I rode into my small village in the East Midlands, one thousand two hundred and twenty-two days after cycling out of it, whooping with the recognition of every stick and stone, following Tenny on her bicycle past the park gates, round the tight bend which it was always so easy to overshoot, down the leafy hill on which my brother went over the handlebars of his BMX aged 8, past the first houses and the springwater trickling from the wall and the dingy old pub I never went to and round the bend to the third house on the left, which a long time ago I used to call home.
What a fantastically absurd feeling to have gone so far without ever having had a destination, and to end up right back where I began! It was the first time since leaving that I’d arrived somewhere on my bike without the comforting knowledge that I would soon pack my belongings back into the panniers and ride off again on another stage of my journey.
There was no welcoming party, no TV crew, no local reporter, no homecoming celebration of what I’d done. An opportunity missed for some cheap publicity and a couple more newspaper clippings for posterity? Definitely. It would be easy enough to spin the story of Ride Earth towards the heroic. “Local Lad Sets Off To Cycle Round World, Comes Home Married”, would run the pleasingly condensed headline of a short feature somewhere in the depths of the Harborough Mail. The article would skim the crests of my travelogue’s waves, sandwiched between a story about a baby born in a car park and a page of property ads.
My mum was chopping vegetables on the other side of the glass of the kitchen window and my dad hadn’t got home from work yet. Just another day – another day coming to a close in this sleepy village which continued to crawl slowly through the ages while politicians squabbled on TV and the plunder and vandalism of the planet continued to blend seamlessly into everyday existence.
Just as well there was no fanfare. In any case I considered Tenny’s achievements of the previous two months to have hugely outweighed mine – a sensitive city-girl from the Middle East suddenly thrown into a world of heavy traffic and high prices and sneaking into fields to sleep under canvas for days on end, with me pottering along in the role of porter and navigator.
It’s time for me to stop thinking about the next big trip. For one thing, my attitude to cycle-touring needs a serious tune-up; no longer will I pedal furiously away in search of a completed checklist of countries that sound interesting, or of adding more zeros to the number of kilometres I’ve cycled. My last relatively far-out expedition, to Mongolia, epitomised my changing approach to riding a bike in foreign lands. (Read more about that here.)
I need to put something back into the great hot-pot we call society, which is still a horribly confusing place where nothing that anyone does seems to bring civilization forward to the fabled plateau of universal peace and plenty. Travelling has raised more questions than it’s answered – I feel that I understand even less the intricacies of the human and natural worlds, now I know first-hand how bemusingly vast and complex they are. Maybe I just have a better idea of what I don’t know. Yes, that’s probably it.
But have I achieved what I set out to achieve back in 2007? Have the demons from which I ran away been vanquished?
Long-term readers will know that this project began life as a round-the-world tour. This deceptively simple-sounding aim was intended to be the vehicle for all manner of life-enhancing exploits and adventures, but I allowed a little necessary fluidity into the objective and things rapidly spiralled off elsewhere. The adventures and life-enhancing exploits I had as a result were all the more worthwhile.
If I had encountered such a change of tack on someone else’s blog before I had started, I would have immediately passed the author off as a quitter. How arrogant I was! I probably lost a few followers back then; those who were in it for the heroics and incredible feats of endurance, of which I had previously fantasised my life on the road would consist. Instead, I found a life-long companion and married her last year, and I was inspired to explore small pockets of the world in far more depth than I would have done had I simply blasted my way straight through on my way to the other side of the globe.
Can I really complain about having cycled ‘only’ about 22,000km, or just over half the circumference of Earth? That’s a mammoth distance which I can barely comprehend, and I am absolutely sure that any of the cyclists who’ve ridden further (and there are many) will have learnt well along the way that there is little point attaching intrinsic value to numbers like that, except in order to get people’s attention in back-cover blurb or film trailers (in which situations it’s probably fantastic).
With the opulent luxury of hindsight, I have come to believe that the value of a bicycle journey is the ability to slow down and get as far away from the highways as possible, in order to escape the rush and experience the calming of the soul, and to better appreciate the honest goodness that the the world will pile upon you and inspire you to pile upon others. (Unfortunately, such sentiments aren’t likely to sell many books!)
What can you expect from this blog, now the act of travel has been brought to a close? In the short term I will begin to tie together various facets of the post-trip experience, and continue to share the intricacies of the process. I can confirm that there will indeed be a book, as many readers have expressed an interest in such a thing.
Expect to see lost images dug from the archives, and for some more of that tantalising video to work its way through to these pages. I will also be looking back at what I’ve done and what I’ve learnt, and writing occasionally on that slant. In the long term, I hope to identify the moment when I start to sound tired and repetitive, so that I can wind this website up for good and move on to bigger and better things.
So is that it for adventure and exercise and distant lands? Like hell it is! There’s an ever-growing list of fantasy expeditions I’d love to tackle, and it’s good to feel that to at least attempt any one of them is well within my capability and current level of recklessness. But that’s a blog post for another time…