Sleepy eyed with hair flickering about like the flames of a fire I stare dumbfounded at the bristle-faced man in the mirror. It’s amazing how a splash of water, swipe of a comb and a dab of toothpaste can transform a slow thinking Neanderthal into a bright-eyed twenty first century gent. Ok, maybe not a “gent” but a marked improvement in appearance and brain function is unquestionable. The improvement is most appreciated when the morning routine is derailed and the transformation never takes place.
I gave the hot water tap the usual quarter turn then cupped my hands below – nothing. Is it a broken water main or just Monday? Then I gave the cold water a turn hoping a little peer pressure would help – nothing. While camping I’ve started many mornings without hesitation sans water, toothpaste and comb but in the heart of civilization all I could do was stare at the bewildered face and wild bed-head. “Oh my God, what do I do now?”
A piece of gum, a hat and a walk in the desert was the answer. As my Asics laid down a trail of crisp tread marks in the red sand I reflected on how living in one place surrounded by the conveniences of modern life can quickly soften my body and mind. When traveling by foot, bicycle or even public transportation my body and mind are constantly being tested. Simply finding food and shelter is a physical and mental challenge that is made even harder when you don’t speak the local tongue.
Toward the end of my recent six months on the road I began to look forward to the simplicity of waking up in the same bed day after day. To have my own space to cook, read, write and just hangout was a recurring daydream. But now after being in one place for just a couple of months I’m beginning to feel restless and the “visions” are starting again. They aren’t scary visions but they are vivid. Like the one where I’m biking along the Clearwater River in Idaho as the sun falls below the horizon and the western sky turns pink. I know I should have set up camp hours ago but I couldn’t bring myself to stop. The effortless riding, perfect mountain air and breathtaking scenery were too intoxicating. Or that image of Vermont in autumn: walking through a sea of ferns drenched in dew. The droplets refracting the morning light like a blanket of crystals causing the fields to sparkle and shimmer for as far as you could see. Then there are the more bizarre visions. Like the one where I’m seated in front of a plate of nameless food fumbling with a handful of coins; no idea what each one is worth. My auditory system hones in on conversations around me like an NSA wiretap searching for a key word or phrase. But it’s hopeless; I have never heard that language before in my life.
Perhaps I’m an addict, addicted to the flow of sights, people and challenges that comes with travelling. Or is it the lack of responsibilities, such as mowing the lawn that draws me to the road? Taking a more scholarly approach it could be the countless educational opportunities that draw me to travel. Learning the topography of an area by walking it, the history by speaking with the people who have lived it and the agriculture by tasting it. Of course the reason could be far simpler; like traveling is the most enjoyable way I’ve found to slim my waist and broaden my mind.
In the corner sits a thirty-year-old bicycle that appears to be yearning for the open road just like I am. Bicycling has been my favorite mode of travel for a long, long time. Pedaling a quiet road, refueling at a local diner and sleeping under the stars is my vision of the perfect day. When you travel by bicycle the people and stories come to you. You look a little strange but still approachable and the locals are curious. Locals also tend to show kindness and respect toward visitors that arrive via their own sweat and resolve.
Perhaps I should consult a doctor about these “visions”. A little medication, some counseling and a padded room may be indicated. Then again a second opinion tells me I should grab a map, my passport and that old bicycle and start riding.