WOAH! If I had to summarise the past four weeks in just a word that would be it, thankfully I have a blog to divulge further why it has been so ‘woah’, the emotional roller coaster started as soon as I awoke on Saturday 18th June 2016.
I always knew I would set off and start cycling at some point when I told myself I had had enough of the monotonous life I was living. Sure the lure of money, the security that brings, the family and friends, the security that brings and the knowing that everything will be ok, the security that brings kept me content in my early twenties. That moment two years ago though, did I want to live an incredible life with highs and lows or make it through calmly, not really making the most of the opportunities I have, for so many in this world they simply don’t have the option, I am thankful that I grew up in a society where I have the freedom to explore, seek the next chapter and feel ALIVE.
So it began, when you tell your buddies you’re holding a launch event and invite a whole load of them that immediately ramps up both the pressure and excitement. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games hold some of my best memories, and to begin beneath the Olympic Rings representing the regions of the world meant so much. To have friends form a guard of honour and then lap the Olympic velodrome gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. As much as possible I was trying live in the very moment and put what the future holds to one side. By giving a little speech to everyone I feel this alleviated my nerves and gave me a chance to put everything in perspective, the day was just about getting the wheels turning and hanging out with friends.
To lead a cycle around my home city, London will live with me forever, no matter what happens on this adventure, those few hours will remain unique. Having support on the day from some of my closest buddies, the insanely loud http://www.beatbringer.com thanks to Greg Drach and the vibe they created filled me with pride and I cannot thank everyone who attended enough. That said once the social ride had finished it really dawned on me how solo this is really going to be, that afternoon continuing on a tour of London’s sporting stadiums I felt sick. Words had come to an end, it was time for action. I had been excited about everything to do with this in the months preceding, but I don’t think there are many out there who can leave the security of the norm to pursue their passion, not knowing where it may end up.
Joining friends for a leaving party that Saturday night, I relaxed as with the launch event in the day, these have been the people which have supported me with everything I’ve done to date. When I took a few moments to pause I was amazed at the social circle I had fallen into in the past few years. I really believe you become what you surround yourself by and as cheesy as it sounds, I wouldn’t be where I am without them. The night went on… we ended up in a Spanish bar until the early hours and I can safely say that was me done with London partying. For a fair few years anyway!
The original plan had been to set off the following morning but I wasn’t quite ready, and I do agree that you can never really be ‘ready’ to set off on a round the world cycling adventure, there were just a few things I needed to get done beforehand. I mean what’s a few days or a week when you haven’t got deadlines or a finish date! With me finishing off that last bit of packing among other things a week later I felt like the time had really come to depart. That whole week I increasingly grew anxious, as mentioned it had become reality and while I knew it was the right decision those nerves of the unknown really were bubbling inside me. One grand benefit of a elated start was a trip to Wimbledon, always one of my highlights of the year, I’m not sure when I’ll be back at the Championships but that was one special way to spend my last full day in London.
Onwards I left London the next day, just for a short ride 20 miles out of town to the ‘YES Bus’ Say Yes More for the first of my ‘80 Ways Around the World’ – a side project to try 80 different jobs. The bus is currently undergoing the renovation period so that in the future it is a social space and source of inspiration for people to go after their passions. My little job in the big process was to strip the Lino from the staircase as well as the sticky residue beneath it. I also slept on the upper deck, which has already had all its chairs removed. I guess you could say I was gently easing myself away from London…
I really couldn’t put it off any longer, the next day I made my way to the coast, Newhaven, I was leaving England and familiarity to travel to new shores. Okay it’s just the English Channel and France but it was another this is now your life reality check. The video I posted on my Facebook page really brought it home how anxious I was, until watching it back I didn’t even know this is how I felt, I guess as mentioned the anxiety stems from my dreams of what this might become but equally this could just end up a small chapter of an ordinary life. Being solo on the road I’ve already learned that when things go well you’re inclined to give yourself a pat on the back and then when you end up feeling less than chipper you curse yourself and wonder why you’ve made this decision. However, with a struggle comes a far greater appreciation of respect for those good moments.
As far as getting into the two big sporting events in France, the football European championships was a piece of cake, so many flags displaying their support for Les Bleus. Everyone was in a party mood when I watched them beat Iceland 5–2 in a bar in Lille. Likewise in Nancy watching the final, until that extra time winner for the Portuguese, the place fell silent and then the usual football fan tirade of abuse to the Portuguese, especially a certain Mr. Ronaldo. With the Tour de France beginning the day after my arrival I was also expecting huge waves of support for the showpiece event in cycling. This really hasn’t been the case until I have been in the same region of the race in the later stages.
