Journey’s End

 Posted by on June 11, 2014
Jun 112014

15 months of cycling, people, places, cultures, encounters, indescribable highs, soul destroying lows, feelings of boredom, love, frustration and passion all compressed into a single moment. When I look down through my scratched sunglasses, held together with more superglue than anything else, the tarmac slips past at that familiar pace and I could be anywhere; cycling off into Turkey on those first confusing days, bewildered in a big empty Central Asian desert, having a small existential crisis on a Chinese highway or bumbling happily about south east Asia. For brief moments when my mind is able to fathom the enormity of the experiences a lump grows in my throat and the nostalgia becomes unbearable. Then a small hill and the ensuing sweats interrupts the thought process and I’m brought back to reality – a humid 37C on a busy road, cars and scooters whooshing past, Bangkok 100 km away.

A man stopped me to ask where I was going. “Bangkok! Ooo very far from here. Maybe err.. eighty kilo. I don’t think you can go on bicycle.”

At 30km the tail back begins and I begin to weave the bike, chasing gaps, breaking sharply, making a nuisance of myself and feeling memories of busy London commutes return. My mind is occupied with “just getting it done” and as I inch closer to the final destination the significance of the last few kilometres fades.

Finally I arrive, haul my bike off the street into a guesthouse, make a mess of the foyer and run off to the shower before anyone gets close enough to whiff four days of sweat and grime. As abruptly and unceremoniously as it began the journey ends. When I think back to all the times I’ve craved stability and longed for a community it feels good to cross this imaginary finish line. When I think of all the times I’ve basked in the freedom of the open road and it’s felt like I’ve been having the time of my life I’m hopelessly nostalgic.

Over the next few days I begin sorting through everything which has supported my life for the last year and a bit. Every item tells its own story and attached to every scratch, tear and break are little memories. My helmet crushed and fractured from a bad fall in Cambodia and its straps held together with fishing line after a dog tried to eat it. Inner tubes a collage of patches, the tyres both booted and one remarkably still held together with dental floss. Holes in a pannier and scuffs on my shorts from the first fall in Turkey. A scar on my left shin from a dog bite. Calliper hoods torn and shredded, leather saddle cover worn through, shoes holed and soles flapping, cleats barely able to stay clipped in, zips broken or breaking, clothes worn to their threads. Even though it feels like I’ve cycled far enough I look at it all and can’t help but wonder how much further it could have taken me. Where might we have got to… and what would I have seen along the way.

Plenty of time to watch life unfold

The final month was spent dawdling. Enjoying not having anywhere to go and indulging in purposelessness. As always there was plenty of time to sit and watch life unfold,

bury my head in complex fiction

bury my head in complex fiction

and consider alternatives.

and consider alternative ways of passing the time.

Exploring new places

The lure of new places felt as alive as ever,

and sampling the local delicacies. For better

as did my ravenous appetite.

For better

For better

and for worse.

and for worse.

All the while making new friends

All the while new friends

and arresting views line my path

and arresting views lined my path.

The monks offered up their temples for me to sleep in.

The monks offered up their temples for me to sleep in.

and welcomed me into their worlds

Expecting nothing in return, but nevertheless I helped in whatever way I could; doing some chores, helping with english, sharing experiences, smiling a lot and even once helping with alms.

And then all of a sudden it's the last day. Sleeping by the road I awake in the night to star gaze for a while and rise at 5am to watch the sun rise.

And then all of a sudden it was the last day. Sleeping by the road I watched the stars during the night and awoke at dawn to see the sun rise. The same old morning routine felt a little more significant than all of those before.

A last little note just in case anyone else passes through. Then I push off to finish one adventure and begin another.

I wrote a note for anyone else who might pass through then got underway to finish what I can barely remember starting.

the air smells fresher and the sun seems a little brighter.

Somehow on those last few kilometres everything seemed clearer. The air smelled fresher, the sun looked a little brighter and the road felt more alluring. It’s annoying how sometimes you appreciate things more just before they come to an end.

Once on the plane I sat and watched Asia pass by beneath me and failed to get to grips with the fact two or three minutes in that metal box roughly equated to a whole day of cycling on the ground. The two experiences being so impossibly different it seemed daft to compare them in any meaningful way.

As the plane descended drizzle streaked along the windows, dark clouds loomed overhead and in the novel weather London felt almost as foreign as any place I’ve visited over the last 15 months. Family greeted me at departures and it felt incredible to be back in their arms, but it wasn’t too long before those inevitable words left someone’s mouth, “Ooo it’s like you’ve never been away dear…”

And there in lies the problem, from here on in the journey is a memory and recalling all the ways it has changed my priorities and refocussed my outlook will become increasingly difficult. I already struggle to tie the world I’ve seen on my bicycle together with that I see around London. Yet whilst it’s easy to get carried away with this being the end of the journey, as I’m sitting here in my living room with an empty calendar staring back at me, I actually feel quite invigorated. This not need be the end of anything, but more the start of something new.

