Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Never Stop Exploring?

I really enjoyed this post from Heidi Swift about bicycle touring.  Tidbit:
Riding a loaded touring bike seems valiant or poetic, but it’s a voluntary act made (oftentimes) by privileged people who are searching for something that they can’t find at home: simplicity, detachment, clarity. You leave everything you own behind and pack a small selection of essentials into a few bags. Then you tow them and, somehow, the weight yields an internal lightness. It’s a startling inversion. It’s a trick of the mind.  
The real work of touring starts when you come home and stand in front of your kingdom and try to figure out what it means and why you left it.

It seems like a battle is constantly waging with outdoorsy people who live in the city (or in my case, suburbs).  It doesn’t need to evolve over a multiday bike tour either.  Every weekend, we drive hundreds of miles and spend hundreds of dollars to escape the “drudgery” of everyday life.  For a few fleeting moments, we forget about mortgages, bills, and responsibilities.  We’re focused on skiing (or biking, or ice climbing, etc.).  We’re into the moment, and we celebrate afterwards.  Then when we get back home, we slip back into the same routines.  Wake up, go to work, come home, make dinner, watch TV, go to bed, repeat.  Boredom. Monotony. Stasis. 

But if “routine” is the worst of all possible worlds, then what is the best?  Is it a non-stop bicycle tour with your entire family from the northern tip of Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina ? Is it an “all-in” non stop trek of the Appalachian Trail, North Country Trail, Great Divide Route, and Pacific Coast Trails? Is it a sail around the world on an old sailboat (looks pretty good to me)?  Is the key to enlightenment actually a clothing company tagline (“Never Stop Exploring”)?

Personally, I don’t think I was ever cut out to be a nomad.  I like to have a home, and a sense of place.  I like to go out to bars, watch baseball games, and grill meat on my back porch.  I like warm showers and down comforters and cold beer.  In fact, I always find that the best meal of a multiday camping trip is the one you have when you return to civilization.  While I might never stop exploring, I’m okay with taking a break every once in a while.  Heidi, who seems to have somehow turned this “blogging” thing into a career, comes to the same conclusion:

In my case, I try to figure out why I always want to leave it again and again. At the same time, cradled in the expanse of a soft king bed, flanked by cats that have become temporarily affectionate due to their perceived near-abandonment, I know with exacting clarity how my home can be both shifting and static.

I guess it’s about balance. Unfortunately, I feel like my balance has shifted too far towards the safe, boring, routine side of things. It’s time to set sail.


  1. Good post! It is ironic that for those of us who left the city for the country, we long to have more city time. Grass is always greener, etc. And we still suffer from the boredom, monotony, stasis thing even with so much to do right our backdoor. Its just different stuff to do than in the city, we all live in our homes too much and not enough "out there" no matter where there is. Definitely all about finding the balance.

  2. Many people think that The North Face coined the phrase "never stop exploring." They did trademark it but the original idea came from a poem called "Little Gidding," part of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets (see: http://www.ubriaco.com/fq.html)

    The oft-quoted lines are very relevant to what you have written, Matt:

    "We shall not cease from exploration
    And the end of all our exploring
    Will be to arrive where we started
    And know the place for the first time."

  3. Wow.

    That's awesome, Gord. A perfect way to say in 28 words what I was trying to get at with 400.