RUNNING TOWARDS THE LIGHT
And so what do we ask the intrepid traveller on their return. What we always ask: ‘what’s next?’
“It’s frustrating when you do a trip and people ask where are you going next. I think: why don’t you go somewhere next, why do I have to go? I’ve done my trip.”
If there was a dark side to the travelling, there was a dark side to the stopping too. Perhaps it’s related to that question we all ask ourselves – what have we achieved? – only after going to such extreme lengths, to have searched for, well, redemption, then to have come up empty-handed must drive a soul to darker depths. Nathan explains such in the prologue to his second book.
I hit the bottom when severe burning sensations in all my bones took me to the doctors, and the MRI scan said nothing was physically wrong, which made the doctor ask: ‘how do you feel in yourself?’ To which I cried and told her at times I just wanted to die.
‘Do I need to worry?’ she asked.
‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m too indecisive for that’
We both laughed.
Nathan’s depression lasted for two years. Eventually he arrived at a juncture.
“The only way out, I felt, was to get on the bike and ride.”
Again just days separated the decision and the action. Nathan and his postie bike flew to New York with a plan no more evolved than to head west.
“It was a last roll of the dice. I was nervous about it, but I didn’t know what else to do. I just turned to the road and hoped it would be the right decision.”
Nathan explained he chose America, chose to ride east-to-west, on account of a sub-conscious preference to ride toward the setting sun. Hence ‘Running Towards the Light’, the title of his book, the physical action, but also the metaphor for his mental state.
“The first few weeks were crap, camping wild, not knowing where I was going, realising the bike was way too slow (for American traffic conditions) – you’re a liability in the traffic. Then I’d go through places like Detroit, through the inner city suburbs – it was grim. Chicago the same. Not a nice place to see, it depresses you, and for a person in a depressed mental state to see the slums of America it was just brutal.”
From such depressing beginnings the trip picked up.
“The energy of the Sydney-London ride went from great to downhill. The second one started low but rose – it was the cure of the road. I describe it in the book – some people turn to the bottle, others turn to the road. What the trip allows you to do, if you are full of anger, full of frustration, full of venom, is hit the road and in so doing release it, you can ride day and night, ride as hard as you want, take chances, really let off steam. You can’t do that day to day, you bottle it up, you feel like punching yourself, going mental, but on the road there’s nothing there, just the ride. So when I got into the west, Utah and Nevada, the wide open spaces, the rage drained away – it was a great therapy.”
The therapy was working, but the ultimate cure didn’t come until Nathan, having crossed east-to-west, then ridden north through western Canada, was deep into Alaska.
“I met three guys travelling independently, but we all came together one night and they were all completely relaxed, chilled, hanging loose, enjoying the ride. And I thought in that moment, ‘f••king hell, I’ve ridden all this way, full of impatience, emotion, running, riding 33,000 miles from Sydney to London, New York to Alaska, on a mission and it’s only now I’ve got to the end that I’ve seen now how it should be done! This is how I want to do it, I want to do it how these guys are doing it, I want to enjoy the scenery, I want to chill out, to catch a fish even, spend a few nights at a campsite rather than hurrying on – none of that ‘I’ve got to get to the next destination’.
“‘Pull the clutch in.’ That’s how I can best express it. I’ve not done that. Just shut off, pull the clutch in, let things calm down, go quiet, find a better pace. I rode all across America and it was literally at the last destination that it all became clear. I had actually planned to ride further, but having found the answer I stopped there. I simply ended the trip right there. That was kind of it, I’d found what I needed.
“And after that I needed to write the next book, because I’d learnt so much about love, human existence, about things everyone goes through, because everyone is chasing a dream of some kind. I felt the need to write the book to help make sense of it. I made sense of some of it on the road, but when you come back and sit with your thoughts you can unpick it, make more sense of it, it’s self indulgent perhaps, but without it what you’ve done is senseless, it’s just a photo. If you can sit and write about it, make sense of it, it becomes understanding.
“If I do another trip I know what it’s all about – I’ve got it now. I know what it means, what it doesn’t mean, what it achieves, what it doesn't achieve, and I’ll get more out of it.”