Friday, October 2, 2009

Things I Have Learned

I crossed into Peru on September 10th, exactly six months from when I left Seattle. Since then I have tried to reflect on what I have learned during the past 12,000 miles. Seeing that I surpassed my longest motorcycle journey by the third day of the trip, and that my longest prior vacation had been on the short side of three weeks, I had a lot to learn about living on the road (and still do). To date, this is what I have come up with:

  • The world is not a dangerous place, but actually a very friendly and welcoming place.
  • People are no different from anywhere else: They love their children, and want to them to have a better life than what they had.
  • I used to think that life was sometimes “a struggle”, but now I see what a true struggle it is for so many people, and how their tomorrow guarantees nothing but the same.

  • Family is paramount! It is all most people have, where we have so much we no longer have time for family.

  • People don’t covet or envy what I have has much as I originally thought they would, but instead are genuinely interested in what I am doing and are happy for me. However, they always asked how much the bike cost.

  • Everyplace I travel is better than the last. I do not always care for the first impression I get of a place, often coming in through the the back door I see the worst first, but by the time I leave, I often times find it difficult.

  • I enjoy meeting new and interesting people. It’s one of my rewards.

  • Saying good-bye all the time is hard.

  • There are people out there doing some amazing things. My trip pales in comparison to what I see others doing.

  • There are alternate ways of living. The American way is definitely not the only way.

  • You have many more options once you “give it all up”. I use to think that I needed to hang on to what I had, and what I did, because it was my only option. Thinking, “What else do I know?” What I have learned is that the world is full options, and they have always been there. You just need to create an opportunity to see them.

  • Mosquitoes don’t like me as much as they used to. I like this.

  • I thought I was finally to the point where I could eat almost anything. Until last night.

  • I absolutely love being on the bike. It is unconditional freedom – as long as you have gas in the tank and air in the tires, which I guess are conditions.

  • I can rough it for only so long. The “living on 50-cents a day” thing is not for me: I can share a bathroom for only so long. If the trip is shorter because of my extra spending on “luxuries” then so be it. I need to do this on my own terms.

  • I use travel guides for the basic layout and history of a place, but not the specifics. If the area is prominent enough I refer to the search engine of the New York Times Travel section. I can’t usually (read “never”) afford their hotel recommendations, but do appreciate their general direction when it comes to the arts, food, and entertainment of an area. Their opinion appeals to me more, and it gets me off the backpacker trail.

  • That said, I have been able to stick to the budget better than I thought I could.

  • As much time as I spend by myself, I still need my alone time off the bike.

  • Never leave “home” without the point-n-shoot camera.

  • People travel for different reasons. You can’t automatically assume that if someone else is traveling on a bike that you have a lot in common.

  • There are not a lot of people my age (45) traveling like this. For the most part, it is younger backpackers or older retirees. I wish that were different.
  • I prefer to ride for no more than three days straight before staying put somewhere for at least two nights. This is easy - there is always someplace interesting within a 3-4 day ride.

  • I can now ride comfortable for eight hours, rather than the previous six.

  • I am not on a vacation. This is what I do. There is no need to try and keep up with travelers trying to see everything in two weeks.

  • Destinations are often times not as rewarding as the getting there part.

  • I have finally learned why I needed to do this, or at least how to express it better. My life had gotten to the point where there was no more wondering what it was going to be like. Not that the rest of my life had been figured out, but large portions had been.

For years now, without realizing it, I have been systematically eliminating wonder from my day-to-day existence, perhaps confusing it with risk. Indeed, there is safety in knowing what you will be doing tomorrow, next month, next year, and for the rest of your life, but it comes at such a great cost. For most, raising children guarantees wonder on a daily basis, but as much as I love kids, I have never had a strong desire to have my own.

We spend much of our childhood wondering what our lives are going to be like when we grow up. Who will we end up becoming? As adults, we learn soon enough that we cannot all become racecar drivers and astronauts. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but a reality. Even so, I cannot stop thinking of what it would be like sitting down with my 12-year old self and explaining to him how our life turned out, “Well, we work a lot”, and how his shoulders would slump.

We simply needed more wonder.


  1. Mike,

    Not only has everything you said struck home for me, but I give you credit for being honest about it. For some people I come across they say that what I am doing is just for fun and that I am using a non-profit to do it, and I think about those words and no I am not doing that, never even thought about that. Why? Where is the sense in that? I am doing it because this is what I need to do. Like you I have never wanted to raise children, but like being around them and their happy nature and their carefree attitude. We all need to sit down with our 12 year old selves and ask the question you asked yourself. I think we would all get along better that way. Take care. Hallie/Ride For Culture

  2. Mike,

    What a great adventure you're on, I really enjoy reading your blog. Safe travels.

    Cleveland, Ohio

  3. Great post Mike!

    I've been fortunate that being behind the camera and doing what I do keeps the wonderment happening. Reading your words today is another reminder that we need to keep our eyes open for the adventures, large and small, that are happening all around us. I think it's important to not lose our ability to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. It was so easy to do that when we were kids, and there's no reason that we can't do it now.

  4. I've just come across your blogsite and really enjoyed reading about what you've been learning on this trip. What a blast of fresh air. Also, call me ignorant but I hadn't heard of this Spot device. How amazing! I'm fascinated by the issue of survival and it's great to realise how this device could be applied to save lives. What a great way too of documenting your adventure.

  5. hi mike! my wife decided that she wanted to see a chiropractor for a first time, and not knowing any in Seattle besides you, I recommended her to your old office. Figured the guy that replaced you would be of high quality (on a side note… she was very happy with “Dr. Kameltoe”, as she called him). Got me wondering what you were up to and I started reading your blog. Totally f’in amazing. I really like this post. It made me stop and think. I wish you the best of luck on the rest of your journey.

    Cam Caldwell
    Seattle, WA