On January 23, 2006, I began a journey from which I never really returned.
At least my torso did; Delta made sure of that. But my mind, heart, and particularly my eyes, were irrevocably changed forever. The red pill was swallowed after a lifetime of eating blues for breakfast. The rabbit hole ran deep, but once past a few rooty entanglements, opened into a whole new world where happy hormones and adventure came in torrents.
After giving my 20s to the Army, IBM, and suburbia (I actually owned a house), life as I knew it changed drastically.
Today, I celebrate 12 years of a vagabonding life.
Seems like just a week ago, I was boasting about my 10 years on the road anniversary. That was just before heading out to Nepal to have one serious mountain encounter with what could have been the end of my career. I still have dead skin from the frostbite.
Ironically, I’m celebrating life from my small apartment in my hometown of Lexington, Kentucky, USA. After so many years of negotiating ten-dollar rooms down to $7, then sharing those same rooms with hideous insects and unidentified intruders even National Geographic would be afraid to cover, I’m very grateful to have a place of my own for a short respite.
Don’t worry: it’s month to month.
As winter scratches at my historic building, the endless sweat of Sumatra and volcanic rumblings of Bali just a few months ago have already faded to a strange, dreamy memory. They always do. Even the urchin barb in my foot from Nusa Lembongan seems to have been absorbed into oblivion. I hate it when the scars fade.
Those things belong to a different timeline, a dimension in this multiverse that I somehow cross in and out of once or twice a year. The experience of swapping these worlds is ineffable and cannot be accurately shared.
I’m convinced that at some point during my 23 hours to get home, the plane flies into a wormhole and exits on the other side in a completely different world. To people on the ground, I’m just one of those icy jet trails sliced across a blue sky. But way up there above the clouds, a transformation is happening.
Home requires a new approach and attitude. A large chunk of my knowledge, the stuff that comprises my very identity, goes untapped.
Sometimes I wonder if the other Greg is still there in Asia somewhere, sunburning on a motorbike, swearing at monkeys, and trying not to roll his eyes when he hears drunk British backpackers singing “Wonderwall” at the top of their lungs for the third time in an hour. I hope he continues to refrain from the Thai Redbull buckets that once made up a significant portion of our dietary intake. I’m going to need that body again soon.
But I recognize the purpose this annual yin cycle fulfills. I’ve missed a lot of family time while pursuing this low-paying-yet-rewarding lifestyle. Shortly, I get to see my nephew become a teenager. One of my nieces will turn 10, and the other will be 16. Being a “cool” uncle is getting tougher.
Here in my winter nest, I’m filled with gratitude and surrounded with everything I need, sans a cat. I’ve got enough beans and rice on hand to survive two consecutive zombie uprisings. My happy houseplants don’t say much, but they are good company. I’ve got a faux fur rug as my work area, coffee, Wi-Fi, and no less than a dozen books within reach.
Unsurprisingly, there is a large map on the wall. Studying those beautiful lines is a sweet sort of agony. The Sirens are singing loudly, and damn it, they know how to pull a winter-hardened vagabond back to the Equator.
Enough sentimental pandering. I decided to celebrate this vagabonding anniversary by helping more people find the same wonder with which I was blessed:
Introducing the new Startbackpacking.com!
This is the third — and by far, the best — iteration of Startbackpacking.com. I began the site in 2007 to help people get on the road without grinding through all the research I did. But back then, it was hand-coded HTML. Now, with a shiny new SSL certificate and hacked-up template, it’s way easier to use.
As with any 11-year-old web project, there are still a few crawlers feeling around dark corners with long antennae. They’ll get squashed eventually. By internet standards, 11 years is pretty medieval and dungeon-esque.
Rebuilding an old site is arguably harder than starting anew. It’s a grueling strain on the retinas. But if I can help just a few more cubicle dwellers flip off Corporate America on the way out, my work here is done.
And maybe when I’m done with the exciting, unpaid work of tweaking code, I can get on with the even more exciting, unpaid work of turning the book on my laptop into something tangible with mass.
I crave, more than anything, to smell the ink.
Another 12 years — at least — of sampling all four cardinal directions in search of terra incognita. The happy pursuit of earning stories and scars must continue. Life-long memories and friendships await out there in the misty field, just on the other side.
Thank you for reading. A handful of mad souls have been here from the beginning…thank you, thank you, thank you.
May there be a road, and may we meet on it soon.
Myself and the world-traveling Sallie Latch in Bangkok after seven years of online friendship.