As a landscape photographer, I guess I am most at peace in the great outdoors. I am, however, no serious through hiker, runner, swimmer or climber and I feel humbled in the presence of many who post to this site. Neither am I a two-wheeled road warrior - more a man on a bike which is a very different proposition. Despite a love for being outside, my reason for being there is more about discovery and "the journey", with the destination often very much secondary. It is what happens while en-route that I find truly fascinating.
Is It OK To Just Sit? - (Alta Via - 2018)
My trips vary in length and "pain" they most regularly last a few hours or days in length though for the past couple of years I have also sought to allocate approximately a month a year to a single journey which allows me a more considerable period of freedom from the rat race (being self-employed helps!). I find that traveling solo allows my mind greater freedom to explore cultures, landscapes and projects and to guide my creative thinking though I do also very much enjoy the pleasure of traveling with others, depending on the nature of the adventure.
The Wrong Way - But Who Really Cares!(Danube - 2019)
Aside from the simple joy of travel, the purpose of each journey is essentially twofold. The first is to draw attention to how we travel and to raise awareness of issues surrounding climate change, of which one of the most significant contributors is air travel. Set to double in number to 4 trillion miles by 2040 this is one of the single most significant causes of emissions into the atmosphere. If through my own actions I can persuade just one person to take one less flight, or ideally not more than one flight per year, and instead use land-based transport (preferably train or bus but I will settle for car for now) to arrive at and return from their adventure, I will have delivered my objective. Add to that the concept that you do not need to travel to exotic, remote locations to find adventure, beauty and the pure, uncluttered joy of walking or cycling and my mission would be complete.
My second objective is to undertake my own immersive photographic exploration of what I witness and feel as I progress. While I develop themes that reflect my practice and personal ethos, I try not to set out with too many specific subjects that I want to shoot, instead, responding to what I see and feel whilst en route. (I should perhaps confess here that such an approach is somewhat scary for someone like me who typically works on project or objective-based bodies of work, but it is good to take yourself out of your comfort zone occasionally.)
The Magnificent Beech -from a series exploring the impacts of an unprecedented storm (Alta Via - 2018)
My most recent trip, in July 2019 was to cycle west along the course of the mighty and magnificent Danube river, Europe's longest at 2850 odd kilometers from the Black Sea in Romania to its source in Germany, passing through 10 European countries along the route. If I didn't make it all the way, I decided, I would simply jump on a train when time pressures required. The previous year I solo trekked a series of little walked ridges of the Alti Via in the Maritime Alps of Liguria, Italy, where the Alps meets the Mediterranean. And for 2020 I am currently looking to "commute" back home to Italy from Scotland by bike (having caught several trains and a ferries across Italy, France, and England to attend a meeting), cycling to Newcastle from where I will take a ferry to Amsterdam, follow the Rhine to its source and then onwards over the Alps and back into Liguria.
Whilst cycling the Danube (on this occasion a trip I was lucky enough to share with my brother) I saw scenes of truly breathtaking natural beauty, innocent people's homes and lives destroyed through floods caused by unprecedented rain and snowmelt upstream thousands of miles away, exquisitely manicured countryside and towns and abject poverty with subsistence farmers hand plowing their strips of land. A massive car with blacked-out windows and loud exhaust accelerating past a family that sat atop horse and trap. Of man's desire to tame and control his landscape while occasionally seeking to protect it. I met the Pope waving from his car as I walked down a street in Beograd. We got lost and found and ate delicious ice cream and laughed with complete strangers.
Traveling this way also allowed me to witness different cultures and the amazing uniqueness of countries that live side by side. Each special, each different and yet each a neighbor on a small planet. I felt privileged. But as we cycled her course and passed through different countries and histories I also became increasingly obsessed, genuinely moved and finally utterly horrified by the actions man has bestowed upon these same neighbors. That he has done so on multiple occasions including in the recent past. And then, a final realization that through breaking down borders the European Union has brought about the most prolonged period of sustained peace in the history of the continent. Six months later I do not believe I could have felt such a depth of feeling if traveling any other way.
Why? - Mauthausen(Danube - 2019)
What if You Were on the Other Side? - (Danube - 2019)
What I can say, having now completed several such trips, is just how rewarding this form of "slow" travel truly is. It isn't just the satisfaction of covering a few kilometers each day that matters it is about the experiences along the way and having sufficient time to genuinely appreciate them. Not all of them positive but all educational and in some way adding to my understanding of personal place. To be immersed within the landscape rather than merely traveling through it like a goldfish peering through the window of a car.
And ultimately, the longer the trips last, the more I realize just how little material goods mean when compared to the minimalism of life on the road. Where aside from food, water, shelter (and company) one needs for so very little to Have a deep satisfaction and happiness. That is dozing off in a tent after a long days cycle results in a deep and peaceful sleep hard to replicate in ordinary life.
I guess if you are reading this on the Six Moon Designs blog, you will likely be of a similar spirit to the extent that you will hopefully appreciate, at least in part, the message I am trying to convey. That in seeking out the beauty and diversity of this crazy planet, however you choose to do it, there is something worth making an effort for. That we are part of nature and not at war with it. Nor need we be with ourselves. That in recognizing this perhaps we can each take the next step in our own personal journey towards its protection, which as with any journey, brings with it responsibility and is something we can only determine for ourselves.