The End Of One Journey And The Start Of Another

Today marks the second anniversary of my departure from my family home in England, and my twenty-sixth birthday.

“None of us have any experience of cycle touring before, so this is really going to test our mental and physical endurance”, I wrote on this blog on the morning of departure, and a couple of hours later, Andy, Mark and I were pedalling nervously out of my village.

Trying bikes

Shortly after, I found myself further than I’d ever been from home on a bike. I remember the feeling clearly. It was fear — dull, resigned, and energy-sapping, striking deep in the gut. It came from the sudden realisation that despite months of research and preparation, I really didn’t have the faintest idea of what was in store.

But onwards we rode, to the continent and soon clear of Europe. And today, seven hundred and thirty-one days and sixteen thousand kilometres later, I find myself at the far end of the Arabian peninsular in Dubai, with time to take a quick glance back down the long, once-feared road.

There have been enormous mountains, searing deserts, frightening heat, frigid winters. There has been political corruption, personal injury, emotional turmoil, gross misjudgement, breaking of promises, and pointless bureaucracy.

Alone in the Sudanese desert

There have also been times of intense elation, huge obstacles overcome, overarching lessons learnt, life-long friends made, the joy of love rediscovered, and the beauty and ferocity of nature appreciated and respected more than ever before.

Camping in Romania

My overall feeling is clear. I regret nothing. I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d do it all again in an instant.

But after two unpredictable years living out of a few tiny bags, never knowing what was around the next corner, it’s time to stop for a while. The lessons need to be digested, and the mind needs time to breathe. I’ve accepted that my original aim — the abstract ’round-the-world-by-bike’ idea — has outlived its relevance, and I hope that the story I’ve been telling here has made it clear why.

Self-portrait high in the Ethiopian mountains

It’s a short hop overland from here to Armenia, where I plan to settle with Tenny. I can annouce with great happiness that our wedding will be taking place in Yerevan this September!

So is that the end for me and my bike? Well, no, it’s not. Together, my future wife and I are planning to ride for Asia in early 2010. The details are entirely unclear at this early stage, but we’re both excited about the prospect of the slow road to the Far East, living our lives at the cyclist’s pace, and taking the time to explore and admire this beautiful continent.

If you’ve taken something positive away from reading my blog over the last two years, I’ll be updating the site with more details on how you can follow my new journey as plans take shape, or you can subscribe to our (very) occasional newsletter here.

Sleeping under the Saharan stars

I want to end this article by putting things back home in the UK in perspective. The best education I could ever wish for has come from throwing myself whole-heartedly at the outside world, day by day, and reducing my needs down to life’s essentials.

I’m under no illusion that I’ve only been fortunate enough to be able to do this because of the circumstances of my birth. I sincerely wish that everyone could have an education like this, as well as their state-sponsored one. But they can’t. In the UK’s inner-city schools, many young people feel alienated from society and struggle to understand how they fit in. An epic adventure can work wonders here — I can attest — but few have the drive and opportunity to do this.

All of this forms a large part of the reason why Andy and I have been supporting The Wilderness Foundation UK — a small, home-grown charity run by Jo Roberts, who we had the pleasure of meeting shortly before our expedition began. We’re hoping, with your help, that we can raise £10,000 for her TurnAround project.

The project has been running since 2007, when we began the trip, and takes groups of the most vulnerable young people out of their urban environment and to the awesome ruggedness of the Scottish Highlands. Using this wilderness setting as inspiration, Jo’s course aims to re-awaken the participants’ relationships with nature and society as a whole, and to help them understand the power of positive thinking, self-motivation and teamwork. The results so far have been outstanding.

I’m not expecting huge donations, but I’d be overjoyed if there were enough small contributions to reach even half-way to our target. That’s what makes the difference to projects like this — the collective power of the many, and that’s just the lesson that’s being taught by the TurnAround project itself.

Please visit our page on Justgiving.com to make a donation today — no matter how small. You can use any major credit or debit card, or Paypal if you prefer. I will appreciate it so much, on behalf of those whose lives will be turned around with your help.

You can read more about The Wilderness Foundation UK and their TurnAround project here.

Thank you for reading this far. My photographs from southern Arabia can be viewed here. Please take a few seconds to leave a comment below if you’ve enjoyed reading this story.

And wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, stay safe!

Tom

As bizarre as it may sound, 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 and find out what happened after the events described in this post…

10 Responses to “The End Of One Journey And The Start Of Another”

  1. Marlène

    Hello Tom,

    I have only just found out about your blog a few weeks ago thanks to a message you left on Peter’s (Gostelow) one, and I am yet to catch up with all the adventures you ave lived through since setting off on the road, but I just thought I would congratulate you on your forthcoming wedding to Tenny :-)
    I appreciate immensely the quality of your writing, objective criticism, and the perspectives you propose to your readers and truly hope you will continue writing and sharing with all of us out there.
    Marlène.

