One year ago, I pedalled away from my front door on a bicycle, with the vague intention of cycling round the world.
As it happened, the bicycle itself proved quickly to be the least important part of my new way of living. It was simply a vehicle which connected me in an incredibly intimate way with the people and places I encountered. It was these encounters that have defined my life ever since the day I left, not the physical act of pedalling.
If somebody had told me that I’d spend seven months in motion and the following five stationary, living in a post-Soviet capital city, because I’d met someone worth waiting for, I’d have laughed. I was hell-bent on having my pre-conceived mountain-bike adventure. I couldn’t have envisaged that it would become anything more than a tough, physical journey through the landscapes of the world, friendships never more than fleeting, nothing stopping the inertia of the expedition that I thought I understood so well before I’d even begun it. How wrong I was…
I’m sure that the seven months of group travel taught me the necessary patience, tolerance and open-mindedness to treat the initial delays here in Yerevan not as an agonising waste of riding time, but as an inevitability that no amount of complaining would change.
I’m sure that if I hadn’t given myself the rare opportunity to take a massive time-out from the daily grind and reflect on the important things in life, as I pedalled gently through Europe, I would still have been too stubborn to turn round at the top of that mountain near the border and cycle back here.
I don’t regret that decision. I knew that city life was not for me, but I was also sure I’d developed the patience to deal with a few months of incumbency for Tenny, because I thought our relationship deserved it.
It’s ironic that the riding changed me in a way that led to me putting that same ride on hold, but nothing is permanent, and I’m looking forward with renewed relish to the prospect of moving onwards through the world again. I’ve just celebrated my second birthday away from home, and with a third Iranian visa application in the pipeline, I’ve got my fingers crossed to be visiting this cultural and historical goldmine in the next few weeks, not least for the purpose of visiting Tenny’s family in Iran.
With the bonus of having a travelling companion who is fluent in Farsi (Persian) and has spent 24 years living in Tehran, I am hoping to scratch a little deeper beneath the surface of this misunderstood land. I also look forward to sharing my experiences with those watching in the Western world, to try and cut through the bureaucratic curtain that has defined recent media coverage of this country, and bring out something more positive.
Our onward travel plans take us south through the Middle East – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt. From there, it’s difficult to speculate, but Cape Town is the furthest logical landmark if we’re headed in that direction. Having experienced such a universal outpouring of goodness everywhere I went, from retired farmers in England and high-flyers in the Swiss Alps to Gypsies in Romania and homeless tramps in Turkey, I just can’t wait to throw myself into the friendly unknown once again, this time with a nervous but determined newcomer to the world of travel, whose experiences will be all the more intense.
I’m somewhat irked about the idea of starting again with my fitness dwindling, but 99% of bicycle travel is psychological. I know that anyone can do it if they believe in themselves enough. To those who say “I’m not a cyclist”, I reply that it’s a bit like saying you’re not a walker. Get on a bike, and your legs will do the rest!