The day started perfectly fine. A quiet road, warm sun not yet hot. Flat terrain became rolling hills and a tail wind pushed me south. Bushes and trees came down to the roadside and other than the wooden food stalls that typically are from south east Asia, inbetween my cold drink stops I could be anywhere. Riding past quickly, it's not easy to recognise road foliage as a countries identifier; trees, unless you're a Baobab or a Californian Redwood, don't always stand out as being different. Countries in South East Asia can sometimes merge in their appearance and when you squint into the light you are just somewhere tropical. But, even if you don't always where you are, you know you're not at home.
Three of my travel mentors are essayist, poet and American naturalist Henry David Thoreau, philosopher Alan de Botton and American '50's gonzo beat author Jack Kerouac
Thoreau's father was a pencil maker in Massachusetts and whilst his sisters died young of tuberculosis he too succumbed aged 44, but in that time he left his comfortable life as an academic, went out to build himself a hut and there begin the grand process of 'devouring himself alive.' His family saw no other alternative, no other hope for him. The first intellectual vagabond? So he went to the woods "because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived."
Alan de Botton is a philosopher, writer and speaker. His father founded the investment firm Global Asset Management and by 1999 had built up a family worth of £234 million. Botton said about himself something we can all relate to; "So I think where people tend to end up results from a combination of encouragement, accident, and lucky break. Like many others, my career happened like it did because certain doors opened and certain doors closed. So it's all about trying to find the best fit between your talents and what the world can offer at that point in time."
He talks about the pleasure we derive from journeys as being dependent more on the mindset that we travel with than on the destination we travel to and in that way I see the mountains and the trees but see more the road in front of me because the highway is what matters to me. Jack Kerouac's seminal bestseller 'On the Road' about road life in 50's America was his second novel and the idea was formed during the late 1940s, in a series of notebooks and then typed out, on a continuous reel of paper, during three weeks in April 1951. It was published by Viking Press when he was 35 years old.The New York Times savaged it as a book that disappoints "because it constantly promises a revelation or a conclusion of real importance and cannot deliver any such conclusion.” And some in his audience hate the self congratulatory nature of his characterisation. Time Magazine claimed Kerouac was “a literary James Dean” with little to offer other than good looks or youthful rebellion. (Time later included the novel on their fifty greatest books list.) And let’s not forget Truman Capote’s famous critique: “That’s not writing; it’s typing.” But he appraised movement in the form of travel in a romantic way that I as a teenager related to when he wrote:
“My whole wretched life swam before my weary eyes, and I realised no matter what you do it’s bound to be a waste of time in the end so you might as well go mad.”
And so here we are, by trees with no name I know, in a landscape I cannot honestly tell from day to the next within which country it grows. And it doesn't matter. I'm at the bend in the right hand side of the red route travelling east to Vietnam then south to Ho Chi Minh to buy some brake shoes for my bike.
Map of the Day
Postcard from Home
Two of my doggies play tug-a-dog while the older one eats grass as a displacement activity because she can't join in.