The push to the open road

The open road beckons.. as I think about the need to disappear into wild and empty places again I’ve been thinking, well ‘dwelling’ is perhaps more appropriate, on what it is that draws me to such places. It is a true statement that to date I have never been happier than when ‘lost’ in some vast wilderness. The reasons behind that are many and complex and ones that I generally keep to myself… hence I do not know if I should write this post or not but it is one vehicle for expressing what is going through my mind that I find I am unable to express any other way,  and this evening I feel that I must articulate that which troubles me. It is possible that I will delete this again tomorrow. Who knows. One thing I do know is that the occasional feelings of shame about the way I am are just plain stupid.

A happy place

It is also a true statement I think that one never ‘beats’ depression. Rather one learns to understand it, to live with it knowing that no matter how rubbish today may seem, tomorrow things will likely feel entirely different.. and in my case to find positive aspects to the experience that can be used to shape one’s perspective on life. It is also true I think, contrary perhaps to popular belief, that an individual can be both a positive individual and prone to depression. I’m generally a positive, glass-better-than-half-full kind of person that tends to live by the rule that ‘stuff will always work out ok’.. but at the same time one that spent a number of years dealing with a severe depression and one that still suffers occasionally from such episodes that can be triggered by the simplest of events or social situations. So.. the draw of the open road is not a draw at all… rather it is the push of what is considered to be normal life.

I am happiest on the road because I feel very much as if I am ill-equipped to deal with the day to day banality of normal life and living in a society that, as a broad generalisation, appears to value the material over the individual, the self over the community, and in which social situations and relationships appear to carry a weight of unspoken expectation and judgement that I either do not understand or cannot be bothered with. Life on the road is distilled to its most simple..  There is only ‘now’. Tomorrow is not worth worrying about because it hasn’t happened yet while yesterday is but a memory, albeit a treasured one. Interactions with other people, when they happen, are almost invariably infused with goodwill and happiness in a way that simply doesn’t happen at home. Furthermore there is a joy to being unencumbered with material possessions – a bicycle, some shelter, the clothes on my back and some food and water are all that are I need. As an aside, to everyone who says to me “I would like to do that but it is too difficult” I would say that the opposite is true – it is easier there.

all I need

Give me that and I want for nothing. I am not a materialistic individual but no matter how hard I try to avoid it being at home brings the shadow of the material – I’m bombarded by idiotic commercials that portray apparently perfect lives to which we are supposed to aspire, and feel a pressure from the behaviour of the world around me akin to that of water on my skin when diving.  I say I don’t care but I am judged by the clothes I wear, the car I drive and my ‘success’ is frequently measured by what I do for a living and how much I earn. Some very difficult years taught me what was truly important to me.. and that is a hugely positive thing I take away from the experience that will guide the remaining years of my life. In that respect I feel lucky, not everyone gets to learn that lesson.  I have to feel lucky, to not do so would be to forever regret the loss of a very many years, and that would be foolish.

Being somewhat empathic I am still emotionally fragile in some respects and probably always will be. Empathy I sometimes think is a trait that in this world can cause more difficulty than good.. Having experienced unhappiness I want the people around me to be happy, but the consequence of that is an intense backwash of emotional noise and self-inflicted pain for want of better words. At times it seems that those who are able to stumble through life utterly oblivious to the thoughts, feelings & actions of others may be the lucky ones.

Despite all of the above however the experience of a deep depression has enabled me to break the cycle and work towards the life I want.. I still have much to learn and work to do.. I have learned recently there is still a deep seated residual frustration inside of me that I must address as it occasionally manifests itself.. I am well on the way however, I understand what I must do with respect to my own behaviour, I have attained freedom from a corporate career and, while it took a long time after moving back to the UK,  I have circle of truly brilliant friends that are hugely important to me … and I have my health. Yet still, from time to time I feel completely lost, utterly bewildered and unhappy in a way that only the open road and a healthy dose of wilderness can cure. It is an escape. I am running away. I am not ashamed of that.

I just find it so flippin’ hard sometimes.

Cheers for listening, this was something I think that had to be placed outside of myself. It has done me good :-)

Mongolia I think.

19 thoughts on “The push to the open road

  • Well Mike, I thought I should leave a reply.

