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Simple Pleasures

As I begin to type we are just over four days away from the start of our big adventure. I have had lots of conversations with friends about how I will manage on the road without life’s perceived creature comforts.

Of course this trip is going to bring new challenges. The most we have done is 17 days, so from day 18 it is all unknown territory. We have a budget and in order to stick to this we need to eat at the tent most of the time, so I am going to have to become acquainted with our Trangia stove. On holiday we only boil water for tea on it and Tony has always done that. I’m sure I won’t get away with not cooking for the whole of the six months, and anyway I’m not sure I want to do all the washing up.

Instead of the myriad items contained in the bathroom I will have shampoo and shower gel, (at least at the beginning of the trip) moisturiser, deodorant and toothpaste (which more seasoned touring friends will think is more than enough!). I have worked hard to need less and have even considered giving up shampoo all together and joining the “no-poo” brigade. I had a foray into this a couple of weeks ago, managed about five days and realised that I can’t even consider this until I am on the road when most of the time my hair will be under a cycle helmet or tied back (and no-one knows me!). I’m not even sure I will be able to give it up completely but am willing to try. It will only reduce my load slightly but would be one less thing to restock.

The absence of bathroom accessories doesn’t reduce the immense pleasure of a hot shower after a day on the bike, and dressing for dinner is a simple affair when you only have a selection of two outfits and one is in the wash!

Life in a tent is very much connected to the daylight hours. We find ourselves getting up earlier and going to bed earlier as a tour goes on. Going to bed is bliss, I love my down sleeping bag. It’s so snuggly I never want to get out once I’m in.

Snug as a bug

Good night everyone

The truth is that life becomes simpler and the things that bring pleasure are more basic.

Butterflies

Not the kind that flutter gracefully around the flowers, but the kind that flutter excitedly in my stomach when I think about what we’re soon to be embarking on. I have been asked if I’m scared or nervous, I must be a bit or I wouldn’t get butterflies!

Fluttering in my stomach

Fluttering in my stomach

It is a very big adventure for us and I appreciate how lucky we are to have the opportunity, time and means to do this. I want to do it justice and bring home some very happy memories and great stories – a lot of which I expect might be situated around days that don’t feel so good at the time – like the Dent day (which served to show me that no matter how bad it is, it does eventually end, and makes for endless story telling).

There are many reminders of how close it is.

On Monday it will be one month exactly until I finish work, I gave them six months notice and I can’t believe how quickly it has gone.

Next weekend we’re off to visit the Gloucester family for the last time before we depart. The next time we see them should be when we cycle up the West coast following the course of the river Severn to make our way into Wales.

The house is in uproar, there are boxes everywhere. We have a space marked out in the back bedroom the same size as the storage space we have booked, so that we can work out if everything we intend to keep will fit in. Watch this space, there may be more for Ebay, Freecycle or the tip!

It’s going to be strange to cycle away from our lives, home and friends but there’s lots to look forward to. Tony is compiling a map with markers to show where we have been offered accommodation (not all of them family or friends). People are incredibly kind and we have had offers of accommodation from readers of various blogs and forums that Tony has been posting on.

There’s another potential source of butterflies, accepting hospitality from complete strangers. One of my work colleagues is worried that we might meet an axe murderer! I’m pretty sure it will be OK, as Hannah Engelkamp found out when she walked the circumference of Wales with Chico the donkey. You can read about her adventures here – Seaside Donkey.

I can’t wait to start the adventure. Most of the family we don’t see before we go are en route or going to travel to see us. We have friends planning to join us for bits of it. There’s 5,500 miles of coastline to explore and six months of pleasing ourselves with no bigger plan than to head North and keep the sea on the left.

To quote Susie Burns “happy days”.

 

 

Brand New Life

I was driving Gill to work this morning and we were stuck in slow moving traffic. The road was lined either side with bushes and woodland and I was looking at the generally drab black and brown network of trunks and branches and straining to see any signs of spring. Suddenly my eye was taken by the brightest, greenest display of newly unfurled young leaves. A bit of digging around on the internet when I got home suggested that they may be Elder trees but actually it doesn’t matter what species these young leaves belong to, it’s what they represent that excites me.

They probably weren't even Elders but here's a nice picture anyway.

