The Wanderer – Voyages, Challenge and Life

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Gav and Neal talked about an excerpt from the book, ‘The Wanderer’ by Sterling Hayden. A key quote:

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen, who play with their boats at sea – “cruising”, it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the mean, abadon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

Little has been said or written about the ways a man may blast himself free. Why I don’t know, unless the answer lies in our diseased values. A man seldom hesitates to describe his work, he gladly divulges the privacies of alleged sexual conquest. But ask him how much he has in the bank, and he recoils into a shocked and stubborn silence. 

‘I’ve always wanted to sail the south seas, but I can’t afford it.’ What these men can’t afford is not to go. They are in meshed in the cancerous discipline of security. And in the worship of security, we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine, and before we know it, our lives are gone. What does a man need – really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That’s all in the material sense, and we know it but we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments mortgages, preposterous, gadgetry, play things that divert our attention from the sheer idiocy of the charade. 

The years thunder by. The dreams of youth grow dim, where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed. Where then lies the answer? In choice: which shall it be bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life. What follows is not a blueprint for the man ientombed, not many people find themselves in a situation, been payed $150,000* per year, as if any man is worth that much, but the struggle is relative. It’s a lot harder to walk away from an income like that than from a fraction thereof.”

(*1.5m in today’s money)

Gav related his experience as a young man turning his back on a cushy job in Australia to take a volunteering role in Afghanistan in the early ’00s. Others thought he was mad to make that decision but something drew him. The stories of the subcontinent and the region fascinated him and were his equivalent of the ‘South Seas’. Making decisions based on secure financial decisions would have had a different outcome for him.

For me, it reminded me of the quote from Joseph Campbell: ‘the insecure way is the secure way’. That you need to trust yourself (not the abstract concept of financial security) when going on a journey. A tonne of money won’t help when faced with trouble in the South Seas. Gav furthered that idea and that you need to have trust in people as well, and this was one of the core elements for him. And this is want contrasted so much with the concept of cruising or traversing. The key line also was ‘challenging’. This brings in concepts such as antifragility and applying stress to become stronger / fitter / wiser / more adaptive.

In one interesting story, Gav talks about how a trip to a grave in Scotland to take a picture for his friend turned into an adventure with multiple people along way helping him out. An easy ‘cruising’ solution was to use the cash and rent a car. But there would’ve been no hardship, no encounters with fellow humans to ask for help, and in short, no story – nothing learned or gained as a result.