April 4th, 2020
Somewhere, deep inside the cells of a bat, or a pangolin, or maybe some intermediary source, a virus gestates. Over time the virus spreads in its hosts, evolving, becoming more diverse and more suited for different hosts. Then, on just the right day and in just the right way, an unassuming human comes in contact with one of these animals carrying the virus with just the right mutation. The jump to humans has been made—Murphy’s Law in action.
January 2020, Chinese officials reported an outbreak of a novel virus in the city of Wuhan. Health officials took this situation seriously. The world did not, nor did I.
As the situation worsened, the effect on travel became more and more apparent. I was frustrated as I narrowly dodged border closings. I heard stories of forced quarantines and discriminatory actions against travelers. The outcome of my trip was obvious, but I denied it. This cannot be as serious as people are making it out to be. Surely things will get better. Instead of educating myself, I pedaled on in denial.
March 19th, 2020, the US State Department issued an advisory to all US citizens warning them to return home immediately. I could no longer contrive any positive scenario where my future plans worked out. I booked a flight home.
I was angry, confused, and depressed. It was just not fair. I had been looking past Singapore for so long, preparing myself for my grandiose plans of cycling the rest of the world. I still had so much to see, so much to do, and so much to learn. I wanted to do something great, and coming home in the middle of everything was not great. In my eyes, stopping now would ruin everything.
However, I continued listening to the news reports, chatting with other travelers, and educating myself on the virus. The seriousness of the situation eventually weighed down on me. So many people are poised to be negatively affected by this far worse than I am. I am simply forced to transition from one privileged lifestyle to another privileged lifestyle. So many people do not have this luxury. To continue to complain about my situation would be distasteful and shameful; this issue is far bigger than my adventure. So, I hope to do my part to stop the spread of the virus and make the best of the circumstances.
Now, as I return home, I return home to a different world. A restricted and panicked world, where economies are entering recessions and people are dying. Hard times are ahead, but if there’s anything that I learned while on the road, it’s that humans have an innate ability to adapt to any situation thrown at them. We will overcome this situation, and we will come out on the other side a more educated and resilient species.
I loaded up my bike and started pedaling towards my home state of Wisconsin. The final ride. Though it had already turned spring, the air was crisp and cold and the sky a dismal grey—a cruel joke that the Midwest weather likes to play every year. The clouds saturated more and more until they burst down on me with rain. The wind followed cue and blew the direct opposite direction I was headed. I wildly pumped my legs to get the blood flowing and silence my chattering teeth. I was cold, wet, and alone battling the weather to return home. And I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I was in my element, and I was happy. I cried a final cry.
I do not know what the future holds for me. What I do know is how grateful I am for this past year of my life on the road. A year where time stood still and every single day was an adventure. A year filled with some depressing lows but far more soaring highs. A year where I regularly broke into tears at how god damn beautiful, dirty, wonderful, foolish, hospitable, unfortunate, and magical the world is. A year where I was alive. I thank the road for what it has given to me, and I look forward to returning to it one day.