How was your journey?
Sean Stillman's memoir God's Biker will be published on 20 September. Here, he chats with us about a different way to frame travel experiences.
After having ridden, what is fast approaching, half a million miles by motorcycle, the road has become more than just a means of getting from one place to another as quickly as possible. The road has become both a friend and an enemy. It has provided the necessary space to think in isolation, uninterrupted by the demands of gadgets. It has created the lens through which to marvel at the natural world and also the challenge to battle against its elements. The heightened risks that come with riding a motorcycle are never far away though – there’s an edginess that keeps things real and keeps your focus sharp.
The road has also become a place of learning to welcome unexpected interruptions along the way. Moments that could so easily be missed, stories so easily untold if it is all about getting somewhere as quick as you can. Over the decades, I have learned to welcome the interruptions. Far from being inconveniences, they have become milestones of significant insight, often from the most surprising sources.
Sometimes I’ve literally been sat in the gutter sharing soup with a homeless friend, who pointed out something that everyone else was missing. On other occasions, it may be a chance conversation that uncovers a captivating story of marginalised indigenous people, being prepared to risk their lives to save their oppressors. It could be the easy to miss grave of a twelve-year-old girl, whose death brought peace to an entire nation of warrior tribes or, it could be the guy who grabbed the opportunity to tell his story of growing up in the shadow of Chernobyl, because he thought the world had forgotten him and his community.
So often the perfect journey, is thought to be the one without interruptions, wrong turns and side-tracks. As I reflect back over the years and miles, some of the most valuable experiences of my life have been exactly at these moments. Ambushed by disaster, frustrated by delays and disappointed in my own stupidity. Often my own broader journey has been far from perfect – yet somehow amid the chaos, the questions and the heartache, it has become a beautiful adventure.
We live in a climate when the perfect selfie is sought and with an obsession for filters to enhance the image, we strive for perfection. We are fearful of our own imperfections, blemishes, fractures and flaws amid the brokenness of our lives. There’s a tendency to fall apart when we realise we cannot place a sunny warm-up filter over every blemish, every stain, every missed opportunity or every mistake. I am reminded of U2’s lyric concerning grace making beauty out of ugly things and this concept has become a significant part of my own story. I have come to discover that moment of liberating surrender; letting go of putting on a perfect performance, and finding, and embracing beauty in broken places.
Next time someone asks, ‘How was your journey?’ – wouldn’t it be great to say, ‘You wouldn’t believe what happened on the way!’