It was one year ago today that my brother Phil and I packed up our motorcycles (Kawasaki KLR 650s) and left Vancouver heading towards the Arctic Circle.
It's been a long ride - 10 countries, over 40,000 km, 10 tires, dropping the bikes well over 50 times and one very hairy brother later, we find ourselves in Panama (about halfway from the Arctic Circle to the Southern tip of South America, our goal of Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego).
We thought we'd be there by now!
Not only have we ridden the bikes 39,000 km or so but we've driven a 1979 GMC pick-up 3850 km, flown to Mexico (twice for me) and taken several ferries.
While riding through the lush Costa Rican rainforest last week my iPod decided to play me the song "Live Like You Were Dying" by Tim McGraw. This, combined with the death this week of my Auntie Rosie, a close family friend who had a huge impact on my life, have made me think.
I listened to the song over and over as I rode, recalling the past year and a half. Mentally reviewing how I went from turning down a vice presidency in an international corporation in London, England, to spending more than a year riding a motorbike from the Arctic Circle to Patagonia.
It was the best decision I have ever made.
It was not easy to leave my whole life. Learning to ride a motorcycle, quitting my job and selling my apartment were easy compared to saying goodbye to a decade of close friends and colleagues. Not to mention getting rid of 10 years of accumulated stuff.
Looking back, I would do it all again in a heartbeat.
Whilst many people look at our journey as some kind of extended holiday, a break away from reality, the truth is this journey has become our reality. This is our life now. At some point we will move on to the next stages in our lives, where ever that may be, but we have no set "life" to return to. The world is our oyster and the possibilities are endless.
This journey has fundamentally changed who I am as a person. My priorities have been transformed, and my outlook could not be more different than it was a year and a half ago when I decided to start this trip.
Seeing the world as it really is, instead the media's portrayal of it, has given me great faith in humanity. The world is not a scary place that we should all be fearful of. Mexico is not full of dangerous people out to rob and kill us all; it is full of wonderful, warm souls who are full of life and love. As are all of the ten countries we have travelled through in the past year.
I have made an effort to stop distancing myself and really connect with people.
I have become committed to loving people - new friends, old friends, family and strangers - to not hold back for fear of being hurt or becoming too involved or because I won't be in the same place as them tomorrow or next week or next year. Talking to, and smiling at, strangers has become a policy.
The vast majority of people are good, generous, welcoming, creative, loving and interesting, if you just give them the chance to be. This is something I learnt from my Auntie Rosie - she was one of the most generous, welcoming, creative people I have ever known, and when I was a child she showed me the value of those traits. Unfortunately I grew up and forgot their value - until this trip brought everything back into focus.
Aside from the obvious benefits of seeing the world and not being a slave to a mundane routine, I have been richly rewarded for getting out of my comfort zone and going on an adventure.
It has been an intense and amazing experience to travel with my brother. I have never spent as much time with any single person as I have with Phil over the past year, and it has been really special to deepen our already close relationship. I trust him completely, and it has been a joy to witness his personal development. He is an incredible man, who I am extremely proud of.
When people meet us and realize that we are siblings, they have one of two reactions: either they wish they could do such a trip with their sibling, or they immediately say that they could never travel with their brother or sister. I am so fortunate that my only brother is also my best friend.
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I've made so many new friends this year. All of our best memories are about the amazing people we spent time with, much more so than the places we were in. We keep running in to friends we have made along the way, and it is always a joy to see a familiar face. One can never have too many friends.
I have fallen in love with many of those amazing people, and out of love with a couple. This process really makes me feel alive - the highs and lows of love are the basis of everything, and I can't wait to keep experiencing them.
I've been reminded over and over how important, and possible, it is to live sustainably. Solar power, composting toilets, building and decorating using recycled materials - using less water, less electricity, creating less waste... It's all possible, and being done, and results in a better world. We can all reduce our impact.
The world is a glorious and multifaceted place. Experiencing new cultures, cuisines, architecture, geography, customs and traditions has been incredible.
We've seen how the world is growing ever smaller, brought together by technology. Even a 12 year old girl in a remote village in Guatemala knows how to use a smartphone. Her family often huddles together around the laptop and television.
Communicating is key. Learning Spanish has been invaluable. Whilst we are far from fluent, we can hold a conversation and get our point across. There is nothing more frustrating than having a language barrier with someone you are staying with, dealing with, or simply sitting beside. Me encanta hablar espanol!
Money is not as important as we all think it is. Clearly we all need to eat and have a roof of some description over our heads, however we do not need much else. Living on less than $30 a day for a year has not been nearly as difficult as I thought it would be. In fact we've spent significantly less than that. This is thanks to the incredible generosity we have experienced, with so many people inviting us into their homes free of charge, as well as our policy of not buying "stuff" and eating as cheaply as possible.
The community at couch-surfing.org has not only saved us hundreds of dollars, more importantly it has brought us into the homes of local people, given us the benefit of local knowledge and an intimate introduction to the culture and customs of the areas we've been staying in. We have been adopted by new families in every country we've passed through.
Despite all these rewards, not every day is easy. We face new challenges every day and overcoming those challenges is an important part of the journey.
In the past year we've had to overcome the crash in Alaska, my dislike of riding offroad, breaking down on highways, love, broken bikes, being pulled over by the police, flat tires and stolen bags.
Sometimes I feel homesick, I miss my friends and family, or I just want my own bed. There have been moments when I felt like giving up, or trading my bike in for a 4×4. Those moments soon pass however, and I go back to being brave and adventurous.
Phil and I have developed a motto over the course of our journey - "Do It Now!" This applies to everything, from sending an email when we think of it, to changing the oil on our bike.
My "one year in" message to you is this:
Now is the time, don't wait. Embrace a new reality.
Travelling the world on a motorcycle might not be your thing, but there's something you've been dreaming of.
Push through the fear, the fear of change, the fear of failure, the fear of getting hurt. There will be moments of intense panic, but they are only moments, and pale in comparison to the love, the adventure, the amazing people and places, the happiness, and satisfaction that you will encounter EVERY day. Even if your dream is small (ie. going to that beautiful town you've never been to two hours down the road for the weekend). Do it now! However I do recommend wholeheartedly to dream big.
You can do it. Let go of all those excuses you're making. Your job? Quit it. Your kids? Take them with you. Your house? Sell or rent it. Money? You don't need as much as you think you do.
Phil and I are a year in to The Ultimate Ride and I'm pleased to say I don't know when it will end.
In conclusion, I can but echo Mr McGraw.
Love deeper, speak sweeter, give forgiveness you've been denying. I hope YOU also get the chance to live like you were dying.