It’s difficult to notice the subtle changes that come over you during a journey of duration and difficulty, but certain situations have alerted me to them very strongly.
I’ve only been travelling for a couple of years, but this must be where the curve is at its steepest. Here are a few, both good and bad, of the weird things that have surprised me recently:
- I’m mortally afraid of moving faster than a bicycle. Travel has made me resistant to many of the common fears of my home society, especially regarding the so-called ‘unknown’. But put me in a taxi or minibus heading out of town, and I break out in a cold sweat! It seems like such a silly idea to bomb around in a tin box on wheels at such speeds!
- I can’t sleep in beds. I’ve spent the months since I returned from Africa sleeping on the floor. Anything softer than a thin sleeping pad makes my body ache in strange places.
- I can’t take hot showers. They put me to sleep, and all of a sudden seem extravagant. Mornings bring with them the need to embrace the day, not to remember how nice and cosy it is to stay at home in lethargy.
- I can’t sleep after dawn. The first light wakes me up and I’m compelled to jump out of bed. The clock is irrelevant. A lie-in is an impossible dream, and staying out late requires great stamina or strong coffee. This is a far cry from university days of getting up in time to watch the sun set!
- I don’t contemplate ‘what if’. The decision to do something big now leads in a straightforward manner towards doing it, rather than thinking about what might go wrong/what other people might think/what if I fail. But sometimes this means that I rush into something and find myself in a pickle, having not thought it out very well.
- Everywhere is assessed for sleeping potential. I can’t help it! If I see a flat, dark, secluded place, I automatically start weighing up the likelihood of getting away with spending a night there. It doesn’t matter if it’s a city-centre building site, a field in the middle of nowhere, or your back garden.
- The fight/flight reaction has changed its balance. In a confrontation, the sensible thing to do is to walk away. But in Ethiopia, confrontations (mostly non-violent) occurred several times a day from which I could not walk away. This affected me so strongly that it still rubs off on every day life — not good.
- I read the news differently. I never really paid much attention to international affairs before. Or national affairs, for that matter. Now, events fit into a much bigger picture. And the spin and inaccuracy are almost as alarming as the misconceptions they generate in normal, decent people.
- I’m more sensitive. I don’t mean this in a romantic way! But I’ve found my emotional responses are far stronger now. I empathise more powerfully with the circumstances of real and fictional characters. Recently I shed tears of happiness for the first time.
- I know I don’t fit in. When younger, I struggled to find my place amongst society. Now I’ve come to the conclusion that I never will. To most people, I will always be a bit of a weirdo. So I’ve stopped caring about it.
I wonder if any of these things will ‘change back’ in the future?
Most cycle travellers I’ve met have felt their lives changed by their experiences. Many have involved an element of self-awakening, and a consequent struggle to accept what is revealed. It’s common to hear us extolling the virtues of bicycle journeys, and less common to hear of the problems it has caused us.
If you’ve been on a long bicycle journey, how has it affected you?