Just thinking of that walk makes my feet hurt. It was self-inflicted, of course, but it was painful nonetheless. While I made it a point to traverse the circuit of jagged rocks and concrete mounds, designed to dig into the soles our feet with the same effect as acupuncture, Mark seemed to take it with a much more serene type of discipline that only a man who has spent months in quiet concentration could muster. In fact, he had done that, recently completing a yoga instructor course in the practice’s home, India. The walk I am describing took place several months ago. Mark was one of my first Couchsurfing guests, and he has long since departed on yet another leg of his incredible journey. This story is only now taking shape because I had failed to realize the amazing story that brought him to me in Seoul. It was only after I saw that he had written about his 23-day trek to the base camp at the foot of Mount Everest did I start to dig more deeply. It was in that same park, only a few meters from that masochistic walk that I devoured the thousands of words of his own telling of his story since he cast off the lines mooring him to his stagnant life in Southern California. What I found was a man in whose footsteps I hope to follow and whose story deserves to be heard round the world.
“Adventure can be found chasing the unknown right in your own backyard. Wherever your adventure is, don’t wait. Do it now. There is no perfect time.” – Mark G.
Creeping along in the daily bumper-to-bumper traffic on the I-405, Mark’s hands mechanically wound through the motions of tying his neck tie in preparation for another day of the grind. Though his feet were working the pedals and his hands were straightening the knot at his throat, his mind was a world away. Finally arriving at the office, he began the perfunctory duties of a job he had considered to be his dream job in Los Angeles. It should have been a good day. He had been with the company for three years, and he had just received another generous bonus that could certainly finance another short jaunt to an exotic location abroad. However, he was not abroad; he was in the same place he always was. His dreams still existed only in his mind, and the spirit of unstoppable audacity he had as a child seemed only a memory and a constant distraction as his thoughts wandered away from his desk to exotic lands on the other side of the globe.
How did it come to this? How had that spirit of his childhood slipped into the background? What was it that held him to a life of repetition and drudgery?
There is a certain concept of success in the modern world. Go to college. Find a good job. Get promoted. Do as you are told. Work, sleep, repeat. For Mark, it was a constant struggle between the path he knew he was supposed to follow and the one he wanted. In between the requisite hours at the office, he would ease his mind in the fluid motions of yoga or simply slip away to the wilderness of Southern California to find his happy place. Though it provided a temporary escape, he always knew there must be more. It just never seemed to be the right time. His indecisiveness kept him on the path of least resistance.
That said, Mark almost broke away for good in 2008. In the space after graduating university, he jetted off to Ecuador for what was supposed to be a three-week getaway with a friend from college. However, in the middle of the trip, he received word that despite his satisfactory marks on an exam he had taken in applying for a position with the County of Los Angeles, there simply were no jobs. This was mid-2008, and the American economy was still reeling from the pain of the recent stock market meltdown. Recognizing that returning home was futile, he worked out a deal with a hostel to stretch his money. The arrangement, however, would eventually come to an end. After nine weeks abroad, he returned home to Southern California. The grooves of habit run deep, and back into them he fell as he returned to school to get a graduate degree. He did so and shortly thereafter located his “dream job.”
Life was good, and Mark made the most of it for three years. He always had known it would come to this, but his plans continued to stretch from one year to two and finally to three. He knew that the quotidian life of commute and computation would never satisfy his true desires. After a third year and a third generous bonus that did nothing to increase his happiness, he realized that there would be no perfect time to leave. He decided it was time to cast off.
The process was not quick nor easy. He had made some very strong connections with his colleagues and especially his boss, who had become a veritable mentor. Because Mark would not accept the idea of leaving extra labor for his coworkers, an already generous three-week notice turned into six as he finished up his current projects and trained his replacement. Part of the anxiety came from the thought of scrutiny from the others who would remain, so he kept the move under wraps for a while. However, when the news started to leak out, there was no animosity. In fact, most were excited for his impending journey, and some even made moves to follow.
