March 30th, 2019
I slumped down the rickety hostel staircase on an early, dreary morning. My crusty, half asleep eyes were forced open, and I looked up above the reception desk to an improvised sign of nails and duct tape reading: “Wel Come your stay to Kathmandu Madhuban Guest House”.
“Oh right. I’m in Nepal.”, I reminded myself.
I had arrived here the night before with intentions of hiking the Annapurna Circuit for the next month, a challenging trek known for its high altitude climbs and diverse range of terrains. But before I could conquer any mountain passes, I would have to conquer this bout of culture shock I was experiencing.
My rumbling stomach led my eyes to lock onto an adjoining cafe inside the hostel. Making my way to the vacant area, I noticed I had acquired an audience of gawking locals. Their glares pierced straight through me as I walked past, and I sunk more and more into myself. Any exchange of eye contact was met with a fierce staring contest. The competitor reciprocated with no flinches, and no hesitation—as if I was being stared back at by a statue. I would find out later that with enough persistence, you could, peculiarly, get them to crack a smile. But for now, I did my best to avoid their glares and timidly made my way over to a seat in the corner. Scanning the menu had me baffled. It was like I was reading a foreign language, I couldn’t recognize anything! Ah yes, that’s because it literally is in a foreign language. I shushed my rumbling stomach and hopefully asked the employee, “Coffee?”. He smiled and nodded.
I began chugging my coffee in a desperate attempt to un-zombify myself from a previous day of jet-lagged sleep. Moments later, the hostel doors swung open in a way reminiscent of an old Western movie. A blast of noise roared in from the sprawling early-morning streets of the Thamel district of Kathmandu, and in followed a scraggly looking, twenty-something man. He heaved in a bicycle that was draped in a blanket of dust and dried mud and loaded front to back with luggage. The hostel employees spoke with him as he sported an unusually chipper morning attitude, and it seemed that they had agreed to store his cumbersome bicycle. The man made his way over to the adjoining cafe area, entirely unphased by the local’s piercing glares, and joined me in coffee chugging.
It was easy to notice that this man wasn’t your “average” tourist, but, then again, you don’t often find your “average” tourist in a country like Nepal. We quickly sparked up a conversation, and I tried to quell my desire to incessantly ask this interesting character anything and everything about himself. I eventually gathered that he was from Spain and had just arrived in Kathmandu this morning. After the usual ritual of introductory small talk, the conversation inevitably steered toward the massive elephant in the room, or rather, bike in the room.
“Oh, you rode that bike into Kathmandu?”, I asked puzzlingly. “But where did you come from?”
“Bangkok”, he replied without skipping a beat. “I’m planning on cycling all the way to my hometown in Spain.”
Though I was able to hold my jaw from dropping, I could no longer hold back the torrent of questions from being fired at this poor Spanish man. How are you managing to do this? Where do you sleep? Isn’t it dangerous? How long will it take you? How are you paying for this? And on and on I went. The Spanish man pleasantly handled my onslaught of curiosity like a well-oiled machine. I could tell that this wasn’t his first time dealing with someone who knew absolutely nothing about what he was doing, and how in the hell it was even possible.
Once the logistical questions were out of the way, and I was convinced that this man wasn’t just messing with me, I wanted to hear more details. The man obliged and vividly recollected his journey thus far. He raved about the time he woke up to elephants curiously poking around his campsite in a Thai jungle. He nervously spoke of the time he hid from the police in a Myanmar rubber plantation who were searching for him for camping illegally. And he longed to go back to the time he became one with the Indian yogis, endlessly sipping on chai as days turned to months.
These exciting events were happening day by day, however, the generosity of strangers seemed to lie at the heart of this man’s passion for his journey. The locals of each country propelled him on, assisting him at every turn, helping him fix his constantly broken down bicycle, providing him with free food and shelter, and forever warming his heart with the biggest smiles along the way. In one final awe to me, he ended by describing his plans to sneak past Chinese government checkpoints in Tibet to continue his solo itinerary.
Any delusions of my own bravery and toughness that I may have had before this were quickly humbled by this man. Everything about what he described seemed so magical, and I looked at his journey in complete reverence. But at the same time, it was so otherworldly and foreign to me that I couldn’t fully wrap my head around it. It all seemed so impractical and impossible, and I had so many unanswered questions.
I left the man shortly after, never to see him again, and I eagerly turned my mind to my own travels. The fantasy land that was painted in my head vanished as quickly as my morning coffee had. Although I didn’t know it at the time, this man’s story rooted itself into my brain. It resonated with me in so many ways that I was yet to fully discover. It was brave and inspiring, yet so incredibly difficult and stupid. It was a proper adventure.
I have been pondering the notion of an “adventure” for the past year and a half. Its definition continually evolving along with me as I was having my own escapades around Asia. But, what really is this ambiguous experience? To me, an adventure is an enigma: something that cannot be planned for, nor can truly be understood until you are there experiencing it. Unlike a vacation, an adventure is uncomfortable and pushes you past the boundaries of your contentment. You should be consistently struggling, yet consistently growing as a person. It is a subjective experience, unique to each individual, unique to each journey, yet it undoubtedly leaves a lasting impact on everyone after the fact. An adventure requires submitting yourself to the unknown and freely accepting all of the world’s beauty, dilemma, joys, and dejections.
With these ideas resounding in my head and being perfectly aware of the positive changes that it brings to one’s life, I look to forge a new adventure in my life. Drawing inspiration from a scraggly looking, twenty-something, Spanish man, I have come up with an idea to accomplish this. A simple idea, in theory, masked by ambiguity and uncertainty: riding a bicycle, across Asia, from Istanbul to Singapore. I know it’s possible, and I know a journey such as this will breed the adventure that I crave. And that’s all I need to know. The details will all be figured out in time.
And so, on and on the pedals of my bicycle will be rhythmically rotating away for an indeterminate length of time. The path to success is hazy and unpredictable, and I hold no delusions of my own ability to flawlessly execute this expedition. However, I am strangely confident about moving forward. I guess I’m hopeful and optimistic—chasing an enigmatic feeling that is calling out to me. I guess I’m just chasing adventure.
“Oh there’s a river that winds on forever
I’m gonna see where it leads
Oh there’s a mountain that no man has mounted
I’m gonna stand on the peak
Out there’s a land that time don’t command
Wanna be the first to arrive.
No time for ponderin’ why I'm-a wanderin’
Not while we’re both still alive”
- Ends of the Earth, Lord Huron