Buying a car, selling a dream

Never has the phrase ‘fish out of water’ been as apt as when used to describe a situation I have found myself in, not once, but twice, in the last two days. The situation in question was that of sitting in a fancy car showroom, opposite a young, enthusiastic, self-confessed petrol head of a salesman, discussing the possibility of buying a new car. We don’t do new cars.

As regular readers of this blog will know Gill and I drove from Gloucester to Lancashire last week sporting a makeshift passenger window fashioned from a plastic bag and a lot of gaffer tape due to the failure of the electric window winding mechanism on our elderly Skoda.

Make us an offer

Make us an offer

The now all too familiar prospect of another expensive visit to the garage prompted a discussion on whether perhaps it was time to consider changing our old car for a slightly less old one as we do from time to time. One thing led to another and I set to work crunching numbers to determine exactly what our current car had cost us over the last three years. The result was shocking and in some ways quite sad. It seems that in this age of interest free credit and a car industry that is desperate to shift new models we have arrived at a situation where it costs the same to buy a brand new car as it does to run a fourteen year old one. Hence the showroom visit but that isn’t what this blog is about.

What this blog is about is how fundamentally similar us humans sometimes turn out to be when we least expect it. As soon as we sat down with our clean cut, young and fashionably bearded adversary, because that is how I saw him at that point, I made it absolutely clear that we were not the kind of punters that sales targets and bonuses were made of. “We aren’t really car people” I announced and his face was a distorted blend of disappointment crossed with determination not to be beaten so easily. He declared himself to be a car person of the first order and we both laughed politely at how much ground we would need to cover to even come close to understanding each other. In a nutshell, we had absolutely nothing in common other than that he wanted to sell a car and we, reluctantly, needed to buy one.

Over the next half hour we batted off gentle attempts to add a few hundred quid here and there for unnecessary extras but as we did so we found ourselves revealing more and more of each other’s soft underbellies. The conversation bounced from metallic paint to some mystical ‘paint protection system’ which cost £300 but guaranteed that the car would remain in dazzlingly pristine showroom condition for as long as we were guardians of it. I had my doubts. Strangely though, in between all the sales guff, we found ourselves telling our new friend about our cycling adventure around the coast of Britain. He in turn revealed that he had a dream to move to Australia and start a new life but his girlfriend’s fears and family ties were holding him back. I explained the dilemma I had felt leaving my aging Mum when we went away.

I voiced my concern about a long financial commitment and a conversation that took place only the other night about jacking it all in again and taking off on another adventure. He asked with a smirk if such a conversation had involved a bottle of wine and we sheepishly confessed that it was two actually. A new common ground seemed to be emerging.

Suddenly we understood each other on a level that went much deeper than his love and our indifference to something as mundane as a car. It no longer felt as if we were in any form of car sales combat with each other. We both knew that really the only conflict lay in ourselves and our constant tug of war between the safe and the exciting. We were going for what would be a boring, safe car in his eyes but I sensed a touch of envy all the same. We had already taken a much bigger plunge than buying an expensive car and knew what it felt like whereas he was still standing on the edge of the diving board wondering. I wanted to tell him that the answer doesn’t come from fast exotic cars, the answer was staring him in the face but I didn’t because I sensed that he was close enough to diving not to need a push. That last step would have to be his and his alone. I still felt slightly uneasy about the new car, like it isn’t really us, but I felt very comfortable to have played a part, no matter how small, in encouraging somebody to take that leap of faith into the unknown. I am very confident that he will recall how it felt to land in Australia on the first day of a new life long after the memory of any souped up Subaru has faded.

