Reflections on Travelling with a Group

Last week I cycled 8 days with my wife, her brother (Rowland), his wife (Alicia), and my wife’s friend (Saoka). It was four of us for the whole trip, plus the extra friend for three days. It was the first time I had traveled in a group before, and I thought I might jot down my thoughts on it, compared with traveling on one’s own.

First up, I have to admit that it was great fun traveling with family. Rowland and Alicia are both outdoorsy types, so we all got on really well. While there were a few moments of tension regarding pace, camping spots, and food purchases, on the whole we all got on just fine and enjoyed each others’ company.

The cycle touring crew in Hokkaido, Japan The cycle touring crew in Hokkaido, Japan

One thing I loved about traveling with others was the plethora of photo opportunities this presented me with. People are always more interesting to photograph than static objects, and with four human subjects around me for 8 days straight, I was loving it.

Camping near Bikuni on the coast of Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan Camping near Bikuni on the coast of Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan

Relaxing in Kyogoku Camping Ground, Kyogoku, Hokkaido, Japan

Camping at the Kamoenai Camping Ground on the Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan Doubling on a bicycle in Kyogoku, Hokkaido, Japan

It was also great to be traveling by bike with my wife for the first time. Haidee is a strong rider, and we make for good riding partners, it seems. She also has the distinct bonus of being exceptionally photogenic.

Cycling side-by-side near Lake Toya, Hokkaido, Japan

A waterfall near Kamoenai on the Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan

What I did find however, was that traveling with a group drew my attention away from my immediate surroundings more so than when I traveled on my own. That is to say, as we were sitting on the sea shore at the second camp site of the trip, Rowland mentioned that it must be different traveling with others, compared to when I was traveling on my own. I replied that indeed it was, and asked that everyone be quiet for just a moment, and take note of the water lapping against the shore. It was not until that we were all quiet that I heard the sea.

I guess that’s what everyday life is like. We get so caught up in the busy-ness of life and communicating and adjusting and discussing the small things that we often tune out to the gentle movements happening out of our field of attention. Noticing those usually un-noticable things is, upon reflection, one of the greatest joys of traveling on my own, and in a way, traveling in general.

Camping near Bikuni on the coast of Shakotan Peninsula, Hokkaido, Japan

This could, of course, have something to do with the fact that we probably spent a lot of time just figuring out what it means to travel in a group. A longer tour may have allowed us to develop a natural rhythm. Packing up, route choice, pace, buying food, all those little things that are easy to decide when it’s only a party of one, may become more streamlined, allowing more attention to be devoted to the smaller things.

It is quite easy for me to become nostalgic about solo travel. It really is an amazingly meditative and deep experience. Not so much in terms of finding oneself (you need others who have spent a decent amount of time around you in order to approach a well-rounded sense of that), but solo travel brings a depth of awareness that seems hard to find when surrounded by others.

In the end, it is quite impossible to state one way or the other whether solo travel is better than group travel, or vice versa. The moral to the story is that both forms of travel are different. There is something special about shared experience. There is also something special about being immersed in a natural environment, senses aware and honed. If only there was some way to strike a perfect balance…

Surly Karate Monkey in a campground next to Lake Toya, Hokkaido, Japan

People are a Window: The Kindness of Strangers

In January this year, Andrea Brena, a student from Italy, sent me a sizable list of questions for me to answer as part of a research project he was working on. Before the answers get lost in my inbox forever, here they are.

INTERVIEW

What’s your name?
Robert John Thomson, but people call me Rob.

Where do you come from?
I grew up in Invercargill, New Zealand. Small town at the southern-most tip of New Zealand. Small-town atmosphere, cold, nothing to do except explore the outdoors or drink copious amounts of alcohol; I preferred the former.

When did you start to take long trips?
I have only ever done one long trip. From July 2006 till November 2008. Before then, the longest trip I had ever done was a week long, with a bunch of friends, on mountain bikes, in the middle of nowhere in the South Island of New Zealand.

