“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that mountain.” – Jack Kerouac
FOR MANY OF us, it takes too much of life to figure out how we want to live our lives. And I repeat—for many of us, not by any measure all of us. Most fall into checking all the blocks to satisfy a preset paradigm by their parents, society, and their peers and mimic a life that others have led—school, career, marriage, children, homeownership, retirement, until finally encountering health issues until the end. And I’ve heard many complain that the “Golden Years” are not that golden. Unconsciously, most choose to follow that paradigm. For me, it was a struggle but finally, at the age of twenty-eight, I surrendered to a settled life choosing a career and soon after, marriage. I was satisfying a nagging expectation having parents that were the product of the Big War. They created me, a Baby Boomer, and from an early age guilt was my motivator pushing me to satisfy the riddle of unspoken requirements to reach a level of success that would satisfy others more than it would ever satisfy me. Now, just a few months from the age of seventy, I regret having surrendered to satisfy the expectations of others and wish I had continued to question the rules of the game to deflect the lifestyle of the norm to pursue my own road. Where I had been living a life of risk in my twenties with a continuation of vagabond odysseys both in the US and Europe, once I began the life of a married professional it all changed. Dreams of distant travel, of writing, of random encounters with people on an intellectual or romantic level for the most part ended.
I wrapped up my career and retired at age sixty-two. I could have worked longer and continue to load my retirement investments but I was after time. Like me, most began their career thinking about retirement immediately. It was like a carrot on the horizon and the reward for trading your life for an income. By the time retirement comes around the idea of being in charge of their own time and life scares the hell out of more than you would think. They become reluctant with a fear about leaving a routine that had become comfortable and their norm.
There was a certain Pavlovian rat in the maze human conditioning about some careers and stepping away did not occur without deep thought and fear. People don’t like change, not to mention all those who feared spending all that time with their spouse. Most found it a daunting effort to get through a weekend without things becoming tense and abrasive with the only cure being to get back to work on Monday. I divorced more than ten-years before my retirement so there was no issue for me and I was more than ready to take charge of my own time and the creative way I planned to fill my life. I relished the idea and was looking forward to it immensely.
The plan for how I would live my retirement was slow to develop and not something that I planned for years. I had entertained several ideas about what I would do in retirement from moving to Costa Rica and surfing as long as time and my age would allow me. While there I would write a novel. Another idea was moving to New Mexico, a place I love, and set up a woodshop to make furniture. More than anything else, what I was sure of was that I wanted to travel. And how I would do that was still in question.
At fifty-five years of age I bought my first motorcycle finally choosing to ignore all the talk and warnings about the danger. I bonded with the motorcycle immediately and found it to be a fantastic method to travel and tour. About a year before I punched out I made the decision to go all the way, to cut ties, to enter the abyss of having nothing other than a motorcycle and what I could carry—no house, no home base, nothing to suggest a domestic life, a truly nomadic life. The decision has to be one of the best and most rewarded I have ever made.
So, I began the process to divest all; home, furniture, and all the belongings I had gather through my entire life. Piece by piece I sold, donated, and gifted everything except for what I could store in a few trunks which I left at my parent’s condo. I sold a 3,000 square foot house at a financial loss and rented an 800 square foot condo for my last year before retirement. From there I moved into a 400 square foot beach cottage reducing myself down to a simple and manageable life of very little. Not only was I going to be a nomad, I would also be a proud minimalist. The transformation was freeing as I continued to trust the reinvention of my life as a wise choice that best suited my retirement dreams.
During that last year of my working life I traded my first and beloved motorcycle, a 850cc Triumph America in for a 1200cc Triumph Explorer Adventure bike. It was a dual sport model that would serve my needs for long road travel with its size and comfort and offered suspension features and a robust frame to accommodate travel off-road and the unpaved gravel roads in Alaska and the Yukon.
Buying the right motorcycle and the manner I was transforming my life in preparation for a life on the road I was left with nothing but excitement, apprehension, and marking days off the calendar. It was invigorating and made me feel more alive than I had felt in years. I was ready to turn my seat in the office in for a motorcycle seat and hit the road. I had no regrets and only looked forward as I continued my in-depth research to make plans.
I spent my nights staring at maps and doing research on all I wanted to see in the Lower Forty-Eight of the United States of America and if I wasn’t researching to develop my route I was ordering motorcycle parts, accessories, luggage, clothing, or any item I thought I might need for a life lived off a motorcycle. I bought a $2,000 Italian motorcycle outfit that was multifunctional and suited for four seasons. I also bought a heated jacket and gloves that I could plug in for extreme cold that I knew I would encounter. Obsessed with my choices I read reviews, articles, and talked to the few friends I knew who may offer advice and direction. But there was no one I knew who had even thought about doing the type of long-term travel I was planning. There was motorcycling, which most did on their weekends, and there was living off a motorcycle which I was preparing to do. And those few that I shared my new life plan with all responded in a similar manner, most staring at me like I had two heads, some with a furrowed brow, and many telling me all the things that could go wrong. To those few that I shared my plan with, most took me down a dark road of negativity and fear. “You don’t want to end up on the side of the road and not know how to take care of yourself,” I would hear. All I could do was grin at their parental condescension and arrogance and how it would not be like me to try and think of everything possible to prepare for such a life choice. Few gave me a pat on the back and those that were impressed about my over the top bravery to do something that so many may want to do but for various reasons were too tied down to ever consider. It made me aware that I was an anomaly and was preparing to do something that for many was similar to stepping off the edge of the Earth. No home but a motorcycle, no place to go but where I chose, waking in the morning and not knowing where I would lay my head at night, and doing it all alone.
