Paul Pitchfork Explores South America
After serving 18 years as an officer in the Gurkhas, deploying on many operational tours in Afghanistan, Paul Pitchfork bade farewell to a long military career. His view on soldiering and what he wanted out of life shifted. In February 2012, Paul decided his time in the Army was up. His plan upon leaving was to prepare for and undertake a solo row across the Indian Ocean. Paul got as far as buying a custom-built ocean rowing boat, but then switched gears, sold the boat, and contemplated the blank canvas suddenly confronting him.
“I wanted to give myself time before choosing a new career. But one morning in May I woke up and saw the absurdity of this proposition. I had spent most of my adult life working to a plan, driving myself hard and proving myself - and here I was, doing it again. I had a major personal transition in life facing me, and five months alone in a small boat on the high seas was blatantly not what I needed.”
Two months earlier, and after years of procrastination, Paul finally passed his motorcycle test and bought a Triumph Tiger 800 and instantly fell in love with the thrill of the ride. "Travel had always been one of my passions, so the idea of a long motorbike ride across foreign lands came easily to me. It would give me the time and space I needed to adjust to life outside the military, as well as open up my path to new places, people and perspectives on life."
The decision was made. Paul dug out and read an unopened copy of “The Long Way Round” (a gift before the motorcycle bug bit), and bought Chris Scott’s overlanding bible, “The Adventure Motorcycling Handbook”. When test riding KTM’s 990 Adventure at the local dealership, Paul saw a practically new, fully-prepared, Yamaha Tenere sitting on the forecourt. Three days later it was parked beside the Tiger in his driveway.
Five months after deciding to sell his ocean rowing boat, Paul rode his Tenere out of the customs shed at Buenos Aires Airport and set off for Ushuaia. South America was the decided destination. After so long in the Army, his time on the road has been profound and impactful.
"As a soldier nearly all my adult life, I had become used to structure, organisation, having a defined path ahead, always being 'in control'. Here in South America, that all fell away."
Paul found this new way of living both exciting, and daunting at times.
"I had given up an identity, a clear set of reference points and a sense of purpose and had chosen to step into a void. I was suddenly very free - an anonymous rider on foreign roads, no longer in control of the hand that life would deal me, with my worldly possessions on the back of my bike."
Reflecting on this dramatic challenge in lifestyle, Paul observes how many professionals struggle to let go of the identity and sense of purpose that a clearly-defined career provides. Yet he sees, from personal experience, the power of doing so.
"During my time travelling I have come to see the importance, indeed the imperative, to force ourselves to occasionally stop and take stock; to have no purpose for a time; to embrace an empty horizon. Only then can we really see where life has thus far led us, who we have become, and where life's 'flow' wants to take us next."
Paul has found it easy to “go with the flow” whilst on the road; something that was almost impossible within the structured life of the military.
"When I set off from Buenos Aires in November 2012, I had a plan, but I quickly learnt to stop planning and controlling - a broken moto in Patagonia less than two months after setting off, which took six weeks to repair, taught me that early on."
By “going with the flow”, he has found himself in some wonderful places that were never on his radar when he set off, and has met some special people who would otherwise not have crossed his path; including one particular Chilena who would later become his girlfriend and is now riding north to Colombia with Paul.
In tackling what Paul describes the most significant transition in his life, riding through South America has proven to be strong tonic.
"Life on the road has given me the time and space to recalibrate. It has provided an opportunity to reflect, shown me other ways of life, taught me to let go of control and to trust what life has in store for me. Above all, it has given me a taste of real freedom, and it has been enormous fun - something we all need more of in our lives." Horcamoto.com