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Adventure Will Change Your Life

Hiking to the river

The world sounded a scary place until I stepped out into it. Sure, it sounded exciting. Exotic places like Pakistan or Guatemala or Syria: I knew they had fascinating cultures and people that I’md love to get to know. I’md seen beautiful photography of extraordinary places and read exotic stories of crazy, bold adventures.

But I always assumed that countries like that were for real travelers; dusty, crazy guys with more nerve and experience than I would ever have. The world’s wild places were for me to enjoy from the comfort of my own home, nothing more. I enjoyed vacations. But adventures? I didn’t think they were for me.

But all that changed.

I set out one summer morning to seek adventure. I don’t know how I summoned up the nerve to begin, but begin I did. I climbed onto my bicycle, pedaled away from my front door, and didn’t stop riding for four years until I arrived back home. I cycled right the way round the world. I wasn’t rich (the whole trip cost approximately $10,000), I wasn’t brave. I wasn’t very fit. I just did it. I pedaled away from all that I was familiar with in England.

I rode right across Europe and into the Middle East. Far from being the dangerous place I had always seen on the TV News, people waved to me as I passed, families invited me to stay the night in their homes or join them for a meal. I learned a crucial lesson about the world during those hot, dusty weeks: whatever governments are shouting angrily about, whatever extreme sections of society may be doing, the vast majority of people on Earth are good, ordinary people just like you and I. I rode through 60 countries on my circumnavigation, and in each country this held true. The world is, by and large, a good place. Traveling opened my eyes to that.

After the Middle East my confidence grew. I cycled on into Africa confident that the overwhelming majority of people I met would want to help me, not harass me. From Egypt’s pyramids I rode south, crossing deserts in Sudan, mountains in Ethiopia and the Equator in Kenya. I saw elephants and extraordinary sunsets and a million wonderful details. And I rode and rode until I reached the ocean in South Africa and could ride no further.

Next I spent 18 months cycling up the Americas. I remember feeling incredibly daunted the day that I began that ride from the southern tip of South America. I stood on a cold, damp pebble beach in Patagonia. Across the water behind me lay Antarctica. And I was planning to cycle all the way to Prudhoe Bay on the northern coast of Alaska. It felt like a ridiculous, insurmountable distance. But little by little, mile by mile, I crept through the achingly beautiful Patagonian wilderness and up and over the mighty Andes.

On and on I rode, meeting new people, seeing beautiful things, learning more than I had ever imagined possible. I crossed at last from Mexico into the United States and spent six glorious months riding up the beautiful west coast into Canada, through the vastness of the Yukon and Alaska, eventually reaching a cold, damp pebble beach on the shore of the Arctic Ocean with a quiet, but fierce sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

Finally I rode across Asia. It began with three months cycling through a grueling Siberian winter, riding and camping at temperatures as low as -40 degrees. It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.

Japan’s bright lights and China’s boisterous warmth were particularly enjoyable after those brutal winter months. I chased the sunset west and rode on across Asia and Europe until the memorable day when I arrived back at the place where I had started, four years, 60 countries, and 46,000 miles ago. Home.

I had cycled round the world. I had discovered the world. Pandora’s box had been flung open and all its treasures revealed. Travel had shown me more about the world, about life, and about myself than I ever could have imagined. My life would never be the same again. Adventure changed my life. The only really difficult thing I did was to build up the boldness to begin. Don’t be put off thinking that adventure and travel is only for real travelers or professional adventurers. Step out of your comfort zone and go explore. You will surprise yourself.

This piece first appeared in the Huffington Post.

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Comments

  1. Miquel Masoliver Posted

    I knew about your trip three years ago, when a close friend of mine was reading your books.
    Now he is cycling in Africa, with no return date. Will I be the next?

    Congratulations for your web page, it is really really interesting!

    Reply
  2. Jamie Posted

    Just saw this and thought of this blog. It seems exactly the kind of poem Al would quote in his books or elsewhere, so I wonder if he has heard it. We will start with the Spanish version, and then I’ll put up a translation I found.
    I assume there are some people from non-English speaking countries on here. Any some well travelled people who speak Spanish. Anyway, if it’s all too long, Al can moderate.

    Calesita = cart
    Atardeceres = sunset
    habas = beans
    andar descalzo = barefoot
    paracaídas = parachute

    INSTANTES
    Si pudiera vivir nuevamente mi vida.
    En la próxima trataría de cometer más errores.
    No intentaría ser tan perfecto, me relajaría más.
    Sería más tonto de lo que he sido, de hecho
    tomaría muy pocas cosas con seriedad.
    Sería menos higiénico.
    Correría más riesgos, haría más viajes, contemplaría
    más atardeceres, subiría más montañas, nadaría más ríos.
    Iría a más lugares adonde nunca he ido, comería
    más helados y menos habas, tendría más problemas
    reales y menos imaginarios.
    Yo fui una de esas personas que vivió sensata y prolíficamente
    cada minuto de su vida; claro que tuve momentos de alegría.
    Pero si pudiera volver atrás trataría de tener
    solamente buenos momentos.
    Por si no lo saben, de eso está hecha la vida, sólo de momentos;
    no te pierdas el ahora.
    Yo era uno de esos que nunca iban a ninguna parte sin termómetro,
    una bolsa de agua caliente, un paraguas y un paracaídas;
    Si pudiera volver a vivir, viajaría más liviano.
    Si pudiera volver a vivir comenzaría a andar descalzo a principios
    de la primavera y seguiría así hasta concluir el otoño.
    Daría más vueltas en calesita, contemplaría más amaneceres
    y jugaría con más niños, si tuviera otra vez la vida por delante.
    Pero ya tengo 85 años y sé que me estoy muriendo.

