Have you heard the story about the guy who set off to cycle his bicycle from Alaska to Argentina and then found himself living on a farm in Michigan, USA. No? Well you will have done soon. Adding further confusion to the riddle of the bike tour that became the journey of a restless soul, I’m writing this from a stunning highrise vantage point in New York City.
I don’t think my bike tour is over, I think that maybe I’m just having a year out from cycling to help others and experience aspects of life that were missing from my life in the saddle. Afterall, my expectations for the tour changed quickly after starting when I formed the opinion that everything happens for a reason and over time some kind of loosely termed karmic balance would take me on a journey. Since then I’ve learnt a lot, most notably that I’m one lucky fella; life keeps drawing me all over the place into the path of incredible people and amazing places. I was in Nicaragua, then I flew to Michigan and now I’m in New York City.
What, I hear you cry, could distract someone so invested in riding his bike to stray so far from the script? In truth there are a few reasons but the clincher was the discovery of a woman. Many a bike tour has fallen foul of the power of love, I certainly know of a couple of blogs that ended abruptly with no explanation, later to find out that the riders had found someone who ultimately meant more to them than riding. A couple of years ago I was riding the Dalton Highway in Alaska when I met Nathan, an Australian guy, in a small deserted valley named ‘Happy Valley’. There were several uncanny similarities in our lives and we spoke at length about why and how we should meet in such a remote and lonely place. Our conclusions were coined in a phrase I have repeated to folks hundreds of times on this tour: “We don’t know why we travel but we’ll know when we find her”. So when I fell for Liz, an American girl I met in Xela, Guatemala, it was easy to let her energies pull my journey north.
After gratefully stashing Shermy and all my gear with my friend Ginny who works with Quetzaltrekkers in Leon, Nicaragua, I took buses to Managua and nervously flew up to Detroit, Michigan. I was a wreck, having mistakenly let things overtake me when cycling out of the US and into Mexico and not stamped out of the US, I was certain border control was waiting to turn me around. The US is a country I am fond of, if they refused me entry I knew I’d be waving goodbye to any return in the near future, the money I’d spent on the plane ticket and all hopes I’d invested in my girl. In the end things worked out great and I was rewarded a six month stay with no questions asked.
Liz and I had a fun few weeks exploring her home state of Michigan. From the bizarre dilapidation of Detroit to the northern beauty of the Porcupine Mountains and Marquette on Lake Superior. Driving around getting to know a new world under extra ordinary summer weather my three-week ‘vacation’ flew by and my return flight to Nicaragua loomed. Not yet ready to leave and convinced that the United States could offer me something that continuing to journey south could not, I cancelled my flight and stayed with Liz up until the time she flew to New York City and life at Medical school. My path would take me somewhere else entirely. I will remember this part of summer fondly for its freedoms and simplicity.
I wanted to stay a bit longer in the US, I wanted to invest my time in helping a cause other than myself and I wanted to increase my knowledge of organic farming. It was therefore easy to decide on doing a spot of voluntary work on a farm in Michigan. My research took me to Nature’s Pace Organics, a small Organic production farm owned and operated by Jacob and Katie, a young and incredibly inspirational couple who pour more energy into their farm and two fantastic children, Freeda and Forest, than most of us would ever think existed. It is here, several miles east of Frankenmuth in the thumb of Michigan that I am planning on settling for a while. Keen to help out people I like and respect in return for a richness of existence, incredible education on organic farming and absorption in an admirably constructed lifestyle.
Although we live separate lives of dramatically different place and pace, my romance with Liz persists and I have taken a couple of weeks out to visit her in New York City. Many hours on a Greyhound bus is all that separates the understated hustle and bustle of rural Michigan with the in your face rage of New York City. I have returned to a city I worked in for a few weeks during my film making days, a time that left my impressions of the place jaded. I was keen to return to view the city through different eyes and reacquaint myself with Dante, a good friend I made whilst in Fairbanks, Alaska. With his kind hospitality I find myself once more indebted to friends, people to whom I owe my entire lifestyle and existence. The cherry on the top of the Dante hospitality cake is him lending me his bicycle and making my explorations a mix of sightseeing, velo wandering and thrilling city traffic dodging. People are good and I hope that one day I will be able to repay all of those that help me out so much.
My meanderings will return me to Michigan in a couple of days and straight into a few days volunteering at Earthwork Harvest Gathering, a folk music festival slightly upstate. We attended a similar festival in Bliss Fest when I arrived in the US in July. That occasion really opened my eyes to many things and I hope those feelings will be reignited in the coming days before I return to the farm and recommit to some honest hard work.
So what about the bike touring? Cycle touring has taught me acceptance and allowed me to embrace opportunities for the positive places they will eventually and inevitably take me. It has not been my style to be precious about my tour, I am in the increasingly drawn out process of riding my bicycle down through the Americas but this is not a commitment that owns me, it is an adventure I am undertaking for personal reasons. The obligation I have is to learn, from the people and places that surround me and for the sake that I may be a better person, someone who can bring positivity to others and the family I one day hope to have. My feelings have been heavy this year and my outlook all too introverted, it was clear I needed a break from Latin America, from the self-obsession of the blogosphere and from a life of perpetual movement.
When I left the UK I was determined to succeed in the task of riding my bicycle down to Tierra Del Fuego. My attitude was that whatever happens, however good or bad it gets I will satisfy that goal, I will not fail. What I didn’t appreciate was how pointless it ultimately is to keep pushing something that clearly isn’t right. I thought sacrifice and discomfort were part and parcel of a trip like this but that is an entirely false perspective. Looking back on my journey thus far there have been some challenging stretches, periods of riding or weather that pushed my tolerance, but I enjoyed all of them, the difficulties were fun in the context of everything. Even if I wasn’t necessarily smiling at the time, I was learning about myself and the world, something that is ultimately incredibly fun. When the discomfort becomes sacrifice for no gain it is clear that the wrong path is being followed and a change necessary. I pay homage here to Justin Smith who I rode with for several months and recently held an exhibition documenting his journey.
I am still determined to succeed in riding by bicycle to Tierra del Fuego, but now I am comfortable doing it on my terms, familiar with the fact that I can learn just as much and maybe more away from the saddle as in it. When the time is right to draw a line under my travels I will know and there will be no doubt. But for now it is my task to take the ‘one day at a time’ mentality of the road into everyday life, something that the honest hard work of farm life and the realities of relationships are surprisingly conducive to.