A Desert Day Dream
I began riding more and more on a roller coaster of emotion. Sal and I started smoking more and more to calm the nerves and the day before we left on the crazy road trip from CO to California I broke down and told Sal I was seriously concerned about whether or not I’d be able to finish the trip. It started with a conversation I had with a good friend of mine, Lewis and I have to tell you about him.
Lewis is like a brother to me and he is on always on the edge, looking for his next adventure too. He’d applied to be a military helicopter pilot and had passed all of his exams in the 98th percentile. Put on the fast track after his exams they rushed him up to Hamburg for a final medical review and everything came to a halt because of a kidney infection he’d had 2 years earlier. His application was denied. Dream over. And now, he was taking the money he’d saved and leaving with 5 of our good friends from University on an off road, overland adventure through Africa. They were going to fly into Johannesburg, buy two off-road adventure vehicles, and drive 10,000 miles through 15 countries before making their way back to Johannesburg, whereby they'd sell everything and continue on with their lives...what ever that meant.
The thing is: there is an experience of social evolution happening on our planet. Identities are being shattered. Mental constructs of meaning are being wiped clean. Have you ever immersed yourself in another culture? It's a gnarly experience. It’s important to remember that 95% of our behavior is dictated by the subconscious mind, most of our decisions our dictated by previous patterns of thoughts passed down to us from a previous time. Rarely, once we are comfortable in routine are we forced to leave our zone and think in a new way. Something happens when you land in a fresh environment and you are forced to think in a new way. All of the patterns of thought that have become so routine, like ordering dinner at a restaurant, suddenly become terribly hard. You’re like a child again, not knowing how to behave, except now, nobody is ordering for you and feeding you. You have to figure out how to do that on your own. Start with pointing and grunting.
In these situations, one of two things happens. Either you embrace the journey, step into your discomfort and figure out how to navigate this completely unknown land and people or you freak out, call your travel agent and go home. But, if you stick it out and surrender into the moment, you start living in a way that you never thought existed. Jack Kerouac wrote about being in it. It’s like you’ve become conscious for the first time and your mind opens and you flow from one incredible experience to another. The people that at first seem so alien become just like you, but instead of expressing the complex emotional human existence in english they are speaking thai and instead of craving sugar in the form of kit kats, they just stick it in every dish of rice that they make. They carry the same pain when their loved ones die and they carry the same smile when they see something that is completely 'out of there world' like my zip off hiking pants. A new idea, that for them hadn’t yet, until then, become a possibility.
And that’s the heart of it, right? What else is possible? What else does this world have for me to see and experience? How else do others think? Where can I find the next frontier of human exploration? If not space travel, maybe it’s traveling through the different collections of human thoughts expressed as art, architecture, and language. Where else can I go so that I must surrender to the moment and be there alert, conscious, and reflective? For me I wanted to skip the human element and go into the culture of nature. For Lewis, he was about to leave his cushy corporate gig and travel over-land through Africa.
“It’s the last frontier” he says to me through Skype days before we drive to California. “It’s one of the last untouched places for people to travel through. It doesn’t have the tourist traps and pre-planned travel routes that other countries have. It’s fresh. And it's wild.”
Lewis is a Navy Brat. He’d been raised in French International Schools spending his adolescence in Belgium, Qatar, and South Korea. By the time I’d met him at age 22 he’d already traveled to 50 countries. Now, on this trip to Africa he was going to blow through 60. His unique perspective of the world, that only became possible since the modern airport and US Military Empire, is one that no previous man in the history of humanity could have possibly imagined. The evolution of the human mind, creates new technology and new technology creates opportunities for new human experience, which then creates a new kind of vision; one that is capable of seeing through the limitations of thought created in the previous generations of men.
I was raised in the suburbs of San Francisco and had never left the United States before I jumped countries and moved abroad to go to University at 18. That’s where I met Lewis. The thing is, people who are raised in the suburbs of America have no idea the kinds of experiences you can have abroad unless you go. I really had no clue. It’s just one of those things that words can’t fully give you. You have to immerse yourself.
“So, when do you leave?” I asked him.
“One month, Want to come?”
“Yeah, I would but I got to walk to Canada.”
He looks at me with curious eyes through my laptop, “Are you afraid?”
“Yeah. I’d say, I’m pretty scared.”
“Good, I’d be worried if you weren't”
I truthfully was scared. And so was he. I could see it in his nervous smile. All of the adventures we’d been on before never summed up to anything as long and as risky as the ones we’d be both be embarking on shortly.
I decided to open up. “The last week has been really difficult. We’ve been doing some training hikes up in the hills here and I’m in pretty bad shape. I’m worried about how my body is going to hold up. My right knee has history of flaring up. Remember after the isle of Skye treck I went on?”
“Yeah, you couldn’t walk very well for awhile.”
“So I got that running through my mind.” My gut clenched from the discomfort of admitting it to myself and my right Kidney screamed at me.
“I also messed up my Kidney. I don’t know what it is from. Maybe diet, maybe a snowboarding crash, I don’t remember but the last two weeks it’s been terribly painful. Maybe it’s just a manifestation of fear. At Least that is what google says when you type in Kidney and Chinese Medicine. I’m a wreck, dude.” Nearly tears. I really was a wreck.
“Have you talked about this with your cousin?”
“Not yet.” I was afraid of that too.
“Better let him know just so you’re on the same page. Plus, you’ll feel better after. It’s all just pre-trip jitters, once you get out there it will be fine. You’ll be in your element.” There was a pause, then he said. “You know how you eat an elephant, don’t you?” I was distracted by the goofy smile plastered all over his face.
“Do you know how you eat an elephant?” He says again, keeping that all knowing smile.
“Yeah man, one bite at time.”
“No man...Elephants are endangered. You aren't allowed to eat them.”