Doses of the unknown

 Beau Miles in The Backyard Adventurer:

My Africa trip encouraged me to unlearn the habits of information overload. Two years of preparations went mostly out the door as soon as I landed on the giant continent. It turns out the key was sponging up the intricacies of a place with an entirely different set of rules instigated by people with an entirely similar set of humanisms. While catching a bus might be different in the way you get on, pay for and get off, the bus driver has a distinctly similar set of attributes to her Manhattan counterpart. In the same way you can read people with some time and attention, you can read the landscape. Heading in as many different directions as I needed to and trusting the first, second or third person I asked about any given thing was the main way that information flowed into the life force of that long expedition. People trumped maps, guidebooks and the internet, allowing me to be informed, just enough. A lack of knowledge loads up the venture with even doses of the unknown, which works well for me, and anxiety, which seems bad but is actually useful to an adventurer.

I have been thinking and talking a lot about risk, anxiety, growth, and travel lately, and this passage sums up a lot of it quite nicely: we need doses of the unknown to grow and thrive, and COVID, in eliminating travel, has robbed us of a significant wellspring.

When I think of the really great travel memories I carry with me, they are all the result of the happenstancery Miles writes about: looking for a movie theatre in South Korea, trying to find the circus in Munich, searching for long-lost relatives in Croatia, getting lost in Osaka.

Recent times have served to recast “doses of the unknown” as bogeymen: bone fractures, tumour growth, bad scans, death, emptiness. No wonder I’m emerging confused and anxious.

Clearly I need to fall in love with the unknown again.