Last night I went to a presentation by one of Australia’s finest adventurers, Tim Cope, speaking about his three-and-a-half-year journey on horseback across the Eurasian steppe. As he talked about horse thieves, intense heat and cold and his Chatwin-like fascination for the nomadic people of the steppe, it set me thinking about pathways. Not the paths we walk or ride, but our pathways in life.
Ten years ago I spent some time with Tim. At the time we both lived in Melbourne, and we’d both just published our first books. His book (Off the Rails) was about a cycling trip from Moscow to Beijing; mine (Headwinds) was about a cycling trip around Australia. Our situations were almost parallel.
In the decade between then and now, Tim has spent three-and-a-half years riding horses from Mongolia to Hungary, and four years writing a book about it. I’ve had two children, which has limited my adventures to short, sharp snippets (excluding the five months spent towing my kids across Europe behind my bike). They weren’t necessarily typical short adventures – I’ve cycled to the tip of Cape York, Australia’s northernmost point, on some of the country’s roughest roads; and I’ve pedalled across the Himalayas over some of the highest road passes in the world – but they lacked the deep involvement and immersion of my 14-month cycle journey around Australia.
I miss that long form of adventure intensely – the self-sufficiency, the gradual progression, the way the extremes become the commonplace – but none of my thoughts last night involved regret. The adventure of parenthood, especially alone, is the grandest one I’ve undertaken, as I try to show and share my love for the natural world with the two who travel behind me. I see it reflected in their eyes when I hike with my 10-year-old daughter and she insists that I pitch our tent far from other people, or when my eight-year-old son looks over the waters of Great Oyster Bay to Freycinet Peninsula, as he did last weekend, and comments on what a “pretty place” it is.
I envy Tim, but I wouldn’t go back and follow him. Our lives diverged a decade ago, and I suspect we’re both satisfied, that we both have what we want. For the last 10 years, bigger and grander adventures have been constantly traversing my mind – long journeys of self sufficiency that I fully intend to make one day. But not right now.
* Tim Cope has just released a book, On the Trail of Genghis Khan, about his journey from Mongolia to Hungary. All his books and DVDs can be purchased through his website. Next week he’ll be talking in New Zealand (Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch) before taking his speaking tour to the USA.