The man and the woman were introduced at a cocktail party. While playing at small talk, they both marveled at the fact that they mirrored one another on the subject of traveling the globe. Individually, the idea of going around the world had always tickled their imaginations. They spoke on the subject slowly and deliberately, the same way they wanted to travel. Neither of them had an interest in inflicting themselves with a timetable or the agenda of any organized tour. Historically, defending international travel without a schedule had garnered only disapproval and resistance from their friends. This conversation was a pleasant surprise from the past’s persistent negativity.
They met and dated and broke up and dated other people and made up and got back together. Arguments that would have destroyed most couples seemed petty in the light of their dedicated and enthusiastic agreement on the subject of extended travel.
So, the question was, “How are we going to do this? How are we going around the world?” Plane, no; you only see airports. Train, no; the world is seen through a window. Car, no; you are insulated from the people. Bicycle or walking, perhaps, but they might not live long enough to get around the world. Motorcycle, yes; on a motorcycle you can do the same distance as a car. In fact, it can go places an automobile can’t. You are more immersed in the cultures through which you pass. From their perspective a motorcycle was perfect. The fact that neither of them had ever ridden a motorcycle made very little difference. “People all over the world ride motorcycles; if they can learn, so can we.”
The concept of two small motorcycles was deemed redundant and discarded in favor of one large motorcycle with the passenger/navigator on the back. Minimal backpacking equipment, stove, sleeping bags and tent were chosen but considered only as emergency backup. They wanted to travel light and be at the mercy of the people around them. If they needed something they would live as the natives, wear what they wore, eat what they ate, sleep where they slept. When it comes to travel, all you have to do is buy a ticket. With the purchase of the motorcycle and the gear they had bought their tickets.
Both had well-paying jobs. Together for more than a year, saving a great deal of money by living cheaply in a tiny apartment, every communal resource was squirreled away into a “world travel” fund. Their friends who were saving for house and family didn’t understand but finally gave up trying to convince them of their folly, accepting the fact that sooner or later they would be going around the world for an indefinite period of time.
The man and the woman were well entertained with maps, a GPS system, travel computers, passports, visas, paperwork of every description, shots and medical considerations. Finally, they had saved enough money; the motorcycle and the camping equipment was amassed. Their garage sales had reduced their household to a mattress, two chairs and a card table, which they donated to charity. Further planning was unnecessary. The weather was good. It was time.
A farewell party was thrown in their honor. Hurray… a toast… bon voyage… and they were on the road!
* * *
Due to their unreasonable expectation of what they might find on the road, the first few days of travel were a stinging disappointment. Had they created the fantasy that every town and every person would somehow be different, that at every turn it would be like National Geographic? Evidentially, McDonald’s and Motel 6 were everywhere and everything was little changed from what they had known. Ambitious daily mileage targets were exactly what they said they didn’t want. But it was an easy trap in which to fall. They reminded each other to slow down and see.
Heading north to Canada and Alaska, that would be the start of their trip. That would be different.
Off the major highways, riding wilderness dirt roads just to investigate where they went became inviting. They had never done this before; mentally everything changed. Now they were alone, on their own; it was the start of what they said they had always wanted—adventure, self reliance, a safari of the mind.
Next to a river they made a real camp. Instead of just a piece of cloth for privacy, now the tent was a survival tool, as were their sleeping bags and cooking equipment. It was time to put everything to the test. Had they chosen well?
They washed themselves in the river and fed themselves on a small fire. When the blackness of night came, quickly everything changed. Totally alone, what had seemed fun now seemed serious. They retired.
The night stayed black. Little noises translated into fearful sounds. As city kids they now imagined all sorts of hideous creatures and fiends. They didn’t talk; just lay next to each other, each with their own thoughts. Was this really what they had wanted? Was this really what they could expect from their future? Was this it, just mileage, eating and washing in a river? Had they been naive? Were their friends right? Should they have saved for a house and family instead of traveling around the world?
In the blackest part of the night, like little children afraid of the dark, they lay clinging to each other as tightly as they could, knowing that if they let go they might be flung off into space or the monsters would get them. Hide under the covers, hold tightly to someone and nothing bad can happen. Just don’t let go.
Finally daylight put a stop to the fear. They said little as they broke camp and packed the motorcycle. Reassured by the sun, now smiling, they were moving, clinging to each other on the motorcycle, sitting very close, closer than normal, warming each other with their bodies, comforting each other as they had in the tent.
Without words, their bodies together said, “It’s all right; we made the right decision; travel and adventure are exactly what we want.” This was the first mile of their lives—not the first mile of their trip, but the first mile of their lives.