Over the last month or so, I have been conscious that my input into the blog has faded away. To the reader, the story must have seemed to have abruptly stopped. For me, this situation feels incomplete – as if something remains unfinished. Whilst of course I have no obligation to this blog, I feel I should share why I am no longer writing and thus close this particular chapter properly.
The reason for the silence is, by and large, simple – I am no longer on the road and as such my attention is no longer directed towards the moto and the world around me. Paulina has sold her moto and is short of money, so enabling her to replenish her bank account is now a priority. I am also back in familiar surroundings – Pisac in Peru’s Sacred Valley, where I spent three months in 2012 and to where I have returned on two other occasions since. Under such conditions, it is difficult to feel inspired to write posts about the bike and one’s observations of life.
But there is also a more profound reason for this switch in my focus. It started back in October last year when I was in the States.
So often in life, it is only after one steps away from something in which they have been immersed and observes it from afar, that they can see it for what it really is (or was). It was thus when I left the Army. As I slowly adjusted to life as a civilian (and one who had chosen not to step back into another defined organisation or job), I started to appreciate the extent that I had, as a soldier, taken on an identity to fit into my environment. Through that identity, I had been afforded a sense of purpose, as well as a mechanism by which to validate myself. And by willfully adopting an identity which ‘fitted’ with my chosen community, I also felt a sense of belonging.
The military is an institution in which this social dynamic is very obvious. We are literally, as well as metaphorically, given a uniform to wear. And on that uniform we attach symbols which clearly define the person wearing it; badges of rank, regimental insignia, medals… Furthermore, as a job based on service it is easy to find a sense of purpose. However, this phenomenon is by no means unique to the Armed Forces or other ‘services’ such as the police, fire brigade, medical services and the like. The more I have observed it from afar, the more I recognise that it seems to be part of human nature to need a defined identity, as well as the purpose and sense of validation that comes with it. Most jobs provide it. And furthermore humans can embrace it through almost any activity: “I am a mother”, “I am religious”, “I am a rugby player”…. These are all roles or identities.
Some may argue that a role, a purpose, or a sense of belonging to a community is important – indeed maybe even essential – to the human experience. I believe there is a fine line here, which is usually not recognised. Doing something worthwhile can be very rewarding; so can the experience of feeling a connection with a group or community. However, at a fundamental level we are not that activity and we are not that community. We are unique individuals, and our true essence lies buried beneath these identities we take on. The problem is that this essence can get lost, to others but also to ourselves, hidden under layer upon layer of these externally-facing identities.
I learnt this through the anonymity of being a lone biker in a foreign land. I was no longer part of a group or organisation. I had no clearly defined role, or definable purpose in life. Being a foreigner with almost no understanding of the local language, I was effectively existing in a form of solitary confinement; even labels such as my accent which can define me in my home country were no longer applicable. Arguably, I was experiencing life without a mask for the first time since I was a young child.
It wasn’t always a comfortable experience, especially in the early days. The feeling of having no purpose and being a social outrider was at times very difficult to reconcile. But as time went on, I started to feel a profound sense of liberation. Not only was I able to truly be myself at last – behaving as I wished, dressing as I wished, doing as I wished – I was also getting to know parts of myself I had lost contact with many, many years ago.
But then in October last year, I attended the ‘Overland Expo’ in North Carolina. Here I was surrounded not only by travel enthusiasts, but also people who were making a living from travelling. I started to recognise once again the uniforms and badges of those who had taken on an particular identity: as the medal ribbons I had worn on my chest as a soldier told others where I had been and what I had done, declarations of how many countries these travellers had visited or how may years they had been on the road fulfilled the same function. Some were even afforded ‘expert’ rank by being invited to speak on panels about particular aspects of travel.
As I observed this going on around me, it began to dawn on me that I too was, in fact, now one of them! Only days before, I had given a presentation to about a hundred motoqueros about my travels. And that very day I had done a podcast interview for a motorcycle website. The more I looked into the mirror, the more I saw how I had inadvertently re-defined myself – as an ‘adventure biker’. My blog had become a key activity for me, absorbing much of my attention. I was writing articles for bike magazines. And beyond the tangible activities and outputs, I realised that I had been feeding the need for an identity and purpose through my travels. I was no longer just a free-wheeling anonymous face in the crowd.
Three years on since leaving the Army, the internal programming which tells me I need an identity and role remains strong. It seems to be a deeply-embedded human condition. Yet I remain convinced it is one we should not succumb to. Of course, we should continue to do things – life would be decidedly unfulfilling if we didn’t; but we shouldn’t allow ourselves to be those things.
So I am redressing that. For the last couple of months I have stepped away from the bike and out of the bikers’ uniform. I am parking up for a while and re-directing my focus inwards back to myself. The rally project is on hold. I’ll be back on the blog when I’m back on the road, and I suspect the occasional topic may catch my eye over the next few months and inspire me to write something. But for now, please excuse me whilst I spend some time with me.
I have followed this post with Part Two, HERE.