As the date of Mark’s departure approached, he started the process of liquidating his belongings. He knew that in order to live this nomadic life fully, he would need to lighten his load to that which he could carry. The liberation of lightening the load came with a bittersweet feeling. While the sale of many items was a burden lifted, others left with a tearing pain of loss. An avid musician and cyclist, he anguished over parting with his musical instruments and his bicycle. Though they were only objects, they had been the tools with which Mark had created great joy in the life he had known for so many years. Saying goodbye to them was like saying goodbye to a part of his life. Encouragingly, the exchange left his pack light but his wallet heavy. This was, of course, not a license to spend extravagantly. It was an invitation to stretch his time on the move for even longer.
Mark’s plans for the journey were tentative at best. He had been to Asia a few times and still found it fascinating, so it seemed to be a good place to start. He was in a committed relationship at the time, and he invited his girlfriend to join his adventures. Though he knew that he would need a solo experience, things got messy, as relationships often do, and they made arrangements to explore Southeast Asia. With the last of his things dwindling away, Mark moved in with his parents and finished preparations for his adventure. Even though he was on a path out of his old life, he continued with the daily routines all the way up to the end. He even attended a real estate conference in Las Vegas where he discussed future employment opportunities. However, his decision had been made, and he was set to cast off from that world.
The day before his planned departure, Mark scrambled to store all of the little mementos that he could not bring himself to part with. He organized his pack and made sure everything was ready to go before he and his girlfriend went to sleep at home for the last in a long time.
At 4:30 the next morning, his dad dropped the two of them off at the airport to check in for a standby flight. Though it was the most economical option, it came with risk, and this time the odds won. The flight was full. Mark searched frantically for another flight. Transfer through San Fransisco? Fly into Osaka? It didn’t matter. They needed something, and he was determined to leave that day. Finally, they located a pair seats. After 14 hours at the airport, they shouldered their packs and boarded the aircraft bound for Tokyo. As the wheels came up and the jumbo jet carried its passengers into the sky, Mark took a breath and started to reflect on the whirlwind that had just torn his life apart. All the way up to his date of departure, he had been carrying out his duties, living his quotidian life. Flying across the Pacific Ocean, he began the process of creating his new life. It would take months for him to fully separate.
Sitting on the airplane, listening to the soundtrack of the inspirational remake of the adventure film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Mark reflected on the events that had transpired. The days, months, and years spent trudging along his predetermined path, always cognizant of the parallel life he believed he should be leading, had finally come to an end, and he was on his way out of that world into a journey to discover things both outside and inside of himself. Like a Little Prince off in search of worlds beyond his own tiny orb, Mark eschewed the trappings of silly grown-up ideologies and embraced an intense curiosity for the world.
Things have not always been perfect and easy. There are always challenges. Waking to the sound of his girlfriend screaming from the top bunk of an overnight train and having standoffs with Indian pickpockets are just as real a part of the journey as being welcomed into the base camp of Mount Everest. As may have been expected from its messy beginning, his relationship with the woman with whom he began the journey has ended, but a new romance has entered his life. They met in Vietnam while he was a rock climbing instructor, and their relationship has grown as they have met in different exotic locations around the globe. Though a life on the road has its difficulties, those challenges exist in all our lives. The difference lies in the heights of elation and enlightenment that Mark has encountered along his travels.
Up mountains in Indonesia, through busy lanes in India, along hallowed paths in Nepal, and across ruthless stone walks in Korea, Mark has found a world that he never could have imagined. As I am writing this, he is in Guatemala working a farm of a friend of his current girlfriend. Over the past 16 months, he has bounced through more countries than I can keep track of and met more new friends than the vast majority of people meet in their entire lives.
While he has been away, he has kept in touch with his old office. It seems that his boldness to step off into the great unknown encouraged a handful of his former colleagues to do the same, whether it be to travel like him or simply to find a better suited career path. As soon as he broke the news that he was going to cast off to pursue his dreams, he began influencing others to do the same. With every message I receive from him, he is still inspiring me.
If you would like to hear more about Mark’s travels, please follow his blog The Grizzy. He can tell you those stories better than I can. I hope only to serve as a messenger of the tale of this great man, who cast off the lines that held him to his stagnant shore and set sail toward lands of mystery, wonder, and curiosity.