First day of my expedition to Iran, Mongolia and Nepal started with serious challenges like visiting Sainsbury’s supermarket to stock up on provisions and Starbucks for coffee to keep me awake long enough to get me down to Newcastle after an overnight flight from the US. Strange to be on the way finally after a year of planning, all a bit surreal really. This was the first time in five trips on the Newcastle to Amsterdam ferry that there were no fights on the boat, to the disappointment of the chunky Danish security guards!
The ferry is a nice way to start on a trip leaving at 5pm you have a good chance to get organised and test the decamping system – that is when you have to leave the truck and move to a hotel or in this case a cabin, as you tend to spread out all your stuff around the truck when travelling it takes some organising not to forget your charger, toothbrush, adaptor, notebook etc. Key to this for me are two bags, my backpack for computer, iPad, chargers and cables and a small shoulder bag for a change of clothes, wash bag, food (ferry food is expensive) and pyjamas. Getting these organised at the stop before or while waiting for the ferry is important to prevent multiple trips back to the car (as they lock the doors once you are underway). A new innovation is that they have wifi on board which faciltates route planning and passes the time eaisly.
Once the boat has sailed and the quiet throb of the engine soothes away the tension of actually getting packed and getting to the boat the realisation dawns that, in a much bigger sense, the ship has finally sailed on the next phase of my life and I am actually “on the road” and Nelson will be my home now for six months immediately and really most of the time for the next few years. I spend some hours on the boat drinking my alcohol free beer, listening to the resident band and reflecting on the future.
Many friends and family have asked me why I am swapping a good job and a reasonably happy and full life for the discomfort and insecurity of life on the road, I have struggled a bit to explain myself to them when challenged in the moment, but in the peace of the truck I think I can make a better job in this post.
Since I was very young I have been a curious person, I was always interested in how things work, why people do things individually and collectively, and how the world works. Even today my nickname in the family is Mr Spock due to my dispassionate and observational nature, when I was really quite sick with cancer Lee said to me “just don’t tell me this is an interesting experience” because she knew that I would, at least with part of my mind, look at it that way.
The other strong force behind my decision is a feeling that life is short and we can easily forget this in the day to day routine of office, deadlines, chores and hobbies – none of these are in themselves bad things, purpose and value are important parts of life and these things can give us those elements of achievement and being valued by others. That said there is a feeling when you have been doing the same job for a decent period of time that the days all blur into each other and time is ticking away.
That sense of time ticking away was amplified by the unexpected death in the last year of four different friends (from different forms of cancer and motor neurone disease) this increased my awareness of the mortal nature of my own situation. My awareness was already high as I have been lucky enough to survive falling headfirst into a fire when I was two years old (I was given confirmation and the last rights in the hospital and spend about 10 years in and out of hospital). Ten years ago I had two bouts of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the last of which required industrial level chemo followed by a full stem cell transplant to reboot my immune system, so a few of my 9 lives have been used up already. That was 12 years ago and on average I was told this treatment extends life by about that amount so I am unlikely to be among the longest surviving of my age group
So recently I was fortunate enough, mostly through good fortune rather than talent, to realise that I did not need to work if I settled for a modest level of expense in the future at half the level of my generous pension if I kept working to 65. That combined with a possibility to leave with decent conditions due to some changes in the company seemed to be the perfect alignment of conditions. The other important circumstances was that my two daughters were very much independent, Poppy just having graduated with her masters in laws from Cornell and Holly happily in the second year of her course and settled in her own flat.
So with a little bit of income secured, and a justified feeling of mortality, the question opened up – what would I like to do with this next chapter of my life? My decision was rooted in a long held ambition from my youth, when I was in my early twenties I read a book called “The history of civilisation” which trace the development of human society from the earliest writings in the Euphrates valley and China to the modern times. I was fascinated by the development of our different cultures and came up with the idea of visiting each of the locations in the book in an old Land Rover and reading that chapter while actually being in the place where that history happened, drinking in the atmosphere and think of those ancient feet on the stones as I stood there. This seemed to be a really good way to spend a little bit of a life soaking in the variety of cultures and history that many cycles of human life have created on this planet.
Reality of course is that many of these areas are not open to travel, sadly the great historical civilisations of Syria and Iraq are closed in these days, and even Egypt, Israel and Saudi Arabia the lands of Jesus and the Prophet Allah are very difficult to visit in your own car specially if RHD from the UK. However my dream could be redeemed to some extent as one of the key factors in the history of civilisation is the great network of the Silk Roads which have joined the civilisations of Asia and Europe for many centuries long before the adventures of the great sea farers we hear about so much in the UK version of history.
So it is a blend of this long held dream to understand civilisation where it actually happened, the availability of funds and stability of the family situation combined with a feeling that time was short and my good health had a limit, leads me to this adventure of a lifetime that I am calling “The Roof of the World Tour”.
Enough philosophy for now, time to get on with the trip.