The next day I decided my great escape was imminent. All things considered, there was simply no way I could no longer subject myself to my parent’s reign and those four walls. I tried to fix up my old bike as best I could and then attached a tent and pannier bags to the back of it. I left the house when they were both at work and headed toward the city outskirts. I watched my neighbourhood disappear into the background as my feet hit the pedals round and round. Soon my city was out of sight and I was in the open countryside. Summer was now here and I cycled freely alongside the fields of crops without even bothering to check a map. Obviously it was true that I never really had a plan or clue about where exactly I was heading in life, but now I realised I was in a situation that encompassed that completely. I just kept rolling on down the road towards whatever awaited me beyond the horizon. Cars went past me and I thought about where they were heading and why. What purpose powered their engines? What meaning pushed down on those pedals? For me there wasn’t one other than heading roughly southward, and for now that was good enough to keep me going. I even liked the simplicity of it in that otherwise confusing moment. It seemed more sane and worthwhile just to keep those pedals turning than what I was doing in my job at Amazon. Just keep on going, further and further into the distance, drifting out of sight of whatever I passed – the same thing I had been doing all my life.
This was what life was to me – a one-way journey to the grave; there was no going back or stopping, one could only head towards their eventual end while occasionally breaking down and getting drunk along the way. But still, I kept looking at the people in the cars passing me and wondering about them. I saw families maybe heading on holiday; couples heading home; people heading to work. I looked at their faces and their eyes and their expressions. Their lives seemingly had structure and stability; some sort of semblance of order in contrast to the total chaos of mine. It was all delusion, I felt – on my part and theirs. Like me, they were just heading nowhere, only ever-forward towards the setting of the sun and the darkness of their death while finding things to keep themselves busy with along the way. For some reason that thought comforted me and, for one of the few times in my life, my brain began to go quiet. I simply kept pedalling without any thought or concern for anything else in the universe. I had become like squirrels, just doing my thing automatically and existing without some grand plan or purpose. I had become like the crashing waves on a shoreline, or the clouds drifting in the sky above, or the leaves being blown away in the wind. I was something just happening for no real reason other than just to happen.
I kept pedalling and feeling like some sort of monk until the daylight started to fade. It was at this point that I realised I was now technically homeless and needed to find a way to shelter myself. I found a secluded spot in some woodland just away from the road and setup my tent. I then walked to the nearest shop, bought a load of food and beers, and then returned to my tent. I lay in it stuffing my face with cheap sandwiches and cakes, replenishing the many calories I had burned that day, before smashing the cans of beers down. Naturally, I couldn’t help but realise that the last time I was in a tent was in a nice place with a pretty girl, drinking wine and having sex while daring to daydream of some sort of home or companionship with another. Fate had worked its almighty magic once again and here I was a couple of weeks later: back to my solitary state, homeless, jobless, slightly cold – lying alone in the dark with my only companion being the use of my right hand.
After the second day of cycling, I was down in the Somerset town of Bath. By now, the lockdown had been eased and people were allowed to go to pubs again while being socially distanced. I locked my bike up in the town centre and walked around the town in the sunshine before finding a pub that was a prime place to people-watch. Table service was all that was allowed due to the ‘social distancing’ rules – that was fine with me; I sat back and ordered away while letting the afternoon drift by lazily. I sipped those ciders and watched the happy couples, the well-dressed revellers, the shoppers with their shopping bags. I watched the bike couriers going back and forth, remembering another one of my short stints of money-making. I was back on safari again, observing the human race in all its strange mystery, wondering how people did what they did without going insane or off-the-rails like me.
Soon I got bored of such ethnographic observation and left. I carried on walking through the high-streets and eventually came by a busker. Most buskers drew small crowds and pittance change, but I noticed this man had amassed a crowd of maybe forty people. His guitar case was full of money and he had a stack of CDs available to purchase. Slightly intrigued and having nothing else to do, I stood and watched him play. His playing was wild and fast and flamboyant. He held his guitar flat on his lap and finger-picked the strings in a way I had never seen before. I stood there impressed, watching a man totally transfixed and absorbed in what he was doing. In between songs, he told everyone how he was from Australia, and how he had quit his job to travel the world in a van while busking along the way. Not many people inspired or even interested me in this life, but looking at this man I couldn’t help but be a little captivated. In him I could see a better version of myself. Here he was: living off his passion, travelling the world, seemingly content and even having his own home in the form of a van. I thought about the fact I hadn’t ever made a penny off my writing and that I never had entertained a crowd and that my current home was a crappy tent that couldn’t stand a slightly strong breeze. The contrast between my life and another’s was, once again, stark and depressing.
