The Brick Wall Of Eternal Dissatisfaction

It occurred over the festive season, when I had the pleasure of hosting Fearghal and Simon in Yerevan for a very merry Christmas and New Year. Conversation had turned to bicycle travel, as it had an annoying habit of doing every few minutes. Fearghal and I were discussing motivations for future bike trips.

Andy on the downhill

“It just wasn’t challenging enough”, he pondered, referring to (amongst other things) crossing 50°C deserts in Western China, slogging 200km a day on highways across Iran, and climbing 4,000m mountain passes in Bolivia. These conditions were uncomfortable – quite horrible, even – but not worth quitting over.

I thought back to northern Sudan’s sandy wastes, Ethiopia’s packs of rock-lobbers and gravel roads too steep to push, and Oman’s withering desert summer – hot enough to cook meringues in the open air – and found myself agreeing with him. It had been tough, there’s no doubt about that, but, for some twisted reason, it hadn’t been quite tough enough to put me off looking for something more.

I’ve named this ‘the brick wall of eternal dissatisfaction’. I guess it’s the same one that has driven human endeavour for millenia to improve on what came before, even if it worked fine anyway. I was concerned that I’d always be looking for a bigger challenge. I’ve since suspected that it’s probably a natural feeling to have at the age of 26, and I’m still not sure if it’s a healthy one.

My current goal, which I have pursued without much question for around two years, is the eventual departure of myself plus wife on a pair of bicycles to see where the winds take us. For her, it would be a leap far bigger than the one I took when I rode out of Middleton, getting on for three years ago.

But favours haven’t recently been very forthcoming for our goals. Last month, Tenny was diagnosed with chondromalacia of the right knee. Better known as ‘runner’s knee’, this is a condition that affects otherwise healthy, active young individuals (particularly women) who have usually overdone some form of knee-intensive exercise such as running or hard cycling or have injured themselves as a result of improperly-fitting shoes or equipment or poor technique. The cartilage under the kneecap is worn, irritated or softened resulting in pain in and around the kneecap.

The recovery period is usually a couple of months, but might be more. As you can imagine, when I learnt of this, my heart sank. It is yet another obstacle to what started as a spontaneous and hopelessly love-blind idea to hop on bikes and head off into the sunset together, and evolved to take into account the realities of the world a bit more. It’s likely that Tenny won’t be fit to begin cycling in earnest until the summer at the earliest.

To avoid moping around and feeling sorry for her (and myself), I tried to think laterally and take a step back. I realised that in a few weeks, I’d be free of the burden of full-time work, with a decent wad of cash to put towards adventuring. If I wasn’t able to begin travelling with Tenny, surely here was the perfect opportunity to consume some of that volatile brew of wanderlust and thrill-seeking that I’d been collecting?

A couple of months would be time enough to depart from Armenia, hidden amongst the mountains, overlooking Central Asia and the Middle East, and find a bloody good adventure somewhere in the vicinity. I’d come back, Tenny would be recovered and fit and (finally) we could hop on bikes and head off into the sunset together. Aaahh.

So the time has come to make some solid decisions, and to try and impose a few realities onto the process – mainly the reality of bureaucracy. At some point during the next month, I have to decide what I’m going to spend my May, June and July doing. Should we wait and hope for the best – that Tenny’s knee recovers and that we can depart as planned? Or should we err on the side of caution, allow an extra three months for recovery, and depart in high summer, making a bee-line for China and South-East Asia by the end of the year?

(The funny thing is that no matter how much time you spend on the bike thinking “by God this is boring, why am I doing this again?” as you pass yet another crumbling kilometre marker telling you exactly how far it is to the next place where you’ll buy too much bread and not enough bananas and people will laugh and ask you where you’re from and if you’re married and check your tyre pressure before you pedal off to find a good campsite a hundred metres down a jeep track littered with empty sun-bleached fag packets, you always get home and remember how beautiful it was and how free you were and how good it felt to be out there. This I still cannot reconcile.)

