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Charlie Guest Posts

The Adventures of Charlie the Scrapyard Touring Bike: Iceland

This is a guest post from Kelly Diggle, a traveller and blogger who in 2015 became the 4th owner of Charlie the Scrapyard Touring Bike (read Charlie’s full story here). Here’s her account of pedalling Charlie around the perimeter of Iceland…

In the spring of 2015 I found myself boarding a plane to Spain. It wasn’t for a holiday, however, but to collect Charlie the Scrapyard Touring Bike. Tegan had recently finished her tour across the country, and now it was my turn to take him on an adventure.

To start, I needed to get him back to England. I deliberately booked my ticket home from a different airport 80km away, and gave myself one day to get there. This mini adventure resulted in getting lost, arriving 3 hours late at my host’s home and then subsequently locking myself in with no food (unless you count a fun-size packet of crunchy nut). But the real adventure was yet to come – a month circumnavigating Iceland alone – was I really cut out for this?!

Finally the time came and I felt as ready as I’d ever be. On the run up to this trip, I’d done everything possible to support the idea that travel doesn’t necessarily have to be expensive. With the main component of my adventure – Charlie — costing no more than £25, surely I could keep costs down elsewhere. I set myself a £1,000 spend limit (flights, food, accommodation, missing gear), which became easy when a friend gave me an iPhone to document with and I spent most of my nights free-camping around the island.

Once again day one proved interesting; I reached Iceland to find Charlie was still in London. Having opted to wrap the bike in a clear plastic travel bag, rather than a box, we had problems fitting him in the scanning machine before departure. Either the man carrying him to the plane got lost, or he couldn’t resist a short tour himself before putting him on a flight a few days later. But of course with dark clouds there is a silver lining. This slight mishap meant I was able to take a bus to the city and avoid the face-on downpour, and I ended up cycling with a hilarious Texan during my first week as our departure day now matched up.

I soon realised that Iceland was a perfect destination for a first-time-tour. The wild camping options were endless, the roads quiet, the scenery stunning and as long as the sea remained on my left; I wasn’t lost. It was thanks to a cut-short trip I took to Iceland the year before that I returned with the idea to see more. Summer was an amazing time to explore, as I had 24 hour daylight and zero worry about time – I could cycle at my own pace, for as long as I wanted.

During the four weeks I experienced many new things and never let the somewhat changeable weather get me down. Well, aside from one day I remember well that had me cycling slower than walking pace face-first in to the wind (on a flat road, I might add). There were highs; climbing dormant volcanoes, swimming in a natural hot river and being invited in by strangers on soaking wet days. Of course there are always low points – that’s why it is called an adventure – but I’ve never been one to focus on them. If anything, I think it is important to turn a low into a funny memory, learn from it or push it aside and make way for the positives.

As it turns out, I was cut out for the trip. I had no previous experience cycle touring or wild camping alone. What I did have however, was sheer determination, enthusiasm and an open mind. My love for cycling has grown hugely, and I learnt many things including; the generosity of strangers and the capabilities of myself. It also prides me to mention that my total outgoings came to just £859 for this 4 week trip.

As for Charlie the Scrapyard Touring Bike? I got the pleasure of handing him over to Charlie (human) whom recently finished her 8 month tour from England to Hong Kong. Wherever he ends up going next, I can’t wait to continue following his journey, and feel genuinely honoured to be a part of it.

Thanks Kelly! For those interested to read more, do head over to blueyedview.com. By the way, Charlie did indeed make it to Hong Kong, but is now AWOL – the last reported sighting was a few months ago in Southeast Asia. Have you seen him by any chance…?

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Guest Posts

Meditation By Bike: Enjoy The Silence

This is a guest post by James Thomas, whose recent really big bike ride took him on a journey from South East Asia back to the UK via 26 countries. I wrote earlier this year about the parallels between cycle touring and mindfulness, and have long been fascinated with the idea of the long solo journey as a tool for personal exploration. Here, James generously shares his own spiritual experience while riding in India – an experience I am sure will resonate with many who have cycled there.