How did you end up travelling by longboard?
From July 2006 till April 2007, I was cycling on a bicycle from Japan to England. In Tashkent, Uzbekistan, I was wandering around the city visiting different embassies, to apply for visas for onward travel (Central Asia is a bureaucratic nightmare). At that time, I thought that it would be convenient if I had a skateboard on which to quickly move around town (I could take it on public transport etc etc). This got me to thinking about actually travelling between cities on a longboard. A quick web search showed that Dave Cornthwaite (www.davecornthwaite.com) was skating across Australia with a support crew. From there, the seed was planted in my mind. I wanted to do the same, but with no support crew; solo and unsupported. 5 months after Tashkent, I finally arrived in Switzerland, and then at that point decided, as a test, to skate the rest of the way to England. So I sent my bike home to New Zealand, and bought a longboard and a backpack. The 1500km skate from Switzerland to England was a success, and I decided to carry on. I enjoyed the challenge (not only physically but also intellectually ? i.e., how can I make my luggage as lightweight as possible, but still be self-sufficient) and novelty of it. Later on in the trip, the lure of being able to achieve and extend a Guinness World Record was a large motivating factor; it made me feel like I was really doing something on the cusp of human endurance and capability.

Would you tell the most beuatiful experience you had being helped by somebody?
http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=865

Which role do people that you met on your way play in your trips?
They are a window into the true nature of the place where I am travelling. You can only get a very surface view of what life is like in any particular location just by looking at the sights as you whizz by on a bus, train, or in my case, a bicycle or skateboard. Most often, the sights you see in the tourist areas or on the outside of people’s homes are a polished presentation of an image people want to present, rather than a true reflection of what they really are, or what their life is really like. Of course, even when a person invites you in to stay, they are also presenting a certain version of themselves to you, the traveller; they are often trying to create a good impression of themselves or their country. But still, you do get to see a different side of your destination when seen through the window of a person’s private life; i.e., home. For example Keith and Mary – http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=583 ? showed me a reality of ‘American life’ that was a far cry from the affluence we see on mainstream American television media.

Do you think that the generosity that you met in your travels was because you were travelling in a humble, generous way?
Yes. Definitely. Just the fact that I was on a bicycle or skateboard garnered, it seemed, instant respect and affability. And I can relate to that. The stereotype of criminals is that they will do the least effort for the largest gain (even if that ‘least effort’ entails risk). What I was doing required a herculean effort, with very little gain (at least monetarily), and therefore, at least by that definition, I probably certainly did not come across as a criminal.

Can curiosity be the reason why they help you?
For sure. Someone skating with a large backpack along a highway is not something you see every day. And then once people heard that I was from New Zealand, that was like a final seal of approval: this guy is probably going to be interesting. People love something out of the ordinary (that’s why there’s so much sensational stuff on TV; it sells). And a real live curiosity is always going to be more interesting that TV.

Are people aware of the reasons that move you to this experience? Do you think this could be a factor that brings them towards you or to help you?
For people who helped me in the US, I would just tell them that I was doing it for the adventure of it. I think that most people that invited me in to stay or helped me out understood that concept. As for people who invited me in in developing countries (Central Asia, China etc), I think it was more for the novelty/curiosity factor. Like the time I was invited in in Uzbekistan (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=196) and in China (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=689 and http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=690). In the Uzbekistan scenario, I was invited in to stay, and half of the neighbourhood came to visit, and we all had a huge meal together, talking and exchanging stories of life in our respective countries. The same in China. In the US, however, I felt that people were more motivated by their belief in what I was doing.

Is it because people see how much you believe in what you are doing that make them help you?
See above.

Is it because you’re showing that you’re taking in everything (good and bad) of their environment and nothing can stop you?
I think this is a factor, for sure. A human powered traveller is not taking the easy route, and I think people see that.

Are more people helping you on the road without knowing your story or people that know about you from media, like internet, tv, radio and press?
I think only one to two people I met along the road had heard of me before I arrived. A woman who saw me in the news paper invited me to a lunch with a scout group (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=487) and Patrick, who heard me on the radio (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=506). The point is, that most people who helped me along the way had no third-party evidence that I was who I said I was. Some contacts were made through people I had met previously (such as one person calling a friend further along the route).

