Risk To The Heart

I follow a blog written by a married couple who have been cycling around the world for the last eight years. Except now, they aren’t.

Today I went through my reading backlog and discovered that they had filed for divorce last year, around late October. The woman had been traveling solo for a while, and called up the man one day while he was cycling in Nepal, and said, without fanfare, “I want to file for divorce. I want it done quickly and efficiently.”

Control of the blog passed entirely to the man, who continued it with the usual travelogue zeal, but punctuated it with sad, unhappy notes about how hard it was to deal with losing his partner and closest friend, and how hard it was to make sense of the divorce when she could not – or would not – give him a reason why.

I found I could definitely relate to his situation, although I had just as much perspective for the situation of his ex-wife: When I went through my separation last year, I wanted it to be unequivocal and rapid, and it was at my request, and I was struggling to articulate the reasons why. I could not give answers, because I did not have them. Nor did I have any anger – only a vast and overwhelming sense of loss. Even now, nine months later, it is still difficult for me to describe my motivation. The only thing I really knew was that I desperately wanted to be entirely alone, and entirely separate from obligation, involvement, reliance, or commitment with anyone.

In the man’s most recent post he declared that he was at a three-way crossroads, and didn’t know what course to take. He could go home and take up a local job and live a more conventional life, he could give up cycling but still travel, to a foreign country where a friend of his would help him get established, or he could stay on the bike, and ride solo, continuing his adventure with no intimate companion. For the past five months he had been too mired in divorce paperwork to consider any future plans.

His newfound uncertainty is not, in my opinion, a coincidence. When I read his blog before, I knew that one of the reasons he and his wife were able to travel for such extended periods of time without feeling lonely and uncertain is that they had each other to provide the intimacy and support of a home, while still on wheels. When you travel across great distances at a slow enough pace you meet all kinds of amazing people, in all kinds of bizarre and fascinating situations, but you never get a chance to really establish a relationship with them, except perhaps via correspondence. That’s social interaction but it doesn’t have enough depth to be really satisfying. Civilized people are plagued with the urge to build things. When you’re on the road, construction of a real social framework, one with real physical presence, is almost impossible.

So what happened is, when Cindie called him up that day, Tim suddenly lost his home. Yes, he lost half his investment in the bricks-and-mortar home he had back in the ‘states, but that home didn’t matter. He lost the home of his heart. And if you’re traveling long-term you need to take your home with you or you suffer the emotional equivalent of starving in the wilderness.

Ideas like this are the reason I’ve found it difficult to understand my own urge to travel. For months after my separation I was obsessed with the scenario of selling off the rest of what I owned, tuning up my bike real good, unceremoniously quitting my job, and cycling around the world for a couple of years on my savings. Alone. But I hesitated, for several good reasons. First, I knew I needed to repair my tattered social network, so I could have some help getting through this very difficult adjustment period. Second, I didn’t have enough financial or technical skill to start the journey entirely on my own terms. And third, I was physically ill, and getting worse.

The third reason was the strongest. I was too sick to work properly, most days, and I didn’t know what the hell was wrong with me. For a long while I thought it was just the emotional trauma of my separation manifesting physically. That theory explained nothing; it just kept me from seeing a doctor. For a dark interval in November I was convinced I was at the edge of a precipice, about to begin a sharp, unstoppable decline into frailty.

Now that I’m feeling better, and now that I have made some repair to my social network and to my heart, I can consider again the idea of an extended traveling adventure. I need to explore my motivation again, and make sure I’m actually aiming for the right thing.

Let’s say I’ve met someone that I have a very strong connection to. We see each other a lot, and we share an enthusiasm for exercise and travel and adventure, and we have gone on a few small adventures and have plans laid for more. I’d need to ask myself, I’d need to sit down quietly and really ask myself, if I am still okay with the idea of taking an intimate relationship like the one I am developing “on the road”. It’s an adventure and a context for some wonderful moments, but it’s also a gigantic personal and emotional risk. What if you’re fine for the first nine hundred miles, but just at the thousand mark, it starts raining and you’re stuck in a freezing tent in a muddy campground for two weeks and you get cabin fever and want desperately to be alone, and just can’t? Then one of you says, “Forget this, I’m getting on a train back home. Sell my bike at the pawn shop.”

For eight years, Cindie and Tim went on the kind of adventure I am starving for, and that I am strongly motivated to pursue, but in the end, they became homeless; one by choice, one by force. Eight years is a long time, space enough for a lot to happen, and I’m sure there’s a backstory and an extended interpersonal saga between the two of them that would be impossible for anyone to unravel – even them – even for years to come. But part of me wants to know … what went wrong?

Maybe what did them in was the pressure of continuing the journey, not to the next day or the next week, but to the next year, the next five years, the next decade. Picturing themselves ten years into the future, still on the same bikes, still dealing with the same problems, still unable to grow roots into the ground. Certainly one can enjoy – or at least endure – the strange form of social framework that constant travel requires, for a limited time. But when it becomes the only framework available to you, period? For all time? Until death do you part? Even sitting here, from my conventional, grounded point of view, I can see how that would go from invigorating, to frustrating, to crushing, and the only thing required for the change would be time.

For now, it seems like my huge travel plans should be on hold. Time for some small steps, some small outings. I have plenty to do as it stands. I have plenty to enjoy right here in this spot. I still have plenty of history to digest.

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