    Reply
    • Many thanks – muchas gracias – for this!
      I’m trying to ramp up my Spanish once again for a journey I’m planning so this can be my homework for the week…
      Perhaps you can post the translation in a few days to help us out?!

      Reply
      • Jamie Posted

        Oops already posted the translation. You’ll have to ignore if you want. But see the comments I found about the origin. I am no longer sure to what extent this is genine original Spanish. I find Spanish to be a more poetic language normally but this did not resonate with me so much in the Spanish as the English, and now I think I know why.
        Al, you have been helpful to me in the past and perhaps will be again in the future and I would like to help you out with a few hints for learning Spanish somehow (not sure how? by answering questions you’re unsure of? email me?). Of course, I’m assuming my Spanish is better than yours. If I’m wrong, this won’t work! (clue: I had to look up only 3 words in the poem).

        Reply
  3. Jamie Posted

    Moments

    If I were able to live my life anew,
    In the next I would try to commit more errors.
    I would not try to be so perfect, I would relax more.
    I would be more foolish than I’ve been,
    In fact, I would take few things seriously.
    I would be less hygienic.
    I would run more risks,
    take more vacations,
    contemplate more sunsets,
    climb more mountains, swim more rivers.
    I would go to more places where I’ve never been,
    I would eat more ice cream and fewer beans,
    I would have more real problems and less imaginary ones.
    I was one of those people that lived sensibly
    and prolifically each minute of his life;
    Of course I had moments of happiness.
    If I could go back I would try
    to have only good moments.
    Because if you didn’t know, of that is life made:
    only of moments; Don’t lose the now.
    I was one of those that never
    went anywhere without a thermometer,
    a hot-water bottle,
    an umbrella, and a parachute;
    If I could live again, I would travel lighter.
    If I could live again,
    I would begin to walk barefoot from the beginning of spring
    and I would continue barefoot until autumn ends.
    I would take more cart rides,
    contemplate more dawns,
    and play with more children,
    If I had another life ahead of me.
    But already you see, I am 85,
    and I know that I am dying.

    This poem is normally attributed to Jorge Luis Borges, an Argentine, although according to
    http://jorgeletralia.com/2005/01/08/instantes-el-poema-mas-famoso-de-borges/
    the author is Nadine Stair or Ron Herald.
    It looks like it was of those things spread by email chains and changed as it went along with lies attached about its origin to sex it up (a very common tactic)
    More here
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moments_(poem)
    A bit of a shame, but still a pretty poem with a message that resonates with this blog.
    However I think in fact the first version may have been in English by the look of it, so perhaps I shouldn’t have posted a foreign language version, but it’s all a bit confusing since versions of it have been developed and translated back and forth.
    Feel free to remove the Spanish version, or shorten and tidy up this comment if you want.

    Reply
  4. I’ve been reading “adventure blogs” for the past two years…I truly admire people like you, and I just hope that some day, after a post like this I will build up enough courage to go on my own Epic Adventure…

    Reply
  5. What a great post. I, too, took the step with my brother to just do it and went away for a year through Africa on bicycles. That was twenty years ago and it continues to have a positive impact on life and my approach to it.

    The desire for adventure is a driving force of the world.

    Reply
  6. Great post! I did some extensive traveling in India that totally changed me and my outlook on life. I can’t wait to do it again.

    Reply
  7. What a great article, a declaration of love to the world! I hope many people will follow your call – maybe not to cycle the world, but to trust in the world and make their dreams come true!

    Reply
  8. Tony Anderson Posted

    I read your books about cycling the world shortly after seperating from my wife 3 years ago. I eventually plucked up the courage to give up my job and go cycle touring myself at the start of June last year. Following an incident with a lorry reversing into me on the Rhotang pass in India and then tearing a ligament in my left knee mountain biking at Dui Suthep on the outskirts of Chian Mai in Thailand my cycling tour came to an enforced halt.

    Strangely enough the experience from then on just improved day by day. I stayed in Thailand for 3 months, not wanting to accept defeat and give my knee a chance to recover. I immersed myslef in Thai culture and it has certainly changed my outlook on life completely, no longer driven by material gain or sucess just enjoying each day as it comes. I’m back working in the UK again, living as economically as possible and just itching to set off again !!

    Thanks for the inspiration !!

    Reply
    • Hi Tony.
      Thanks so much for that – it really makes it worthwhile to hear a story like yours.
      Bad luck with the idiot Indian drivers and your knee injury too, but I am glad things are working out well for you now.
      Al

      Reply
  9. Live reading these adventures as I will never get to do these things.
    I will have to live my life vicariously through you guys 🙂

    Reply
  10. Al, your posts never cease to excite. I’ve got to go global after reading this one! Mark

    Reply
  11. Amazing. Simply amazing. I’m glad I came across your site because this post really spoke to me. I have about a thousand ideas running through my head right now and can’t wait to act on them!

    Reply
  12. Your experience is great! Thank you share it with us! I am from Russia.

    Reply
  13. SaulZ Posted

    Thanks to you for advocating micro-adventures, I have restarted my small hikes with my dog (still a puppy of 14 month). While I may never be able to emulate your adventures, I am certainly on the course of reverting to my old ways of hiking long distances with my dogs. You made me come out of my self-imposed retirement.

    Reply

 
 

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