How to win the lottery without buying a ticket

So the genuine winner of the thirty three million pound lottery prize has finally been found and now there are a few dozen very nervous false claimants wondering if they are going to prison rather than on a Caribbean cruise. These Lottery stories seem to capture the imagination of the public every time they come around and spark off another succession of conversations that start with, “what would you do with x million pounds?” I don’t feel qualified to contribute to the debate because I have never bought a lottery ticket and don’t ever intend to. Why would I put myself through all that false hope and then disappointment when I already feel rich? Gambling is one way of getting rich but the odds are long and even those that win don’t always get what they want. Search the internet for “Lottery winner stories” and you will find numerous sad accounts of couples and individuals who found that untold wealth is no guarantee of happiness and many who ended up losing everything they won. There are even a few tragic cases that led to suicide.

Of course it does work for some people but if you read the stories of those that did cope with a big win they all talk with great satisfaction about giving money away, helping others and, in many cases, being able to do voluntary work and to support charities. In other words it is the giving rather than the gaining that has actually brought them happiness.

Personally, rather than hope in vain for a huge bank balance I choose to think about what defines being rich.

All this navel gazing has come about because of a conversation yesterday that ranged from pensions and retirement via the recent unclaimed lottery win story to some of our experiences on our ride around the coast of Britain. We met many rich people on our travels but not all of them had money. So what is wealth and how do we achieve it?

I accept that for some people money will do the trick but I really don’t think it’s the only option. When we went on our trip we had managed to set aside ten thousand pounds and in the end we spent eight thousand of it during the five months on the road. For eight thousand pounds we could have bought four thousand lottery tickets, a small basic car or a three week luxury cruise. We chose to spend it on campsite fees, simple food, a beer or two and enough memories to last us a lifetime. Here are just some of the things that we got for our money:

Priceless

Priceless

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memories

150 completely unique days each of which had it’s own ups and downs in every sense.

Countless scenes that are etched into our minds for future viewing.

Acts of kindness that ranged from meals and accommodation to just an encouraging word on a gloomy day.

The satisfaction of getting somewhere by our own effort and determination.

The endless discovery of boundaries that could be stretched and broken only to discover new ones waiting for us.

The investment of suffering that adds value to pleasure and comfort.

2000 photos to re-kindle memories

80,000 written words that I can re-read when my memory struggles with the details.

A bunch of new friends that continue to enhance our lives from a distance.

A large bucket of anecdotes that I can torture people with when I am old and senile.

Never having to wonder what it would be like to ‘take the plunge” because we’ve done it and it turns out to be great. (Thanks for the reminder Gareth)

 

So my chances of winning the lottery may be non-existent but that doesn’t mean I will never be rich; far from it.

 

Making motorway minutes count

It is said that travel broadens the mind and I would heartily agree in almost all circumstances bar one. Gill and I have just spent three hours driving down to Gloucester on the M6 and M5 and despite the best efforts of Radio 4 I can’t help but feel as if I have just lost those precious hours of my life forever. There is something absolutely unique about the tedium of motorway driving despite the fact that the volume of traffic requires constant vigilance. I made a concerted effort today to get something positive from the experience but it wasn’t easy.

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I could make the same journey in any other way and get something from it. Walking the 200 or so miles would be a serious adventure over a couple of weeks and it would leave a legacy of valuable memories. Cycling the same distance over three days would be a real challenge and provide a great sense achievement and satisfaction. Even driving via smaller, quieter roads would make an interesting day out with stops for lunch and afternoon tea. On a train I could have focussed on a good book or the radio without compromising my safety, or that of other travellers. Then there are the many eccentric options such as roller skating, skateboarding or maybe travelling by pogo stick. A flight in a microlight would turn the journey into a thrilling experience or maybe it would be possible to navigate by canoe or narrow boat. Anything but the motorways.

I understand the importance of motorways and their contribution to the efficient transportation of both goods and working people but boy oh boy are they boring. For me the driverless car just can’t come soon enough.

I can think of a positive slant on today’s experience though. Whilst the journey may have felt like a waste of three hours there is, at least, a valuable lesson to take from the experience. It reminds me of why it is so important to treat not just every day but every minute as if it was your last. Put another way, if I was told I had three hours to live I wouldn’t be making a bee line for the M6 or any other motorway for that matter.

