Believe it or not, I finally left Yerevan on my bicycle on Sunday 2nd March 2008. I pedalled south for 70km, through the Ararat region, and camped in a field after dark opposite the factory of a company called ‘Abit Ltd’, which amused me slightly. At 7am the following morning I was on the road again. I began to climb East, away from the Ararat plateau and up into the mountains.
At 3pm I was still climbing. My bike seemed unusually heavy, carrying amongst other things the minus-20-degree winter sleeping bag that I had been trying to get since the 26th of November 2007 (a quarter of a year ago). Yes, after over one month of bureaucratic wrangling, the sleeping bags were finally delivered to the British Embassy, the staff of which I would like to extend my most heartfelt gratitude for their patience and string-pulling expertise.
It was warm. Too warm. I had woken up sweating that morning. I stood at the top of the mountain after pedalling uphill for 6 hours. My legs were in quite a lot of pain.
I realised at that point that I had departed with several kilograms of unnecessary winter equipment. I also realised that I had departed mainly because I had a piece of paper in my passport that said I had to cross the Iranian border by the 11th March. Because of this little bureacratic detail, I had left behind me a girl who I had met only recently but who had left a very deep impression on me (everybody say “aaah”). I’d been in Yerevan for so long that I’d managed to find romance – the day before I was originally due to leave. It was probably the biggest surprise I’ve had since I left England.
So you will be pleased to hear that at 3:30pm yesterday, a long, long way from Yerevan, I turned round, pointed my bike down the mountain and cycled back to the city that I am evidently unable to leave, to spend more time with my unexpected girlfriend. I arrived at 11pm in more pain and more tired than I have ever been in my life. I was out of practice. I was soaked by several hours of sudden rain. I couldn’t stop pedalling to put on my waterproofs, because stopping was when the pain in my legs was at its worst. I cycled down the highway in pitch darkness, using the light from other cars’ headlights to stay on the road. I ate a kilogram of sweets and drank 4 litres of water. When I arrived, I checked my cycle computer to find that I had cycled 128km and had been pedalling for nearly 11 hours that day (6 of which were uphill).
What does this mean for the expedition? Well, for me, it means that the concept of travelling is exactly that – a concept. I realised that I didn’t have to be physically moving every day to discover myself or to find goodness and adventure in the world. Of course the journey does not end here – the world is huge, and I’ve seen only the tiniest slice of it! But I would be a fool to throw away what’s in front of me for the sake of a fundamentalist approach to Ride Earth. The trip was meant to be one of discovery of the world, and of the self. If I’d carried on down the far side of that mountain, I’d have discovered that I really was so stubborn that I’d let a burgeoning relationship slip through my fingers for the sake of a bike ride. This is my life now, and there is no deadline for completing this round-trip of the planet.
I plan to stay in Armenia until May, making presentations, lending a hand to the volunteers and their projects here, exploring the country and making the most of the opportunity to stop for a while in a small and beautiful land that feels overlooked by the rest of the world. In May, Tenny (my girlfriend) and I are planning to travel by bicycle through Iran and into Central Asia. We hope to cross Tibet as summer draws to a close, and from there… who knows?