The last few months have also made me realise (again) that if I’m going to avoid spending the rest of my life working at a computer screen – even if it’s in my living room – I’m going to have to find something else to focus on. Can I make a living out of writing? I can’t say no, but the real question is whether I feel like writing a book, to which the answer right now is negative, because I’m not sure I have something interesting enough to write about yet. Photography or videography? I’d love to, but not if it means ending up working as a cameraman for TV shopping channels or taking artistically-lit photos of laminated peelable shims for aerospace engineering firms.

Maybe this is something I’ll have to keep thinking about for the next few months.

On the other hand, maybe I just need to stop thinking so much.

9 Responses to “The Brick Wall Of Eternal Dissatisfaction”

  1. liz allen

    I like the title. Most thinking people of your age search for meaning to their lives and interpret it in different ways – climbing the career ladder, setting themselves physical challenges, renovating what seem like impossibly derelict houses (like us), building up a business etc. Some flounder and flit from one challenge to another but eventually that word 'compromise' rears it's head and hopefully a certain amount of contentment will result.
    Unexpected setbacks may come to try us and a different direction may have to be taken but being positive to change and compromise will make your life more fulfilling. Good luck

    'If you are always craving, always wanting, never satisfied with what you've got you end up even more lost and lonely' Tony Parsons (man and boy)

    Love Mum x

    Reply
  2. Ben

    Do not worry, dear brother – I read this too. You live a fuller life than most people in their twenties so do not fret too much! This reminds me; I must find time to write a new blog entry myself (or just stop putting it off)

    Reply
  3. Adrineh

    Nope! Looks like it’s not just your mum and your brother who read your “random musings” 🙂 I have to say, I had a bit of a chuckle on the paragraph about being unable to reconcile the fond memories with the actual grunt work of bike tours and cycling trips. I myself went on a bike tour with 3 other women last summer from Yerevan to Tbilisi (remind me to tell you about that some time) and even though the group dynamics got to me more than the cycling, my main thought when I remember the trip is “That was amazing! When can I get back on the saddle and go on another bike tour?” C’est la vie, n’est-ce pas? :))

    Reply
  4. Alastair Humphreys

    You have got a cool Mum!

    I finished cycling 4.5 years ago and still wrestle on a weekly basis with this conundrum. Opening myself up to so many possibilities was a wonderful thing to do, but it has revealed to me now how mundane so many of life’s other options are. And yet, and yet, I don’t want to turn into Heinz Stucke (legend though he is)…

    Al

    Reply
  5. Tim

    I was surprised to read that you’re only 26, Tom. This, as with so many of the other things I read here, struck me as the words of a wise old man!

    Good luck making those decisions and I look forward to reading about the result of whichever path you choose.

    Reply
  6. Harry, WorldOnaBike.com

    Great post & wise thoughts, will retweet in a second.

    Fortunately we only remember the good times, else we ould never ride again.
    By the way, we are a couple two years on the bikes now (currently in venezuela). When Ivana asked her doctor if it was wise to cycle with her bad knee and whet she should do, he replied: “enjoy it.”
    One year later, me, the strong mountain climber and cyclist, could not walk due to a knee injury (which has mended since, while cycling on).

    You cannot plan the future, and if i could, I would not want to, it takes the fun out of it. Just follow the path, but recognize the unmarked turn-offs 🙂

    Cheers, Harry & Ivana

    Reply
  7. Stephen Chapman

    I know these feelings well. I felt similar after a couple of years spent travelling the world. I even started to write a book in the years afterwards titled ‘The Seeds of Discontent’ – I didn’t get very far with it. Fact is, mum’s always right, it’s all about compromise.

    Reply
  8. tom

    aged 40 ,been in Thailand 15 years,no skills, no money, flying to France next month with clothes on back and Trek 4900,see what happens.

    Reply

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