of Chinese, I felt the most alone I ever had. There was a cultural and linguistic divide between me and the hundreds of people I would come in contact with every day. Compound intense physical exertion, immense disconnectedness from people and nothing more than a shallow surface level communication with humans, and I got a hellish experience. My only outlet was my blog – an impersonal detached replacement for real human contact.
I am confident the blog, as impersonal and detached as it was, was the second thing that kept me going on the China leg. In 2006, when I left Japan, I still believed in the story that is prevalent in our culture today that us humans can be fulfilled and successful on our own. I believed the story that told me that I didn’t need anyone’s help. But I now believe in a different story. I believe in a story that says that us humans need each other. I believe in a story that says that with support, we can achieve awesome things. I believe in a story that says that any successful endeavour is an endeavour that involves teamwork and sharing of experiences.
Living a story
I really do think that every human on the planet is living according to some kind of story. We all believe in some kind of story. In life, to improve and to move on, we have to ask questions about those stories.
I know that is true for me. When I got home to Christchurch, suddenly finding myself without a clear goal, I was lost. The great thing was that it gave me a massive amount of time to think.
John Cleese, who most of us know as one of the most hilarious comedians alive but who is also one of the most intelligent characters alive today, recently said this in an interview:
I think we basically build up our beliefs (we could call them stories) without really examining them, when we are really quite young. We think that we’re…Conservatives or Socialists…we’re Republicans or we’re Democrats. Or we decide we believe in God or we don’t believe in God. And then for the rest of our lives, we tend to filter all the information that’s coming back to us, all the feedback, so that we only take in the bits that confirm this view that we already have, and we carefully get rid of all the bits that contradict the view that we already have.
What story do you believe in? Are you filtering information and being selective, not really giving much attention to other ways of doing things, in order to support your own story? For most of us, our stories are positive. They are pushing us on to do great things and be effective people. But I guarantee there are parts of each of our stories that need re-thinking and be influenced by new ways of thinking.
What does your story tell you about your ability to pursue your dreams? The story I believe in tells me that if I put my mind to it, I can achieve almost anything. What does your story tell you about human interraction? The story I believe in tells me that irregardless of culture, status, or opinion, people are people. Everyone’s approachable. What does your story tell you about ambition? Does your story tell you that ambition is a purely individual thing? My story tells me that goals and dreams are effective and fulfilling only when pursued in community.
Subcounsciously and thankfully, my story about the world was being constantly re-written and edited as I travelled. Bits got added. Bits like the chapter about how the world is a safe place. And somewhere in the appendix it got added that you don’t need lots of stuff to be content. And another chapter was padded out with a simple truth such as “a little perserverance and a keen will to achieve a goal will pave the way to more learning experiences than you could ever imagine.”
After the journey, and over the last few months back home, bits have been scrubbed out from the story that shapes my life. No longer does the story I believe in have anything about achievement for achievement’s sake. My story about the world now reminds me constantly that you’ve gotta appreciate the journey. As a good friend once told me, “If we end up serving our plans, instead of them serving us, we’ve kinda lost the plot”. That line is in my story there somewhere now.
I believe that everyone and every group has a spark of adventure within them. I am convinced of this. A comforting yet disquieting spark of an idea that when dwelled upon, compels us to dream. A dream that fills our minds with images. Images that take us away from the present and promise progress. Progress that enriches our lives and draws others into a more vibrant and purposeful existance together in community.
Let’s have the courage to rewrite our stories together.
I really should be updating more often…what a ride it has been over the last two months. Here is a little bit more of what has been at times a painful debrief, but overall is leading me (I think) to a much healthier place than when I was on the road…
In regards to whether I enjoyed my journey or not:
This was written about a month ago…much has been processed since then, and I’ll be posting that as time goes by.
I enjoyed some of it. Perhaps about 20% of it. The rest was just a heck of a lot of hard work. And overall, I did enjoy the interraction with people and grappling with language and communication (in retrospect). But gosh…it was hard work (the physical side of things). The freedom I thought I would find in the open road was a lie (at least for me). I can only recall one time when I felt totally free. It was when I crossed the China border into Kazakhstan. For about 20 glorious minutes I felt totally free. Total euphoria. And then the potholes started. And the headwinds. And the heavy loads. And the sandy roads.
So that’s about 20 minutes in 2.5 years.
The rest of the time I felt hemmed in. I felt a sense of purpose in that I was moving towards a goal and doing something hardcore, but my focus was so much on the goal, rather than on where I was at that very time. Always being pulled forward.
And then I achieved the goal. And it was a let-down. I left Japan alone. I arrived in Christchurch alone.
My journey, I believe, was based on a lie our western society feeds us that there is freedom in autonomy and non-committment. That there is freedom in aiming higher and higher and never allowing oneself a moment to relax and smell the roses.
Or something like that…
Perhaps there is some form of post-traumatic stress going on in my head at the moment. Perhaps this is the time where I look at my experiences harshly and critique them in a negative light. Perhaps I will soon come around and see the beauty in my experience…
But in any case, as someone who only experienced my journey through my blog, you need to be aware of one very very important thing: For every photo of me beaming with pride and joy and excitement, there were 50 photos that were never taken simply because I was too exhausted and shattered to even consider taking my camera out of the camera pouch.
I was given some interesting insights from a man who has travelled much…he had two comments about travel being like:
While these could be rather contentious comments, I guess you could say that I too have come to the conclusion that travel by itself can be an empty experience.
I’m sure that no matter where one is, it is how one chooses to percieve one’s circumstances that dictates how one will feel about one’s circumstances. I think I’m still in a stage of reconstructing a healthy perception of what it means to be human within community (living for others rather than for myself) rather than within an unhealthy state of autonomy. So far it is hard work, but I’m already sensing a better sense of wholeness…