How many people that helped you ask you money for a meal or any kind of service they gave to you?
None. Except once. In a town called Karakol in Kyrgyzstan. I asked a local for directions to a local hostel, and he said ‘I will tell you if you give me money.’ I was tired and irritable, and refused, and just carried on and found the place by myself (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=140).

Did you ever offer anything to them?
No. I gave the family in Uzbekistan 100RMB (Chinese money; about 10 Euro) as a souvenir, but even that felt strange. That is to say, it felt like an insult to their hospitality to offer money. For me this is a bit of a moral dilemma. You see, the less money I part with on a trip, the longer I can travel for. My 2.5 year journey cost about US$15,000. That is very cheap living. And what’s more, that US$15,000 was my life savings. I didn’t have any extra. So really, in a way, I didn’t have any money to spare, and every chance I had to save money was helpful. But then again, travelling itself is an absolute luxury. As a (relatively) rich Westerner I had a choice to travel. Most of those people I stayed with in developing countries will never have the opportunity to have even close to US$15,000 in savings. I wonder how many of them will earn that much gross income in their entire lives, even. This is something I struggled with, and have come to an awkward compromise where I figure that the value of my journey is in the fact that many people followed my journey on my blog, and learned something new about the world and humanity.

Have you noticed if their kind attitude is just towards you or also towards people who live around them?
I definitely got preferential treatment. But this is understandable. I found that when I met a stranger meet under jovial and novel circumstances, both parties (me and the stranger) presented only the very best parts of ourselves to each other. This is understandable. People want to be thought of as nice and good and likeable. As people get to know each other better, a more realistic vision of each other forms. They get to know the good and the bad. Life becomes…normal. And not every day can be a celebration, which is what it felt like when I was invited into someone’s home. A celebration for the intrepid explorer. Fun, novel, a hero (in that I was doing something that many people wish they could do).

Would you do the same, seeing a foreigner on the street and bring him to the home of your family?
When it comes to family, it becomes more complicated. Through my experiences, I personally have become very comfortable with trusting strangers. To the extent that if I saw a person cycling or on some kind of an adventure, and hearing something about their story, I would probably invite them to stay or offer some kind of assistance. My wife, however, is more cautious, which is great; it creates balance, some would say. So I think that my journey has made me more trusting. Some might say recklessly trusting, but I think that how you view trust is dependent on many things; your upbringing, experiences, personality etc etc.

Have your physical conditions (bad or good, in need or not) had an effect on the generousity ofthe people who helped you?
I think that some people understand that a young person on an adventure is always going to appreciate some support, so they are inclined to help. There are not many millionaire 25 year-olds cycling or skateboarding around the world. Usually they have given up the security of a job and income for the pursuit of adventure and travel. So by default, they are poor. In terms of actual sickness or tiredness, I think the family that let me stay with them in Texas appreciated that I needed rest (http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=863), so I ended up staying about 5 days with them. I have, however, been taken advantage of when I was sick. It was in Turkmenistan, and I was staying at a cheap hotel and I was very sick. I had a 40 degree fever. I had to change some money to buy some food and medicine, so the hotel staff changed it for me from USD to Turkmen money. It was not until the next day when I had left, I realised that they had short-changed me.

Is your way of travelling attracting people to come towards you?
Yes. Like I said above, it is the novelty factor, I think.

How do you see the kindness of people? What is your view of it?
My personal philosophy is that the kindness I experienced is the way that we are supposed to be. It is the way we were born, in a way. But over a life time of watching and reading news that, by necessity of the medium, reports only the sensational and scary, we end up believing that the world is a place not to be trusted. We end up having a default setting in our brain that says that all strangers are guilty criminals until proven otherwise. The people who showed kindness to me are beautiful examples of what happens when we choose to believe that the narrative portrayed in mass media is not intended to be a narrative that says ‘this is what humans are’. We need to realise that it is a narrative that shows a part of human nature. A part that is, in my view, a very miniscule one.