I’m sure there were plenty of people on the road today who would completely disagree with me, even some who enjoy motorway driving but the message remains the same. When you are forced by circumstance to do something boring and apparently pointless you can at least use it to remind yourself how precious every minute really is. I may feel like I wasted the best part of two hundred minutes this morning but isn’t that all the more reason to treasure all the ones that follow?

No better reward

Something wonderful happened yesterday. Somebody said on social media that what I had written in yesterday’s blog had made them laugh. There is no better reward.

No greater reward than laughter

No greater reward than laughter

I enjoy putting these posts together. Once I have my teeth into a topic the words just tumble out and before I know it I am editing the article down lest it gets too long and tedious. I re-read the initial outpouring and then comes the best bit. The fine tuning. Sometimes it’s just a single word, sometimes a sentence or whole paragraph that I change but that for me is the real fun of writing. Occasionally, like today, I will discard the entire post and topic (this is the third attempt today) because either I don’t like the writing or I don’t think it will be of any interest to anybody. It’s not a waste of time because I have still enjoyed the process; it just doesn’t see the light of day.

Once I am satisfied with what I have written, or at least as satisfied as I suspect I am going to get then I’ll post it on the web site. Then I worry. I don’t know why exactly because I tell myself I have had my pound of flesh but of course I’m just kidding myself. If I wasn’t trying to entertain anybody I wouldn’t post this stuff would I? But it’s a bit like doing stand-up comedy in an empty room.

When we were travelling it was easy because I had a story to tell. Once the blog had gathered some momentum it really wasn’t down to what I wanted. I felt that I had a duty to keep the tale going and let friends and family in particular know how we were doing. I understood that people wanted the next instalment whatever the quality. I don’t have that excuse anymore because there is no story. The writing now has to stand on its own and it’s a constant worry.

After I release a new post if there hasn’t been any reaction within a couple of hours I start to panic. Was it rubbish? Boring? Did I offend somebody inadvertently? Maybe I should stop making stuff public and just write for myself. Then somebody ‘likes’ my post and it’s OK again. Another few hours go by and I’m losing confidence again. I might even go back and re-read it once more to see if I have missed something. And so it goes on. I can of course rationalise things by reminding myself that I have had lots of favourable comments on the blog but nothing completely erases that niggle of self-doubt. Maybe it never will go away.

It’s just great to get comments and feedback on the blog because it means somebody is actually reading it. But to make somebody laugh is more than I could hope for. So thank you to that person in the empty room that laughed out loud yesterday. For me, that is the best possible reason to carry on posting this stuff.

Wishing for the moon.

I have just read an article by micro adventure advocate Alastair Humphreys. As usual, it got me thinking.

Reflection on a long wiggly line

Reflection on a long wiggly line twelve months on

It is one year today since we got home from our long cycle tour around the coast of Britain. The anniversary brings with it a lot of reflection on what the trip meant to us and how it changed us. These challenging thoughts are accompanied by big decisions as we get closer to the time when we are in a position to stop working should we choose to. Right now, my thoughts are like a collection of washing tumbling backwards and forwards in a drier. Complex, tangled and not yet ready to be folded and stacked into neat organised piles.

In one sense we certainly got what we wanted from our break. It shook us up and gave us the thrust we needed to break away from whatever shackles every day life had tied us down with. We hoped that it would lead us in new directions and in some ways it has. We just aren’t too clear on which direction yet. Having a taste of adventure leaves you hungry for more, whatever form it might take.

We have made a decision recently that both excites me and worries me at the same time. We have been talking about the idea of living on a narrow boat and having weighed all the pros and cons we have come to the conclusion that it might be better to wait until we are in a position where we can do it without having to work. That’s fine except that it is probably at least five years away and that is where I am struggling. You see before we went away, and to some extent the reason we went away, was because we were really starting to understand the importance of living in the present. Making a five year plan feels like the very antithesis of ‘carpe diem’, or ‘seize the day’. In that sense our current idea seems like an abandonment of everything the trip taught us.

