In less than a week, I will be embarking on a 2-month solo cycling tour of some of North America’s national parks and forests. The idea is to travel through and camp in the huge sections of the country that explode in a riot of colour around this time. I chose my flights there and back specifically to embed myself in this amazing season. My route will take me from New York City to Boston, through the southernmost part of Vermont to Philadelphia, west to Pittsburgh and then south-east to the bottom of the Appalachian Mountains (roughly in between Chattanooga and Atlanta). At this point I will start heading north-east up along the side of the Appalachians to Washington DC, Baltimore and back to Philadelphia before returning to New York for my flight home in mid-November (here is my proposed route, although it will certainly deviate to some extent). Along the way, I will be staying with friends for a night or two, but the vast majority of my time will be spent camping in the woods, trying to light a fire and being alone.
Now the question is, why would I want to do this? I have been asked this a few times when talking to people, and I have always been a bit overwhelmed by the complicated and unformed answer. There seem to be a lot reasons, some conscious and obvious, others more deep-rooted and elusive. Different things from apparently totally incongruent areas of my life have been coming together over the period of over a year. I suppose the first and most obvious influence on my desire to do this is the process of de-urbanisation I have spoken of before. It has coaxed out the flame of wonder-lust (wander-lust? Both seem apt) and instilled in me the motivation to realise the dream of adventure.
Oddly enough, this urge to be ‘out there’ reacted with and was electrified by the film Into the Wild by Sean Penn, based on the book about the true story of Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) by Jon Krakauer. I think I’ll actually write something about this at some point, so I won’t go into it here, but the spiritual immersion of Christopher in his surroundings, and the themes of sociality, solitude and disillusionment resonated with me so much that I had to step into that life, even if to a much lesser extent (there are so many lessons to be learnt from that film). This does not, however, explain why I should want to do so much cycling. Whilst studying in Newcastle, I worked for Deliveroo, an evil and completely useless food-delivery company. I can’t complain too much, as I was able to pay my way through university and properly get into cycling as a result. I got to the point where I was enjoying it so much that I thought I might like live it for a while, instead of just doing it. I took a couple of day-long cycle-rides into Northumberland, and this cemented this idea totally.
I have a feeling that I chose America as the location for the tour because of the famed season known as Fall, when the trees erupt, the weather starts tipping towards cold (which I much prefer), and the Sun shines golden in the evening. The picture at the top of this page is of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky, and it gives a small idea of the glory on offer. This especially appealed to me as I wanted (and still want) to realise the potential of my re-orientation towards the wilder places of the world, and articulate its nature. I felt that creative expression was the only realistic format for such articulation: primarily drawing, writing, poetry, music, photography and field recording.
So…I got planning.
I am now virtually ready to go, and it is my hope to capture a decent amount of my experiences on camera and sound-recorder, but to transform and explore the larger part of them by actually creating things that can be brought back and communicated to others.
I suppose this leads me onto the more subtle and profound reason driving the trip. In one of many completely astounding lectures, Jordan B Peterson speaks of the archetype of the hero in mythology: someone who confronts the unknown and the underlying chaos of life that lurks within it, wrestles with it, wins, and forms it into habitable order. This seemed to me to be a pretty good model for living: walking the line between chaos – so that your life is actually interesting – and order – so that you can survive, be safe and thrive. Interestingly he speaks of the role of artists in a very similar fashion, so this also helps make sense of my desire to be creative whilst travelling. In short, part of me wants to go away to confront the chaos and become stronger as a result of it, and another part of me wants to transform the unknown, and become more learned as a result of it.
I know it won’t all be perfect: I’ll have some really awful days in amongst the sunshine and woodland cruising, but I think this is sort of the point. The downs are as important as the ups, and it’s not all just about having a good time. I want to challenge myself and see how far I can be pushed.