Are you sitting comfortably?

Are you sitting comfortably?

The sun is streaming in through the lounge window and the sky is an unbroken summertime blue. It looks like a beautifully warm spring day and yet when you step outside it’s hard to believe how cool it is. It might be disappointing to discover that winter hasn’t quite lost its grasp but it reminds me that we need contrasts like warm and cold or winter and summer, to make sense of the world.

The news is full of horror stories about war, economic crisis and climate change while social media is awash with tales of human endeavour, extraordinary acts of kindness and a genuine feeling of people fighting back against social injustice. The world seems to be full of differences that conflict with each other but we need both halves of the picture to form a whole. There is no good without evil, no kindness without self-interest and no reward without sacrifice. On a personal note everything seems to be falling into place; we love our new home, I have found a job I really want to do and we have exciting long term plans that look more feasible with each passing month. So why do I have this nagging feeling that something isn’t right? It must be something to do with that old chestnut, the comfort zone and how it can sometimes make us feel strangely uncomfortable.

Life is all about contrasts; it’s the way that we measure things, one against the other. From something as simple as flopping into a comfy armchair after hours standing on your feet to stepping out into the unknown from a cosy secure lifestyle, it is the difference between the two sensations that enable us to measure them and it’s the difference that creates the experience.

Gill and I couldn’t be more in the comfort zone right now. No financial worries, a simple but comfortable home, good friends, a happy marriage, good health, what more could anybody want? I’m enjoying the option to simply wallow in comfort for now but I know it won’t last. There will come a time when I have nothing to contrast the safe and cosy lifestyle against other than the fading memories of another very different one from two years ago. We do this quantifying thing on many levels from the micro, shifting in a chair to get more comfortable and saying, “Ooh, that’s better”, to the macro; moving house, changing jobs or packing our world into a few bags and taking off travelling. We are doing it all the time at one level or another, it’s our way of ‘tasting’ the world.

Sometimes life deals us a blow that turns our comfortable world upside down and reminds us to appreciate what we have. Of course nobody actually wants to lose their job suddenly or suffer an unexpected illness or accident but in the aftermath of these awful experiences people often talk of the positives that can come out of them. These things may be out of our control but they are another way that we can see and measure one part of our lives against another. Like it or not, I think we need these upheavals now and again to stem the rot of stagnation. Obviously though, it is so much better if we can create the disruptions of our own accord, and in a good way, rather than through some terrible misfortune.

Alastair Humphreys published a book called, Micro Adventures, all about fitting short exciting experiences into busy lives when ‘packing it all in and taking off’ just isn’t an option. (That’s covered by his new book, Grand Adventures.) He advocates such things as climbing a hill after work and sleeping out under the stars in sharp contrast to the normal pattern of commute home, have tea, watch telly, go to bed, repeat. The thing about doing something a little bit crazy and maybe uncomfortable like this is that it can actually make the tea, telly, bed thing quite appealing. Contrast; it’s all about contrast.

I like Alastair’s idea of the micro and the grand adventures but I would quibble over the exact terminology. I would suggest that his micro adventures would be better described as mini ones and the term micro could then be reserved for the really tiny but important things like watching the stars rather than the telly or getting up early to see the sunrise.

Worth getting up early for

Worth getting up early for

I would like to think that the next few years of our lives, assuming we can predict anything of course, will be cosy and comfortable but I also know that it won’t be enough. It’s going to take a whole load of micro adventures and a fair number of mini ones if comfortable is going to remain satisfying. Maybe there is a lot more to the phrase, “make yourself comfortable”, than you might at first think. I think that it is something that we have to work at constantly and it never comes alone. There is no such thing as comfortable without uncomfortable.

Somewhere between all these contrasts and differences there lies a rich vein of reward that is just waiting to be tapped.

Into the unknown

We have just made plans for exactly how we intend to restart our ride and it’s got me all excited again but also a little bit edgy. Having looked at the maps and worked out where I am going to ride tomorrow afternoon and where we might camp in the evening the trip feels very much alive again. Now I am imagining what it is going to be like to be riding alone and only seeing Gill at intervals along the route. I have also had a closer look at the first 200 miles and it’s definitely going to be the hardest in terms of terrain. I have a jumble of feelings going on in my head, some positive and some not. I’m looking forward to riding without so much weight on the bike but still daunted by the amount of climbing that I will have to do. I’m really happy that Gill has found a way to be with me but I will still miss her even during the short periods on my own. I am excited to be moving again but trying not to think that there is still over a thousand miles to go. It’s a mixed bag of emotions but on balance it makes me really happy.

In the intro to our blog I made reference to how rubbish I am at being on my own so the next few weeks are going to be a challenge of a very different kind. It may be that the format we have worked out will carry me through but I’m still a little bit nervous. It may turn out to be just another really laid back way of touring, like a long holiday, but it doesn’t feel that way at the moment. It feels like a serious undertaking that may push us into yet more unknown territory. Maybe that’s a good thing. All this stepping out of our comfort zones is what it was all about in the first place so I’m not complaining. I will just be glad to be on the move again, extending that wiggly black line around the coast and heading for home.

What I am really looking forward to is reaching particular milestones that only a week ago I thought we might not reach at all. Lands End is the first and most obvious one but it’s the visits to family and friends that are the most important. After all the build up, the support and the anticipation of people dotted along our route the idea of not reaching them was a hard one to contemplate. I think that, above all else, would have made our journey feel incomplete. Now we are both looking forward tremendously to catching up with friends old and new and the remaining members of our coastal dwelling families. (You know who you are).

The same applies, of course, to seeing everybody back home in Lancashire. In some ways with all the contact that the blog and social media gives us it seems like we haven’t been away at all but we still miss people lots.

I don’t know the north Cornwall and Devon coasts all that well. I do know that they are very beautiful but that the beauty comes at a price for cyclists. Everybody that rides Lands End to John o’ Groats says the first two or three days are the hardest and I’m getting a little tired of that knowing look on people’s faces when it accompanies phrases like “ooh you’ve got a few hills to climb there”. As a friend said just the other day, “it’s not called a ‘push’ bike for nothing” and I’m not too proud to push if I have to. In my mind it’s a going to be a tough ride back to Somerset and then apart from a few lumps in Pembrokeshire it will be a breeze all the way home. I can’t wait to get going now.

A few pictures from South Cornwall

The joy of small ferries

The joy of small ferries

They can be erm, intresting

They can be erm, interesting

Cornwall is hard to beat on a sunny day

Cornwall is hard to beat on a sunny day

St. Michaels Mount

St. Michaels Mount

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