One thing I really wasn’t prepared for was cycling through North Eastern France and Belgium and seeing so many war cemeteries. Stopping in the town of Ypres in Belgium was moving, I went to a daily service, it’s taking place at 20:00 everyday since 24th July 1927, only interrupted by German occupation during World War Two. The memorial has tens of thousands of servicemen who lost their lives. Cycling through what were battlefields exactly 100 years ago you really count your blessings, I couldn’t think about my plans when so much devastation had been brought about in the same region.
Midway through the month I seemed to have ended up in a rural part of France and took on my first wild camp. As it was my first, I cycled past many potential spots until I found a farmers track and cycled down it, when satisfied I found a small patch where the corn had been cut down and set up camp. It had been a gloriously sunny day and clear evening so I put my faith in the French weather and just used my bivvy bag. The sunset was magical, I was the only person in the world with my view at that very moment and waking the next morning I felt alive and keen to crack on with the day. The following night I had decided mid afternoon it was going to be another wild camp. That was until I stopped in a small village, spoke to a friendly lady reading in her garden and before I knew it I was having a shower, dinner and a tour of her local area!
My lifelong project is #LifeYears – challenging my personal physical, social and mental limits by taking on a challenge the number the year denotes. This year 16 100+ mile cycles in a day. I knew with the mountains approaching it would be a good idea to get another completed and I did so arriving in Nancy for a day’s rest the following day. A few days later my planning left 100 miles between locations so with my desire to see what I’m capable of went for it, despite being the start of the mountains, albeit the small ones.
Four weeks after my launch I had my worst day, a real what on earth are you doing moment. I had a good morning, getting to my lunch town for a good break, I set off eager to get stuck into the afternoon ride. I was already on a quiet scenic road, but then I saw a trial through a forest which looked inviting, it seemed to head in the right direction, it looked like a trail I would enjoy, so I took it. After a while it seemed to bend in the wrong direction, it then got bumpier and narrower and before long it just wasn’t possible to cycle it. I hoped off and pushed, then when the path disappeared pushed through a stream before reconnecting with the path. I got increasingly frustrated, what am I doing? I pulled out the GPS and saw there was a road nearish, I just had to make my way up a steep side of the forest. I left my bike and explored on foot, the road was a little further than first thought, but I still deemed it worth the efforts involved in getting bike and gear up. I unloaded my bike, lugging all my gear up in stages, my bike over my shoulder was most problematic. After an hour of struggle I stopped, I was shattered and only a third of the way up. After the council of a solitary pain au chocolate I made the call to head back down and back. A tough decision but I was increasingly worried about turning an ankle, I hadn’t seen anyone for a few hours and heading back was the sensible choice. I cursed myself for wasting an afternoon, I was back at the same lunch spot four hours later. Why didn’t I turn back before attempting to climb up? Why didn’t I turn back when I couldn’t cycle any further? Never mind, as long as I learn a lesson from it, I may retrospectively deem it as an afternoon well spent.
Before I end this first month blog, I must mention some of hospitality I’ve received from the good people of this world. Would you open your home up to someone you very vaguely know through the Internet? I believe meeting locals is when travel becomes more than window shopping. I’ve had hosts spend a weekend with me, showing me around their town or city, inviting me to join their friends on trips to beautiful lakes,parks or fondue in the Swiss mountains and an invite to a party to name a few. I’m still getting used to rocking up at a home, introducing myself and then as all my hosts say, make yourself at home! You never know who you are going to meet, but I’m realising more often than not it will be a memorable ecperince! I love meeting new people on a daily basis (not just hosts), hearing stories, quite amazing to hear from someone who toured Syria before the war as well as local knowledge and the best cycling routes!
I’m also getting used to the benefits of not planning more than a week in advance, often just a few days. This allows me to be spontaneous, which works best when you get offers to join new friends and their friends on trips or ‘stay another night!’ Sure it is a different way to live but right now it feels right, so until that changes its the way I will carry on.
Distance 1,659Km – (London, Newhaven…Dieppe, Le Touquet, Lille, Ypres, Roubaix, Arras, Epernay, Chalons en Champagne, Nancy, Epinal, Basel, Belfort, Besancon, Lausanne)
Countries: 4 (England, France, Belgium, Switzerland)
Cycling time: 154 hours
Max speed: 60.17 Km per hour
Average speed: 17.08 Km per hour
Nights under canvas: 5
Nights in a bivvy bag: 1
Night on a bus: 1
Thanks to my ride buddies:
The launch team: Charlotte, Annie, Mirko, Marina, Greg, Megan, Andy, Sally, Helen, Tim, Charlie, Chris, Tom, Fran and Terri!
On the road: Julia, Joel, Matthieu
Thanks to my hosts: Danny, Em & Dave, Mum, the YES Bus, the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry, Guido, Chantelle, Theirry, Joel & Naddila, Andi, Matthieu & Marie-Eve & Margot, Maude