Everybody Loves A Happy Ending

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!)

Foggy Ride

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…

The journey recounted in this archived post is now the subject of the award-winning documentary film Janapar: Love, on a Bike.

Click here to watch the trailer in a new tab →

21 Responses to “Everybody Loves A Happy Ending”

  1. Susan Gardiner

    Well! I felt quite sad when I read that but happy that you are safely home. I always love your blog and look forward to the book!!

    Reply
  2. Adrineh

    Tom, I was so moved that I thought others should read this too, so I uploaded excerpts from this post on Epress.am (I hope that’s ok):

    So now you have some press coverage from Armenia 😉

    Thinking of you both and wishing you the best,
    Adrineh

    P.S. Can I say I’m just a little envious? 😉

    Reply
  3. Alastair Humphreys

    Welcome Home.
    We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time…

    Reply
  4. Lee Hughes

    Welcome back Tom,

    Looking forward to the book 🙂

    Reply
  5. Friedel

    Welcome home! And add me to your list of folks waiting for the book. Your posts are wonderful, and I have no doubt the book will be just as soul-feeding. Don’t get back into the speed of normal life too quickly though. Enjoy the moment 🙂

    Reply
  6. Fearghal

    Love the image of your mum chopping carrots, what could be more homey?
    Reminds me of coming home from a day at school.

    Hope you’re settling in, and not too dizzy after one thou­sand two hun­dred and twenty-two days in orbit.

    Reply
  7. BenA

    Brother, I particularly enjoyed reading the part about my handlebar excursion. I’d forgotton about that – my beef burrito partially exploded due to that. Thanks.

    It is happy to hear of your satisfaction for the trip though. I look forward to the book, and finally a Christmas as a family (with our Middle Eastern partners!) again.

    Hopefully one day you can make it over here and we’ll have Christmas in the mountains!

    See you soon!

    Reply
  8. BenA

    Also – apologies for the awful grammar. I am on limited time/distracted by an apple of the granny smith variety

    Reply
  9. Hap

    Congratulations Tom,

    Good luck on your next big challenge, settling down! Thanks for your help and inspiration.

    Hap

    Reply
  10. Richard Allen

    Moving and reflective. Your experiences will continue to stand you in good stead for a log while to come. On to pastures new. Welcome home, safe and sound my son!

    Reply
  11. Paul Nuttall

    Nice to have you back in the country mate, and I look forward to seeing how your journey continues now you’re back home.

    Reply
  12. Liz Allen

    Welcome home!
    Your travels have certainly been enlightening and life changing. May your experiences serve you in good stead for your future niche in society and bring you happiness and contentment in your personal life.
    xx

    Reply
  13. Grace Johnson

    You write:

    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 world will pile upon you and inspire you to pile upon others. (Unfortunately, such sentiments aren’t likely to sell many books!)

    Writing a bicycle touring book based upon ”the honest goodness that the world will pile upon you and inspire you to pile upon others” – that definitely sells books! You only have to look at the Dutch writer / cyclist Frank van Rijn. The reason that he sells so many books is because he’s an excellent / humorous writer and not because he has cycled so many kilometers through so many countries. Frank has inspired a whole generation of Dutch bicycle travelers with his books. Your Mongolia story was excellently written, as are a number of your other posts. So…I’m looking forward to your upcoming book!

    Reply
    • Tom

      That’s very nice of you Grace, thanks for the encouragement! I hadn’t heard of van Rijn, I wonder if his books are translated in English…

      Reply
  14. Patrick Hearn

    Good to hear you made it home, Tom. I know it’s been one adventure that neither you, nor anyone who has followed this blog, will ever forget.

    “No one realizes how beautiful it is to travel until he comes home and rests his head on his old, familiar pillow.” ~Lin Yutang

    Good luck to you and Tenny, and I hope to hear about more of your adventures!

    Reply
  15. Amaya

    Thank you for this lovely and inspiring post.

    The next time I’m feeling guilty about going slowly and actually enjoying my surroundings insted of cranking the pedals I’ll remember your words…

    I have come to believe that the value of a bicycle jour­ney is the abil­ity to slow down and get as far awa abouty 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.
    Beautiful thoughts!

    Reply
    • Tom

      Thank you Amaya. Enjoy that long, slow journey back up north!

      (Amaya and Eric have been cycling since 2006 and have just celebrated their arrival at the southernmost tip of South America – only to turn round and start pedalling back up the other side! Their story can be followed at workdbiking.info.)

      Reply

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