Toeing the starting line
Ask most people in the UK what they are working towards, and the answer generally revolves around elevating their standard of living in order to keep up with their peers. A better paid job, bigger house, nicer car, fancier holidays its a self fulfilling prophecy the one of ‘perfection’ that is only ever momentarily sated in our modern consumerist society.
To all intents purposes that was me 4 years ago, the sudden lose of my father made me begin to question what it was that I actually wanted from life. Here I was in a seemingly enviable position that many people would aspire to, yet I felt trapped and claustrophobic in a relationship that whilst happy had a weight of expectation hanging over it.
The prospect of marriage and children looming around the corner and that knot in your stomach, that doubt about whether it was what you truly wanted. On so many levels it was the right and sensible thing to do, and what many naturally expected yet the more I thought about it the more I realised that it was the thing I least wanted.
But what did I want? Put simply adventure; a break from the standard 9-5 tedium that many put ourselves through to provide food and shelter for ourselves and loved ones. Reading Alastair Humphrey’s Moods of Future Joys, I was blown away by the concept of traveling around the world by bike. People really did that? If they did they really must be superhuman, or something…..
I was keen to find out for myself and in 2009 I took a sabbatical from work and flew to New Zealand with my bike to do some cycle touring around the South Island with my friend who had emigrated out there. In many ways it was a voyage of discovery as we spent 2 weeks touring round the bottom of the South Island together, getting to grips with the daily toil that touring entailed, New Zealand’s changeable weather, some catastrophic bike mechanicals and sinking one too many beers.
It was a fantastic trip, but I went to New Zealand in search of something, an epiphany maybe but on my return I came back feeling unfulfilled and hungry for more, something bigger, bolder and ultimately unattainable. I became more restless and eventually the relationship I was in fizzled out.
The stage was set for a longer journey by bike yet doubts lingered. I’d yet to ride a century, never mind an entire country or continent for that matter. There was only one way to find out and that was to complete the UK’s longest recognised bike ride – the End to End/Land’s End to John O’Groats. Only 4 days after completing the Adidas Terrex Coast to Coast, I was bound for Penzanance on a train to the start of the Lejog.
6 days later I found myself at John O’Groats with over 1,000 miles under my belt. Riding in to John O’Groats I had reached my destination but the journey wasn’t complete it had merely scratched the surface.
Physically and financially I was in a position to commit to the trip, yet commitments closer to home precluded me from submitting my resignation. During the winter of 2011 I watched as my mother became visibly frailer and even after discussing my plans with my brother and his assurances that he could take care of things at home I felt it would be selfish to take off on this jaunt as things stood.
My fears were confounded as the early part of 2012 I watched my mother’s health spiral, weeks spent going to visit her in hospital with no sign of response to the care she was receiving, the insidious loss of will and growing despondence as she lost any of her remaining independence. Inevitably the call came that both my brother and I had been dreading and yet another loved one had passed through our lives never to come back.
Mentally you think you can prepare yourself having been through it before but the blow was all too real, the rawness of situation rocked me to the core. The place I had called home for so many years was gone, and in its place an empty shell of a house left were only memories of happier times.
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover
That’s me, my journey so far to get to the starting line of a trip many find unfathomable.