If you had told me five years ago that I would journey from my hometown of Phoenix to New York City almost entirely under my own power, I would have called you crazy. Now, having completed that same journey, it’s crazy I didn’t do it sooner.
On May 23rd, 2017, after quitting my job, selling every possession that couldn’t fit on my back, and saying goodbye to all my friends and family, I walked out of my world toward the goal of NYC. For three months I walked and hitchhiked from Phoenix to Denver, where I, needing more money to fund my trip, settled down until the Spring of next year. From there, I saddled up on a bicycle and rode nearly 2,000 miles from Denver all the way to New York City, in just under two months. In total, I was away for 14 months.
The biggest question that has been dogging me the entire way, especially whenever I talked to people about my adventure, is “Why?” It’s a very powerful question. It’s one that has no clear beginning, and an even less clear end. If I were to take it all the way, I reckon the beginning of the answer started when I was a small child, or maybe even before I was born. And the end? One end could be when I finally made it to New York City. Another could be when I flew home to Phoenix. But part of me knows the answer is still becoming itself, still manifesting itself in the world. The “why” still lives on and drives my actions to the very moment I’m typing these words on my laptop. But for simplicity’s sake, let’s say the question encompasses from the moment I began to plan the adventure, to the moment I arrived back home in Phoenix.
I struggled with giving an answer to anyone who asked the question for a very long time. Some times, when I had longer conversations, I was able to explore a bit and say things that I thought might be true, but the truth is that I really didn’t know. It’s only after reaching my goal and looking back at the road I took that I can understand why I left. I was lost and I was trying to be found.
I was never really successful as a child and teenager. I never tried to win anything, never having enough passion or motivation to climb to the top of a hierarchy in games, schooling, or any interest I half-pursued. I exited high school not having the faintest idea who I was or what I was capable of, and I very quickly became lost and aimless. In short, I was a loser. Over the course of the next six years, I built a life for myself that wasn’t one I wanted and didn’t fit my own needs. It was one built out of confusion, desperation, and incompetence. Eventually, there came a time when tragedy struck, and my life began to crumble. Worst of all, I found I wasn’t strong enough to resist crumbling away along with it.
I wandered about in a malaise, hopeless for the future. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I realized I had to journey into the unknown to find out who I was. Like most young men, I had always dreamed about going on a big adventure, and like most young men, I never nurtured that dream into reality. But I decided I wasn’t going to be like most men. Whether I was right or wrong in my belief that I had to leave my home in order to find myself, I knew I needed a direction, a purpose, and obstacles to overcome. I decided to do the longest, most difficult thing I could possibly handle at that point in my life, and that thing was walking to New York City.
Why New York City? It was far enough away destination to be considered an “epic” adventure, and if I was aiming to walk to the east, why not aim for the greatest city in the world? In November of 2016, I decided to give myself six months to save money and prepare to depart. At first, it seemed like just another flight of fancy that would disappear as time marched on. But as the departure date grew nearer, it began to become real, and many times I was wracked with doubt that I would actually go through with my intentions. Much like Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings, I revealed my departure plans to no-one, save a trusted few, and it wasn’t until I quit my job and sent out invitations to my going-away party that anyone had any idea what was happening. I reasoned that, the more people I told, the more I would disperse and dilute the idea, and I would be inviting criticism, opinion, and differing ideas to invade my own. I knew I had to do this my own way, so I kept it a secret until it was too late for anyone to do anything about it. And when the time came, I answered the call of adventure, and left.
The rest has been detailed more-or-less in my previous entries, and the 2,000-mile bicycle trip is an experience I will write about very soon. But here in the now, after 14 months of my life, thousands of dollars spent on travel, experiencing hardship and suffering, was my dream worth it?
Yes. Every step of it. There came a moment, when I finally reached New York City, that gave everything prior to it a real meaning. I was riding the ferry that crossed the harbor northward from New Jersey to New York City, standing at the aft of the vessel and enjoying the sea-wind in my hair and the spray upon my skin. I was smiling broadly at the world around me, content that I had nearly arrived at my goal I had spent so long trying to reach. As I came around to see the city on the starboard side, the immense height of the Freedom Tower came into my view. As I looked at it, the sun turned its huge triangular face into a golden sheet, and I was bathed in the warmth of a blinding light. I closed my eyes, and in an instant it was gone. It was as if the city itself had acknowledged my entrance, and anointed me with light from its highest tower. You could say many things about the inevitability of the path of the vessel, the time of season, and the angle of the sun all contributing to the illusion, but none of that matters, because I was there.
In that moment, I felt I was complete and whole. I felt I could go out into the world and face challenges with some level of courage and contend with the perils of life, because most things we do are far less difficult than journeying 3,000 miles by foot and by bike. I have a direction and a purpose, and anything I do from now on is going to be towards the future I’m trying to build. If that’s not the essence of finding yourself, then I don’t know what is.
Some of us are never lost. They are strengthened and guided by loving hands on the straight and narrow path. Some of us have simply taken the wrong path, and only need to be shown the right way to get back on track. And some of us are abandoned in the forest, lost in the brush without a way out and no one to guide them. For those of us who are lost, it may be that the only way to be found is to pick a direction to journey into, and stay true until you reach the sea. Who knows? It worked for me.