The plan I am talking about is to buy a cheap park home by cashing in some savings and to live rent free whilst clearing a mortgage on a house we own. That house produces a rental income and is part of the retirement plan. At about the same time that the mortgage is cleared a small private pension matures and we could then sell the park home, buy a narrow boat and sail off into the sunset free from the burden of earning a living. It sounds great when written down like that but for the small matter of wishing away those five years. So there lies our challenge. How do you maintain two focuses, one on today and the other years in the future, the second of which we have no guarantee of even reaching.

It doesn’t help that I happened to talk to a couple on a boat last week who live on board and manage to hold down part time jobs. Conversations like that fill me with doubt over whether we are doing the right thing. Maybe we should just throw caution to the wind and go for the narrow boat option now rather than wait. Who knows, we might not even like life on board. We might be waiting for five years only to find that actually, it wasn’t worth waiting for. I doubt that somehow though.

The challenge now is to seize the day, every day, just in case that distant dream, for whatever reason proves to be beyond our grasp. It’s a tricky one and it’s a good reason to set the alarm for 2am tomorrow and to get up and look at a giant red, eclipsed super moon because there wont be another one until 2033. By then, if we survive, we will know if we did the right thing waiting five years to do the right thing.

Moon

A narrow escape?

First of all, apologies for the complete lack of blogging over the last few weeks and thank you to those of you who noticed my absence. (Both of you) I’m very flattered.

The plain truth is, I haven’t had much to write about and even less motivation to try. I think that despite having found work and a nice place to live, we are both still a bit down in the dumps, wondering where the next adventure will come from and when. Life has become too routine in precisely the way that I promised myself it wouldn’t following our big trip last year. You know that feeling when you leave the house and you just know that something isn’t quite right but you don’t know what. Then half an hour later you get to work and find that you’ve left your phone at home. Well it’s a bit like that but on a bigger scale. Like we are getting things sorted but there is some undefined element that is missing. Yesterday however, I think we may have made some progress in finding that missing link. If was a funny sort of day all round really. We only had plans to go for a gentle walk but all the best plans end up in tatters don’t they?

We started by making an offer on a static home on a residential park close to where we live. Five hours later the offer was rejected but what happened in between was amazing. We sailed somebody else’s narrow boat down a canal, made two new friends, viewed another boat that was for sale and considered living on it and finally drove home with our heads whirling and the possibility of a whole new life ahead of us. Let me explain.

Lovely day for a stroll

Lovely day for a stroll

One of the consequences of having so much freedom last year is that we are both finding it rather difficult to settle back down. We don’t want to go off and do the same or similar type of trip again, at least not at the moment, but at the same time we find ourselves doing a lot of foot scratching. (No it’s not a fungal infection, just a bit of wanderlust.) My job working for The Canal and River Trust as a fund raiser has brought me into contact with a lot of people who live on board narrow boats and I think I may have infected Gill with my enthusiasm for the lifestyle. We have been doing a lot of walking on the tow paths and narrow boat envy doesn’t take long to take hold. Some of them are just beautiful. At about the same time we have been considering our financial future, retirement and what we want from the remainder of whatever allotted time we have left. With this in mind when a cheap property came up for sale on a local residential park we started to consider the possibility of getting out of rented accommodation and taking a big step towards making work optional rather than essential. Ok, it wasn’t a boat and nor was it on a canal but it was cheap and it was narrow, so it kind of fitted the bill.