    Thanks for all the posts you do. I love them & reminds me of what I should be doing. Meanwhile I do similar stuff when I can, venturing off to foreign lands, travelling on rough roads. I’m lucky that I can travel every 24+ months.

    I read your note & fully understand and know where you’re coming from as I have very similar feelings & views. Not good. I often try to draw engineering parallels, as I’m sure you do. Open loops, gain margins, stability… How do I keep a stable head. Mmmm…

    Either way, I find keeping busy good. Cycling hard for days on end is good & works well, I also find fantastic people on the road yet on return to home I wonder why blighty is awful. I still don’t know why!

    I have a very hard job which is often intolerable, like the challenge, yet I’d be rather busy than not. I enjoy the holiday planning & guess you’re the same.

    Must meet up for a pint / ride sometime, although I think you’re far more capable all round & would whup me with my banger of a bike. Life hasn’t been great for me recently due to close bereavement, but I know if I analyse it too much I’ll be unwell. So I distract myself or avoid the consideration. Not ideal but I’m sure I’m not alone and you’re not in how you feel.

    Keep up the blog & look forward to many more read-worthy articles.


    p.s. why is the Argentinian (?) ripio road a happy place. There are happier places over there !

    • Hey Jon, it’s great to hear from you and hear your thoughts. I’m sorry to hear about your bereavement, never an easy time. You’re right in that the bicycle is a wonderful antidote, it is pretty much the only thing I know how to do that fixes me up. I’ve never been able to do drink or drugs, luckily, thanks to having a bike. The engineering analogy is an especially good one I think. From what you have said you seem to be in the place I was 5 years ago.
      I would love to catch up with you for a ride and a pint, we have much in common. I have been thinking that it is high time I made some trips to catch up with friends.
      As for argentine ripio, haha, I agree. That picture was Bolivia. It is… different, somehow, as you are aware :-)

  • Mike – I think there is hardly an outdoor blog on the web that is not written by a poor trapped soul. To quote Blur, modern life is rubbish. But then to quote PJ o’Rourke, people do forget about dentistry when they long for the past. I think happiness can be gauged by how many hours of good sleep you manage per night. I have never at home had the sleep of the contented soul that I get on the road in a tent. Do we know of any philanthropist willing to pay us to travel the world by bike. Writing blogs as we go, for the pure joy of it. Can we crowd source? Great to know you Mike.

  • Congratulations on writing this, I can’t imagine it is easy to put it out there. Don’t delete the post because this can be an inspiration to others to talk and work with their depression. Bravo!

  • Hi Mike, what you say makes great sense and I will pass it on to my eldest daughter who has similar issues. Keep the blogs coming.

    • Hi Hugo, great to hear from you and cheers for reading, I wish the best for your daughter. It does get better. By and large life now, with the understanding gained and the changes made, is a much more contented one :-)

  • Ah, yes, the pull of the open road! When the trappings of everyday life are pushed to the side and simplicity is allowed to rule, there’s more room for deep reflection on what truly matters. There’s a spiritual dimension in the experience. It’s just you and God’s magnificent creation, communing side by side. It’s pretty hard to miss His love and care poured out through the mouths and hands of those He’s sent your way. So rather than an escape, it is really a return home. At least that’s how it feels to me.

  • I totally hear where you’re coming from. I have a lot to say but will cut it down:

    When I lived for a year outside of New York in the Hudson Valley, after being trapped in the city for four years, I sat down on the shore of the Hudson River in the sun, literally in the wet rocks against a log with my hands on the ground, and it felt like my whole being was just melting into the earth. I felt so happy and connected to reality and to myself in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. I remember realizing, “Oh I’m not a city person and that’s okay. It’s okay to not like living there. This is what I’ve been missing.”

    So, it seems that you know what you need, I know what I need. The problem is of course that this way of living isn’t tenable. We can have it, just not all of the time.

