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Meeting an Old Flame


A strange feeling, isn’t it, when you suddenly meet an old love again. The bubbling of different powerful memories and emotions. Even when they’re gone, you never forgot those days, of course. You think back sometimes, a guilty longing for rose-tinted days mingled with a tempering reassurance that, when all is said and done, things are probably better now than they were back then.

This happened to me last week. I heaved up the heavy garage door, and there she was: the bike I rode round the world. I’ve barely glanced at her since I finished that journey. But I had a cyclist staying with me, a young punk about to try to take on the world. She was eager, but nervous as hell. Just as I had been.

Her bike was gleaming and lovely. But it was only a bike, a collection of shiny stuff that you get in shops in exchange for dirty money. It didn’t have stories or character yet. She wanted to see my bike, to try to get a feel for what awaited her out there in the world. Maybe she wanted to glimpse her future, maybe she wanted reassurance, maybe she wanted to scare herself.

I wheeled the bike outside into the light. The tyres were bald, the paint job I’d done one idle afternoon in the Yukon was scratched and chipped. The racks were lashed together with string and cable ties. Everything else seemed to be covered in gaffa tape. I had nearly chucked it in the tip a few months ago, but something stopped me. The memories rushed back now. But what struck me most was not how much I remembered, but how much I had forgotten.

As the front wheel turned the bike computer sprang back to life, a ghost from my last day on the road. I scrolled through the display: the day’s average speed and distance; the 73000 kilometres I had ridden between leaving my front door and returning to it four years later.

Still looped over the handlebar was the hairband I’d worn in the final few months to tame my mad mane of hair. Hammered into the end of the handlebar was the champagne cork from the bottle I popped when I made it to the end of Africa. I remembered that. But I didn’t remember the girl’s bracelet twined around my seat post. When did I put that there? Who was she? How different things could have been. Someone else had signed their name on the frame in black marker pen, but I could not remember who.

It was unsettling to see how memories and the biggest moments in our lives fade, in the end, to nothing. How long will it be before I have forgotten more about that journey than I remember? And, because those days were mine and mine alone, once I have forgotten them then they are gone forever. Once I have forgotten them it will be as though they never were. That can either be a melancholy reflection on the futility of striving to do great things with our lives, or a liberating incentive to look forward and to charge eagerly forward towards plans and dreams that do not yet exist, but will exist if we make them happen. The past no longer exists. The future, however, still awaits its moment to become real.

I pushed the bike back into the garage. Perhaps I’ll take another look in a few more years and wonder what else I have forgotten. I pulled down the heavy door. I gave the cyclist a big hug and wished her well. And I look forward to seeing her again in a few years’ time when her bike is bruised and battered and oozing more stories than can ever be forgotten in one lifetime.

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  1. Did “the bike” travel round the world with you in the same way Trigger used the same broom for years? I’m sure I remember at least two different bike frames in your photos.

  2. In a very loosely related story, it’s time to get the bike back out for “Adventurous TV star” Helen Skelton who announced earlier today she will be the first person to “use a bicycle to help her reach the south pole”. She will “use a bicycle with specially-adapted 20cm (8in)-wide tyres”. “The adventurous TV star will travel 500 miles across Antarctica in January, using an ice bike, skis and a kite to raise money for Sport Relief.” She sounds like your sort of person Al. Her wikipedia article says she “ran and completed the Marathon des Sables, after all the other Blue Peter presenters had given up through exhaustion, or through blisters to the feet”.

    • Thanks Jamie. I had a nice message from her today. She does some impressive stuff – so good in fact that I wish the BBC PR people would stop exaggerating her tales; they don’t need exaggerating!

  3. Nice write up Al, I love digging out old kit its quite interesting to try and see if you remember where you got that dent or where that stove has been, what brand cycle computer is that and i take it you used a wired model?

  4. Lovely writing Al, very inspiring.

  5. Mark McGuire Posted

    Thumbs up! These kinds of posts are why I love your blog. You may have forgotten lots of your journey, but the journey is living on and inspiring people like me today.

  6. Only just seen this! Am happy to report that my bike is no longer gleaming and lovely – currently coated in a mixture of mud and ice, in fact.

  7. Pretty sure that this is why old folks just tell the same stories over and over. Not because few things happened to them, but because they forgot them. Fear not, though. This is why you kept a journal 😉



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