Thank f*#k it's Friday. Oh wait, is it?
The hot, dark asphalt is passing under the tread of my tyres, my face is slowly being covered with smog and red dirt, forced into the air by the speeding trucks and coaches. I’m riding on a long, dusty road in the north of Tanzania where the landscape never seems to change; fields, ditches, a few trees stretch far into the distance, allowing my mind to be somewhere else but not anywhere in particular at all - only to occasionally be brought back into a state of awareness by a truck quickly approaching from behind, honking its horn at the last minute and passing far too close for comfort.
Moments later I’m back in my previous state-of-mind, thinking of absolutely nothing and feeling present in every pedal stroke.
And then, out of nowhere, a random thought occurs to me, “what day of the week is it?”, “Actually, come to think of it, what month is it again?”.
At first, my mind draws a blank, but after a short mental strain, I recall the month, it’s June, but as for the day I’ve still got no clue.
While still turning the cranks, wanting to maintain my momentum, I raise my left arm to check my watch for confirmation – it reads ‘TH’, Thursday.
“Thursday! How can it be Thursday?”. I’m sure the last time I thought to check what day it was, it was a Thursday.
Every time I have this realisation, I’m always surprised. Where has the time gone?
The days are passing by almost as quickly as the hundreds of kilometres accumulating on my bike computer. Each day not only represents a passing of time but also my place on the African continent, gradually bringing me closer to the end of my original goal - Cape Town. In a single day, I could be 100km or more away from where I was the previous day. Something that I feel adds to this slightly confusing situation. There are only a few familiarities about each day but normally nothing that signifies what day of the week it is or where I am in the current year. Time is abstract, more now than ever before.
Without routine or structure, recognising what day of the week it is, is not only difficult but also seems pointless.
For me, now, it’s just a period of day and night, being awake and taking rest, that allows me to move from one place to another, absorbing new environments, landscapes, experiences, people, culture, differences and similarities between the previous countries.
When it occurs to me to think about the date, I realise how blank my mind was. My location could actually be anywhere. This state-of-mind, which might be referred to something similar to mindfulness, is something I’ve become used to throughout my journey, and I’ve happily embraced it.
There’s something about cycling long distances, or just being in nature, over consecutive days that frees your mind from becoming caught-up in your normal daily worries, stresses or commitments. Some may think with all this free time in the saddle you’ll have some great epiphany, work out the meaning of life or think of an outstanding idea that will change the world. The reality of it is actually quite far away from this, a lot of the time, I’m thinking of absolutely nothing.
Now, to be clear, this isn’t something I’ve trained myself to do or even consciously try to do. It’s become almost natural or habitual, an effect of circumstance, environment and lifestyle.
As a result of the 11 months or so of being on the road, I’m no longer surrounded or influenced by many of external factors that would saturate my mind with reasons to wander, worry or stress about.
For most people this probably seems like a ridiculous notion, how can you not know what day of the week it is?
Well, to be honest, this isn’t something entirely new to me. In fact, since leaving the Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 grind, to set-off on this bike trip over 11 months ago this has pretty much been my mind-set.
Days of the week no longer matter to me. They have no relevance or importance to my new daily routine. The sun rises, I wake-up, de-camp and start cycling to a new destination. My day is broken-up only by my bodily requirement for water, food, bathroom breaks, new experiences and epic landscapes to digest. As the sun sets, I find somewhere to set-up camp, cook and sleep.
Sun rises, repeat.
How long I ride for, how far and when I stop is a decision completely at my liberty to decide on the day. I have no obligations to be somewhere at a particular time. I only have a rough route to follow, a guideline if you will, but ultimately, I am free to choose how my day pans out. And that’s all a day has become to me. A stripped back passing of time dictated by the sun.
Now, I can’t claim that I’m completely oblivious to this, all of the time. Depending on the country, or continent, I’m in, you can recognise the day.
When I was Europe, the normal weekly working cycle is evident by the amount of traffic on the road, or not, if it’s the weekend. Also, if most supermarkets are closed, then it’s probably Sunday. A particularly annoying experience when you’re riding through northern France, forgot to pick-up food the day before and almost having to resort to knocking on doors to beg for food. I’m lucky it didn’t come to this, because my French is terrible.
Now, in Africa, I’m able to figure out the day of the week going by the religious alignment of the country I’m in. While in Egypt and Sudan, it was incredibly easy to know it was Friday by the dramatic increase of call to prayer blasting from the minarets in every town or village. The roads and streets, normally chaotic with cramped stalls, beeping tuk-tuks and shouts of “welcome”, were also much quieter in the morning. A perfect time for cycling and an opportunity to ride with considerably less traffic on the road. Which is honestly a welcome experience, especially in Egypt.
In predominately Christian countries, you’re made aware that it’s Sunday by the streams of people walking the hilly Ethiopian roads in their best outfits to church. Or, in Kenya and Uganda by the loud singing and preaching bellowing out from the many churches, large and small, and even in what looks like someone’s home, placed around town.
But, other than these signifiers, I’ve got nothing to go on. Until a fleeting moment when it occurs to me wonder what day it is.
But, on this journey of mine, does it even matter?
I offer this as just a simple insight of my thoughts through the countless hours spent on the bike. And, if there’s one key takeaway I’ll try to incorporate into my life, when it’s all said and done, will be to remove myself from my normal environment and the daily stresses and thoughts, to allow my mind to be blank and free to wander as it pleases.
If we could all allow ourselves a little time to escape from our daily routines and give our minds some time off I believe we would all be the better for it.
Perhaps easier said than done, but not all adventures have to be grand. Start small and see where it takes you.