    I get sad still sometimes (was depressed for quite a few years) and start feeling like I’m doing everything wrong. I miss the open air and quiet and the mountains and the down to earth people. I miss feeling like I could just exist without having an opinion on every little thing, without wasting money on my appearance to keep up with everyone else, without investing so many hours into my career, and even empty relationships that are just the norm here… I felt like I belonged in the countryside in a way that I’ve never felt in NYC. I don’t get the appeal of this place beyond there being lots of jobs to be had. Lately I’ve accepted that I don’t get it, and have tried to spend time doing things that I enjoy, even if that makes me a bit of a hermit most of the time. I’m going to be 31 this month and I don’t care anymore. :)

    I’m glad to hear that you’re in a situation where you feel good for the most part. You’ll likely always feel that pull. It’s good to have daydreams about that, to escape for real sometimes, and even to “run away” elsewhere (although I think of what you describe more as being open in this radical way where you physically put yourself into situations that most people wouldn’t be comfortable enough, with themselves or with the world, to do).

  • Thanks for sharing your insight. Understanding what is wrong at 31 I think puts you well ahead of most. I hear what you’re saying about the city. I did feel very much trapped during the years I worked in Montreal. I was lucky to have some great friends that I could escape to mountains with most weekends but ultimately the pressure of the city, of work and so on became too much. Where I live now in Cornwall I think I am better off in that I have pretty much instant access to the sea, and an empty coastline…. Well at least in winter when the are no tourists around. Summer brings a challenge in that the place fills up with wealthy, arrogant tourists that, by and large, behave like cocks so I still don’t think I’m in the right place…. But one I suppose has to balance the realities of earning a living with keeping the soul happy. The UK is not blessed with empty space to the extent that, say, the US is… I sometimes dream of a cabin in New Mexico.. or even Southern Patagonia for example but I’m bright enough to know that the grass is rarely greener. Instead the challenge remains to find a way to exist in a way that makes one happy within this environment .. Perhaps.

  • Hey, just read your blog post. Many true words in there about life on the road and the feeling of freedom when bereft of material possessions. Quite right too about the pull of possessions when not on the road. I think that in many ways what I just said about being very happy with one good but battered camera and a simple prime lens sums this up. I often find that I feel happier when I shed possessions rather than gain them. And I guess that being between two worlds makes it tougher, you know you like the simplicity and freedom of just living a simple life….

    Well, I could go on, but good luck Mike, and I hope we get to Bolivia some time, or Mongolia, could be good as well.

    Cheerio again


    PS. I have been meaning to email Jon Oldroyd for some time so seeing him on your blog chivies me on. His bereavement doesn’t sound good.  Colourful Cycling Adventures


    • Hi Phil, you’re welcome, thanks for reading :-) I did briefly feel like a bit of numpty the next day because of course i’m back to being OK again, but writing it, the very act of putting my thoughts down in an organised way and putting them outside of me was enormously helpful to me, a way of understanding what is going on that I can never get clarity on if I just let it all churn around inside my head. .. and of course having seen all the other positive response to that since then this is post is staying out.

  • I add my thanks for leaving this out there, exposed, because I’m sure that’s how it made you feel. It takes balls to speak from the heart, not sure why that is, illogical really! I think every truly honest bit of communication adds a hundredfold balance against all the inauthentic, meaningless crap shovelled out into the world, so it’s a hundred times precious.

    Mike have you considered that the kind of person you are, and the kind of personal journey you’ve had to make, whilst hard, have enriched you (I hesitate to use the word) spiritually? Perhaps it’s they that have given you then insight and creativity that not only adds to the quality of your own life, but through your sharing of them, to ours as well?

    For me, it’s the discomfort of everyday living which drives me out to do stuff, and so I try to remember to be grateful for it, even if it does make everyday living a challenge sometimes. And perhaps, ironically it’s what gives me such peace once I’m out there, as the discomfort falling away is so delicious. Perhaps it contributes to your appreciation of the places that mean so much to you.

    For me, the thoughtfull exploits of a real person – flaws, doubts, struggles and all – are so much more compelling than the “Pepsi/X-Games generation” school of clenched-teeth extreme sport hubris. That stuff is here and gone in an instant; your more considered travel documentation leaves something of lasting value.

    • hey, thanks for writing, your insights are spot on I think, especially when it comes to the instant gratification/reality TV lifestyle that has become so popular. To answer your question – yep, the journey has very much shaped the person that I am, and very much for the better I think (hope..)

  • Hi, Mike. Thank you for not deleting this post. I shamefully admit though that I experienced a visual orgasm just by looking at the photos you’ve chosen for this entry. Beautiful words. Beautiful images. Like you, I ride because it teaches me to stay in the present moment, clears my thoughts. No future. No past. Just here, now.

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