I decided I’d stick around til after he finished and do something I rarely did sober: approach and speak to a stranger. I wanted to know more about this man and see if he was the real deal. Was it possible for a man to survive while living life completely on his own terms? Did he experience any doubt or anxiety about the way he was living? Was it all a front and really he was just as lost and insane as me? Such questions swirled around my mind as I approached him once he had finished performing. He immediately stopped what he was doing to look me straight in the eye with a bright smile. He thanked me for watching the performance and asked my name. We then exchanged details before he invited me to smoke a joint with him back at his van once he was done packing up his equipment.
I bought us a couple of beers from the nearest shop and went to meet him at his van. He lit up a joint and invited me to sit on the floor of his van which was overlooking a park. People were sprawled across the grass having picnics as we sat there drinking and smoking. I looked inside his van at his living arrangements. On the outside was a tapestry of graffiti artworks, the sort of cosmic shit you’d expect from someone of the gypsy lifestyle, and on the inside was his humble abode – a bed, a mini kitchen and tabletop. The whole vehicle to me stood as a big fuck you to normal life which naturally made me feel welcome sitting there.
The beers went down as he continued to me a little more about all his travels and what inspired him to live the life he was living. “I remember telling all my work colleagues that I was going to quit my job. They all laughed at me, mocked me, told me I was crazy and all of that. I have autism so I always felt like I didn’t fit in there anyway.”
“I can relate to that,” I said, before telling him my own tragic story, cycling down south randomly after just quitting my job where I also felt disconnected from my work colleagues. I also told him about my novel writing, the succession of meaningless jobs I had subjected myself to, and my general disenfranchisement with anything this world presented to me. He didn’t look at me with pity like most people did when I told them my life story, but instead his eyes had a look of deep understanding and even relatability. It was the ultra-rare look of a human-being’s eyes who actually saw where I was coming from. It was like looking into an alien’s eyes; the sort of look I unsuccessfully scanned for on the faces of passersby on streets. A strange feeling of comfort fell over me.
“Come inside my van man. I wanna show you something.” I put down my beer and entered inside, for some reason wondering if he was going to slam the door and suddenly kidnap me or something. The funny thing was I think I wouldn’t have even bothered to resist being taken away at that point. I needed not worry though; he invited me to sit down on his bed and pulled out a little book. He then proceeded to show me a collection of his photos from his travels, as well as little things he had collected along the way.
“This is me travelling through Europe.” He showed me photos of him performing on the streets of Rome and Paris, as well as pictures of him in his van in the Alps. “And this is me back in Australia.” He then showed me photos of him in his life back home. He looked like a different person: much paler, slightly overweight, with tired eyes and a classic forced smile. “I know right,” he said, knowing that I was struggling to even recognise him in the photos. “The photos only show how my outside appearance has changed as much as my inside. It only reflects the state I was living in then, compared to the state I live in now.”
“I guess becoming homeless was good for you then.”
“Ha,” he laughed. “Becoming a travel bum was necessary for me. If I hadn’t had taken the leap, I’d hate to think of the dark place I’d be in now. I know it’s easy to fall into despair and give up on this world. I mean, society fucking sucks I know, and the worst thing is watching everyone just accept that their lives are nothing more than pointless jobs and television and getting drunk on the weekend and never questioning anything because ‘that’s what’s normal’. The western world in particular is facing a spiritual crisis. Everyone I know back home was depressed or anxious or an addict of some kind. But you don’t need to be a victim of the culture you were born in man. You can choose to unplug and play your own game at any point. You are the maker of your own destiny and, with the right outlook and plan, you can create the life you love. But first you start by summoning something from your soul; it’s there if you search hard enough. The light in the darkness; the fire that can set a whole forest on fire. Find whatever it is and let it burn, burn, burn. That’s what I let happen to me. I was so jaded and depressed and nihilistic at my own job in Sydney. I could see myself falling into a dark place and resenting life. I knew this would make me another victim of this culture, so that’s when I knew I had to quit my job, sell everything I owned, gather all my savings, buy a van and hit the open road with my guitar. Here I am two years on and I can honestly say I’m so much happier and content with my life. I wake up excited every day about what the day will bring, and when I’m out there playing for those people – and people like yourself come up and speak to me – I feel like everything in the universe is in the right place. I’m exactly where I need to be. And ultimately, that is the greatest feeling in life man – a feeling I don’t plan to stop chasing for the rest of my life. So yeah, just keep going man and following that feeling. You’ll find your way man, I’m sure of it.”
