The unknown is something that you can only ever fear or embrace. The open road. The journey. Unrelenting tarmac, yourself, your few meager possessions and your ride. Nothing is more evocative of the freedom and myth of the American Dream.
The romanticism of this dream, of this freedom is in the utter and complete resignation to this unknown. It is in giving yourself over to the will, to the beat of the road, allowing yourself to be shaped and molded by it. It is in taking the setbacks, accepting the hard times and being elated by the dizzying highs. It is not just geographical liberty that it provides, but by forcing you to abandon control it gives you a freedom to embrace a future of unknowable possibility.
Living on the road is a lifestyle of contrasts, contrasts more distinct and regular than any I have otherwise known. When times are low, they are low in such a way that they grind you to your core, and leave you either in a state of sheer panic, or deflated apathy. The lifestyle tests you, makes you beg yourself for a reason behind your choices. It strains a relationship and challenges your health. It tears you from family and replaces your home comfort with dirt and difficulty.
For me, it means sitting on the husk of a beach hut, watching a tropical storm form over a turbulent sea. It’s the kind of storm that awakens in you some primal sense of dread, the maddening blackness, the seething waves and cold sting of the rain lashing your face. It is also then dashing back to the tiny steel box that you call home, drawing the curtains and contorting your body around your ever intrusive dog, opening your laptop and drafting a few words to try and capture the moment, with only the drumming of rain and distant rumble of thunder to remind you of your surroundings.
It is through the lens of the low points, however, that the highs delivered give you the stock to carry on. For every night in a noisy, sweaty inner city car park, there is a night spent alone on a secluded beach, or atop a mountain, with nothing but rolling views and a gentle breeze for company. For every mosquito that bites you, there is a rare and beautiful tropical bird to delight. For every friend that you miss back home, there is a friendly and interesting local to offer up his services in showcasing his area.
I was once told that the difference between an expedition and a holiday, is that you only enjoy the expedition in retrospect, through the achievement, and through the grueling days. In these black and white terms, my lifestyle seems to be a strange hybrid of the both. I have days doing little more than reading a book in a hammock on a secluded beach, but I also have days where everything goes wrong and I have to put my mercy in my surroundings, the good will of the people around me and faith that staying calm and processing things one step at a time will see me coming through in prosperity.
Sometimes my daily existential crisis is such that I question if my #vanlife is just a pleasant compromise between giving up on consumerism entirely and finding a way to combine my love of travel with my unrequited love for material attachment.
There is truth to this; of course I do not need an expensive and kitted-out 4×4 to bend my existence to the song of the road. In times it is as much of a ball and chain as it is a portal to adventure. At the times when I have enough detachment to look at it in these terms, I can see the fault in this, and question if living from a vehicle is truly my path to freedom or a way of trying to control my exposure to the unknown.
I had a good life in the UK, but it was a life of constancy, a life where most days were routine and comfortable, pleasant, but uninspiring. While it has been difficult to leave my family for such an extended period, I truly believe, and am sure they understand, that this was, and remains what I need to do. It is a way of life that I have loved from the first time I can remember conceiving of it. I think in essence, it is this resignation to the unknown, setting out with no idea where I will sleep, who I will meet or what will happen that resonates with me. It is having this freedom, this uncertainty and this flexibility that gives me the satisfaction I find in this lifestyle.
I suppose, in the end, all any of us can pursue is the ethereal ideal of happiness and satisfaction in our own lives.
This is the only way for me.