73,002 Miles: A Year of Looking. A Year of Finding
On January 15th, 2014, I set out on a grand adventure. The plan, a trip around the world, morphed en route to become something else. Something exciting and terrifying. Something wonderful.
Something I needed.
But the story began several months earlier. It began, as things do, with a girl.
I’d met her while travelling, of course. The first Australian I’d really known. She was equal parts magic and laughter. An excitement for life and adoration of people as endearing as it was contagious.
Returning home to our opposite corners of the Pacific, the wonders of modern technology not only let us keep in touch, but talk real-time whenever we wanted (and time zones permitted).
Less than a year later, we were able to meet up on yet another continent for a scarce few hours in Venice. I’d already hatched a plan for a short trip later in the year through Scandinavia and the UK to visit some friends, and she upped the awesome by wanting to come along.
There were a few rocky moments, I think typical of any two people travelling together, but in all it was brilliant. An adventure unlike any I’d ever had.
The last night quite simply changed the course of my life.
Over dinner and many drinks, at an Indian restaurant near King’s Cross, we started playing a game of Take a Drink, Tell a Truth. A game perhaps unique in how increasingly dangerous it gets the longer you play. Somewhere deep into my second bottle of wine, I blurted out these words:
“I know,” she said.
It was the first time I’d said those words out loud. It was the first time I’d admitted them to myself. It was obvious to my friends, it seemed. Speaking the words opened a crack in my self-delusion armor that took little time to rend its way wide open. A few weeks later everything began to unravel.
The two weeks I’d spent with Her showed me what I’d been missing. There was a song lyric I kept repeating, like a sad anthem: “If I hadn’t seen such riches. I could live with being poor.” It wasn’t just that I missed Her, though that was a huge part of it. It was having a taste of a closeness I’d forgotten was so incredible. So powerful.
I spent weeks in misery, the pathetic trappings of my boring life sealing me in with stucco, carpet, and an unfriendly city of millions of faceless strangers. I looked back and felt, quite seriously, that I’d done nothing with my life. I was in a dark place, and I couldn’t find the lights.
I knew I needed to figure something out, because the current state was untenable. I realized, as I fixated on the past, that over the previous years the happiest I’d been, and all the interesting people I’d met, were while travelling.
That was the initial ember, seed, and any number of trite metaphors. Once I had that initial thought, pieces started falling into place. Earlier in the year, my last major review client had disappeared, so I didn’t need to review TVs to make a living anymore. I was almost entirely just a “writer” now, not a “reviewer,” so I wasn’t tied to any fixed location. I could do an extended trip. Really extended. What started as 40 days, She said “Why just 40?” Hadn’t thought of that. Around the World in Many Days was born. I was going to GTFO.
The logical place to start was Sydney. When I told her the plan, asking if I could stay with her for a few days, she enthusiastically said “Why not a few weeks?”
But while we still talked, it wasn’t nearly as regularly as it had been. She’d started to pull away. But I still had to see. I had to go see about a girl. I didn’t really think I could salvage what we’d had in the UK, but I couldn’t not see what would happen.
It wasn’t a mistake to go, but as you can imagine, it didn’t go well. In epic wine-fueled fight in the shadow of the Sydney Opera House, the pieces of our history came smashing together, and just as quickly, apart.
She’s unique in her ability to get me to express my emotions. It’s perhaps all the more tragic that it’s that exact inability on my part that led to our falling out. I didn’t say what I was feeling when it mattered, and made things worse by saying them when it didn’t. I blame myself. So it goes.
Neither of us wanted me to leave. But neither of us wanted me to stay.
So I left, for parts unknown.
Around the World in Many Days
I left Australia, heart broken, despite knowing almost certainly it would be when I left LA. But I knew no matter what happened in Sydney, I had still had to see. After that… I didn’t know. I just had this loose and crazy plan of going around the world. It was the only idea I had.
So I arrived in Auckland, checked into my hostel, then climbed to the top of Mount Eden, which overlooks the city. I sat there all day, in the grass and the wind and the sun, as lost as I’ve ever been. I felt like I’d just gone through this horrible break-up, and the person I most wanted to talk to about it, was the one person I couldn’t. Worse, I didn’t know if I could do this crazy trip. Hell, I didn’t know what I’d do with life.
As I sat there, iPod churning, sun burning, and figured out one thing. One small thing. The only thing I was sure about: I didn’t want to go home. Home meant a silent house and beautiful-but-busy friends I never see. Home meant more of the same. Home meant the only people I spoke to on a daily basis were the people who served me food. No. No going back.