Some, concerned with my safety, suggested that I find a partner to travel with. This was completely against the grain of my nature and the spontaneous manner that I wanted to live. The idea of having to weigh my plans with another would be restrictive and I liked the idea of being selfish and never entertaining a compromise. This was my time and I wanted everything my way—all of it. Philosophically, I was developing a code that I wanted to live by and the journey was a lot more than just being on a motorcycle. It was also about getting to know more about myself and how I would handle such a life of nomadic freedom. The process was to reinvent myself and watching the evolution of my choices and actions for a life that I wanted to fill with adventurous experiences. The idea was exhilarating and made my last year of employment difficult. Few things held my attention other than thoughts about my motorcycle, my route, and the days left until my departure.
During that last year I had a girlfriend. We met about the time I bought my Triumph Explorer. And I was completely open and vocal about my plans for a life of motorcycle travel. She was around to observe it all—my divestment. My plans for departure after retirement, and my moves from a large house to a small condo to a tiny beach cottage. She watched me as I outfitted my motorcycle with crash bars, panniers, upgraded mirrors, GPS mounting device, on and on. During my three months in the beach cottage my entire space was filled with nothing but motorcycle gear, clothing, and maps that were always open on a table covered with Post-it notes with my continued research for the best routes to thoroughly explore the Lower Forty-Eight and my route to and through Alaska. Hell, I had reserved a cabin on a ferry and a place for my Explorer in the holding bay to reach Alaska from Bellingham, Washington on a three-day cruise up the inland passage which she was also aware of.
But then, on February 28th of 2015, my retirement occurred with an exceptional retirement party and my final closure of a thirty-eight-year career. My plan was to leave the 15th of March to get an early start before the beginning of Spring. During all my preparations and plans I was completely transparent and I, naively, thought we would kiss goodbye, she would wish me luck and I would ride into the sunset like some Hallmark movie. Man was I wrong—and completely imperceptive and delusional.
It was during the two-week period before my departure that things became increasingly tense with a big 3,000-pound elephant in whatever room we shared company in. We both knew it was there but avoided any communication to address the unspoken issue. She was hoping I would change my mind but she never asked me to. I was looking for a way to stop seeing her just to keep from weathering the guilt trip up until my departure. Selfish? You bet it was, but I was upfront about my self-centeredness and she was not sharing my enthusiasm which caused me to suppress my elation to be kind.
About a week before I left the eruption I had been anticipating occurred. I knew something was coming but not to the degree that she came unglued. It followed a party we attended where one of her friends asked me, “Still going on your big trip?” Reading the situation, I minimized my response, “That’s the plan.” Then she asked, “Well, how important is this trip to you?” I could see what was going on—an intervention, all based on how my girlfriend had been venting her angst with the issues of my leaving to her friends. “Well, I’ve been planning for more than a year and I don’t consider it a trip but more of a new life,” I responded. Then, to get the pushy woman’s response I asked, “If I don’t go on the trip what should I do.” She was quick to respond, “Stay and get married.” At this point my current, soon-to-be ex-girlfriend wandered off to mingle with others at the party. My only response was “Yea,” while I was offended with her intrusive recommendation and arrogant attempt to think she could tell me how I should live my life. It was an example of what I wanted to remove myself from – accountability.
I enjoyed time with my girlfriend. We had a good connection on multiple levels. I found it confusing as I attempted to decipher how she had been processing all that was taking place in front of her over a period of a year. All my plans and preparations were right up front and during the entire time she was thinking that I would have a last-minute change of heart, turn around, and never leave. It had a way of saying that the life I had been planning was not only not understandable but also unbelievable.
Ironically, the one thing that was now trying to hold me back from my new life of motorcycle travel and adventure was a girlfriend that I felt certain had no grasp on my plan to depart with no known plan of ever returning. Now, I felt like an animal in a trap who was forced to chew off a leg to get free.
The ending did not take place without me being viciously berated as she purged what was a pressure cooker of internal angst for how I was selfishly constructing my life. It all was a big lesson and completely altered my mentality about any ideas or attempt to pair bond while living a nomadic life. On March 15th, 2015 I left Virginia Beach, Virginia on my loaded Triumph Explorer 1200 for a three-month tour of the Lower Forty-Eight of the United States. From there I would board a ferry in Bellingham, Washington for a three-day cruise up the inland passage to Haines, Alaska. Once in Alaska, I would begin my exploration of distant state along with the Yukon Territory until satisfying my goal to cross the Arctic Circle while riding the most dangerous road in North America, The Dalton Highway. Riding away I let it all go. Everything in a lifetime of sixty-two years was getting smaller in the sideview mirrors of my Explorer with nothing but the highway ahead with the purest of dreams to explore as much of North America as possible. I could hardly contain myself. I was on the road. I was free.
-To Be Continued-
Morgan Stafford currently lives in Staunton, Virginia in between his travels in the UK, Europe, and Turkey. His three books of his My Nomadic Experiment series can be found on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle.
To the Arctic Circle
My Nomadic Experiment / BOOK I
Arctic Circle to Austin, Texas
My Nomadic Experiment / BOOK II
The Trans-Labrador Highway
My Nomadic Experiment / BOOK III