 

BOOK REVIEW: Cycling Home From Siberia

Long distance human powered adventurer Rob Lilwall’s first book about his 30,000mile cycle journey is an absolute thriller. Each turn of the page left me shaking my head in disbelief at the fortunes and misfortunes of this rather unlikely epic adventurer. Some people just slide into the part of the ‘epic adventurer’ as if it was the easiest thing in the world. Not so for this English geography teacher. This is a story about a true learning adventure, with twists at every turn.

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Have you ever been reading a book so compelling, fast-moving, and exciting, that you notice, after reaching the end of a particularly riveting chapter, that you’ve actually been holding your breath for almost the entire chapter?

That was my experience as I got to the end of chapter 63 of Rob Lilwall’s excellent book Cycling Home From Siberia. Chapters 61 to 65 see Rob recounting his frantic and risky 600 mile cycle through northern Afghanistan in late 2007. I finished the last chapter of that section and I found myself gasping for breath; they are an extremely tense few chapters.

Cycling Home From Siberia

I read the whole book in about a week of small sittings, absolutely loving the short chapters. And by short, I really do mean short. A long chapter might be five pages long. “Just one more chapter before turning out the light,” I would tell myself, and that one chapter would easily end up being another five or so. This helped to keep the sense of momentumn up and really gave me the sense of pedalling along with Lilwall on his epic 30,000 mile adventure by bicycle from Siberia to Australia to England. The short chapters, I think, would really appeal to people, like me, who read a lot of blogs, and enjoy getting good concetrated juicy shots of action rather than long, slow moving, drawn-out passages of text.

I bought the hot-off-the-press book (published only a month or so ago) because I had heard from Alistair Humphries that he had a “friend who travelled by bike for 3 years, and has also studied theology.” That friend was Rob Lilwall, and I was keen to read some insights from another hardcore human-powered traveller who may have also wrestled with the implications of his Christian faith. I also wanted to see how on earth someone would compact three years of travelling into one single 300 page book. Perhaps I could learn something, and even be inspired to put a book together myself?

After finishing the book yesterday, I am still amazed at how Lilwall has crammed so much of his experiences – in such colour and vibrancy – into the book. His use of short sentences makes it an extremely easy read, but he manages not to skimp on depth of meaning. You can tell, however, that buried beneath the characters and stories he does choose to tell, there are scores of details still yearning to be uncovered. I’m sure if Lilwall had attempted to unearth all of those juicy out-takes, the book would have been much longer than 300 pages. As it is, Lilwall has left much up to the imagination of the reader, but what a rich picture-in-the-mind his writing does facilitate!

I appreciated his spatterings of spiritual reflection throughout the book too. The depiction of his faith-journey was honest and frank; it was great to hear how he engaged honestly with other world religions (Lilwall is a keen Christian who has spent time studying theology). The open road is no place for the closed-minded, and Lilwall articulated well his interesting encounters with other travellers and locals.

I ordered the book as well as a DVD of the journey directly from his website here:

http://www.cyclinghomefromsiberia.com/wordpress/?page_id=367

The DVD is due to be released at the end of the year, so I am waiting with bated breath for that to arrive; should be a great watch.

So do another hard-working adventurer a favour and buy a copy of his book. I highly recommend it.

Rob Lilwall | Cycling Home from Siberia

(click image for a closer look)

Engaging Times

It is unsurprising that a journey such as the 14degrees Journey clarified what and who I want in life. Clarification of what is worth striving for, and clarification of who life is worth spending with. On both counts, this one year since the end of my skateboarding journey has been rather fruitful and worthwhile.

I am very pleased to announce (with a smile on my dial), that I am now engaged to the woman who is still, even after a full 7 years since we first met, the most engaging and beautiful woman I have ever met.

A challenger.

A clarifier.

A comforter.

Haidee is her name. More and more becoming the love of my life every day.

Stoked.

The wedding is set for the 5th of February 2010.

Engaged!

Jasmine Tea

I was drinking some Jasmine tea at a cheap little Asian* restaurant the other day and it reminded me of western China. I felt the aromas of that aromatic tea and closed my eyes. I was taken back to Turpan. Xinjiang Province. Back to the heat. The unforced rhythms of life in a place where the heat dictates pace and schedule.

