Sunday 5 August 2012

Edinburgh, Scotland - The epilogue

“Life is like a bicycle. In order to keep your balance you must keep moving” 
Albert Einstein

I gave up a good life to undertake my world bicycle adventure. I had a decent job, lived in a nice place and was always enjoying my passion, the great outdoors. But I’m not one to settle into a routine and I believe in life that you can’t just keep doing the same thing. Every now and then you need to throw your life up in the air and see where it lands. And so, alongside a longing for adventure, that was one of my reasons for setting out on my bike ride in the first place. 

So now the adventure is over, I ask myself … how is my life now and how has the trip changed me? My life does feel more balanced by the experience. Living simply for two years and travelling by bicycle has helped me put things back into perspective and a more sensible priority. We worry so much about having a bigger house or nicer clothes or getting the latest gadgets.  But these things don’t make you happy. I have lived for over two years with only the amount of stuff that I can carry on a bicycle and have been deliriously happy. I’ve met people across the world with very little material wealth but with hearts of gold, like the mountain peoples of Turkey who gave me food and shelter when I needed them most. I’ve talked to people with different priorities to ponder such as people whose lives have been devastated by flood, earthquake or just plain poverty. 

I’m not going to say that the trip has changed me … the same person who left, has returned. But everything that we do, every experience we have, makes us the person that we are. So in that way, the trip has added to the magic that is me! But I’ve learned some important things. Most of all that despite what we see on television, the world is actually full of good people ready to show kindness and warmth to strangers. When I think back about all the good people who gave me a bed or a meal or just a smile on the road, I am overwhelmed to the point of tears. I’ve also learned just how lucky I am to be able to undertake such a trip and I’ve learned to always remember those less fortunate than me like the miners of Potosi or the people of flooded Minot or crippled Christchurch who lost everything. Through experiencing other countries and cultures, the trip has given me a more balanced view of the world. 

“Get a bicycle. You will not regret it if you live” 
Mark Twain

It was always my dream to load up a bicycle and cycle it away to distant lands. And that’s another  lesson learned on the trip … that you should live your dreams … except the one where you get eaten by a giant spider!

Soon after setting out, it was clear that travelling by bicycle made a whole world of difference to my experience. I really got to know the contours of a country on a bike and every day I lived and breathed its landscapes and elements. I was outdoors 24 hours per day, either cycling or enjoying my camp spot. On a bike you get a depth of experience that you can’t achieve any other way, except perhaps by foot. When you do the whole of your journey by bicycle you inevitably end up travelling through all the “places in between” which are usually far more interesting than the famous sights on your route. The delightful and friendly little towns of the American Midwest were a prime example of this.

Travelling by bicycle also changed the way people interacted with me. First of all I was going slowly and often passing through out-of-the-way places on the quiet back roads that don’t see many visitors. So local people had the chance to stop me, to chat and to bring me into their lives. I am sure the bicycle breaks down barriers as it was often so easy to speak to people and form bonds with them. Nowhere was this more evident than in the United States when there were so many invitations to stay with people after chance encounters in the street or diner like the time bumping into the Donaldsons in Havre resulted in staying with the family for several days and being taken to an Indian pow-pow and rodeo. I will never forget the people that showed me such kindnesses. They made a huge impact on my journey and I hope, in some small way, I also touched their lives as I passed through them, all too briefly. 

I know people back home were worried about me travelling by bicycle but I made it back having had a wonderful adventure and the bike wasn’t stolen, I didn’t get sick, I wasn’t robbed or murdered … and the tales I lived to tell were all the better from the saddle of a bike! 

“Chasing records doesn’t keep me on my bike. Happiness does”   
Lance Armstrong

I found deep happiness out there on my bike on the open road. It was partly the joy of living simply, of being out in the elements and nature all day, every day and of pitching my tent each night at a different place. The thought of something new around each corner kept my wheels turning. And it was partly the spectacular landscapes that I cycled through from the deserts and red rocks of the Argentinian Andes to the simple beauty of the North American plains. Throughout the trip one sight that always filled my heart with happiness was seeing a shape coalesce on the horizon into the unmistakable outline of another long-distance pedaller on a heavily-loaded bike. It wasn’t just a chance for a chat – it also felt good to be part of a network of people travelling by bike, enjoying an alternative lifestyle and living the same dream as me. 

Of course, I wasn’t happy all of the time. Cycling across the Argentinian pampa drove me to tears with terrible trucks, hideous headwinds that often forced me to walk and saddle sores that rubbed through to raw flesh. But even the bad bits added to the sum of the whole … I just loved the challenges, the hardships and the adventure of it all. Heat, cold, rain, snow, hills, solitude, endless miles and getting lost … I couldn’t get enough! 

There is an art to life and happiness, you can’t just expect it to happen. For me happiness is about having adventures in the present and making memories for the future … memories that will give me a warm glow inside for years to come.  Even now when I go to bed at night, I imagine that I am back in my cabin on Lausanne, the cargo ship that took me across the Atlantic. I can still hear the throb of her engine, the creak of the superstructure and the gentle roll of the ocean waves. 

The only ocean waves that I’m currently experiencing are those off the beach at Portobello as I paddle along in my canoe. I look back to shore and this sweet little town that I called home.  At first I felt desperately sad to arrive back in Portobello at the end of my journey but soon I started to feel something else … that this was just another stopover on a longer journey. I have never wanted to settle down to a normal life and that feeling is even stronger now. I know that one day in the not too distant future, I’ll load up my bicycle again, roll out onto the road and feel the deep excitement as my tires turn at the start of a new adventure.

 The End 

New folder on Flickr capturing the photo highlights from the whole adventure

Wednesday 1 August 2012

Edinburgh, Scotland - Loose ends

The “bicycle diaries” will soon draw to a close so just a few loose ends to tie up before I say a final farewell.

First of all ... the moment you've all been waiting for ... the result of the final "bicycle diaries" competition. I can tell you the winner is ... John Forker of Edinburgh who made the closest guess to the correct total mileage of 16,053 miles. A 2013 “bicycle diaries” calendar is on its way.

Secondly, my warmest thanks to everybody who has contributed to my fundraising for Oxfam. I have just reached my target of £2000! The page will remain open for a wee while yet if you still want to make a donation.

Last but certainly not least, I’d like to say a big thank you to my base camp manager, Graham, who has been a wonderful help throughout the trip and my financial manager, my dad. A huge thank you also goes out to all my wonderful hosts and helpers on the road … and to all of you … thanks for watching.

Keep reading for the final blog …