Stop pause and reflect
17 years ago I started No Roads Expeditions from my garage in Melbourne. I remember always feeling cold out there, as it was winter and the ever-present Melbourne wind blew under the roller door and right through my bones. Strange how events turn. I am back working from home once again. Not from my garage but from my son's bedroom overlooking the neighbour's fence and driveway.
Sitting on my current desk is a globe from the 1950's. As I spin it I reminisce. The sublime mountains of the Himalaya and the turquoise waters of the Komodo Islands. The delectable cuisine of Italy (oh how I miss Italy!) and the ancient ruins of Peru and Egypt and the wild plains of Africa and the great cities of Paris, New York and Rome not to mention the small villages like Alagna, or Chamonix or Namche Bazaar. From this heavenly perspective, looking at the world as one small blue globe, all those places are in stasis, eternal and available for my return. Nothing seems to have changed except for a few names.
But the world has changed. For the first time in human history, every person on this planet, on every continent, from every walk of life, from every religion, rich or poor, old or young, male or female, will be connected by the same problem: COVID 19.
It is in these times when I am confined that I dwell on my passion for remote nature. I can't explain exactly why, but when I am in nature I feel calmer. My thoughts become focussed on the instant, not the past or the future, but on the moment. And the present danger we face reminds me of those times when nature has turned from incredibly calm and beautiful to dangerous and life-threatening.
I remember one occasion when I was guiding a group across the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The day started off with blue skies and no wind. But as we departed after lunch for the ridgeline the weather turned. It was only a couple of hours from our campsite so I thought we had plenty of time to cross the ridge and down to safety. As we hit the exposed ridge, clouds formed around us cutting visibility to only metres and the wind picked up. It became dark seconds before it started to rain. At that moment decisions had to be made. We had to seek shelter behind rocks, protecting ourselves from the onslaught and hoping the storm passed. And as all storms do, it passed.
But from this I learned 3 valuable lessons:
1/ When conditions worsen all previous objectives and expectations cease to exist
2/ Hard decisions need to be made to ensure our safety
3/ The storm always passes
These lessons are as real today as they were up on that ridge in Papua.
1/ While we had plans for the future, whether they be travel or work, all bets are off at the moment. There is a new reality and it is clear and it is present.
2/ Now is the time to look after ourselves. To heed the warnings of Government, to stay safe and understand that life is not normal. There is no point resisting it, that would have been as futile as me standing on that ridge and yelling at the storm to stop.
3/ This will pass. The chaos and dislocation will end. And what the world will look like after that, who knows. Maybe it's a better place, where people have discovered each other again. Maybe it's a place where we have discovered places closer to us that we never saw before. Maybe travel becomes a little harder but that's ok because we are eating at home more using produce we have grown in our backyard for the first time. All I know is this storm will pass.
Now is not the time to make drastic decisions. Now is the time to stop and help ourselves and those around us. Now is the time to understand that we must change the way we do things in order for us to come out the other side when the storm has passed.
My gut feeling is the world will be a better place after all this. I'm not sure how, but just as this virus has currently changed everything for the worse, it may just change everything for the better in the future.
Our No Roads team is spread right across the globe, from Papua New Guinea to Italy. We are supporting as many of these people as possible, as their lives are shut down too. There are simply no travellers to guide, to cook for, to put a tent up for or to carry their bag for. Many have returned to their villages, back to their roots and sitting it out. We hope that in some of the remoter places like the Kokoda Track or the PNG Highlands the virus is kept at bay. For many, the crops they grow will sustain them. While others who live in urban centres will struggle to buy food and medicine.
I have reached out to them too. I have told them just what I have written here; that this is a danger, we must take it seriously and it will eventually pass. They too live in hope that it passes without too much trouble and that travellers and explorers return sooner rather than later.
That is why in the coming weeks I will be calling for expressions of interest from our community to put your name down to be one of the first to return to these remote and beautiful places. To provide much-needed income for these friends of ours and to get them back on their feet. The list will be obligation free of course and the trips will be heavily discounted so we can attract as many people as possible.
We will continue to seek inspiration from the world around us, to dream of places beyond our garden fence and of people with strange names and colourful traditions. And we will continue to bring the world to you through Facebook and email and YouTube until the storm has passed and we are free to roam once again.