The Afterlife – Life After a Big Trip

You have just seven seconds to make a first impression. Perhaps then it is not surprising that we instantly try to put people into boxes. To compartmentalise them, trying to make sense of who they are, sifting and sorting them to a mould that fits our own thinking.

In recent years, I’ve been labelled a climber, a runner, a cyclist and more recently an adventurer. A label that frankly makes me cringe.

During my travels in South America I was labelled a gringo, just as often I heard people referred to as fat, skinny, tall, short it’s part of the culture and usually met with a laugh or a smile by both parties. Of course the English are naturally too polite and politically correct (but these labels are still used in hushed tones).

So where am I going with this….

Four years ago, I made a decision which would forever change my life. I decided to go away on the big trip that I had always dreamed of, and pedalled a bike for the best part of two years of my life.

For me that big trip was something deeply personal, it was never done to become publicly known, to carve out a career as an ‘adventurer’, to write a book, or to grow a huge social media following and become instagram famous.

Despite all of this, over the past year I’ve stood up in front of audiences to tell my tale, to share photographs and my own experiences, with the hope that it would inspire other people to think differently and follow their own dream; whatever and wherever that may be.

As I come to wrap up my talk, I invite questions and there is always that one question.

So what’s the next big trip?

I normally mumble somewhere remote and dramatic sounding. But quite frankly I haven’t got a clue, the fact is my own plans have been in a constant state flux since I returned home.

You see as much as I dearly loved that trip, those experiences and the memories it has left me with, it never left me thinking of myself as an adventurer. I’m just an ordinary bloke who decided to take some time out of a conventional life and experience a tiny sliver of planet earth.

Sure I’d do it all again tomorrow in the blink of an eye. I have no regrets, and would urge anyone with a desire to travel to do the same.

What you are never told is is that setting off is the easy bit, the biggest challenge comes once you return to the place you call home, to the place you nostalgically remember when you felt alone and isolated far away from friends and family and whilst it’s definitely homely and familiar, a fresh perspective begins to reveal the tattered edges that you so happily saw past previously.

As the post trip blues settle in you are left feeling restless. It’s the easy choice to take off again, to cast aside those feelings of awkwardness and immerse yourself in another trip. In fact its what people have come to expect of you now, you are after all an ‘adventurer’.

Choosing to stay put, or to even put down some roots feels like you may lose some credibility and risk falling into the trap of becoming ‘comfortable’, quite possibly you may never depart on another trip, as life begins to wash over you.

To my own mind at least life has seasons, periods of change and growth, periods of consolidation. If you are lucky life will flicker between these polarities in a constant feedback loop carrying you along on the crest of a wave, other times the wave will come crashing down leaving you feeling stale and ready for a change.

At the current moment in time that big trip may seem like the high water mark of life, but there is nothing more certain that as soon as the trip finishes, and the photographs and blog posts dry up it will be tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.

Suck out all the goodness out of the trip, reflect on how it has impacted you, and who it has made you today. But most importantly of all make sure that you retain that adventurous spirit, that inquisitiveness and willingness to take a risk, because you never know where that next idea or dream may take you.

Never be afraid to travel. Never be afraid to remain.

Tread your own path, not one that other people expect of you.

11 Comments

  1. Nic
    11/12/2016

    Life is an exciting journey whichever direction it takes you in 🚴

    Reply
  2. Mark B
    11/12/2016

    Your adventures excite and inspire me.
    I am coming to understand….rather late in life that being comfortable with yourself and loving yourself ( not in a conceited talent show fuckwit way)is easier said that done and takes considerable effort and compromise.Indeed it’s a lifelong ‘work out’.
    Circumstances change …some planned and others thrust unexpectedly upon us.Its a miracle that any thoughtful kindhearted person gets through life without having some kind of breakdown.
    I find the knowing look from an unsuspecting worldly wise pensioner overhearing the boasts of some young buck professing to have ‘sussed ‘life with admiration.
    Be kind ,be honest to yourself ,don’t be a mug but accept sometimes the dice don’t roll your way.
    ..How many people have you let down?How many people’s lives have you made a positive impact upon?Hopefully more to the latter than the former.👍

    Reply
    • Mike
      12/12/2016

      Thanks Mark.

      I guess in many ways, a life’s work is never done, it will always involve a certain amount of introspection, adjustment and adaption driven either from an internal desire to change or by external factors.

      As you say the main thing is being kind and honest, both with yourself and your choices.

  3. Dave
    11/12/2016

    Hi Mike,

    My longest trip has been a year, with only a few months on the bike in that time. Since then I have been on a few ‘adventure’ cycling trips but, like you, am not comfortable with the title. Sure, in some respects, it is a bit adventurous but it’s more about doing what gives us selfish pleasure, visiting amazing places and meeting wonderful people. And the freedom, mostly the freedom. I don’t think we need to justify anything; we’re simply escapists from monotonous daily life and, perhaps, shirking the responsibilities and occasional tough decisions which accompany that life.

    I spent 40 years of my life defining myself as a climber and felt that, as a climber, I belonged to a special community. That feeling has diminished over the years; my friends are still largely climbers and climbing is what we do to have fun together. My cycle trips (which currently revolve around two and three month vacations from my relatively secure and cushy college teaching job) are a time to think, to enjoy the environment (although, on northern Indian roads, this is not always possible), to push hard or not, to be answerable to no-one.

    I’m too old to need to prove anything (or be able to…) But retirement is only a year or two away and then I’ll be heading off on my trohly, for a few weeks, months or years. I may also take some climbing shoes with me although I’ll have to ride off a few pounds before I can put them to use.

    Reply
    • Mike
      12/12/2016

      Whichever way Dave, it still sounds like you are in an enviable position, being able to enjoy occasional trips which the stability of a job and some routine.

      I like your comment regarding escapists, the more I think of these trips, they are breaks away from routine, a chance to change and grow and rebalance. Those trips sometimes only need to be a day or so to have some impact, but certainly months at a time are a clear winner to have true imapct.

  4. Joannie Gilbert
    11/12/2016

    What an expressive piece, Mike. Thought provoking indeed!
    Joannie Gilbert

    Reply
    • Mike
      12/12/2016

      Thank you Joannie!

      I hope you are all well and getting ready for Christmas.

  5. Brian M
    12/12/2016

    Thanks for articulating this Mike. As I near the end of wandering never too far from your tire tracks here in SA, I’ve begun reflecting on this more and more. When all the Sidetracked hyperbole, Instagram and Blog feeds go silent, I think simply being content with having taken the risk to cast off from life’s more traditional norms (even for just a moment) is the most important part of a trip. The rest of it is just cool infill that will ebb and flow.

    Cheers, Amigo. Enjoy the Holidays and thanks again for all your inspiration and help along the way!

    Reply
    • Mike
      12/12/2016

      My pleasure indeed Brian, its inspiring to read of other people following my own tyre tracks.

      Someday somewhere, I hope that our tyres cross path on a dirt road!

      Suerte!

  6. Liliana
    12/12/2016

    Thankyou Mike for an insightful and inspirational piece. Sat on the plane on my way to South America so wil remember you and your adventures there! See you back home in the New Year! 🙂

    Reply
    • Mike
      12/12/2016

      Liliana – Have a fantastic christmas with your family!

      Looking forward to catching up in the New Year…

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