Ever since I was kid I’ve often heard things like:”Forget about your destination, enjoy the journey”, but I’ve never really cared about that. Even if I’ve always loved travelling, I considered the journey a way to get from point A to point B, and my task was usually to make it as quick and efficient as possible because after all B was my destination, my goal. It did not matter how I was getting there: running, hiking, cycling, on a plane, on a boat…my main focus had always been on B.
Then something changed a few years back.
It was one of those days when nothing particular happens. I went to work, then back home, played a bit with my PC, booked a flight to Australia and started planning to travel it by bicycle. Just the regular stuff. Unfortunately after 6 months of planning and over 3000kms I injured my back in a way that abruptly trashed my plan, but that’s a whole different story.
When I landed in Melbourne after a flight that felt like a bottomless pit (Milan-Rome-Dubai-Kuala Lumpur-Melbourne, just kill me…) it was around 1.30am on a rainy August night. I quickly jumped on the shuttle bus and I crawled my way inside a hotel room that became my home for about a week. During that week I had to check everything on my shopping list to make sure that I was prepared for the ride, so I spent quite a bit of time shopping in outdoor stores for a tent and some basic tools, some extra cycling gear and so on.
Apart from my shopping spree I behaved like a regular tourist, visiting all the famous locations of the city, enjoying some fine Australian wine (and even though I’m Italian, I have to admit the white Ozzy wines are absolutely phenomenal and much better than most of what I’ve had in Italy) and taking a lot of pictures.
Then I jumped on my bike and I started to make my way in direction of my first stop, a small town (un)known by the name of Heathcote. The distance from Melbourne is around 100kms, so it was supposed to be just a nice ride on mostly flat roads that I had planned to divide evenly between the morning and the afternoon. My mp3 player started pumping some power metal and off I went. I just kept going, focusing on the road and being careful as to drive on the correct side of the road. Then the road suddenly had a very long turn to the left, in order to run around a small hill, and that allowed be to have a look back where I came from.
I parked the bike next to the fence and I had a better look. Back in the day I had a small, cheap point and shoot camera (my biggest regret of that time), and this is what I got by zooming a bit further:
The skyline from Melbourne, that looked so massive and imposing while I was strolling around those streets, felt so small and faraway. I cannot exactly remember how far I was from the city, but I started to look back, to have an idea of what I managed to achieve so far. And then I thought that from the moment I left the hotel to moment I took those pictures, a lot of things happened.
While I was riding through a park I stumbled upon a small rock: no big deal, but the guys at the bike store didn’t fix the rear skewer properly (and I didn’t check it as well), so I had a nice landing on a grass field where I had to spend a good 20 minutes recovering all my stuff, checking that everything still worked and swearing profusely in some general direction.
When I left the CBD of Melbourne and I started to make my way through the suburbs I passed by a bench in the middle of nowhere where I sit for 5 minutes having a small snack (leftover Subway Marinara from the previous day) and I shared part of it with a stray dog.
I passed by a place called Batman Park.
Suddenly all the small things that I experienced during my ride started to play a much bigger role inside of my mind, while at the same time the “regular” stuff slowly started to fade away.
When someone asks me about Australia, they often expect names like Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, the Great Ocean Drive and many others. But when I hear the name “Australia”, the things that immediately and spontaneously come to my mind are not the destinations, rather the journey itself.
I’d not be able to say much about the beautiful Botanic Gardens in Melbourne, but I could describe the moment and the place when the wind suddenly started to blow from North-West making my progress much slower, and I decided to take a slightly longer but wind-friendlier rout to a small town called Seymour, that it is now known as “The Place Where I Lost My GPS”.
I don’t remember where I’ve had meals in Melbourne, but I could get back to that awesome chinese takeaway restaurant in Seymour even blindfolded.
Would you like some details about surfing? Can’t help you, but I can easily lead you to one of the best mixed grills I’ve ever had. That’s in Heathcote, a place that became my second home for a few days because a truck almost hit me and I fell off the road, expect this time I landed on concrete and I rode the last 10kms while bleeding from a leg.
And the day when I run out of water because my my big 5l tank was leaking and, in the middle of nowhere, I decided to take my chances and drank the water from a lake, trying to filter it by simply digging a hole next to it (and it worked out fine!).
Everything from that journey is still vivid in my memory, even the smallest details.
Some may say:”Well, it was a special journey, it’s kind of obvious that you can remember it so clearly”. But the point in this case in not just about the memory of the journey, but my personal attitude towards it.
A 5kms ride that now takes me to a small park near home has become a 5kms ride where I keep my eyes open to see the things around me, to notice what people do, to find something special worth remembering. A few years ago I’d have never payed attention to a dog that looked at the guy in front of me without paying too much attention, and then suddenly opened his eyes while I was passing by, staring at me as if I was an alien (well, technically I am, but that was still kinda racist of him).
This picture? I took it between two famous waterfalls, I was stunned by the beauty of the water laying on the web during that rainy day, while the spider who built it probably went abroad looking for some better weather. Everyone who was walking on that path missed it because they were too focused on the two waterfalls, and only one other guy realized there was something beautiful underneath the trees when he noticed that I was in an awkward position trying to get a picture.
This idea of “slowing down” works especially well if you’re interested in photography, because if you start to carefully looking around yourself you’ll notice that the pictures you prefer are those that represent a story (or part of it), or something special and unexpected that you found at the most unusual time or place, rather than the same picture of a building or monument that everyone has, and that you’ve already seen a million times.
This also explains why I really like this picture:
Behind me there was a beautiful and famous lake inside a park, but it was a rainy day and I did not find it particularly interesting, while that girl slowly walking away on that lane while carrying her umbrella immediately got my attention, and it’s still the moment that I remember most clearly from that day.
I’ve learned that getting to your destination is only a matter of time, but being able to enjoy the journey is not just a nice quote over the internet, it’s actually a way to see things in a different way. It may take you a bit longer to get to your point B, but slowing down and having a look all around you may lead you to endless discoveries.