Too much of a good thing

Can you have too much of a good thing? Of course you can and I think we may have found our limit. All of a sudden we are both a bit tired and weary. A bit worn down and ready for a proper break from touring. I struggled with this idea for a while. After all, I have been singing the praises of this nomadic lifestyle to anybody that was prepared to listen or take the time to read this blog for a long time now. I know some people don’t quite get the cycling or the camping but just about everybody can relate to not working for six months and doing as you please. We have also been having a generally fabulous time exploring this sometimes ugly, sometimes pretty and sometimes simply awesome country of ours so to find myself wanting a break was a bit confusing.

Ugly nuclear power stations like Dungeness

Ugly nuclear power stations like Dungeness

It’s natural to want a break when it’s cold and raining or you can’t find anywhere to camp or the chain has come off right at the bottom of a massive hill. Those brief occasions when you just want to throw in the towel, jump on a train and go back to normality were always to be expected. We knew from previous touring experience that they would come and we were ready for them. This is different. This is a creeping, growing sensation that has been building up in both of us over the last week or so. It may have been exacerbated by the exceptionally hot weather we have had but I suspect it would have descended on us at some point whatever the weather. I’m trying to work out why doing something that we really enjoy for weeks on end should stop being fun and I think it just might be a case of too much of a good thing.
All things in moderation, my Mum used to say and I suppose that applies to not working and enjoying yourself too.

The prettiest of chocolate box cottages

The prettiest of chocolate box cottages

One of the joys of cycle touring is the constant stimulation of new places and people. There are some elements of routine such as making camp or loading up the bikes in the morning but apart from that just about everything we do is new each day. We rarely know where we will be sleeping each night or what we will come across during the day. Even the terrain is a constant surprise whether it’s the gradients we may or may not have to tackle or the state of the roads or cycle paths that make for easy or difficult progress. Little, if anything, is predictable and therein lies the conundrum. Variety and unpredictability is the essence of what makes touring so satisfying but it is also at the root of what has brought us to this point of fatigue. It’s not knowing what is coming next all the time that can actually be quite wearing. We generally build the patterns of our lives around a balance of known routines interspersed with short periods of variation and new experiences. The whole weekday/weekend concept revolves around this idea and is thoroughly ingrained in our psyche. Monday to Friday the majority of people know what they will be doing then come the weekend they introduce elements of change and excitement in stark contrast to the working week. We have effectively been living one long weekend for over three months and now we need a few days, or better still, a week of stability. Bodies and minds are crying STOP!

Awesome coastal scenery

Awesome coastal scenery

As it happens it looks as if we will be able to take the break we need thanks to great friends and family who will give us the chance to put down some temporary roots and enable us to escape the endless change that the last three months have consisted of. Hopefully it will  give us back the appetite we started out with. The appetite for the daily menu of the new and the different that Devon, Cornwall, Wales and finally the last piece of the jig saw around Mereyside and Lancashire will provide us with.

It’s a fascinating situation to be in. To be given the biggest, nicest box of chocolates in the world and to find a way to eat them without making yourself sick.

It’s never too late

I was pondering a blog post just now when up pops a link on the computer to a video considering what makes us happy. It was narrated by Stephen Fry and that’s enough to make me happy in itself. That man could wax lyrical about root canal fillings and I think I would still enjoy listening to it. But I digress. The video was actually promoting, or simply explaining the principals of Humanism and as such might not be to the taste of a lot of God fearing people but the message at the end of it must surely appeal to everyone. That message was that we only have one life on this earth and surely the best way to make ourselves happy is to live that life to the full. To make the most of our precious slot in what ever way fulfills us. Provided, of course, that it doesn’t harm anybody else in the process.

Which brings me back to my thoughts for this post. Over the last few days several people have made the same comment about our adventure. They have told me that what we are doing is generally a very good thing and that we are wise to do it now while we are still young enough to enjoy it. I believe they are genuinely happy for us but in every case I sensed that their kind words came tinged with a hint of regret. Regret for what they never did and a conviction that now it is too late. Many of these people were older and consequently wiser than I am but I would respectfully suggest that they may be missing the point slightly.

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You see the mistake is to look at what somebody else is doing, or is about to do and to lament the fact that you can’t do the same. But the same isn’t the point. It’s the essence of what we are doing that matters. Just because age, money or circumstance means that you can’t ride around Britain on a bike doesn’t mean that you can’t have your own equally satisfying, life changing adventure. Not a bit of it. We can’t ride around the world because we have commitments and insufficient funds but you don’t have to ride around the world, or Britain, or anywhere else to bring about change. It is change that is at the heart of our plan. Changing where we live, meeting new people, changing our jobs and how we think about our lives. Any or all of these changes can come from a thousand different journeys. They don’t have to be by bike or cover enormous distances. They just have to provide enough of a challenge to jolt you from the now. To create a shift of perspective that allows you to see your world through new eyes.

I believe there is just one common requirement in whatever it is that you decide to do. It must take you out of your comfort zone because only then will it bring about that change. But there are as many ways to stretch yourself as there are individuals contemplating the idea so let your imagination fly.

As so many have said before; at the end of your life you won’t be worrying about what you did do, but rather, what you didn’t do.

 

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.

 

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