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Committing to Providence, Creating Your Life 

OK, so it’s a bit weird to post a blog post about yourself, especially one filled with so many kind things said about me. But if we leave that aside, I think this is a really interesting article about allowing adventure and vulnerability into your life.

I just stumbled upon it in some old stuff I have. It was written in 2005 by a lady who invited me into her family in Tirana, near to the end of my round the world cycle.

Sometimes, a person will cross your path and make you think about life in a whole new way. Recently I met someone who had that effect on me. Alastair Humphreys is a man with a mission at once totally self-absorbing and totally self-deprecating. His plan (and all indicators are that he’ll pull it off) is to ride a bicycle around the world. After four years he nearly done it, there is only a bit of the Balkans and central Europe to get through before he pedals back into England and home. 

Alastair stayed with my family for five days. I had never met him before. I heard about his trip through a friend who met him when he cycled through her city. At her suggestion, I contacted him to let him know that if he came through Tirana, he could find a bed and a hot meal at our house. I have to admit that I was slightly worried he’d take me up on the offer. I mean, what kind of person cycles around the world? Was I opening my home to a crazy person? Was I putting my little boys in danger? Would he be self-impressed and scornful of our less-than-adventurous life? Two toddlers and a TV blaring the “Thomas the Tank Engine” theme song from dawn to dusk hardly made us intrepid or interesting. Through my misgivings, there was a part of me, a strong part, which overrode the fearful part. I loved reading travel adventures, and this seemed a good chance to be member of a vast support team for man riding out his dream. 

Alastair turned out to be astonishingly normal. Aside from a rash contracted by sleeping in a flea-infested Hoxha-era bunker, and a pair of biking shoes that were indescribably odoriferous, Alastair surprised us by his conventionality. He didn’t seem like a bigger-than-life character, he wasn’t swashbuckling, or loud talking. He seemed as interested in our lives as we were in his. He joked that one of the reasons for biking around the world was to earn the right to sit on the couch. As if to prove his point, one day he watched eight hours of “24”, one terrorist-infested episode after the other. He fit right in to our lives. I found myself having to actively remember that he’d come to Tirana via England…by bicycle…the long way. It was an epic journey he was on, but his demeanor belied the vast commitment. His normality got me thinking. What made him different? What was it that he had inside him that got him to take that leap of faith that makes a dream a reality? And, more importantly, what was it that kept him pedalling for over four years? How did this normal guy follow through with this staggering devotion to his plan? 

In talking with him, or reading his stories on his website, one notices his honesty. He takes little macho pleasure in what he’s accomplished, he isn’t some sort of latter-day Ulysses, conquering mountains or people or striving to risk his life in the name of adventure. He is disarmingly frank and admits to having been quite scared quite often. And yet, though he’s come close to quitting, he hasn’t. That commitment is what I found so inspiring. 

On Alastair’s website he quotes Goethe: 

Until there is commitment, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: That the moment one definitely commits oneself then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues forth from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would come his way. Whatever you do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now. 

Alastair took the leap from planning to definitely committing. Only he knows for sure why he chose this particular plan, or how hard it really was to face that commitment during the rainstorms, or freezing temperatures, or unbelievable heat that made his trip the adventure that it is. The point is that he did commit. And in his commitment there is a reminder to the rest of us, a reminder of the things that we dream about and haven’t committed to. He shows us, in his easy-going, every-mannish way, that there is more danger in ignoring dreams than there is risk in following them. He looked his fear; he looked the impossibilities in the eye and he sized them up. He, uniquely among people, decided it would be more difficult to ignore his passion than to take all the risks that his trip would entail. He committed to making his dream a reality, and by doing so, he committed to trusting the rest of us –acting through providence– to help him. 

In this time where fear seems normal and the horrors of what humans are capable of are ratcheting up almost daily, it’s inspiring to meet at least one human in our race who trusts the rest of us with his future. So much of Alastair’s journey depends on the people who help him. He rides with almost nothing, little extra food, few clothes, a pair of flip-flops and his holey biking shoes. He is purposely, I think, vulnerable. And, as he writes in on his website, his vulnerability is the very thing that keeps him safe. What faith! What an ability to trust. How many of us have that kind of faith in humanity? As nervous as I was about opening my home and family to him, I wonder if he was nervous about walking into a stranger’s home to stay? He has spent four years being at the mercy of the world. While so many of us huddle up in our lives, each day prescribed, each risk weighed against the effort it takes to avoid it, he is out there, in the world, letting the world take him in and move him on, and trusting, every moment, that his boldness will be rewarded. 

So often we find ourselves plodding through our days, getting up and going to work, going through the motions of our jobs, finding our way home, and sinking into the routine of our evenings. This is what Alastair had hoped to escape with his ride. In fact, he found that with his adventure there is a certain amount of routine. He points out that Shakespeare wrote about the fact that if all the year was a playing holiday, then to sport would be as tedious as work. So, to paraphrase Lance Armstrong, “It’s not about the adventure.” We don’t all have to have a grandiose plan to travel across Antarctica, or pedal the Sahara. We simply need to remind ourselves to find the adventure in our own lives and to throw ourselves into what we love with abandon, with a sense of wonder, and with a commitment to seeing it all through. We can be bold in our days; we can find the genius and power in ourselves that we all have in untapped reserve.

I’m sure that in the course of his travels he’s met many people like me, people who look at him and wish they could have just a tiny piece of what he has, people who enviously watch him riding away into an unwritten day and off into an unexplored future. Most of the people who put him up for a few days, will more than likely never see him again. And yet, I feel sure, he’s given all of us something by reminding us of what we’re all capable of ourselves. This is his lesson for the rest of us: Be bold. Commit totally. Commit to whatever it is you yearn to have, or to have made better, your marriage, your children, your job, those half-forgotten dreams you once wanted to follow. Commit yourself totally and providence will help you. We can leave the peddling to Alastair, who is nearly done with this journey but will undoubtedly embark on another sometime soon. But hopefully he’ll rest a little first (and burn those awful shoes). He’s earned the right to sit on the couch for a while, I think.

Adrienne Scherger, Tirana 

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