They probably weren’t even Elders but here’s a nice picture anyway

They were so vividly bright and verdant that they just screamed ‘BRAND NEW LIFE’ to me. They had that colour that you only see when something is new, really new. Before it becomes stained and tarnished by time and the elements. Amongst the drabness of the dirty woodland background they reminded me of someone who has turned up to a party in a flamboyant and glamorous outfit only to find that everyone else has come in jeans and T shirts. They looked gaudy and a bit out of place but they filled me with joy when I thought of the spring and summer that they herald. They represent new beginnings, something that I have been contemplating a lot just recently. I began to consider the changes that these leaves would go through over the next eight months and about what they would look like when we arrive home from our travels next October. Maybe they wouldn’t even be on the the tree by then. Maybe they would be dead.

Like us they will no doubt be battered by wind and rain, baked by sun and possibly even, like us, they will be attacked by insects. They will perform their task of absorbing the sunlight and converting it into energy for the tree as they gradually age and lose that vivid green in exchange for a slightly more subdued work-weary hue. No doubt our excited state at the time of our departure will also fade somewhat over the weeks and months but I would like to think that we will remain committed to the task, just like the leaves.

Come September the leaves will begin to dry and shrivel, turning yellow then red or brown before being discarded by the tree for good. To all intents and purposes they will be dead but their contribution to the tree will be far from over. During the coming weeks, months and even years they will be broken down to form nutrients for the tree that spurned them. I have no idea how long such things take but one day a part of them may well be recycled into yet more bright and shiny new leaves.

Our journey will end at about the same time that the leaves die but just as the leaves continue to feed the tree after they die so then, I hope, the experiences of our trip will go on nourishing us for many months and years to come.

By the time we leave in April, those young Elder leaves will be lost amongst a profusion of vegetation and spring will be well and truly with us. Likewise these thoughts will probably be lost in the turmoil of saying goodbye to friends and the thrill of our departure. Maybe they will come back to me next spring when I see those first opening buds once more. Who knows what we might be planning then.

Who knows who I’ll be?

Your guess is as good as mine

Your guess is as good as mine

“What will you do when you get back?” She/he/they ask. It’s one of the regular questions and my stock answer is, “I don’t know, I don’t know who I will be when I get back.” I’m not trying to be flippant or clever with this response, I really do believe that this journey will change me. Of course, I have no idea whether that change will be so small as to be almost imperceptible or whether it will be a paradigm shift so dramatic that I am no longer the person I am now. Probably somewhere in between.

“Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man” (or woman), a saying attributed to St. Francis Xavier makes a lot of sense but it is by no means the end of the story. It may well be true that much of our behaviour and attitude is fixed in those first years but we go on changing right up to the day we die. Everything we experience up to that point and beyond it helps to shape the person we are. That is why experiences matter so much. The greater the impact of the experience and the more likely it is to bring about change. We have all heard stories about people who have cheated death, found God or won the lottery and the common theme, more often than not, is about how their life has changed as a result of the experience. That is why I believe that the next few months will result in change. Travelling by bicycle for six months and living with very basic possessions will be an experience of significant impact. It surely will lead to change. I just don’t have any idea what form that change will take.

This isn’t some fanciful theory that I have dreamt up by the way. It’s based on real life examples of people I know, or know of, that have been there and earned the right to wear the T shirt. Jamie McDonald has just returned from running five thousand miles across Canada raising tens of thousands of pounds for children’s charities in the process. He camped and slept rough but also received outstanding kindness and hospitality along the way. He was mugged at one point and was in very real danger at times, especially when running through the Rockies in the depths of winter. He has been back home in Gloucester for a couple of weeks now and this morning he tweeted that he was finding it really difficult to adjust to ‘normal life’. Has he changed? Of course he has. Similarly we have friends that spent fourteen months cycle touring in South and North America, Australia and New Zealand last year. They had some really fantastic experiences and their fair share of tribulation too. We met up with them a little while after they got back and they told us how difficult it was to slot back into a conventional lifestyle. They are both bright, intelligent people who could easily settle into well paid career jobs in the city and start planning their distant retirement but there is no sign of that happening. On the contrary, they seem, to me, to be less conventional, less easy to pigeonhole since they got back and that really excites me for them. Long may they remain restless.

What Gill and I are about to do isn’t as grand or spectacular as Jamie or our friend’s adventures but that doesn’t matter. Doing anything at all that takes you out of your comfort zone will challenge, and ultimately, change you. Almost inevitably for the good.

If you want to know what today’s Tony would do when he gets back I can probably tell you. He would probably get a job in IT. Probably rent a new house in Freckleton and probably go on dreaming of adventures. As to what the Tony who comes back next October will do, I have no idea.