‘Freed’ from the rat race
American traveller Aaron Freed left his home Seattle in August 2011. Since then he’s ridden a motorbike from Alaska to Florida, hitchhiked on sailboats across the globe and plans to cycle from Cairo to South Africa. He spent Christmas in Shetland. ADAM GUEST spoke to him about his around-the-world journey.
It’s more than two years since Aaron Freed began hitchhiking on boats – the first trip was sailing from Miami with an Australian PhD audiologist who specialised in tinnitus and played the didgeridoo.
He’s come a long way since then and this week he’s been sitting on the settee in the flat I was living in last year, after I travelled north
from Yorkshire. To me that seemed a long way but it’s just a hobble for Aaron.
Though his adventure started on the back of a motorbike, 43-year-old Aaron intends to hitchhike by boat around the world.
So far he has had 22 “pass-offs” on private boats, from accompanying couples to solo sailors and an Italian woman with a dog that bit him three times on a 14-day sail to Spain.
Aaron said he originally planned to go as far as Beirut before returning home but “somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic I decided to go all the way round”.
He served 12 years on active duty in the United States Airforce reaching the rank of Major. He left in 2005 and before setting off on his epic journey had been involved in real estate and tried running an internet start-up business.
Aaron said prior to travelling his life had become “a broken record” and he had run out of stories.
While circumnavigating the globe he works online as a freelance consultant in business strategy and marketing to support himself, and
he keeps a log of his travels via an online map.
He’s “beholden to wifi” and said it’s the source of his grey hair, running through a list of troubles he has had on his travels relating to connecting to the internet.
Aaron reached the UK after sailing from the Netherlands, arriving in Harwich, Essex. There he decided to go for pedal power to cycle from Lands End to John o’ Groats, taking in Wales, Ireland and Northern Ireland along the way – not the most direct route.
“I thought I’ve got to get in shape, I’d been eating my way through Eastern Europe,” he said, laughing.
His first bike lasted two days in London before it was stolen. That meant he had to go back on the Gumtree classified adverts website to find another one.
Buses, trains and bikes have featured in his journey and Aaron sold the bike in Thurso to help pay for the ferry to Lerwick.
Though British food and drink negated the health benefits of cycling.
“I didn’t get in shape cycling the UK because of cream tea and sticky toffee pudding,” Aaron said.
However he said it was a way to cut his teeth in perparation for long distance cycling.
When he left the States, he was broke, though Aaron said by the time he reached Tunisia he was “flat broke”.
At that point he stayed and worked in a hostel for four months to get more money and after eight months in Tunisia went to sea again to reach Europe.
He had limited experience of sailing before the trip but said it was “enough that I could leverage for someone to take me”.
Now he hopes to catch a pelagic fishing boat to Norway, spend three months there before another three months in Russia. It will be several years before he returns to America, he says.
Asked what he has learnt about others during his travels, he said: “I think I can find kindred spirits anywhere in the world. That doesn’t mean we are all kindred spirits but I do know that language profoundly separates us. We can have moments over beer and whisky and laugh and share and communicate beyond the words.”
“Life at sea is very difficult,” said Aaron, though it has given him special moments like seeing dolphins at night and the flashes of light in the water.
“When the sea makes you feel small and insignificant, it’s really great and that feeling when you smell land again or set foot on ‘terra firma’.”
Sailing in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific is a challenge though, crossing the Pacific means 60 days at sea and the most days at sea Aaron has clocked up is 18 at once without a break.
He describes himself as “un-stuck” from the rat race and the model we are expected to live, though admits that comes at a price of being less “connected”.
With travelling so frequently his way of connecting with people is different: “My way of finding connection is perhaps taking the time to write an email to say thank you,” he said or he has set up a “wall of gratitude” on his website to thank those who have helped him on his journey.
At Christmas he had dinner with the family – Ann and Robbie Leask – who own the flat and he hopes to set sail in the new year.
“What I like about sailing is actually I can’t think of anything else but sailing, it’s calming in that regard.” Despite the loss of “connection”, no doubt Aaron will have many stories to tell.