Today I live vicariously. I see videos and stories on the internet of people who have these amazing adventures all over the world. Somehow they seem to make these things happen magically. Like hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in North America, or sailing around the world in a small craft, or driving the length of Africa or the breadth of Asia in a camper van. How do these people break out of the mould do these things?
I suppose family life, especially when started at a young age like me, often gets in the way of living outside of the box. Sometimes you have to put your dreams on hold in order to fill the provider role. Lord knows I had some crazy dreams of adventure when I was a young man. Dreams of a life lived as a traveller, going from place to place, checking things out, making new friends, doing the stuff I see in these bits of internet content, writing about it.
The blame for not following through on those dreams lies on my shoulders, but if I’m honest I didn’t come from a particularly adventurous home. My Dad was always working hard to put a roof over our heads so when he was home he didn’t like to do much other than sit in front of the TV and chill. My Mom, bless her soul, also had some inner struggles trying to balance family life and ambitions with the featherweight of a single, blue-collar income family. Money was always short. We never went camping or even took many holidays as a family. I recall only one proper road trip holiday taken when I was 15 in the year 1983, a drive from Durban down to Cape Town in my Dad’s pride and joy, a shiny red 1976 Jaguar XJ-6, a vehicle he somehow acquired in spite of the economic constraints of living in Durban’s Addington Beach.
Man, that was some trip. I have memories of listening to UB40, Duran Duran and Tangerine Dream on my Sanyo knock-off “Walkman” while passing through the darkness of the Karoo at night, memories also of my Mom fretting over the hair-do she had had the day before we left not being to her liking (it was around this time that I learned the masterful act of diplomacy when responding to the anguish of a woman who’s self image doesn’t quite match up to the projected one). My Dad did that entire 18 hour drive with only one hours sleep behind the wheel (fortunately while parked!) in the town of Laingsburg. We then had a further 3 hours drive into Cape Town, and from there another 3 hours to the town of Graafwater, a backwater that my Grandfather had decided to retire to. Thinking about that epic trip now I also recall that we had very little sleep the night before because of some serious car trouble with the Jag (a story for another time), so in fact I think Dad only had around 6 hours sleep in the space of 48 hours on that journey down to the Cape. He may not have lived adventurously in his working days but he definitely had the muster of a mountain man.
Another blockage that threw itself in the path of my fantasised youthful adventures was being born into a generation that inherited the effect of international isolation because of South Africa’s apartheid. Travelling anywhere on a South African passport in the 1980’s could be compared to trying to go anywhere on a bicycle constructed of popsicle sticks and duct tape. It wouldn’t get you very far. By the time South Africa exited the isolation era in 1994 I was already 26, married with a 4 year old son, a mortgage and very little chance of boarding a plane to anywhere. Dreams fade.
Fast forward a couple of decades and my oldest son is now 26, my youngest is about to start studying for a career in the fitness industry and apart from that I will have no encumbrances looking beyond the next few years. There’s no financial noose around my neck in the form of property ownership, car payments or anything like that. In theory I could sell everything I’ve accumulated in those two decades, buy a camper van, pack it with the things that my wife and I will need to live off the grid and just go and do it. I don’t know how sustainable doing that without any meaningful income will be, but it certainly doesn’t cost me anything to dream of cruising the coastlines and lesser known parts of this land in a wheeled capsule without a tether, not fretting about the clothes I wear or paying the bills to keep the rooted parts of me nourished in the suburban compost of modern living.
The adventures in my head are stirring again.
(featured image of me walking the iMfolozi Game Reserve trail in 2015 courtesy of Pam Benporath)