It’s coming. The end of the road. One more border, one more ferry crossing. And it will be finished.
I’m incredibly excited on one hand; terrified on the other. What will it mean? What happens next? Is it really the end of anything?
Easy to philosophise away, this kind of thing. Another young Westerner returns to the society he left so selfishly to find something better, discovers that nothing much has changed. This will just be another stop on life’s journey, right?
But no! It won’t be the same. The road is simple. You have two choices: go, or stop. Embrace the forces acting on you, or fight against them. The location is incidental, as is the weather, the language, the altitude, the time of day and the season. The world may not have changed, but the young Westerner has, even if he doesn’t quite know how.
Knowing that this luxurious spate of simplicity is almost behind me, I also know that life has the potential to immediately become infinitely more complicated. When I first drafted this post, I dwelled on what worried me. I wrote about the people I’d met who couldn’t come to terms with the homecoming, even years later; how the footloose traveller still sprang animatedly forth in their words, but was utterly absent in their present-day lifestyle.
I wrote about how I wasn’t even a hundred percent sure that this was the time to be pondering a stable, mono-locational future, because it’s rather unclear whether the days of long-term travel are truly over. That depends on someone other than myself, and is another story. But the truth is that I’m really champing at the bit at the prospect of spending the next few months getting my teeth into something new, and being in one place. I’m thinking of it in positive terms, and hoping I can channel the inevitable frustrations into impetus to press forth in life with vigour.
It boils down to this: My greatest fulfilment has come from negotiating unusual and challenging situations in the great outdoors, coupled with the threefold communication disciplines of writing, photography and video. These may not be the things I’m best at, or the things I studied or earned qualifications in. But if I don’t at least give it a try – to eke out a living from this wonderful marriage of creativity and adventure – I know I’ll regret it.
Looking back through the pages of my diary, from recent weeks and further back in Mongolia, I’ve written reams on what’s important to me, and the ambitions that have risen to the surface over the years. Not just the big things for the future, but the small day-to-day pleasures that can so easily become drowned out.
Because I don’t want to forget that I once dreamt of going riding in the English countryside, unladen and unbranded, with a warm house to return to at the end. I don’t want to forget that I was hopping about in anticipation of digging through my old record boxes and spending some quality time with a good sound system and a pile of vinyl twelve-inches. The idea of donning trainers and running through the woods and fields in the cold rain brings a huge smile to my face right now, as I ride along France’s tiny rural lanes through the golden leaves of autumn. In my perfect, contented fantasy future I’ll drag out my gi each Sunday morning and cycle through the lanes to the dojo for two hours of meditative, invigorating training. And it will be so, so romantic to have the time and space to sit down and study a couple of languages in the evenings, then pick a book from the shelf and appreciate the fundamental pleasures of food, warmth, shelter, and company, knowing how it is to be homeless, broke, lost, frozen and alone, all at the same time.
All this, of course, while germinating the seeds of new expeditions, to be undertaken partly for the sheer hell of it, and partly to remind me of how I felt when I wrote these words.