Wednesday 19th June 2013: Lewistown, Montana.
Fast progress over the last few days find me in Lewistown, Montana. Since I set off from Anchorage on the 5th of June I’ve covered 2748 miles in 14 days. That’s the equivalent of London to Rome and back – oh yes, and then up to Aberdeen. That’s a lot of riding. It included one 412 mile day; the furthest I’ve ever covered in a single day on the bike. It’s been like this for several reasons; some practical, some a bit more psychological. From a practical point of view, if there’s 170 miles between gas stations, and often further between settlements, as there were in the far North, then you need to cover a lot of miles in a day. Combine that with roads with virtually no traffic and you can see both the appeal and necessity of covering long distances. From a more psychological point of view, I’d been champing at the bit to get going, and anxious about getting me and the bike into Alaska for several weeks before I set off. Once I could finally get moving I felt a profound sense of relief. And once I started moving ‘White line fever’, as Merle Haggard called it, set in and I just wanted to keep moving.
However, now things can start to be different and I’m slowing down. For instance, yesterday I was headed to Billings, the State capital of Montana, a ride of a couple of hundred miles from Great Falls where I’d spent two days. Frankly, I rode through Lewistown by mistake, having missed the Interstate turnoff, stopped at a great little coffee shop and bookstore owned by an ex high school teacher; and here I still am 36 hours later having checked into a cute little motel at the edge of town. Today’s been spent off the bike thinking through the writing of this, drinking coffee and ploughing through the 5th Jack Reacher novel I’ve read since I set off. And watching the extraordinary weather – we’ve gone from a high in the 80s Fahrenheit in the afternoon, to this evening there being a thunderstorm warning being issued with risk damaging of winds of up to 80 MPH.
It’s taken almost three weeks, but I’m starting to get the rhythm of the trip as I want it to be. Doing some riding to get somewhere, finding a place to stay and settling in, getting something to eat and drink, some reading, a lot of thinking.
And about once every two or three days omitting the riding bit.
Also, the chance for a little musing……
On loneliness, mid-life crises and the art of solo travel.
Several of you, dear readers, either directly or somewhat more obliquely, may have questioned my sanity in undertaking this trip, in particular choosing to go alone, rather than in an organised group or with friends. Others have described it as a mid-life crisis. I’ve designed and planned this trip to reflect my personality preference for introversion. You’ll have a view on what introversion means – here’s what it means to me.
If you prefer to think things through rather than talk them through; if you seek the company of one or two close friends rather than a wide social circle of people; if you’re interested in what’s going on in your head, but struggle to describe it to someone else; if you learn best by reading quietly by yourself rather than discussing it in a group; you’ve got a similar preference.
Don’t confuse this with shyness - I don’t feel apprehension about being judged in social situations, particularly by those I don’t know. Neither am I a hermit shunning the world. I know what to say after I say hello to someone; stick a name badge on me at a conference and I can ‘network’ with the best of them. However, given a choice I’d rather be at home curled up with a good book, a glass of wine and some nice music.
So the one thing on this trip that I don’t see as a challenge is the solitude. In fact it’s one of the key elements i planned in , and I’m really enjoying experiencing it. There’s a big difference between loneliness where you seek the company of others but can’t get it; and solitude in which you get the chance to do some deep thinking about who you are, and what you want to do with what’s left of your life.
If there’s anything to envy about this trip it’s not the chance to ride a motorbike the length of The Americas; but more the opportunity to have all this thinking time that it’s affording me. I wouldn’t be able to do this if I was travelling with others and having to negotiate with them about where we were going next, where to stay, where to eat and so on.
If taking this time to use travelling as an opportunity to reflect about these things in a deep way is a mid-life crisis; then yes, guilty as accused. I suppose it doesn’t seem to fit the clichéd model of a mid-life crisis which involves trading in my wife for a younger model, getting a hair weave, buying a soft top Porsche or spending thousands on having my smile fixed; but then ‘he went off and did some thinking’ doesn’t make for good copy in the Daily Mail or Telegraph. If you want to know more about this read ‘Quiet: The power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking’ by Susan Cain. Or you can see her at a TED talking about it here:
If it’s triggered any thinking and you want to comment, use the guestbook here on the site, or drop me a mail……
And there's a new road video here:
Till next time.....