I yearn for the life of freedom, but it would mean giving up many things I want to do. For all of its rewards and the satisfaction it gives me, the daily routine of writing keeps me from doing other things that are equally important to me. It keeps me home (my family and health also play a part), when I have a desire to travel. I stopped too soon; still strong enough, I often think about riding my bicycle across the country again. Now, feeling the effects of my Parkinson’s, I’ve had to return to bicycling, something that had once consumed me. I have memories of long bicycle tours, for instance when in 1976 Peggy and I (with our three-year-old son) moved from Maine to Arizona by bicycle. My memories also take me around the world, across borders and countries to places that are no longer safe for touring. So I sometimes think about going down those roads again and writing about the changes I see, a long then-and-now narrative. It is less a wish than regret that I can’t do everything, less a regret that I chose to use my money in one way than a wish to naively believe I can still do whatever I want. Go across Afghanistan in spite of the war and across Iran in spite of the political situation? Why not? I’m still breathing and moving about.
Thinking of Afghanistan, I remembering waking up one morning in Bamian and climbing around the giant Buddhas that graced and overlooked the town. The site, including a complex of caves, would be a target of the Taliban. The Buddhas, an international treasure, wouldn’t survive, and in the caves, above the town and the main road, there is now only rubble. Or will there be or is there an attempt to reconstruct them? I would like to go see.
Some of the roads we traveled then were also dangerous: there was a warning from the American Embassy in Kabul against camping in Afghanistan. That didn’t keep us from camping and our rewards for such naivete and stupidity were many. There were two major highways across Afghanistan: the northern one built by the Russians and the southern one built by us. We didn’t take either route (except we detoured north enough to go through the world’s highest tunnel and marvel at the Russian’s engineering ability), but we traversed the country in a Land Rover across the middle. The going was tough and grinding, and we had to camp. That was when we encountered a caravan of nomads. They carried everything they owned on horseback. As we were breaking camp, we could see them coming from a long way off. And they rode past us, as if we weren’t there. Were we afraid? No.
When I think about those adventures, I marvel at how far we got on a shoestring. Honestly, it didn’t take much money. We didn’t have much. Some countries weren’t too happy about that. But what could they do about it? They could’ve kept us out (and that’s material of a short story I’ve been going to write for years: about people stuck between two countries with hot goods). And we never felt stuck.