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Managing Wanderlust

Wanderlust—that's a fitting word for that condition that afflicts me and many other riders. Wanderlust, like lust, is something that demands fulfillment, and if not fulfilled causes anxiety in the afflicted. Even when one is distracted by other mundane things, lust is lurking in the background, demanding attention. Lust is hard to ignore.

The question is, what to do about it once you have it? How do you go about breaking free from the rote world most of us live in and, instead, travel for weeks, months, or perhaps years? Before that question may be answered, however, perhaps a more important question needs to be asked: should you fulfill that desire?

If you're young and unattached to spouse, children, and all that arrangement entails, you can save up, pay off, and ride away, fulfilling your desire with a reasonable expectation that you will have the time when you return to find rewarding employment and establish a family for yourself, if that is what you want. You can go for “as long as it's fun” or until you run out of funds. This is precisely what I did when I was young, fresh off a divorce, and having no children. I worked and paid off all my debts, worked some more and saved, and finally one day I slipped away from the dock and headed south on my sailboat. That voyage lasted a year and a half. If you can do the same, then I say follow your dreams. I don't regret a minute of the time that I did it. Even if you are in a similar situation, remember though, that those times usually do not last. Enjoy them while you can.

Most of us do not have that kind of freedom for long, or we have left it behind by accident or deliberately. Life is often—no usually—messy. Decisions made years before wanderlust has set in may determine, if you are a responsible person, how, when, and for how long you can ride. Responsibility must be weighed against desire.

I've heard people say that if you want something you simply need to pursue it and let nothing get in your way. You could do that, but if you have a family at home and you do, well, don't look to me for absolution. Life often throws other people and responsibilities across our paths. To simply “not let them get in the way” and just sweep them aside is irresponsible. It is all well and good to say, “Follow your dreams, at all costs,” when no one else pays the costs for that action other than oneself, but when a family is left behind, a wife and perhaps children, because of our actions we need to pause and consider what we are about to do and how we are about to do it.

Not many are independently wealthy, young and in the prime of life, with no responsibilities to anyone but themselves. Many who are lucky enough to be in ideal situations denigrate those who are not in the same situation in life as themselves; a kind of “blame yourself” game that serves to hold that person on a higher plane than the one not so situated. It reminds me of something my sister-in-law once said when someone was complaining about their work situation and lack of vacation time. She is a teacher and jokingly said, “I guess you didn't check the right box when you went to college, did you?” In other words, “I made the right decision, you didn't, so quit complaining and live with it.” This is akin to those who claim that anyone who is not wealthy or as successful as themselves has not made the right decisions in life and have no one to blame but themselves. Or, “Anyone who is poor simply has not worked hard and did not have enough ambition.” This is a kind of convenient philosophy that legitimizes their own success while illegitimizing others who have failed to succeed.

The truth, however, is never so simple. Yes, there is a need to strive for what you desire, to work hard and do all you can to achieve it, but sometimes when you have done all that you still fall short; you still fail. Blaming the poor for their poverty does nothing to help them rise above that poverty. Likewise, so many of us who are infected by wanderlust just do not have the options that others may have, and determining who's at fault does nothing to help.

People's needs and desires change over time. They had that family, but now long to spread their wings. Should they be a slave to yesterday's decisions? Did they “check the wrong box” and now should pay the price by giving up their dreams? Is it an all or nothing game? Consider whether you'd want your children to deny themselves happiness because of a decision or mistake made early in their lives? Should they be responsible for the part they played in their own lives that put them in today's situation? Yes. Should that situation be chains that hold them from any future joy or happiness? I think not. Follow your dreams, yes; take charge of your responsibilities, yes; but should doing one preclude the other? I don't think so. Is it better to be an example to your children by showing them they must give up their dreams, or would you rather show them that they can both be responsible and follow their dreams? To deny ourselves our dreams in the one short life we have is to leave the worst message we could to our children: “Let life pin you down and forget about your own happiness.” How would you prefer to see them live their life, defeated by their situation or overcoming it?

Life is not one thing or the other, responsibility or freedom, one canceling the other. There must be room in one's life for both—a way to balance these forces; a way to be fair to others while being fair to oneself. Life's passions always put on hold is a waste of our very limited time on earth; once it's gone, we're gone. I plan to stuff as much living into the rest of my time as possible before going “into that good night” and I hope my children do, too.

So, how to go about following the dream of motorcycling adventure while being loyal to those who depend on you? For most of us this means having a plan and every person's plan will be different. One may have to put off that ride while preparing for what an absence will mean for others. It may mean making several shorter rides, instead of one extended one. It may mean delaying the dream while other matters take precedence.

I am an “inmate” of an Internet forum dedicated to adventure touring, and many of the members there don't dream of a few weeks away riding the Rocky Mountains or doing the Tale of the Dragon and Appalachian parkways. They might ship their bike overseas and ride them from the western edge of Europe to the eastern edge of Asia, or from the Arctic Ocean to the Southern Ocean off Patagonia. They ride “The Road of Bones” and “Dalton Highway” and their thoughts are how to get their bikes across the Darien Gap from Panama to Colombia. Those kind of rides involve planning for possibly years of being gone with perhaps no income or requires finding a way to make an income while on the road.

While this long distance trekking is certainly adventurous, luckily, adventure isn't solely measured by miles ridden or countries ticked off a map. You don't have to be a world traveler to be an adventurer. There are riding adventures all around us, and they can be on Interstates or single track National Forest roads, country back roads or city streets. What makes the ride an adventure is what is inside us, not where we go. Adventure is different for each person. Finding a way to get out for a few weeks twice a year can be as satisfying for some as a round the world trip can be for another. Either way planning is essential and can be a pleasant obsession while waiting for that departure date.

For many of us, planning means working out vacation times that coincide with the times of the year suitable weather-wise to riding in specific locations we may want visit. Of course, these times must often also coincide with times at work when things are slow. Another thing to be mindful of is choosing times that minimize the impact of your absence on family and loved ones.

What will work for one may not work for another. While it will be different for each rider, and for me it's still an imperfect art. How I've gone about it seems to be working for us. Although I have to admit to a twinge of guilt leaving my wife to be a single parent for a couple weeks twice a year, it has given me the opportunity to chase my riding dreams and still do what I expect and demand of myself as a father and a husband.

My office is in our home, so for economics' sake I am also the daycare attendant after school hours and through the summer months. This complicates arranging time for long rides. Summer is out, other than perhaps three or four day weekends. Luckily, my wife can work from home if she chooses and so a couple days at home over a few months is not an issue for her, especially if those days are during school and only requires her to leave the office mid-afternoon, rather than taking entire days off. For these reasons I limit my long tours to the time after school starts in mid-August and before it ends at the beginning of June. For these reason, also, I avoid times around holidays when the children may have breaks.

Given these constraints, the usual times for touring for me are just after school starts and just before it ends. That allows me to ride north to cooler climes without freezing and gives me a much-needed break from children after a long summer home alone with them and a nice break before it all starts again.

I have been careful to arrange my business, a book publishing company, to be as automated as possible and anything I must attend to can usually be taken care of on the road via a cell phone or laptop. This works for me.

Once you have decided that you owe it to yourself to live your dream, whatever your situation there is almost always a way to work in an adventure or two each year, even if your definition of adventure has to be modified a bit. The most important thing is to not let responsibilities force you to miss out on living your life. There are ways to be responsible and still fulfill the need for wanderlust, striking a balance between being good to others and being good to yourself. Life keeps going whether we get going or not; don't be left behind. Plan and provide and go out and grab that joy that touring on a motorcycle provides so well.


Road Dog

"Ride Your Own Ride"

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