There actually are some moments that change your life. Some of them are shiny and overflow with meaning. Others are a little dodgier, but life changing nonetheless.
The point where my life changed was one night in Seoul, South Korea. I caved in to peer pressure and, against my wishes, accompanied the other English teachers to “Nori Bar”. I had recently cut my own hair (it was horrendous) and I didn’t bother to change out of the hideous outfit I’d worn that day to teach hordes of preschoolers (read: “ok to puke or pour glue on”). It was there that I met the German boy I presently live with. But ‘love found in seedy bars’ is not where I’m going with this story. What’s more important is that he introduced me to the idea of motorcycle travel.
Up until that point I had never even sat on a motorcycle. I had been a backpacker and my travel was financed through teaching English as a foreign language. The German that I found in the bar that night had just finished university and was on a year-long odyssey with his motorcycle. The trip had taken him from Germany through Russia and Mongolia, and he was making some extra cash teaching English while his bike shipped to South America. This was before Ewan “Obi Wan” McGregor and his side kick made the Long Way Round famous and I was in awe.
No going back
As much as some people back home in Newfoundland assumed I was being irresponsible and bucking tradition by moving to Asia to teach English, it was nothing of the sort. At least, not with the sort of paycheck I was getting. I was living the life of a normal just-out-of-university grad, in a job that my friends and family assumed was just temporary and just until I figured out what I really wanted to do (except that it was just on the other side of the world). However when the German invited me a couple of months later to join him on the back of his motorcycle in Argentina, I knew what I had to do. I hoped that he was serious about the invite and I threw all caution to the wind and asked him if, should it all go horribly wrong, he would drop me off in Santiago, Chile. I figured I could find a job teaching there, and if not I could always max my credit card out on a plane ticket home. He agreed, and that was that.
When I was a backpacker I never really got to immerse myself in a culture. On the bike however, people came up to talk about our cycles, and then to insist we come to their house for a BBQ and to sleep in their backyard.
The trip changed my perspective on travel forever. I traded in my backpack for my own license and began to ride myself. When I was a backpacker I never really got to immerse myself in a culture. On the bike however, people came up to talk about our cycles, and then to insist we come to their house for a BBQ and to sleep in their backyard. Or my personal favorite: hugs from little old ladies who thought I was insane to ride. This was in addition to the fact that the very feeling of motorcycling invades you, creeping in somehow so that you remember it in the strangest of places. I’ll be in a classroom teaching about how to use diplomatic language for meetings, and suddenly a flash of the road through Languamaier in Iceland will burn through my brain. A sense of longing rolls through me to the point where it almost brings me to my knees. That’s why I ride motorcycles. Yes, there are more comfortable modes of transportation out there. But none of them get embedded in you the way a motorbike does.
Dangerous? So’s life.
People often tell me motorcycle riding is dangerous, but my answer to that is: so is life. Why deny ourselves the most amazing experiences of our lives just for the sake of possibly escaping a little discomfort? This is offset by the feeling of being alive – really being alive. Not just sitting at your desk waiting for the weekend to arrive, but the feeling of waking up on Mt. Nemrut before sunrise to watch the sun flood the ruins of a tomb built in 62 BC, the giant stone bodies and their decapitated heads scattered on the ground.
Yes, jumping on a plane and flying home would be easier. But adventures are not supposed to be easy.
Yes, jumping on a plane and flying home would be easier. But adventures are not supposed to be easy. They involve waking up in the middle of a puddle, and a tent slapping you in the face as a storm rages around you. It’s about coming to a river and wondering if you can cross it or not. Of course, dropping your bike in the river may mean the end of your trip. And of course that’s exactly what you do not want. But afterwards, anything that you survive stays part of the story. It’s why we go back again and again. It gets into your bones; the very discomfort becomes part of what calls to you, because what you suffer makes that sunrise in the middle of nowhere all yours, and all the more special because of it.
Since getting my own license in 2008, me and the German have discussed pursuing a trip that would take us around the world, starting in Germany and ending in Newfoundland. In June of 2011 we began that trip. The road will take us from Germany, through Eastern Europe into Russia, then to South America and up to Alaska before riding East towards Newfoundland. A trip of chasing summer across the world, to ride home!