It’s all a question of balance.

I have a job!

It’s such a great feeling after another depressing period of weekly visits to the Job Centre and mindless applications for jobs I really didn’t want. Being unemployed is like being adrift in a boat without an engine or a rudder. I feel out of control even though I am actively looking for work and the whole job seeking and benefit claiming experience fills me with despair. There comes a point when getting any job at all would be a huge relief so the fact that I have found one that I actually want to do is a massive bonus. But what makes me happiest of all is my working week.

I’m going to be working in a stunning outdoor setting, surrounded by wildlife and talking to like-minded people about a charity that I really believe in.

Not a bad place to work

Not a bad place to work

The job itself is exactly what I was looking for but even better, I will be working three shifts per week, just what I wanted. I think this is what is meant by a plan coming together.

I know that not everybody is in a position to work just three days a week, so I do appreciate how lucky I am, but on the other hand this is just what Gill and I have been working so hard to achieve over the last few years and now we are finally where we want to be; both working less than half of each week and both doing something that we enjoy and that we believe is worthwhile.

You hear a lot of talk about getting the work, life balance right these days but I don’t think it’s that simple in reality. We are not just trying to balance work days and leisure days; we are also considering finances, work patterns, time together and time for ourselves. It’s more complex than a simple balancing act and scales just don’t represent the problem. It’s really about getting the mix right rather than a simple balancing act and right now I think we are as close as we can get to success. No doubt circumstances out of our control will be along to spoil the party sooner or later but then that’s the challenge. To add another element into the mix, stir it all up and find a new solution that works is half the fun but for now we are happy to make the most of the steady state that we find ourselves in.

This steady state is precisely what we need right now. It’s a bit like the shelter of a port after the thrill of a challenging voyage. It’s exactly what I feel we need to contemplate where we have been over the last few years and to consider what comes next. It’s ironic that having worked so hard to get to this safe harbour, it turns out to be the perfect place from which to plan an escape.

Perhaps there is a balance in all this after all. On the one side of the scales, the heavy side, we have our current position of stability; steady work, financial security and a permanent home. The empty pan is where the next adventure will be incubated. Conversations, memories, maps and stories will all be added to the scales until a tipping point is reached and a new idea will be born. We have no idea what, or when, that will be but we just feel that it is inevitable. I think we are both happy to sit back and relish a bit of constancy for now and to take some time to relax, to take stock and maybe to dream a little.

Living with potatoes

I have decided that hills are better than flatlands for cycling and potatoes are boring but sometimes have to be endured.

I obviously have too much time on my hands at the moment. Gill has found a job and is out all day and I haven’t and I am at home. The days are long and it’s a challenge to spend eight straight hours looking for work. My thoughts turn to this time last year and I find myself recalling a blog I wrote about signs of spring. It was one of the most popular pre-tour pieces I published and it drew analogies between the life cycle of leaves on a tree and our forth coming journey. There was talk of the leaves nourishing the tree long after they had withered and fallen to the ground and our adventure nourishing us long after our return.

Signs of spring

Signs of spring

The final sentence however came as a crushing blow to my negative frame of mind. It read simply;“Who knows what we might be planning then?”

I am sad to say that then is now, and we find ourselves planning very little. In fact the situation I am in is almost identical to that of this time last year, but without the prospect of the most exciting trip of my life to look forward to. I feel as if our life changing journey has achieved nothing more than to provide me with some nice memories for my old age. Surely I must have learned something from it.

Time to go for a walk and do some soul searching.

As I walked I found myself thinking about a part of the trip when we were cycling through Lincolnshire. The roads were flat and rather boring and the scenery was potatoes. (I may have just used potatoes as an adjective but humour me for a moment). On both sides of the road were acres and acres of potatoes. Endless symmetrical rows just coming into flower. I recalled very clearly that all the flowers on one side of the road were white and on the other side they were pink. That’s about as exciting as it got.

There are lots of potatoes in Lincolnshire.

There are lots of potatoes in Lincolnshire.