Leaving smoggy Hami, Xinjiang Province, China

I recalled the precious cool hours of the morning. Rolling out of a sleepy town at dawn in the haze. Quiet. Free. Smooth.

I had my eyes closed for only a moment, but what seemed like a lifetime of images flashed before my eyes.

From the cool dawn I snapped over to an empty beef noodle shop. I am the only one there. A cool spring water fed air conditioning unit blows tepid air in my direction as I slurp up the salty broth. At once enjoying the saltiness, at once despising the hot liquid doing nothing for my already over-heated body.

I sip on the Jasmine tea.

In Hamilton.

I close my eyes once more.

In Turpan.

Near Shanghai. A great pile of noodles sits before me. Must eat. Can’t eat. Body too tired. To hang with the pain, I consume what my body craves. What my stomach will reject. What my mind despises.

I sip on the Jasmine tea. It soothes my stomach.

Near Shanghai.

In Hamilton.

I write this in a Starbucks café in Auckland, New Zealand. Beside me sits an empty Tall Tzuo Chai Latte. A paper cup with a plastic lid with my name scrawled on it.

Tastes nice. Sugar overload. Worlds away from Shanghai. From Turpan.

Peppermint walls, wooden trim, textured wallpaper, tiled floor. Round tables, stained chairs.

Paralyzing normality. Comforting conformity.

Everything is a commodity here. Even uniqueness is a commodity. It is normal to be unique. Give me necessity. Allow me the essentials. Nothing else. In my affluence I can afford the choice.

Given the choice, they would choose this. Anything to get out of that.

This is not how it has to be. Can we strike a balance between this and that? Can we have affluence and a down-to-earth necessity? Or must we always want more. Or must we know our place, never strive.

Contentment is a slippery creature to grasp.

Happy despite the circumstances: an elusive state of mind.

Thank you, Creator, for what I have.

Thank you, Creator, for where I am.

Give me perseverance.

Give me peace.

Grant us sight.

Let it be.

* By Asian I really do mean generic Southeast Asian restaurant. A mishmash of Thai, Indian, Eastern Chinese, Vietnamese. Locations were unimportant for this Asian restaurant. To the New Zealander it was just ‘Asian’, and that is fine.

Japan

I seem to have come full circle; I now find myself back in Japan…

Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺 Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺

Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺

My wonderful host parents from 13 years ago (AFS exchange when I was 16 years old), with whom I have remained in contact with over the years, suggested at the beginning of this year that I come and visit. Not one to turn down a good offer, I now find myself in Tokyo. I’ve been here for a week so far, and I’ll be here for another three weeks, and head back to New Zealand on the 13th of July.

IMG_5010 Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺

Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺

It’s a very laid back trip, with nothing much on at all, apart from exploring the surrounding area and getting used to speaking Japanese again after the three year hiatus.

Very exciting news is that I have passed the preliminary screening for the Monbukagakusho Research Student scholarship to study Masters in Japan in 2010 and 2011. I applied thinking that it would be great to study the link between new media (blogging, social network sites etc) and gloablisation/glocalisation in Japan, and so far so good. If I do manage now to convince a Japanese university to take me on, then I’ll be back in Japan for the next two years at least in April 2010.

It is really great to be back in Japan. I didn’t think that I would ever say that (I left in July 2006 fairly certain I would never return), but it really is. It is great to be operating in a foreign language again, and I’m enjoying the daily, or should I say hourly, challenges of living in a second culture. My camera is enjoying it too; it is liking to capture little snapshots of life and times in this big bustling city of Tokyo.

Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺 Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺

Around Jiyugaoka, Tokyo // 東京都自由ヶ丘町駅近辺

The Center of My Life

So, I got an email from a friend today, asking what I thought of the concept of ‘free will’. Basically I don’t know what I think about free will, other than I’ve heard some cliqe comments about free will in church in my past, and am no longer sure what to think about them. So here is my response to his email, which ended up being about something entirely different, but might be some interesting thought material…

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I struggle with the concept of free will too. I mean, basically, us humans did not ask to be created. God apparently ‘gives’ us life. But apparently, in order to not die (that is, participate in the new perfect world that is to come), us humans have to have faith in Jesus (whatever that means). So in other words, according to the story of the Bible, you either follow Christ and live, or you don’t and you die. Where is the free will in that? If we want to live, it appears to me that there is no choice in the matter. Like you say, choose the ‘right’ way, or you’ll get a punch in the face. If that’s the case then no one will choose the punch in the face. Where’s the free will in that?