After putting in a cheeky offer on the property we went off to take a stroll along the Leeds Liverpool canal on what turned out to be a glorious sunny day but not quite as forecast. A couple of miles down the tow path we came across Carol, sitting in the sun, alongside a narrow boat and looking more chilled than a frozen chilli. It turned out that Carol and her partner Roy had sold their house last year, bought the boat and moved onto it and had been in a state of euphoric relaxation ever since. We found ourselves pouring out our life stories, desires and dreams to each other and before we knew it we were sailing down the canal towards Parbold, our original walking destination. We had a good look around the boat, had a go at sailing it without going aground or destroying any other boats, spotted a kingfisher and generally fell in love with the whole business. After saying goodbye to our new found friends we began the walk back to Burscough unexpectedly discussing chemical toilets and boat licences. A phone call from the estate agent shattered the park home dream for now but by then it was only one option and we were already moving on to other possibilities.

Saying goodbye to our new friends Carol and Roy

Saying goodbye to our new friends Carol and Roy

Earlier in the walk we had passed a boat that was for sale and after our brief but wildly successful careers as skippers we now looked on it in a completely different light. The owner kindly showed us round and in our imaginations we were already managing locks, fishing for our supper and toasting the moon reflected in the perfect mirror of a midnight canal.

Seems like we might be at a cross roads

Seems like we might be at a cross roads

All of a sudden it feels like the rut we were in danger of getting stuck in is full of opening doors. Over the last forty eight hours we have discussed other park homes, motor homes and narrow boats. Maybe we are trying to find a compromise somewhere between the tent and a house, I don’t know. Whatever the motivation it’s exciting to experience all these potential options opening up before us like a glorious flower blooming. I do believe that we are heading for our next adventure. We might not know what it will be yet but there is a tangible feeling of it’s inevitability. There is a bright light at the end of the tunnel. It might be the daylight at the end of rather dull period or it may be the light of a narrow boat coming towards us. It’s the not knowing that makes it exciting.

What would you do differently?

There is a huge difference between setting out to cycle around the coast of Britain and setting out to see the coast of Britain. Hence the question; “What would you do differently?”

Gill and I were talking during our morning walk yesterday and it turns out we have been independently going back over the photos of our trip around Britain and coming to the same realisation. We feel as if we rushed the whole thing. That we didn’t take enough time to stop and stare and really absorb the experience. That probably sounds a bit shocking when you consider that we spent longer than most making our way around the coast. We averaged less than forty miles a day. That’s pretty slow by a lot of touring standards. We thought we had allowed ourselves plenty of time to take it all in. To take days off and to ensure that we really got the most out of this once in a life time experience. In reality we find that whole days went by with little or no lasting memories to show for them. (I hear one or two people saying, “I told you so”.)

I also think that we made a big mistake in announcing that we were going to cycle around Britain, albeit with the added word, ‘probably’. I thought that strap line was terribly witty and really summed up our care-free, relaxed attitude to the whole trip. Of course, I was kidding myself wasn’t I? Just as I said in the blog about giving up drink for January, making that announcement is great if you want pressure to achieve something difficult. Fatal if you don’t. So, lesson number two; don’t pick any journey that is of a circular nature if you don’t want commitment. Any circular trip has a very obvious beginning and end and most people would notice if you did half a circle and then made a bee-line for home. In other words, a circular journey has ‘failure’ written all over it if you don’t complete the circle. We really, genuinely believed that we were above all that stuff and that we could make up our own rules. That it really didn’t matter if we decided to miss out bits of Scotland or save Wales for another time. In reality though, the pressure to ‘do the whole coast’ was huge. So, lesson number two; keep things open ended, literally.

I’ll give you a specific example of what I think I did wrong. I say I, rather than we, because I actually do think that I was much more to blame for this than Gill. We had a glorious ride one morning around Loch Eriboll. The whole day is covered in this post: Skerry Wild Camp.

Brooding Loch Eriboll

Brooding Loch Eriboll

The scenery was spectacular and even the occasional shower of drizzle couldn’t dampen our mood. As you complete the circuit of the loch there is a pretty steep climb and then a spectacular ride down through wild country before an even tougher climb at the head of Loch Hope.