Maybe it was the weed or the tiredness from the cycling and sitting in the sun all day, but right there and then that man was making more sense to me than any teacher, parent, politician or preacher that I had come across on my meandering path through life. I didn’t really know what to say back to him after he had been regaling me with his words. In the end, I just thanked him for the words of advice. We then finished the beers before going back to get my bike and cycling out of town while stoned to find my latest spot to pitch my tent alone again for the night.
The next day the inspiring words of the gypsy musician were quickly knocked out my head as I carried on heading south through a thunderstorm. Rain poured down for almost two hours as I cycled along lonely country lanes watching the lightning bolts flash in the surrounding sky. Cars passed me and I could feel the gaze of the people inside, looking upon me in my drenched glory, determining I was a madman. I guess I was at that point. I knew all my stuff in my pannier bags would be getting wet seeing as the bags were barely waterproof. I eventually took shelter in a cafe the town of Glastonbury until the storm had passed. I then carried on through the lighter rain which continued throughout the afternoon.
By the time I arrived into the town of Exeter, I decided there would be no camping that night. With wet clothes and it still raining, I decided to treat myself check into a badly-rated, £10-a-night hostel. I stood outside and rang the doorbell. Nobody answered. I saw that there was a number on a noticeboard on the door. I called it. A few minutes later, a stoned Spanish man shows up to let me in.
I brought my bike in and dropped my stuff down in the reception area, still dripping from the torrential rain I had been enduring all day. The Spanish guy kept looking at me while he loaded up the computer to check me in. “You’ve been cycling in this weather all day?”
“You’re crazy man. And where you are heading?”
“I’m not sure – somewhere in Cornwall probably. As far as I can go away from home.” He looked at me and smiled before shaking his head.
“You’re crazy man,” he said again. “Crazy.”
I kept waiting while he took my ID and entered my details. For some reason I always got nervous when people checked my perfectly official ID – imposter syndrome came in many forms.
“Okay Bryan. That will be £12 please.” I thought about pointing out the room was advertised at £10, but at that point I didn’t have the energy to get into a debate; I simply needed a shower, some dry clothes, and a strong drink of some kind. He then proceeded to tell me the social distancing rules of the hostel. Obviously it was impossible to socially distance in a hostel, but I knew it was merely something being said because it had to be said.
Once I was not looking like a drenched rat, I lay down on my dirty bed and checked my phone. There was still no word off my parents. My mother didn’t own a phone, thankfully, and my dad held some belief that only the kids should contact the parents rather than the other way around. I was quite happy with this. Such a strange belief allowed me to continue in my madness undisturbed. I even went a step further and deleted all forms of social media and my dating apps. I wanted to be off the grid, an unknown wanderer, uncontactable by anyone and everyone from home. I was now one of nomads, like the few people that were staying in the hostel. A quick scan of it showed me a mix of strange characters staying there. Not the sort of people I expected in a hostel. Most were elderly, some overweight, and some even slightly threatening-looking. I soon found out that this was because the hostel worked with the government to give shelter to people waiting to be accommodated in council housing. Like me, they were homeless, just waiting and existing, living off super noodles while sitting there smoking weed and browsing ther phones because they had no job or money or anything else to do.
I could feel myself staring at one particularly rough-looking guy while questioning where my path was leading me. This insight into the future was too much to take, so I headed out into the town to find a pub. Maybe I’d meet a nice girl? Make some friends? Have a wild night out in a new place? In the end I sat alone at a pub table socially-distanced drinking five beers while speaking to absolutely noone. There was even no interaction with the bartender due to having to order my drink from my phone. I then got a kebab and went back to the hostel where I found the Spanish guy who had now switched from stoned to drunk. He came over to me laughing and asking me to tell my story to his other mate who was sitting at the table drinking. I told another person the story of my random adventure, inspired by total disillusion with my job and living with my parents.
“You’re funny man,” he said. “So your parents don’t even know where you are? Such a random guy ha ha!”
“Hey listen,” he suddenly said. “If you have no set place to be anytime soon, and you want to stay here in the hostel with us a little longer, you could volunteer. We need another person to split the shifts with on the reception. All you’d have to do is check people in, clean the kitchen at the end of the day, and make a few beds. I mean, you said yourself you have nowhere to be and nothing to do. So why not? You’d have a place to stay and get a food allowance too.” I stood there slightly confused. I had just escaped a job and this was the last place I expected the offer of another to come to me. I looked around at the old, slightly dilapidated hostel. I looked at the other looking drifters sitting around under bad lighting either drunk or stoned or depressed. The whole place was sort of symbolic of myself. Maybe this was where I was supposed to be? Maybe such a flophouse was where I belonged? The thought of cycling again in the rain over the hills of Devonshire was enough to make up my mind.
“Sure, why not,” I said. “When do I start?”