Dude, the more I learn about theology, the more I think that there are lots of ways of explaining our existence on earth, and explaining the messed-up bit within ourselves. And the reality is that for me, I cannot be absolutely sure about anything. I can be confident and content about certain things, but I cannot be absolutely sure.

What I am confident about is that so often we argue and discuss what we think is the truth about why we are the way we are, and in the end we lose sight of the fact that no matter how much we talk about it, it’s not going to change anything. What I’m confident will change things and affect the here and now is focussing on what is important – love, mercy, justice, peace, tolerance, patience, self-sacrifice…all the good stuff that everyone knows – whether they’ve got a book to tell them about it or not – makes life go smoothly.

At this point then, there’s not much to distinguish the Bible from other ways of life that promote the same things. The thing that gets me excited with the Bible story however is that according to that story apparently God is not only the big creator dude that is in total control of the whole situation, but he’s also involved. He also intervenes and guides and is interested in his creation being all that they were created to be, and is genuinely interested in helping us out. If this is true (and I do choose to believe it to be true, because it gives me strength), then I am happy to bypass my doubts and questions, and say “Thank you God for being involved! Help me to be a person who represents your love in the world”. Because God knows, I need help.

And as for God creating everything, I still believe he did create everything (how he did it is up to science to figure out), and as far as we understand the writer of Genesis, God called everything ‘good’. And we are still all intrinsically good. The problem is, I so often (more often that not) choose not to live up to what God created me to be. I look at the example of Jesus and see the epitome of true humanness, and realise that I don’t have the power within myself to be just like him. Mainly, I choose to be selfish. But from what I understand, giving the creator of the universe a place in my life will allow him to step in and guide me – to be involved. And that’s freaking awesome. It is so comforting, even when I’m not happy about life.

As for having to choose the right religion, far out…I struggled with this…all I can say is this: From what I understand, God is not a dickhead. He’s merciful, he’s fair, and his main motivation is not to take life away but to give it. He is the only one who knows each person’s heart. Surely there is no way that any human being can say that another human being is doomed. Seems to me that if we start doing that then we start acting like God.

I personally don’t like Einstein’s god (created the universe in the begining and set it in motion, and now he’s just a spectator with no contact, watching the chaos). I think God – the God we get to know in the Bible – is fully involved. He has shown us humans how to live, given us guidance, stepped in time after time (check out the stories of the Old Testament – humans do stuff outside of a perfect plan, life goes to poo, humans cry out to God to help, God helps by providing someone to lead people in the right direction, people forget about God’s goodness and go outside of the perfect plan again, life goes to poo, humans cry out to God for help…the cycle keeps repeating itself), but we just keep deciding that we know better than God. I know I do. And unfortunately we’ve all got to live with the consequences of our bad decisions. I see that Old Testament cycle repeating itself in me too. When I’m aligned with him (to me that means calling out to him and thanking him and acknowledging him) I find that I am much more able to be Rob as a true human – patient, kind, not proud, not self-seeking, chilled out, not vengeful, full of hope, perserverant (1 Corinthians 13)…

There are so many things that I still struggle with in terms of how messed up Western Evangelical Christianity is. I fully understand why some people are just so put off by it. Heck, I’m put off by it. I got hacked off in church today because the song leader, after the first song, said that he was disappointed in the congregation and that we should be more lively. To me this translated in my head that we weren’t hyped up enough. Like as if hype has anything to do with being close to God or something…But I stick with this church thing and Christianity thing because we’re all human and all trying to make sense of what it means to be fully human. We all approach life viewed through different lenses of culture and upbringing and tradition and expectations for life, and we’re all trying to get along despite those often blurry lenses.

