I remember sitting on top of the Simplon Pass in the Alps. The view was fabulous, the world lay all before me. I loved my life on the road. I was good at it, it was comfortable and -at long last- I was earning a few hundred quid here and there with the occasional published article.
I was living the dream, and I was earning enough to keep on living it.
From that pass I could, had I wanted to, turned around and cycled to Australia. It would have been a great adventure.
I thought of Heinz Stucke, the Godfather of long-distance cyclists (40 years on the road, and still going), and I thought of all that he had seen and experienced.
And yet I did not turn round and ride off towards Tasmania. I decided not to “do a Heinz”. I decided to drop down the northern side of the pass, towards France, England, home, and The End.
If life on the road is so precious, then why did I decide to end it? It is still something I often ask myself (often during morning rush hour on the Northern Line…)
Here then are some of the Pros and Cons of coming home:
PROS: Good things about coming Home
- – The instant pleasure I felt from stopping travelling was that of returning to a sweet, lazy life. I was so grateful for fluffy pillows, a fridgeful of food, a roof, lights and tap water. It felt good to be home! (This ease, of course, is what eventually becomes the greatest ‘Con’ of stopping and what drives me to get out there again…)
- – Stability. I love putting down some degree of roots. I enjoy knowing where I live, knowing the area, knowing people, knowing the history, and seeing the place as more than just the instant, present tense snapshot that you get when you are only ever passing through places.
- – Relationships. Friends, family, relationships: being a lone wolf for over 4 years made me realise that I am not, in fact, a lone wolf! Ultimately I treasure a few deep bonds more than the wonderful variety of brief encounters the open road exposes you to. Thinking of Heinz, it was this aspect in particular that made me feel I should go home rather than riding on into my twilight years.
- – Diversity. To my surprise, one of the things I appreciate most about having stopped riding is the diversity of my life now. I thought that it was through travelling that I would find variety. But my life is no longer just about the ride. Books, running, music, friends, libraries, sport, holidays, cooking, camping, cities… In some ways there is more variety to my life than when I was away striving for spontaneity and diversity.
- – What was the point of the journey if not to prepare me for life? Before I began my long ride I felt that it would BE my life. Now I see the ride as a phase to help me live the rest of my life to the best of my ability. I am enjoying trying to transfer the lessons from the road to all that I do now.
- – Cycling round the world was awesome. The best days of my life. But I did it for over 4 years. That’s a long time. It’s time for something new now!
CONS: Reasons I still pine under a full moon for the Open Road
- – Freedom. The freedom to ride where I wanted, when I wanted. Sleep where I wanted, eat when I wanted. Free to BE whoever I wanted to be, for in each new town I arrived in I was a blank canvas, a fresh start with no history or future, just a present tense and a bike.
- – Unpredictability. To never know what is round the next corner. Literally or metaphorically speaking…
- – Simplicity. To have all my worldly goods in 4 panniers, and to carry all that I owned on a bicycle. That is something I miss. I also miss the mental simplicity of those days as well. The lack of mental baggage.
- – New Friends. To form fast, fierce, magnesium bright friendships with extraordinary people. To treasure those brief days and conversations in the knowledge that once they are gone, they are gone for ever. Out of each other’s lives and on down the road.
- – Other things that flow into my mind so fast now that it makes me realise how conscious and aware I am of the things I chose to give up: fitness (proper, 8-hours a day on the bike, iron-hard fitness), frugality, changing landscapes, camping, sunsets, rivers, dreaming of “what’s next”, always learning…
- – And the strange satisfaction that comes through having a hard time, sleeping on stones, eating dull food, being hot/cold, feeling tired or anxious and yet knowing that these are, without a doubt, the times of your life.
All in all I see my years spent cycling round the world as incredibly precious. I know I will never have days like those again, and in some ways I feel my life has peaked now they are over. And yet, if I learn from all the lessons and privileged experiences I bore witness to, then I sense that I am brilliantly prepared for making sure that the rest of my life is not spent in the shadow of my days on the road…