Gabriel Morris in India

Gabriel Morris in India
A mysterious cave in south India.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Introduction to Following My Thumb (click here for more info)

This is the Introduction to "Following My Thumb: A Decade of Unabashed Wanderlust" by Gabriel Morris:


Why travel? Good question. Like most things in life it depends on what you want to get out of it. A two-week vacation of tranquil boredom on a tropical beach can be the perfect antidote to the hectic 9-5 work schedule and all the other pressures and stresses associated with modern-day life. I’ve enjoyed more than a few weeks of tropical bliss myself in the course of my travels, and hope to again in the future.

But as for myself, it’s not a vacation from 9-5 I’ve looked forward to but, because I think modernity is for the most part an unnatural and incongruous way of living to begin with, I’ve done my best to skip the daily grind entirely. My travels could certainly be described as bumbling at times, lacking a clear direction or purpose. The whole not-having-a-regular-job thing meant that I was generally traveling on the cheap, sometimes to the extreme. My travels in Europe when I was 18, and the corresponding creative lengths I went to in finding a place to sleep for the night, led to my mantra of “benches, beaches, barns and bridges” (all being suitable places to rest one’s head, in a pinch). It seemed that whatever fix I managed to get myself into due to a lack of cash on hand, there was always a way out of it—as long as I kept my options very wide open and expectations to a minimum.

But as hopefully the following 26 stories will illustrate, with a certain degree of flexibility, open-mindedness and flagrant disregard for following the societal rules (as well as a little luck thrown in to help compensate) one can travel on a budget without compromising the experience in the slightest. In fact, it’s more than likely to be a hell of a lot more interesting (or harrowing, as the case may be).

A vacation is one thing. An adventure is something else entirely. My quest has been one of seeking out experiences that were catalysts for expanding my mind, learning and evolving—situations that suddenly showed me the world and myself from a completely different perspective, or challenged me to reach for a new way of being. The most rewarding experiences were almost inevitably the ones that I didn’t plan, didn’t expect and sometimes couldn’t have even imagined. And underneath it all, from the joyous moments to the terrifying ones, has been a silent, steady lesson of trusting the universe to provide what I needed, one way or another.

This book chronicles my first decade of being an unrepentant travel addict, from 1990-2000. Part 1 tells the stories of my first introduction to hitchhiking as a young boy and my first trip abroad when I was eighteen, as well as my escapades rambling around Alaska as a college kid—including unknowingly following on the heels of Chris McCandless, subject of Into the Wild. I hitchhiked part of the same stretch of highway through Canada and Alaska just a few months after him, and spent that summer working in Denali National Park, just a short ways away from where he was living in an abandoned bus, before dying of starvation.

Part 2 takes things to another level after I drop out of college and commence six years of semi-homeless traveling around the United States on a spiritual quest; which resulted in everything from falling in love on the road to getting mixed up with a strange cult, to attending Rainbow Gatherings and sweat lodges and living in the Hawaiian rainforest for several months.

And in Part 3 I explore a whole new dimension of cultural immersion and reality-bending as I spend five months traveling throughout the vast sea of rich culture and humanity that is India. I attend a massive spiritual gathering on the Ganges River, visit the erotic temple ruins of Khajuraho, tangle with an assortment of crooked businessmen and end up hiding from tigers in the jungle while awaiting the much-hyped potential effects of Y2K.

Although the book isn’t all about hitchhiking by any means, the theme of “following my thumb” prevails throughout (not unlike following one’s heart or gut…except that the thumb has the practical element of being able to actually get you there, i.e. hitchhiking). Put another way, it’s the journey, not the destination. Life is indeed short, and I’ve just tried to make the most of it. But hey, I’ll let the stories tell themselves and stop wasting your time with a lengthy introduction. Enjoy, and happy trails.

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