So that meant forward.
It wasn’t easy. The hostel in Auckland was the worst I’d stay at all year (not that I knew that at the time): An unfriendly roommate with unfriendly housemates.
On my last day in Auckland, still unsure of anything, I did a tour of Hobbiton. I wrote before about the lovely Brit I met on that trip, though I didn’t really explain how important she’d end up being. As an inveterate introvert, the fact that I was able to get up the courage to speak to her, and for the tour at least, hit it off, was what I’d consider a Big Step. It showed me I’d be able to meet interesting people.
So when I arrived in Wellington the next day, it was a little easier, meeting more great people.
By the time I got back to Australia I’d gotten pretty good at my now-classic and clever intro: “Hi, I’m Geoff. Where ya from?” Every time I said it, it got a little easier. After Melbourne there was Brisbane, Byron, and many, many other incredible places and people. So many amazing people.
Leaving in January was the best, and only, idea I had to get myself out of the dark. With great relief, I can say it was the right idea. Almost certainly the best idea I’ve had in my entire life. Those first few months were the happiest I’d been in years. Was every day perfect? Of course not. Was there heartache and joy and melancholy and happiness? Yes, all of the above and all of it better than the years I’d spent in solitary confinement in LA.
What I’ve tried to explain to my friends at home is that all of my travelling is not an attempt to divert or postpone life. I’m looking for life. What I had at home, that wasn’t life. That was incessant work, occasionally broken up by infrequent visits with friends. A boring movie stuck on repeat. Counting down the days to death. This is not hyperbole, but precisely what I felt.
The other lesson I learned in those first weeks was that I could stay out. I could travel and work. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I’d actually make more money on the road than I would have had I stayed home (and, surprisingly, as a photographer).
So after Australia I went to the UK, France, Austria, and Ireland. After that I went back and did UK, France, Italy, Austria and later, Ireland. All the time meeting new and amazing people, and reconnecting with those I’d met before.
I’ve met people I adore, and would fly to see at a moment’s notice (and have). I’ve met people who now I can’t imagine my life without. It’s not everything my life was missing, but it’s huge, huge parts of it. I might not be able to have that perfect life of my dreams, but I’m damn sure going to fight to get as many pieces of it as I can. No longer will I sit idly by while the seconds of my life flick into the past. I don’t know what the future will hold, but I am, for the first time in a long time, positive I’m on the right path. I’ll do this until something better happens.
As for me and Her, we’ve spoken, via FB messenger, less than dozen times this year. I don’t know if we’ll ever be the friends we were. I don’t know how I feel about that.
We’ve both set out on the adventures of our lives, and we’re both still on them. She was the most important person in my life for a year and a half, and when I’m old and telling the story of my life, she’ll be a chapter. Someday I hope to hear her story.
One thing I’m sure of, though. She was the push I needed to get out and do something.
To the Future
This is what I do now. In a few weeks I leave again for Australia. Melbourne first, then maybe Perth and who knows wherelse. I look forward to seeing and travelling with friends I made there. The plan is for 3 months. Then I’m back for a bit, maybe to do a road trip around the Southwest US with someone I met in Nice. Then it’s back to Le Mans and Europe. Then… I don’t know. Brazil? South America? I don’t know about any of it, really. I don’t care that I don’t know. I like it.
It’s the certainty of going being right, and the destination being entirely and completely irrelevant.
See you out there.
Highlights from a Year of Highlights
St Patrick’s Day, Byron Bay – Red goon is evil, but sometimes the people you meet with it are legendary.
Flying past a vertical wall of storm clouds, BKK>SYD and watching lighting jump sideways across the stormfront. One of the most amazing things I’ve ever seen.
Melbourne – Love you guys
Sunrise at Mont St Michel, spoiled by clouds, made magic by a double rainbow over the island. One of the best mornings ever.
Le Mans (leading to the best thing I’ve ever written)
My first Proper Afternoon Tea with Lady Kay.
The warmth and hospitality of the Family Cully (and Mike and Sarah!). I’ve never met such beautiful and welcoming people.
Nice. Specifically everyone at the Meyerbeer Hostel. Could have stayed there for a year.
And, of course, Thaynara. One of the best friends I’ve made all year, and who kicked my ass through three countries (and now across an ocean). Without question, the Brain to my Pinky.
My love to you all. See you again soon.