I wonder what will happen next… and what will I see along the way.

Now that I’m back in the UK this blog will be coming to an end soon, but for those who have enjoyed the photographs I’ve been taking there will be a bit more as I try to whittle them all down into a concise series of 60 or so shots for a small book of photography. The scope of the book will be unashamedly artistic and I’ll be seeking to combine a few words with photographs to tell the story of the ups and downs of life on the road, spontaneous encounters and the extra-ordinary acts of hospitality. It won’t be so much a book about bicycles, campsites and roads, but more about the people and places I’ve discovered along the way, which is really the only story I’ve ever been interested in telling.

In the mean time if you haven’t got round to donating to the charity you can do so for a little while longer here. A big thank you to everyone who has been so generous already.

What I Like Doing Best…

 Posted by on April 12, 2014
Apr 122014
What I Like Doing Best...

Cycle, breathe, listen, look about, think a little, then stop, get off, have a snack, maybe a chat, get back on and repeat. It’s the life rhythm which engulfs anyone who travels for long distances on a bicycle. It’s a gloriously simple, wonderfully self-indulgent and a purely escapist way to live. For the most part we do nothing of any great significance, but as my travels begin to near their end I think more and […]

Cycling Laos continued…

 Posted by on March 25, 2014
Mar 252014
Cycling Laos continued...

Continuing on from the last post here’s the next episode from Laos. Daniel and I waved goodbye to Stephane in Vientiane where he crossed over to Thailand chasing a deadline in Java. We renewed our visas and then continued along the scenic route snaking this and way that and enjoying taking the time to cherry pick some of the best roads in the country. Even if they do take us out of our way and […]

It’s a Dirty Business

 Posted by on March 10, 2014
Mar 102014
It's a Dirty Business

Vietnam heaves with 88 million, Thailand bustles with 66 million and in the middle lies Laos with just 6.5 million people to lay claim to a country similar in size to the UK. It’s quiet, relaxed and there’s space to breathe – the perfect antidote to China. For the last month I’ve been tying together a seemingly endless string of dirt roads to cross this forgotten little corner of south east Asia. It’s a secretive […]

A Year Ago Today…

 Posted by on March 4, 2014
Mar 042014
A Year Ago Today...

A year ago today all of this began. The plane touched down in Istanbul, I put my bike together in Taksim Square, checked in with some Couchsurfers and a couple of days later began cycling. 19,000km down the road I’m in Laos with a head full of memories, a very worn bicycle and a stomach bug to go with. So since I’ve got some time to kill and no better internet connection than some flakey […]

It Feels Good to be Back

 Posted by on February 3, 2014
Feb 032014
It Feels Good to be Back

With China now a memory and with some dirt firmly embedded in my tyres I can comfortably say that it feels good to be back on dirt roads. China ended as abruptly as it began. Once across into Laos the motivation to continue the sort of rampant cycling that brought me rapidly south evaporated in the midday heat. And now that I’m in a place where travel is not restricted to a date stamp in […]

I am free but I am a prisoner

 Posted by on January 14, 2014
Jan 142014
I am free but I am a prisoner

Let’s try that again shall we? Sorry for everyone who read the first version of this post, slow internet caused half of it to go missing in the wires. Hopefully this one arrives with you all in one piece. Enjoy. All those months ago when I was making preparations to leave Alastair Humphreys sent me his mappazine “There Are Other Rivers” which documents his walk across India. Full of nervous anticipation I enjoyed browsing through […]

People, People Everywhere

 Posted by on December 17, 2013
Dec 172013
People, People Everywhere

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been winding my way down from frigid Lanzhou to jungly Chengdu. As I’ve dropped south I’ve been slowly leaving the bitter north behind me. Water has begun flowing in its liquid form once again, snow has disappeared from the fields, tent pegs no longer freeze in the ground, toes and fingers stay warm all day long and night time shivers are becoming a distant memory. But before I […]

Migrating South for Winter

 Posted by on November 26, 2013
Nov 262013
Migrating South for Winter

Just a quick cobbled together update from a very smokey internet cafe in Lanzhou (so please excuse any errors). I continue to bumble my way through China finding surprises, oddities and contradictions at every turn to confuse what little understanding I have gained. And the language barrier ensures that air of confusion follows me everywhere. As the roads haven’t been up to much photographically (I think I’m getting fussy) my camera has been focussed on […]

Winter Arrives in Xinjiang, China

 Posted by on November 12, 2013
Nov 122013
Winter Arrives in Xinjiang, China

If touching down in Istanbul and pedalling out of Europe was the first great culture shock of this journey, then entering China via its western frontier was the second. In one fell swoop the quaint villages and vast open spaces of central Asia vanished and I entered a country of 1.3 billion people. Even in the far and relatively uninhabited north west the speed of Chinese growth has been bewilderingly apparent. I’ve ridden towards horizons […]