“But the word timshel -“thou mayest”- that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open… Why, that makes a man great… He can choose his course and fight it through and win.” – John Steinbeck
How often do you wake in the morning with no idea where you will sleep that night? It is a hard way to live but sooner or later I miss it when I am not doing it. It is a declaration of independence. We hold these truths to be self-evident…
If you travel on foot then yours is the Earth, and everything that’s in it. You need very little money. And you can go anywhere. All you need is the time and the pluck. And fear not, my friend, the darkness is gentler than you think. If nobody has seen you tiptoe into a field or a wood, then you are absolutely safe from harm. The night is a vagabond’s ticket to sleep for free beneath the stars virtually wherever the fancy takes.
Many of my happiest nights have involved sleeping wild. A canopy of stars or a bright full moon, sleeping beside a campfire or swimming in a dark river: these experiences add to my life in a way that hotels or a sensible home can never match. Reduce my life to a small bag and my speed to walking speed and I feel as though I have everything I need in life.
The longest summer of my life was after I left school and needed to earn enough money to buy my freedom. So often in the world I have met people with fire in their bellies and questions on their lips who will never have the opportunity to see the world as I have. Raising the money for a plane ticket or getting a useful passport is out of the question. They will never be able to buy their freedom. But I could buy my freedom. I did so by trading minutes of my life for money in a mindless job. At last, I bought a plane ticket to Africa and the beginning of my life.
I stared, captivated out of the window for hours as the pick-up truck drove north from the airport towards the village that was to be my home for a year. The sky was enormous and blue. The land was flat and red and the black empty road ran straight towards the horizon. The air was hotter than I had ever known. A wild squeeze of incredulous excitement rose through me. I was in Africa. I really was in Africa! I was hooked.
Years have passed since that first adventure. I had no idea back then what lay in store for me down that long, straight road. But nor do I know today what lies in store for me down this long, straight road. Perhaps it is this unknown element and freedom of choice that is the key to the addiction that keeps me coming back for more.
Life on the road is a strange mix of paradoxes. I am free but I am a prisoner. I am a prisoner but I am free. I hate it and I love it. My days are routine and yet I cannot predict what may come along. I am free to turn left or right at the next fork in the road. It does not matter which I choose. Only that the choice may change the whole of my life. I appreciate how lucky I am to have that choice. It is certainly a privilege, a pressure and a responsibility.