It was with a feeling of intense trepidation that I approached Dhamma Ganga. That moment in India represented a metaphorical halfway point of my journey around the world by bike. Not a conventional circumnavigation in any respect but a shambling meander across South East Asia up to India then westwards; encountering fading tribal cultures, a handful of prolific mountain ranges and countless smiling faces along the way.

Rosie had wanted a house and a baby, I offered a tent and a bike. Rosie was still in London. This journey would be made alone. I had become used to my solitary life on the road, took some pleasure in it even. A spartan life of few possessions and abundant freedom. I had everything I needed strapped onto the bike; I had clothes for hot and cold, could cook for myself and had my tent for shelter; I was totally self sufficient. I’d begun to enjoy the silence.

It was ten months since I’d left England. I was now in Kolkota at Vipassana Kendra to attend a ten day silent meditation course. Rosie had attended a course some years ago in Australia and said that it was worth checking out. Beyond that I really didn’t know what to expect but despite my mild anxiety about availability of calories and sitting still for upwards of eleven hours a day, was open minded about what was to come.

When I read through the five precepts of Vipassana I realised with a wry irony that I’d been keeping them pretty closely for the past few months, three at least, maybe even four. I hadn’t been intoxicated with drink or drugs, lied, had sex or stolen anything and I don’t remember killing anyone either. Naturally, I felt more than a bit smug with this, importantly, I felt ready. This would be my first meditation and it appeared that I’d prepared myself rather well.

The first three days were spent perfecting Anapana breathing; cultivating an awareness of breath around the entrance of the nostrils and upper lip; this too was something I was already doing, not specifically focussing on the area above the upper lip but certainly I was aware of breath more than usual due to the aerobic respiration needed for long distance cycling; big climbs particularly induced a trance like state, similarly I imagined, to that of a meditation. I was on a roll.

The meditation itself focuses on the awareness of sensations of the body, by working from head to toe with the same level of concentration used in Anapana breathing to recognise different sensations throughout the body. The law of nature (Dhamma) says that these sensations are temporary, impermanent and therefore will pass. The key to the Vipassana technique is to observe without judgement or reaction when you become aware of experiencing any sensation, pleasant or otherwise.

Through this dedicated mental alertness and observation you are able to cut straight to the root of any and all cravings. Cravings are the cause of all unhappiness. End craving, live happy. A simple theory, tough in practice. Very tough indeed.

For ten days my mind wandered violently through the myriad thoughts and feelings buried deep in my subconscious. I’d walked away from a successful career, I was worrying my family with wild notions of uncertain outcome, and I’d broken up a loving relationship with a great woman- all that, to go on a bike ride. What was I doing? Each time I realised that I’d strayed, I brought my awareness back to the fleeting sensations passing through my body, the rhythmic repetition of breath, slowly but surely cleansing my ego of all craving.

The two final teachings on the tenth day of the course explained the principle of Metta and Dana. Metta means spending a few minutes at the end of each meditation fostering intentions of goodwill towards others. Dana simply means sharing that goodwill with others. It was this strand of Vipassana that really hit home.

Throughout this journey I’d been at the mercy of strangers time and again; in each instance I’d been treated kindly; taken into family homes for a hot meal, offered a bed for the night- it was extraordinary to encounter such kindness in every country I’d passed through — it was something to be thankful for. Yet, this unyielding generosity was not unusual, it was the norm. People are good. Smile and the world smiles with you. It may be a cliche, but it’s true.

The teaching of Dhamma and the Vipassana technique had reinforced my experiences from the road. I left the centre feeling elated, high even. For the first time I could see things as they really were. After months of challenging cycling, personal sacrifice and untold hardships, seeking the simple life, I’d found peace in the law of nature. My first meditative steps towards a happy life had been generous strides all because Vipassana and long distance cycling were such happy bedfellows. I continued my journey on the road headed west, to see the world on its own terms and to pass on the infectious enthusiasm found in traveling by bike. I set up camp that night with a feeling of optimism for what was to come — the long road to happiness.

Thanks James! Anyone in the UK interested in following up with the practices described here might find this link useful. James continues to blog at reallybigbikeride.com.