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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!