If you need conversation material at parties, I suggest planning a seven thousand mile bike ride. It gives you the ability to talk to anybody. It’s a story that spreads on its own. People will just walk right up to you and ask, "Is it true? Holy shit."
I just turned 30, and I’ve decided to use this year to radically shape the rest of my life. I am about to leave my job and ride a bicycle for seventeen months, from Oregon to Patagonia. The need to do it (and it really felt like a need) hit me about three years ago when I read a quote from famed naturalist John Muir.
“I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news.”
Now, I hardly make any money, and I don’t feel like this "trivial world of men" has nothing to teach me. But there was something about drawing close to 30 that felt like I was losing something. The newness of life and career and cities and friends began to find their comfortable patterns, and once you see the pattern, time speeds up. That’s why we hear old people always warning us of how fast life passes. It really doesn’t pass by any faster than those long childhood summers, but we just lose fascination, or I should say we lose wonder. We are no longer astonished by the way the world works.
A famous cure for that is travel.
Many of my friends do not find it surprising that I would do this trip, though my conviction to do it surprised me. I never thought I’d follow in my parents’ footsteps.
I am not original. I am a sequel. In the 1970s, my father finished college and his unrest with America—thanks to the Vietnam War—inspired him to walk across it. He felt such distaste for his country, and at the same time, a discomfort with his own ignorance of it. He realized he didn’t really know his home. He thought, "What better way to discover a place than to walk through it?" He left from New York state and walked to New Orleans over two years, where he met my mother, seduced her out of seminary, and they walked together to the coast of Oregon. It was a five-year journey in total, one they wrote about for the cover story of National Geographic magazine in 1979.
My parents never pressured me to be a writer or a traveller. They never really pressured me to be anything other than myself. But they did send me to college and then to law school hoping that I’d contribute something meaningful. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it wasn’t, but the assembly line of education and career gave me the very same discontent that America gave my father 35 years ago.
Don’t mistake me. I loved my education, I loved my twenties, and I love my job. My journey is not a reaction to distaste. It is a reaction to an observable trend: human beings amass comfort and minimize risk as they age. I get it. I can see the value in that. But both of those things have a tendency to diminish character. I have enjoyed living my life in dynamic seasons, and I intend to continue that. It is a choice to look squarely at the decisions we all feel like we have to make and the priorities we all forget.
I am 30 now, and I don’t want a mortgage. I don’t want property-based responsibility because I think it’ll change my brain chemistry. It makes you focus on protecting what you have rather than fighting for what could be. It seems like the observable transition from idealism to conservatism. As for now, I do not want that.
I want to pursue wonder, appreciation, and adventure. I want to meet people and learn from them and write their stories and tell others. I want to become a man that pursues virtue and character and color and romance. It feels like the people in our lives who seem to have done that are the ones we love most. If I have a family some day, I want to give them a father full of stories and whimsy and love for being alive. I see too little of that.
You may think I am prolonging adolescence and avoiding responsibility. Well, I can simply say that I am not impressed by grownups or their society. But I will also say that I disagree with you. The choice to pursue a dream, at the destruction of my comfort, with the loss of safety and certainty, all for the purpose of doing something that inspires others to a fuller life of wonder and creativity and quality, to me that is a burden of responsibility worth carrying. To me, that is growing up.
Benjamin Franklin once said, "either write something worth reading or do something worth writing." I like that. I intend to do both. When I am finished, I want to write a book about it all. I hope you will follow my journey and maybe meet up with me along the way for a drink or a meal. I leave August 25, 2013 from Florence, Oregon. I would love to learn from you and tell you what I’ve seen.