Looking back down on Loch Eriboll

Looking back down on Loch Eriboll

As I tackled this next climb, and it really was a brute, I glanced over my right shoulder and caught a glimpse of the loch lit by a shaft of sunshine amidst a brooding dark background of towering hills and black skies. It was a breath taking scene but I had no breath to give. Preoccupied as I was with completing the climb I looked for only a fraction of a second and I recall thinking as I pushed on how it would have made a fabulous photograph. Did I stop? Did I take the opportunity to capture something really special whilst also having a quick breather? No I didn’t. I let the climb consume me completely and only when I reached the top and the loch was completely out of sight did I stop to catch the breath that I kept from the scene. I will always regret that moment because already the sharpness of it is fading. If only I had stopped and really taken it in. Etched it more permanently on my mind like an indelible tattoo to savour for ever more. I let the challenge of a physical achievement outweigh the beauty of a moment that might have fed my soul forever. It’s easily done and to some extent that’s what we did with the whole journey. As I said, I think I was more to blame for this than Gill.

We have over two thousand photos from the trip but as I have been going through them adding captions and locations I am bitterly disappointed to find that I can’t place many of them. It takes a huge effort of recall, aided by maps, notes and Google Street Map to pin down the exact location and bring to mind how I felt at the time. Sometimes, sadly, I just can’t remember.

We have had the first tentative conversations this week about future tours. We don’t have any plans for where to go. When, or for how long even. All we know right now is that in future we will get on our bikes with the sole intention of really seeing somewhere. Seeing it with our eyes, our ears and our hearts and our minds. Seeing it slowly and intensely, however long that takes. We might put a duration on it. A month, two months or whatever but we won’t put a distance on it and it definitely won’t be circular.

 

Community spirit

Whilst going back through the photographs from the trip I came across one that brought back a flood of emotional memories. Worth sharing I think.

When we were in Easington on the North East coast of England we stopped for a short break and to have a bite to eat. Two things from that day really stick in my mind and I would like to share them with you.

The first was a gentleman by the name of Edward who Gill befriended whilst I was off in search of a public toilet. I came back to find my place on our bench had been taken by this cheerful old man and he was happily engaged in the business of telling his life story to Gill.

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Gill and Edward

A miner for 35 years, he had been made redundant, or thrown on the scrap heap as I understood it, just twelve months before he was due to retire. Just four years after this devastating and humiliating treatment his wife died. At about the same time the mine he had worked in for all those years was closed for good. When we met him he had been a widow for twenty six years. Now he spends his days sitting on his bench observing his home town as it tries desperately to maintain a modicum of dignity amidst the devastating economic and social damage done by the closure of the pit all those years ago. He told us that a few jobs had been created in start up businesses in the years following the closure but most had withered and died as soon as the grant money dried up. Now the town is occupied by a generation of Mums and Dads whose only skill that they can pass on to their children is a detailed knowledge of the state benefit system. It was all terribly sad and only Edward’s undaunted and determined positive outlook on life could lift my spirits. That is until I wandered into the community centre still looking for a toilet. There I found Amanda and Angela and a whole heap of positive energy and community pride. They appeared to be doing a giant jig saw but on closer inspection the pieces turned out to be small bits of coloured glass and the jig saw was in fact a large mosaic. The plan was to involve as many people as possible in it’s creation and to record the names of all the contributors in a book about the project. We were thrilled to be asked to stick a couple of shiny squares in place and to leave our mark, however small, in this symbol of defiance and optimism.

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Proud to be a part of this

It was very inspiring to see this spark of pride and community amongst these people. They must have really had the stuffing knocked out of them over the last twenty years but they were still hanging in there and sticking together. It was just the kind of thing to bring us down to earth and remind us how incredibly lucky and privileged we were to be able to just swan off on a five month bike ride.