At times like this it’s easy to become focused on negatives. You start to notice that your backside is uncomfortable, your wrists ache and you fancy a pint but it isn’t in the budget.  I even asked myself what on earth we were doing. What was the point of this trip? I found myself desperately trying to think of anything interesting to prick the boredom bubble. Aren’t potatoes related to tomatoes in some way? I’m sure I read that somewhere. And are the leaves poisonous or did I dream that? The sameness of the situation grinds you down. In this kind of terrain your eye is often drawn to the horizon, desperately searching for change. Anything to confirm that the whole world isn’t really made of potatoes. It may come in the form of a church steeple or the silhouette of woodlands on the skyline. These things give you hope but what you are really looking for is hills. Hills mean change. Hills mean variety and entertainment and a chance to stand on the pedals and relieve that aching bum.

Those hills or mountains will come of course. The land is never flat forever and no matter how far away they might be, you know they will appear eventually. When they do finally interrupt the flat, boring horizon you are presented with a choice. You can rejoice in the prospect of more interesting scenery or you can focus on how far away they are and how much longer you are going to have to put up with this drudgery. That is when I realised that I had learned something useful from what we did. Today’s lesson: Don’t focus on how far way the mountains are but on how spectacular they look and what fun you will have when you reach them. I became aware that I am sitting at home thinking about how many more fields of potatoes I will have to endure before I get to the mountains.

It also forced me to acknowledge that there are quite a few church steeples and woodlands on the horizon to focus on while I am waiting. I have an interview tomorrow and other work related irons in the fire. Further ahead there is the Cycle Touring Festival in Clitheroe to look forward to in May and beyond that who knows what metaphorical mountains we might climb.

I feel much more positive after that and now I am going to get the tea ready. Now what did I say we would have tonight? Oh yes, I remember. I’d better go and peel some potatoes.

A temporary shift of focus

I launched this blog with the intention of recording an account of our six month tour starting next spring. Never having blogged before, I began early enough to get the hang of the process and to get into the habit of writing. With that in mind I want to try and keep the focus on the trip rather than let the blog become my personal diary. Recently I have found my focus has shifted temporarily from our plans for travelling and onto starting a new job, hence the absence of any posts. The process of re-writing my CV, registering for Job Seekers Allowance and applying for numerous jobs has been, quite frankly, depressing. I got through it by constantly dreaming of next year’s adventure, reading other traveller’s blogs and learning the process of creating my own. I was probably becoming a bit obsessive but then I got a phone call inviting me to an interview. The shift in focus was dramatic. Now, suddenly, I have a job! Not the kind of job I ever imagined doing to be honest but it has the advantage of being a fixed term until the end of January so I can be open about our plans. I didn’t have to confront the dilemma of going for an interview for a permanent post and deciding whether or not to come clean about my limited availability. I feel a real sense of release and the pendulum of my focus is swinging back again.

The process of being invited to and attending an interview, waiting to hear the outcome and then being rejected for the job I actually wanted but accepted for one I didn’t, has been interesting. It may seem like a stretch of the imagination but it has reminded me so much of cycle touring. Just as I was saying in my last post, it has been a roller coaster of emotions; excitement, concern, disappointment, elation and more. For the first time in three months whole days have gone by when I haven’t given our trip a single thought. Now I have the job, I can go back to day dreaming and boring a whole new group of acquaintances, trying to explain to them why camping for six months is anything other than just plain stupid.

"Are you mad?"

“Are you mad?”

Starting a new job is always a bit daunting. I’m sure it’s natural to worry how you are going to fit in and how people will react to you but I had extra reason to be concerned. After all, I’m a cyclist. I went to work on my bike on the second day of the job, demonstrating to many of my new work friends that I am plainly a bit bonkers right from the start. “You must be mad” being the most common response. Which reminds me of a delightful character that I met on the bus a few months ago. He exploded up the stairs and bounded to the back of the bus, crashed down onto the seat adjacent to me, shopping bags spilling their contents everywhere and said, “Hiya, I’m Steve, they call me Mad Steve. I know lots of people say they’re mad when they aren’t really, but I really am mad. Do you want a biscuit?” I liked him immediately. Goodness knows what my new work mates will think when they find out what Gill and I are planning. Perhaps they will think we are mad. I’m quite looking forward to finding out.