Life for me is not about being happy. At the core, it’s about having a pillar of faith in something that does not change, i.e., God. Holding onto this faith is often hard, because I continuously want to use my mind to explain everything. But I know my mind. I know how much I don’t know. I know how much even the most intelligent person on earth doesn’t know. I know how much humans as a collective species don’t know, or more specifically don’t want to acknowledge (war, environment screw ups, injustice, etc etc are proof of this, surely). From this faith in something (God) that represents an unchanging and constant truth in the world, I am thankfully able to have joy (is this the same as happiness?) and comfort and peace at all times and through every part of my existence on earth.

Changing Lenses

Ever since I read this quote by Dean Karnazes, I think I have been afraid…
“It is so easy to live a life that has been scripted for you by others, to fall into the mire of conformity by following a path that society has laid before you, rather than heeding your own unique calling. Comfort, complacency, routine, the path of least resistance, the easy road – these things are the bane of humankind. It is a disquieting moment when you awaken to realise the trappings of conventiality have created a life for you that is entirely different from the one you wish to live.” – Dean Karnazes

This quote will mean different things to different people. To me, I read it as meaning that a life not spent charging overseas and discovering the world and having big adventures was a life not worth living. It meant not being content. It meant not being happy with one’s lot.

But is this helpful? Is this real life?
My personal reading of this quote made me afraid of ‘normal’ life. It made me afraid of letting my guard down and being content. I look at people who are (or seem to be) content with what they’ve got and where they are, and I am envious of their seemlingly intrinsic satisfaction with life.

You see, I think there is something flawed in my reading of that quote by Karnazes, or rather, my interpretation of it. I read it as extoling the virtues of an autonomous life free from outside influences, driven only by one’s individual goal of self-sufficiency and if-its-going-to-be-its-up-to-me attitude.

I repeat, I realise that this quote will mean different things to different people. But for me, this quote reads as a dangerous idolisation of a self-driven individualistic mindset that is focussed on what is best for my life, rather than what contribution I can make to others’ lives.

Funny, isn’t it, that we can read into things what we want them to mean. Karnazes is a dedicated man who has used his fame for awesome things in environmental concern, physical wellbeing. He has raised over US$1.2 million for charitable causes. His is not an individualistic endeavour. It is a vision that draws others into the fullness of life.

When, oh when, will I feel content again?

“Focus on others and things outside of yourself, rather than be caught in a downward spiral of inward self-pity” – a good piece of advice I received recently from a treasured friend.

GUINNESS WORLD RECORD

It has been a long time coming, but today I got this email from Guinness World Records in New York:

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Hi Rob!

All fine here and I have good news!

The record has been accepted and this is the text to appear in the certificate, but let me know if there is amendment to make (I just received an email from the RMT department):

“The longest journey by skateboard was 12,159 km (7,555miles) and was completed by Rob Thomson (New Zealand) starting in Lausanne, Switzerland on 28 June 2007 and finishing in Shanghai, China, on 28 September 2008.”

Check the dates and so…

Let me know! And congrats!

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So there you have it.

Stoked.

Extremely stoked.

Unreal.

Just goes to proove that even every-day people can get world records too.

I’ll hold back any other comments until I have the actual certificate in my hands…but there you go.

Icing on the cake.

The Travelling Two

I have just arrived back to my trusty computer after having a wonderful meeting with Andrew and Friedel Grant from www.travellingtwo.com. This wonderful married couple from Canada have been on the road 2.5 years on their bicycles, covering much of Central Asia, Southeast Asia, Europe, the Middle East, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

With the 'Travelling Two' - Andrew and Friedel Grant in Auckland, New Zealand

The just finished cycling the length of New Zealand, and are in Auckland for a few days checking out the far north of the country before heading back to North America for the final 5,000km of their journey.

It was a delight to meet them and have the chance to talk about travelling. Just to be able to relive my experiences and through discussion confirm many of the feelings common to long distance human powered travellers, was a refreshing time of processing.

Friedel interviewed me for a podcast that they will be editing and putting up on their website soon, so be sure to check their website out. I think I may have freaked them out a little with my stories of disorientation and disconnection after I got back from my trip, but I’m sure they will be OK (they will be finishing up in about four months time after 3 whole years on the road).

A big thanks to Andrew and Friedel for a lovely time!