Not long before we got to the end of our trip I received an e-mail that made me incredibly happy. Amanda and Angela had remembered our visit and thought we might like to see the finished result. I thought you might like to see it too.

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We must go back and see this some time

How wonderfully uplifting is that? If ever there was a shining example of how important it is to not give in, to battle on and look for the positive then this mosaic must surely be it.

How do you feel?

Day 155 dawned bright but distinctly cooler reminding us once again how incredibly lucky we have been to enjoy such a glorious summer this year. Autumn keeps peeping around the door but it’s not coming in just yet.

Gill and I spent the morning touring Southport’s municipal art gallery before meeting up with four cycling friends who were joining me for the final ride home. Three of them had escorted us for the first twenty miles of our journey all those weeks ago so there was a nice feeling of symmetry to be riding back to Freckleton with them.

The escorts

The escorts

We had announced a time for our return but with my four outriders on their super lightweight carbon bikes we were soon way ahead of ourselves and had to take another tea break to delay our arrival. I was more than happy to spin out the final few moments of the trip, torn as I was between seeing old friends and accepting that the adventure was finally over. We made the final rendezvous arrangements with Gill to make sure that she and Vera would be able to accompany me on the last few miles and set off on familiar roads.

It was wonderful to make the last turn into the village and see a small crowd of friendly faces waiting for us outside the pub. I do believe we even got a cheer and a small round of applause. The hand shakes and hugs that followed were warm and heartfelt on both sides, a real genuine show of affection and an affirmation that we were well and truly home again.

A warm welcome

A warm welcome

The beer and wine were flowing along with many congratulations as more friends arrived and the inevitable endless questions began. I was more than happy to sate people s curiosity but there was one, often repeated question that had me floundering for an answer; “how does it feel?” I simply didn’t know. I was probably more capable of explaining the origins of the universe than trying to convey what it felt like to complete a four and a half thousand mile bike ride to be honest. I think I mostly said that it hadn’t sunk in yet and that I would need some time to settle down and reflect on the whole thing. In the mean time there was more beer to be drunk, more hands to shake and jokes about my scruffy beard to endure. I loved it all.

Cheers

Cheers

Waking up the next morning I asked myself the same question that I had faced repeatedly the previous day; “how does it feel?” Nothing. Just a big empty space where I had expected to find happiness, relief, sadness maybe even fear but there was nothing. I had read, and been told, that returning home from a life changing trip like ours could be difficult and that adjusting back to normal life could take time so I dismissed the lack of emotions and just got on with some routine stuff. I needed to write up the final couple of days in my diary and there were photos to sort and people to contact. It wasn’t difficult to fill the time and I decided any analysis of my feelings could wait. There were a couple of moments during the day, looking at the map of Great Britain and recalling details for my diary when I thought I felt something stir inside but it wasn’t much. It was later in the evening that I began to get some clearer indication of what was going on in my head. We went to the pub to catch up with more friends and spent the evening talking about the trip, the blog and the future now that we were back. It was a lovely evening but I began to notice that every now and again I would feel a huge welling of emotion creeping up on me. More than once I had to take an extra gulp of my pint to swallow back the rising lump in my throat as we talked about the sheer scale of what we had done and how hard it would be to live an ordinary life after such an extraordinary experience. Finally the fog began to lift and the apparent absence of emotion began to make sense.

I started to think about the times when our emotions come to the surface and overflow outside of our control. The overwhelming grief when we lose somebody really close and we can’t hold back the tears or the complete inability to stop smiling in the first flush of a new love affair. Sometimes we just can’t hide our feelings but most of the time we maintain a mask, revealing just a faint hint of how we really feel. Like a ghostly face behind a veil of smoke we make sure we can’t be easily read. Now I began to understand that I was feeling nothing because I had packaged up my emotions to protect myself. I had packed them up so well that they were buried too deep even for me to feel them. They were definitely there though, bubbling away like a well of magma rising up and threatening to blow the lid off the volcano. I suspect the suppression is a kind of mechanism we must use to prevent ourselves from being completely overwhelmed by the enormity of a situation.

