Since the day I landed in Australia, since the day I got a full time job, an address and kind of a sedentary life, I was repeatedly and candidly told that I would, one day, have to settle down – a “life advice” obviously heard over and over again by anyone who has experienced the bohemian lifestyle. For many, it is unthinkable someone builds his life toward something else than settling down, creating a family and trying to succeed in a career.
But apart from underlining the idea that I will “have to” stop sooner or later, people fail to provide me with the reasons supporting their claim. Nobody wants – or can – explain to me why, at some point in my life, I will have to change my lifestyle. Why traveling is a dream, an activity only intented for summer holidays, gap years and retirement.
The thing is, as you might know by now, I deeply believe that persisting in your passions, dreams and interests allows us to uncover a world of possibilities. A world of possible lives, also. The simple action of trying sows opportunities by allowing a person to meet other people – normal people, like you and me – who have walked the road we are attracted to. These people become sources of inspiration, models and proofs that original ideas and lives outside the box are possible.
In this spirit, to spread and immortalize the inspiration they provided me with, I introduce you to these three models I would never have met if I had not dared stepping into the unknown.
ALAIN | 48 YEARS OLD | FRENCH
I met Alain in Nepal somewhere close to 5500m above sea level. On the the 7th day of my Three Passes Trek, five minutes before reaching the summit of the first pass, one of the rare trekkers carrying more than me becomes one of the rare ones to pass me. Once on top of the pass, we celebrate: we are the first ones!
He took this picture of me and Mount Everest. It was the very first time I saw it.
Alain is a mountain guide, often guiding on mountaineering trips. Hence, he takes care of groups trekking in high altitude all around the world, but especially in Nepal. And since there was very little work in autumn 2015 (only six months after a powerful earthquake in Nepal), he decided to hike the Great Himalayan Trail. The path crossing Nepal with more than 20 passes above 5000m will take him around 115 days to finish.
On the day I met him, on my 7th day, he was at his 89th. The next day, supposed to be a rest day for both of us, I took the opportunity to question him about his life and his job. About everything he did to get there, about how persevering and becoming a reference in his passions got him to make a living.
Alain, who was almost double my age, was proving me that I wasn’t nourishing a utopia. He was a man of dreams, of challenges and outdoors. Instead of learning to love what he did, he decided to do what he loved and kept doing it until he could make a living of it. And from the Himalayan heights, he didn’t seem to regret a thing.
FRANCESCO | 48 YEARS OLD| ITALIAN
Francesco crossed my path a few weeks before Alain, as my mother and I were trekking the Annapurna Circuit. Tall, strapping and a man of few words, he was walking a few hundred meter ahead of his wife and stopped from time to time to wait for her.
A meal shared with them made me discover a role model I would never have expected. While his wife had a “typical” day job, he only worked six to eight months a year – mostly in construction – and then left to trek for two, three, sometimes four months straight. Alone.
Sitting next to him, I was listening to my mother describing my own personnal adventure when all of a sudden, with sparkles in his eyes, he turned to me and broke with his usual peaceful impassibility: “You are like me…”, he said, with the most authentic smile.
In an existence where he alternated between solo expeditions and traditionnal marriage,- and as his wife sometimes accompanied him in romantic adventures – he struck one of the most sensitive chords to my mind. I, living so often and through my passions and emotions, could finally contemplate somebody who had been capable tof handling and reconciling one’s dreams and love, a task I thought well-nigh impossible.
And Francesco didn’t nourish small dreams :
“When he leaves, I never know if he will come back [alive]”, added his wife.
My kind of dreams. And my kind of dilemma.
GRÉGOIRE | 46 YEARS OLD| FRENCH
I met Grégoire three times, all of them on Borneo island. The first time, in Malaysia, quickly turned into one of those conversations that mark you forever. The second time was on my 26th birthday, in Brunei, and the third time was a fortunate encounter at the bottom of Mount Kinabalu.
When Grégoire was still in his mid thirties, living in France, he had what we could call an “office job”. Looking for more deep personnal realisation, intensity and passion in his life, he was planning to leave for a long travel when life itself came down on him like a ton of bricks.
After a few treatments and an operation, Grégoire was forced to stay in the hospital until the doctors knew if he was saved, or… if it was too late. He then spent several days waiting for the verdict – the longest days of his life – in a room with a few other patients in a similar situation.
Except for one point: the others were much older, and all considered terminally ill…
For this short but unending moment, no discussion could steer away from that harsh and omnipresent reality. All advices given from those deathbeds pointed in the same direction. Whether they were in their sixties or eighties, these men and women looking back on their lives like through the window of a plane had only one topic in mind: everything they hadn’t done, simply because they didn’t take the time.
Whether it was making music, loving someone to the fullest or traveling the world didn’t matter anymore and personnal differences vanished behind the regret of having spent so much effort to survive, instead of living. As if without noticing it, we took time for granted, inexhaustible and benign.
“I come at last to death and to the attitude we have toward it. On this point everything has been said and it is only proper to avoid pathos. Yet one will never be sufficiently surprised that everyone lives as if no one “knew.””
– Albert Camus (The myth of Sisyphus)
In that hospital room, Grégoire did not discover a deep desire to travel the world: he already had it. In that hospital room, he felt tomorrow’s inevitable absurdity while waiting anxiously, sitting at the first row of time taking its toll.
When I met him, Grégoire had been on the road for over ten years already. Working freelance as a translator on his laptop, armed with a backpack and an inimitable serenity, he lived a modern nomadic life just like I imagine it: in a small guesthouse deep in Malaysia or at the bottom of Southeast Asia’s highest mountain, smiling and peaceful.
If sometimes the unknown seems intimidating, I would like to believe it’s by making the first steps on our own path that we learn best how to walk it. Because it’s only on that road we can meet all those who have explored it before us.
Grégoire, Francesco and Alain all appeared before me while I was doing what I love most in the world, and even if I didn’t really know what I was doing, they showed me one after the other that the path I took could take me far.
To you three, whose footsteps illuminate my most tenacious doubts, I say thank you.