When we speak, Colin Evans is putting the finishing touches on a plan for a month-long motorcycle tour of Australia, from Melbourne up into the Outback, to Adelaide and Victoria. The plan was to ride with the same 12 guys he traveled with from Cartagena, Colombia to the southernmost tip of the South American continent three years ago.
But life intervened – broken collarbones, sicknesses in the family, financial problems, etc – and now the group is down to three. Colin is undeterred. The whole point of these trips is to expand his range of experiences, to understand the world a bit better – how people in remote towns live, what separates the haves from the have nots.
“A lot of people say eating less might extend your life, but doing less certainly won’t,” he says. “You need to stay engaged, learning and challenging things. Of course, riding a motorbike is a bigger risk on my health assessment than cholesterol, but I believe that challenging yourself is a life extender. I’m going to live longer and better.”
Colin hasn’t worked a regular corporate job since he left as CEO of a health care tech company in 2012 after a career at Intel that spanned decades. But don’t call this retirement. Colin prefers the term “post-employed,” a phrase he feels does a better job of grabbing the feeling of being open to whatever may be come along next.
“I think we live in a world where [the typical] definition of growing old isn’t valuable,” he says. “You’ve got a lot more time to enjoy and to put to some use, and you can put it to profitable use or personal use. There were times when I was employed and times where I was not. Now is it retirement? No! I’ve lived enough and learnt enough to want to give some of that back. But it’s also time for learning new stuff. And maybe finding new things to explore and contribute to.”
Colin says he’s lucky to have been in the right place at the right time. Though it wasn’t the garage of David Packard and Bill Hewlett, or the Colossus Tommy Flowers built in Britain to break Nazi code in the mid 1970s, the University of Manchester had one of the top computer science programs in the world. Colin landed at Texas Instruments soon after graduating before joining, in 1980, a two-year-old company named Intel.
He would call the company home for the next 29 years, working in four countries and 18 different roles. So much time at one company exposed him to almost every facet of the business. He was best suited as “the explainer,” he says, the guy who could take complex technological issues and break them down in a way that could be turned into strategy. “I’ve been all over the place. I’ve run software, I’ve run a warehouse, I’ve run customer service,” he says. “I love going horizontally to different facets of the company. It occurred to me, that’s what I’m doing on the motorbike. I’m going around learning all sorts of things.”
But as proficient as he was in moving around, Colin eventually butted up against the constraints of corporate culture: the short-term vision, the aversion to risk. When Intel started a tech company, Dossia, that helped people design their health care plans, Colin became CEO. He left Intel officially in 2009, and then “walked the plank” to work full time for Dossia.
After two years, and a dispute with the board of directors, Colin left and decided to take a year off to think about what came next. That was 2012, and—though he sits on the boards of four companies—he hasn’t been back at a full-time job since.
“I have no problem with self-actualization around the stuff I’m doing,” he says. “I don’t feel like not working makes me somehow less … a lot of people feel the need to keep working because they don’t know what else to do.”
But Colin did. He’d begun riding motorbikes in his 30s. Some fun zipping around on street bikes led to a training program on BMW’s GS series, the kind of all-terrain bikes popularized by adventurers going through Africa, the Middle East and South America.
He went on weeks-long expeditions through Africa and Europe. In 2016, he did the Andes trip, from Colombia down to the southern tip of Argentina. He kept up a blog the entire way, and turned that effort into a book, illustrated beautifully with photographs taken by one of his fellow riders, Alfonse Pailama.
He’s continued the writing. On his blog he documented a recent trip via motorbike Route 66. His style is accessible and dotted with the history of the places he encounters, and what’s changed since their heyday. There are some expected locations – The Will Rogers Museum; the St. Louis Arch – as well as some unexpected ones: a deserted Oklahoma town that was the site of an environmental disaster. He visits a lumber mill in Oregon, and the warehouse of Porsche customizer and AGEIST profile Magnus Walker in LA.
“We’re all just trying to find our own way to pretend we’re not going to die,” he says. “I think about what drives me. To some people, work is it. But if you work in software … you have nothing to point to. If you’re an engineer or an artist, or an architect or a builder, you can point to something and say I built that or I designed that. And writing is the same thing. If you write you have something to point to and show others. That’s part of what drives me.”