I realized yesterday that it’s been a year to the day since I left North America. The anniversary would have gone unnoticed had it not been for a reminder that appeared on my Facebook page. More than a few friends posted comments such as “time flies” and “hard to believe it’s been a year.” But here’s the thing: I understand but don’t actually agree with those sentiments.
When I think back to my last broadcast at Mohawk Racetrack, or the night I boarded a train for Winnipeg, or the flight from LAX to Lima, Peru, it seems like years if not decades have passed.
I know what people mean when they say things like “time flies.” I gave my employer a year’s notice following the 2013 North America Cup and immediately wondered if that year would drag on forever. Thankfully, it didn’t. Before I knew it, I was sipping champagne at a post race reception for the 2014 North America Cup and they wheeled out a giant ‘Farewell Mike’ cake. Where did that year go, I wondered?
Now, after a year on the road I’ve come to the conclusion that time only ‘flies’ when you’re locked in a routine and looking forward to something different. It’s quite the opposite when you’re doing something different every day and wondering what it would be like to fall into a routine.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like time is dragging for me now. But when you’ve experienced as much as I have in the last year, any form of reflection only magnifies the feeling that it’s been AGES since you did “the same old thing” every day.
So what did I do to celebrate my 65th Saturday of unemployment and a full year living outside my ‘comfort zone’ in North America? Before we get into what I did, let me tell you what I did not do.
I didn’t venture more than a few blocks from my Istanbul hostel. I didn’t eat anything exotic. I didn’t meet anyone interesting.
There was no mutton stew cooked in an old cream can over an outdoor fire in Mongolia and no Maori feast cooked in banana leaves in an underground pit filled with hot rocks. I didn’t drink any yak butter tea to keep warm in a drafty yurt and I didn’t lay deathly still in an Australian swag, wondering if the spider crawling across my leg might be poisonous.
I didn’t catch a spectacular sunrise from a hot air balloon over Cappadocia or with just a handful of people at Machu Picchu. I didn’t watch a sunset from the top of a sand dune in Peru or a remote section of the Great Wall of China. I didn’t hike to any glaciers, through any active volcanic zones, or across any mountain passes to see unspoiled lakes of the brightest greens and blues.
I didn’t ride in a tuk tuk with eight friends, a 30-year-old Lada with six strangers or a Peruvian bus with a driver who thought nothing of overtaking other buses while careening around blind curves with 1000’ drops on one side. I didn’t travel across my home country by train and bus, or take long train rides through The Canadian Rockies, the Cascade Mountains in the USA, the Andes in South America, the Outback in Australia or lush jungles in Thailand and Malaysia.
I didn’t take an ATV for a spin in Georgia or Turkey, or sail a reed boat on Lake Titicaca, or take a water taxi off the coast of Chile. I avoided helicopter flights over the 12 Apostles on Australia’s Great Ocean Road and the incredible Nazca Lines in Peru. I didn’t tour Easter Island in style in a brand new Jeep Cherokee or the World’s largest walnut forest in Kyrgyzstan in a barely roadworthy Soviet-era jeep. I didn’t shoot any whitewater rapids in a Hamilton jetboat or speed through any narrow Beijing hutongs at midnight on the back of a motorcycle driven by an obviously intoxicated teen.
I didn’t ride a horse in any one of about six countries, herd yaks in Mongolia, hug a camel by the side of a road in Turkmenistan or peer into the eyes of a curious kangaroo in Australia. I didn’t catch a piranha and toss it to a hungry caiman in Brazil, hold any baby koalas, dead eagles, live eagles or seemingly pissed off pythons. I didn’t go eel fishing in hip waders at midnight or kiwi spotting on a golf course at 3 a.m.
There were no boozy late night chats with hunky college boys on the deck of a ship off the coast of Azerbaijan. No run-ins with spaced-out female hookers in Australian burger joints, or long conversations with retired police psychologist / hostage negotiators from Israel as we lay awake in a freezing yurt near the border of Mongolia and Siberia.
I didn’t make it to LGBT Pride celebrations in Vancouver or Sydney or Phuket or spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with two longtime friends (and many of their friends) on their fabulous balcony overlooking Sydney’s Harbour Bridge.
