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.

  17 Responses to “Journey’s End”

  1.  

    Well done Alex mate. And welcome back. Have really enjoyed your blog. Hope to catch up once you find your feet. Look forward to the unashamedly artistic book…

    •  

      Thank you Stephen. I’ll pop you an email once I get some spare time. Maybe a summer sportive is in order to make the most of this fine weather ;)

  2.  

    I’ve loved the photography, writing and stories of random encounters in each of your updates. Each has been wonderful. Good luck with whatever comes next. Donation made, and put me on the list for a copy of the book.

    •  

      Thank you! I see you might still be about in London so that offer of a meet up is still available if you’d like to hear more before you head off on your own adventure. Just wing me an email using the contact form in the menu ;)

  3.  

    Oh and I’m still keen to hear about what happened in Iran…!

  4.  

    Well done, great trip

  5.  

    Well done Alex, we look forward to getting a copy of your photography and words whenever that may be! All the best in your readjustment to the chaos, familiarity and new beginning back in London.

  6.  

    I’ve enjoyed following your journey through your fantastic photography. It’s helped me stay focused on my own bicycle tour from London to China (and maybe beyond, final destination undecided) when ever it seems too hard or too boring or too lonely. I’m on the Turkish Black Sea coast at the moment. Good luck with whatever you do next!

  7.  

    The journey never ends, it’s was never the destination you sort at the outset only the journey itself which is the reward. Keep pedalling and snapping otherwise life is not worth living?

  8.  

    Great blog Alex, the end is only the beginning…. Of the next tour in my opinion. I dep HK for Lisbon next spring.
    Safe riding.

  9.  

    Wow what a read! Amazingly written! Where can I get the book with the 60 pictures? Man I enjoyed this so much!
    Next time when you in Bangkok for leisure send an email and I will take you on a ride around Bangkok. Will have a bike waiting for you!

    Best regards,

    Ray
    http://www.gobangkoktours.com

  10.  

    My name is Joe(โจ้) I am Thai and I am a biker like you have a dream like you, You did a great job it’s the inspiration ^_^

    And many thanks you choose Bangkok Thailand as your destination, Next time or if you have a chance to visit Thailand let me know I may have a chance to welcome you and take to interesting place(I live in Ayutthaya near BKK)

  11.  

    Joe(โจ้)! I am in Thailand too and would look forward meeting you as fellow cyclist.

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