I’m going travelling on a bike & I don’t know when I’ll be back
Updated: May 16, 2019
So, what makes someone leave a good job, a nice home, good friends and family for an adventure on a bicycle?
I can’t speak for the few people who decide to give up a comfortable life for long, hard days in the saddle, sweating, freezing, soaked through from rain, being physically and mentally exhausted, living very basically and camping wild surrounded by nature.
Sounds pretty tough, right? Who would do it? Why would anyone want to do it?
Well, for me at least, all of the above seemed exciting and like something I wanted and needed in my life. It would be a challenge and I was ready to test my limits.
Getting uncomfortable, being comfortable
Before I left I had been living in London for over 5 years and was very comfortable. Maybe too comfortable. I had good friends, an active social life and lived in a part of London that was perfect for me. I had a good job that I was happy in, on a good salary, felt appreciated and was contributing to the success of the business. So, why give it up?
To be honest, there wasn’t anything wrong with this life. I was happy but overtime and starting to see friends become ‘real adults’, I had come to question the timeline of how your life, by western societal standards, is supposed to play-out.
You know how it goes, go to school, maybe onto university, get a ‘proper’ job, find a partner, buy a house and start a family. Etc., etc.
Yeah, that’s not me. Not anymore anyway. I mean, never say never, but not for a while yet anyway. Much to my mother's dismay.
I have absolutely nothing against this lifestyle, I have many friends who are happy and content with it. But for me, I couldn’t help but feel that this idea wasn’t sitting well with me anymore. The desire for dramatic change had been building inside and itching away under the surface. I needed to escape this “normal” life for something else, before becoming trapped by it.
An itch that needed to be scratched
For ages, I had no idea what I wanted or needed to do to change things but always knew that I wasn’t going to get the fulfilment from where I was at the time.
Thinking back, the desire for a big shake-up and dramatic change of lifestyle partly came from the thought of looking back on my life in 30-40 years’ time and wanting to feel content with the decisions I made and the experiences I had. I wanted to achieve something big. Something that I could be really proud of and could later talk about with my kids or grandkids.
Sure. I had some personal & professional achievements since school, nothing major by most people’s standards but for me they were significant to how my life has panned out since. But working towards professional success has never really interested me, it’s just something we’re told we’re supposed to do. And, to be honest, it kind of sucks. Work your whole life to then spend your money when you retire.
I had also seen the following quote that made a bit of an impression:
“When you’re young you have time and energy but no money. When you’re older you have money and energy but no time. And then later when you finally have time and money, you no longer have the energy.”
It was clear to me, I had to change this balance and wanted to do something for me and me alone. You know, go travelling, see the world and “find yourself”.
Okay, I’m not 18/19 years old anymore and don’t worry this is definitely not a gap yaaaaar, darling. But I hadn’t travelled so much when I was younger, but why give up on the idea or wait until I was older?
I had also become slightly obsessed with short adventure films and along with scouring YouTube for new films to watch I had been attending festivals such as, Banff & Kendal Mountain Film Festival Tours in London.
Seeing these films and hearing stories about people’s wild adventures developed this urge to do something adventurous and to get out of my comfort zone.
But what would my own adventure be?
Sow the seed & let it grow
As chance would have it, I had been at a friend’s house, who as a keen cyclist had a few bikes around. Whilst looking through his bike collection I had discovered he had owned a touring bike.
Yeah, I know. What the hell is a touring bike? I had no idea what bike touring was and it was the first time I had come across such a bike. But, I was intrigued.
Travelling the world on a bike…could that be it. Perhaps it was the perfect idea. It encompasses everything I was looking for. Travelling, a sense of adventure and a simpler life with almost no restrictions. I could go anywhere my body or bike could carry me and better yet it was an affordable, eco-friendly and more personal way to see the world.
From the moment I discovered bike touring I was sold on the idea. The seed had been sown and for the next two years it grew and I nurtured it through reading books, blogs and watching films of other people embarking on these adventurous bike journeys around the world.
At first, I kept the idea to myself. I wasn’t completely ready to give everything up and go. Not just mentally, but I also needed to save enough money to allow to me do it.
Finally, when the itch became big enough that it needed to be scratched I started flirting the idea among close friends. Expecting a completely different response, I was overwhelmed by the level of support and surprised by how many thought it would be an awesome idea.
“Fuck” I thought. “I’m actually going to have to do it”.
But that was it. I had now told people what I wanted to do and knew if I was to completely commit to it I’d have to start planning and telling more people.
Using this philological trick of committing to the things you say you’ll do I was gradually telling more friends and family. Then, eventually anyone who would listen. I was now fully committed to it.
Every journey has a start point, but not necessarily an end
For me this was a personal journey to challenge myself, to see if I could really do it and spend some time getting back to basics without any of the unnecessary stresses that comes with normal western life. I wanted to live more in the present moment, live simply and just enjoy each and every day as it comes.
It may seem corny as hell but after a couple of test tours in the UK I was convinced this could be a really rewarding experience.
But where would I go? What was my route going to be? And, how far was I going to travel?
My initial plan was to cycle across Canada and Alaska, east to west. However, as I wasn’t able to leave until the beginning of September 2018, by the time I would have got over to the west coast winter would have been been in full swing. Not that I was put off by that but the thought of having buy the extra winter gear and then carry it thousands of kilometres before needing it wasn’t appealing.
Also, even though I was committed, I still had thoughts; “what if I didn’t like it?”, “would I be able to do it?”, “it’s a long and expensive flight to Canada, it would be waste if I had to come home after just a few weeks”.
So, starting from the UK it was.
My next idea was to head east, through Europe, the Middle East and Asia. However, my understanding at the time was I might struggle to get a visa for Iran and even if I did I would then have problems getting into the US for having been there. I had heard amazing things about Iran from a close friend so really wanted to go, but perhaps it was better done on the way home.
So, what did that leave me with? Patagonia to Alaska? Nope. Again, too far to fly.
Then, during my research and reading I had come across others who had cycled Cairo to Cape Town. That could be interesting but I could imagine the response immediately.
“Seriously! Africa!”, “but isn’t it dangerous?”, “you’ll be eaten by animals, get killed or sick from tropical diseases, robbed and murdered” etc, etc.
Fortunately, I know well enough not to judge a place by its reputation but would do the necessary research. Well at least some of it. Vaccinations, visas and a rough route. That should be enough, if others have done it before then why can’t I.
The main thing was I had my idea. Cycle from London to Cape Town.
“But I thought you were travelling the world by bike?” I hear you cry.
Well, that is the idea. However, I’m a big believer in smaller, more digestible goals. If, from the beginning, I had set off with this grand idea and expectation of cycling the world it would be more stressful, made it even more difficult to leave and getting all the way around, ultimately, intangible.
I really didn’t want that.
My first goal would be to make it across the channel to France and then onto Athens. From there, tackle Africa top to bottom. Then, and most importantly, if I’m still enjoying it and wanted to continue I would. My end point and time scale was completely open.
My expectations were realistic and I wanted to be fair to myself. If it was ever too much for me or I was unhappy, I was always going to allow myself to swallow my pride and stop.
There’s no shame in stopping after a few weeks if that’s what I felt I needed to do. At least I tried. I had an idea, an aspiration and a feeling that I would have regretted one day if I hadn’t at least tried.
I guess that’s all you can really do.