The call of the road

It’s always easy to justify travel. Everybody has dozens of reasons why to do it. I’ve thought a lot about why it’s so important for me over the years.

My most selfish reasons for travel are pure mental stimulation and fascination of constantly being confronted by new contexts. Since I was young, I’ve had an insatiable curiosity about people and the cultures of the world. (I owe this to my amazing parents and incredible teachers in high school who first infected me with the ambition to research these cultures.) Learning about world cultures and traditions instills a great pride in me for the world. At times when I get pessimistic about the troubles of society, travel helps me to overcome my pessimism.

Ever since meeting Scott Gog, the photographer, I had a different kind of fascination, a compulsion to photograph and document the places that I’ve visited. There’s a line in Steven Sondheim’s play “Sunday in the Park with George” in which his mother urges the disheartened artist, “Give us more to see!” In this modern day of convenience, anyone could go to the library to read about distant places. But I feel that going there myself, I can help those close to me experiences these places as well. Photographing them is a way of sharing them in the moment that I’m there even if the fact of the shared experience is delayed.

I realize there is somewhat of a sense of compulsion that travelers experience. Once infected with the travel bug, it’s hard to see pictures of a place or hear about a place and think that I will not also go there. Some people accumulate bucket lists of places they will go someday. I never like to put off something that is important. So my impulse in life has been to go all places I want to go as soon as I can make it possible to do so.

It’s hard to embrace the whole world. Like eating a submarine sandwich, you have to make a strategy of how you’re going to stage your meal. While I want to go everywhere, there had to be a staging of the itinerary. Inspired by the Cat Stevens song “Moonshadow” at a young age, I realized that there are only going to be limited years that I’d be strong enough to hike over mountaintops un-aided. So I decided in my college days that I should start with the journeys that are most difficult to make while I was young and in good physical shape. I thought I could “start hard, finish easy.” So several of my months-long backpacking trips I prioritized in my 20s when I was between jobs. Mountain trekking and cross continental trips can be difficult during old age. Single country trips are easier to do then. So that was how I prioritized my list of where to go when.

Hiking the Annapurna trail, a two-three week circuit around 8000 meter Himalayan peaks, had to happen when I was strong enough to carry a large backpack with all my living supplies. Cat’s lyric “If I ever lose my legs…I won’t have to walk no more.” from Moonshadow became a kind of admonition. People seldom think about the things they’ll lose over time. But my parents subtly hinted the idea of embracing all of life’s riches, doubts, dangers and changes early on by their choice of music for me!

I relish the idea of the “cruise years” that will, I hope, happen in my golden years when I will have to hang up the backpack. But the arc of a life of travel needs to be staged carefully over a lifetime to experience the full breadth of what this amazing world has to offer.

 

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