I didn’t barbecue camel steaks or kangaroo burgers, eat spiced rabbit head, roast guinea pig, deep fried scorpions, baked eel, clotted yak cream on toast, Marmite, Vegomite, or braised horse penis. I didn’t summon up the courage to order items listed on a badly translated menu as ‘dead grandmother’ or ‘Shaanxi old sheep’s head meat’ or ‘scallop meat smell of urine burst’ or ‘jiz-biz with potato chips.’
I didn’t drink vile rice wine to celebrate my birthday in China, world class wines for $3 a bottle in Chile, or do shots of Cha Cha with a Russian bartender in Georgia. I didn’t consume $1 bottles of smuggled Malaysian gin in Uzbekistan or bootleg vodka from the upper deck of a truck ferry as we crossed the Caspian Sea. I didn’t play Tom Waits’ Warm Beer and Cold Women on the truck stereo as we coughed our way through Turpan, China in 45 degree weather. I didn’t drink martinis on the 65th floor terrace of a Bangkok hotel at a party hosted by a Swiss CFO or drink cans of Molson Canadian with Guy Saint Jacques, Canada’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China. (Question: Is there a more Canadian name than Guy Saint Jacques?)
I didn’t watch employees of the Canadian and Finnish embassies play hockey in Beijing or gauchos rope steers in Brazil or shepherds play polo with the still warm but headless carcass of a sheep in Kyrgyzstan. I didn’t count flocks of sheep or herds of yaks or wild horses by the hundreds while riding in the roof seat of an overland vehicle on the wide open Mongolian Steppe.
I didn’t get soaked by torrential rains in Singapore or by 50,000 marauding teens brandishing giant water guns during Songkran Festival in Bangkok. I didn’t get sick from food poisoning in any number of provincial Chinese cities or dehydrated in the Taklamakan Desert when the mercury hit 46C outside and 52C inside the truck.
There were no ice cold showers, steamy Brazilian hostel dorms or camping in the Nevada desert when the temperature plunged from 39C at noon to 3C at midnight. I didn’t hold my breath and try not to gag in any filthy squat toilets in China or Turkmenistan or see my breath in any bone rattling Mongolian showers.
I didn’t fall asleep in a tent in Turkmenistan with the sound of wolves howling in the distance or wake up in a hostel in Istanbul with a Muslim cleric chanting the call to prayer from a minaret of the adjacent Blue Mosque.
I didn’t sit around a campfire with Aboriginals near Alice Springs or make a fool of myself performing a haka with Maori tribesmen near Milford Sound. I didn’t spend the night on a New Zealand beach with guitar-playing surfer dudes, sing karaoke in a small-town Utah bar, or completely butcher Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar and A Thousand Miles From Nowhere with a very cool new Australian friend as we rode in the back of a truck through a 3500 meter high mountain pass in Kyrgyzstan. And I most certainly did not dance to techno and house until sunrise in the Nevada desert, warmed by the intoxicating combination of giant flame throwers, the embers of a once 9-storey tall “burning man” and substances which shall not be discussed in a public blog.
There were no late night motorcycle rides sans headlights, no quad bike rides through choking dust storms sans face masks, and certainly no 60 km long mountain bike rides down a steep, narrow and boulder strewn Bolivian ‘Death Road’ sans guardrails.
I didn’t get punched in the stomach by a supposedly peace loving Buddhist monk (who thought I was trespassing when in fact I was attempting to catch up to my tour guide). I wasn’t drugged, driven to a remote junkyard and robbed by a pair of rogue cab drivers in Lima nor did I have a sentimental necklace yanked from my neck by a tattooed thug on Ipanema Beach in bright sunshine with literally tens of thousands of people within sight.
At no time did I singe my eyebrows as I peered over the edge of a flaming gas crater in Turkmenistan, jump from a perfectly good plane at 16,000 feet over Lake Taupo, or dangle 500’ above a rocky Queensland canyon while a guy took a sharp knife to one of the two ropes that secured my life.
In other words I did none of the challenging, rewarding, pleasurable, adrenalin pumping, incredibly stupid or just plain weird things that have filled my last 365 days. And to be perfectly honest, after spending the last 120 days on a Dragoman truck where there was a new experience every day if not every hour, I was perfectly fine doing next to nothing on Saturday #65.