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Marlène, thank you — I’m happy to hear you’re getting something positive from the blogs. Feedback and criticism is always welcome. I do plan to continue to write, but I’m not sure exactly where and how just yet. When things are clearer, I’ll make sure to let you know here.

      Reply
  2. Doug

    I check your blog on a frequent basis, looking for the next blof entry. Your writing has often kept me riveted to my screen. Having done some cycle touring myself, I must admit that I have been living somewhat vicariously through your postings. From my own selfish perspective, I am sad that it’s over. It’s like reading a good book and hating to see it end. Thanks for sharing your adventures! And congratulations on your upcoming wedding. I hope you and Tenny have a wonderful and adventure-full life together. All the best! –Doug

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Doug, thank you for the kind words! It’s far from over in the long term — we have plenty of future travels planned. Keep an eye on this site for news on that. I’m glad to be taking a break though!

      Reply
  3. Gordon Brent Ingram

    Greetings from a cool Friday afternoon in Vancouver, Canada!

    Tom,

    Your dear brother, Ben, who is as I write this squirting cleaner over a table in the fine cafe in which he works (and performs), just showed Julian (next to me) and me your blog. Congratulations!

    Ben seems well (though says he drank too much last night on his day off) and tells us that you’re languishing in the heat of the consumer-netherworld of DO_BUY. I’ve lived in Sharjah and could provide a few contacts EXCEPT that all of my friends who are ex-pats have fled the UAE for the summer (to get away from the heat)…

    Alternatively, you might want to explore some of the villages in the mountains (at 5,000 to 10,000′ in elevation) in the Hajar Mountains of Oman (really just a 5 hour drive southwest of Dubai in the mountains above where you just cycled). There is even a decent system of trails and dirt roads though lots of Range Rovers going too fast which can be dangerous and un-nerving for bicyclists.

    Better yet, I’d consider taking a boat from Dubai that leaves every weekend to the Omani enclave on the Strait of Hormuz, Musandam. There are some enchanting towns and the Indian Ocean side has a remote and enchanting sea side village (only accessible by sea) called Kumzari where people speak a strange amalgam of Arabic, Farsi and Balochi called ‘Kumzari’…‘Lots of (Iranian-Omani) pirates and remote beaches; some corals though the water’s a bit too cool. Still, it’s a great place in which to explore (and literally chill) — far more interesting (and potentially cheaper with lots of camping possibilities) than the bright lights of DO_BUY…and the beaches are much cleaner…

    If you needed some contacts on how to get to Musandam…I could find them…

    You could also cycle via the town and former slaving-port of Ras Al Khaimah (‘head of the tent’) but those roads are full of cement trucks and are difficult…I’d take a boat…

    cheers,

    Brent
    [email protected]
    http://www.gordonbrentingram.ca

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Brent (Gordon?). I’ll think about this Omani enclave as I considered going there. But do you not think it would be very hot at this time of year? Thanks for all of the information. I did spend some time in the mountains in Oman (Jebel al-Akhdar) — the weather was perfect there and it was spectacular. To be honest, the roads here in the UAE have really put me off making any bike excursions since I arrived in Dubai — but this boat sounds good…

      Reply
  4. Peter

    Hi tom, Hope the visa for Iran comes through. Too hot to cycle there at the moment, but I guess you’re used to 40C temps now? It’s been great to read your updates over the last several months — really enjoyed it. The just giving page isn’t working at the moment so I’ll have to check back later. Congratulations with the forthcoming wedding. Will look forward to reading about your plans to cycle through Asia — maybe Tibet will have opened back up by then…

    Take care, Peter

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi Peter, thanks for the comments and glad you’ve enjoyed reading the story so far. Justgiving have just given (no pun intended) their site a massive overhaul — the page should be working for you now.

      I’m really looking forward to following your story while I’m taking a break. I really hope Tibet is a viable option.

      Reply
  5. David Carter

    Tom,

    Congratulations on your journey — I have much enjoyed reading about it, and was very happy a few weeks ago to notice the “one set of underwear” in the top right corner replaced by “one wedding planned”! (I guess she will make sure you have several sets now?).

    Do write more. You have a real gift for it. Make what you’ve done into a book. It will sell well, if the world is at all fair.

    David (who a very long time ago, sent you a map of the Lycian Way in Turkey; don’t worry, I don’t need it back)

    Reply
    • Tom Allen

      Hi David — wow, that was a very long time ago! Thank you again!

      A book would be nice, and I will certainly write one, but I feel that the market is a bit saturated these days (and the world often unfair). However, if the film project comes off, it might be a good tie-in with that.

      (Re: underwear, I guess I’ve got to get house-trained sooner or later!)

      Reply

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