It makes me smile because I recalled how Gill and I never ceased to be amused and amazed by the way we exploded into a camping space shortly after arriving at the end of the day. Once the tent was up we would begin to unpack cooking kit, clothing, bedding and other camping paraphernalia until it occupied a space that seemed impossibly big. How on earth would it all fit back on the bikes. Indeed, we weren’t alone in our bemusement. A lady from the adjacent caravan on one site engaged us in conversation and confessed to being fascinated by how we carried everything. I told her the show would start at about seven thirty the next morning if she wanted to see it and guess what, she got up early to watch us pack up. I’m reminded of this as I think about the sheer volume of feeling and emotion that I must have packaged up and stored away to make it possible to deal with the end of our tour. I can’t really imagine what is in there waiting to be discovered.

It’s like confronting the most enormous pile of Christmas presents and being told they are all for you. Every possible shape and size of package teasing you as you squeeze and prod them trying to guess what might be in them. You know that they won’t all be what you wanted but you still can’t wait to open them. I see our memories, feelings and emotions like that pile of presents. It makes me feel excited knowing that I will be unwrapping them for a long time. I am also aware that, like our touring kit, carrying such a large amount of packages around with you would be impossible if they weren’t compressed and packaged into a smaller space. That’s what I think I am doing right now. I’m crushing, squashing and squeezing all those things into a smaller and smaller space. I’m compressing them down and down into an ever decreasing volume. I’m condensing them until eventually, like magic, they turn into diamonds. They are becoming a small pouch of brilliantly shiny diamonds that I will be able take out and scatter across my mind at will and when the time is right. Gill and I have made those diamonds over the five long months that we have been away. We have honed and cut them from the million experiences that we have enjoyed. They contain the mountain vistas and rugged coastlines that made us stand and gasp in awe. They reflect the faces  of the many, many people who helped us along the way and in some cases became true friends. They twinkle like the stars on a moonless night. They sparkle like the dew on the tent in the early morning sunlight and they glint like the eye of the eagle that soared above as we rode along a Scottish mountain track.

They are precious, priceless and timeless. We may share them with you over a glass or two of something but we can’t give them to you. They are ours forever and ever to treasure and revisit for the rest of our lives. A little bag of gems made from a whole heap of memories.

So I do know the answer to the question; “how do you feel?” I feel rich.

Finished

Finished

… just one more thing

The final arrangements are now in place for our return tomorrow and the completion of our very irregular circle. We plan to get back to the starting point in Freckleton between 3:30 and 4:00pm accompanied by a few cycling friends who are coming out to Southport to meet us. We will be departing Southport just after 1pm and passing through Preston on the Guild Wheel route about 3pm if anybody else wants to join us. It would be lovely to see some familiar faces if you have nothing better to do and the sun is shining. Drinks may be consumed in Ponkies on our return but we’re not promising to foot the bill this time, sorry.

Speaking of money; we have tried not to go on and on about our chosen charities for this trip because the fund raising was never the prime motivator for doing it. However, now that it looks pretty certain that we will complete the job tomorrow I think it’s time to stop being polite. If you have enjoyed reading about our experience and you think that what we have done is at least something of an achievement then please could you consider clicking on these links and making a donation, however small. We would really appreciate it and so would the charities.

Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital

Trinity Hospice

Thank you

A couple of pics from the penultimate day:

 

Driftwood boat

Driftwood boat

Sea still on my left

Sea still on my left

Never saw one in Scotland. This is a scouser red squirrel

Never saw one in Scotland. This is a scouser red squirrel

Final bit of off roading near Formby

Final bit of off roading near Formby

Oh and just one more thing, please could you consider sharing this post on your favourite social media sites to get it to the widest possible audience. Thanks again, G&T

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