Three years ago, after cycling through Siberia with Rob, we went our separate ways. I wanted to ride home in a fairly straight line. Rob wanted to wander further. So far, in fact, that only now is he about to get home! His ride, of more than 3 years, included a Siberian winter and rides through Afghanistan and Iran.
As he prepares to return home, and all that that entails, I wonder whether I should have stayed with him and extended my ride by a couple of years… Certainly he has had more exciting, worthwhile, meaningful and fun times than I have had back home. He has spent less money and, in doing so, made far more of the last two years than I have.
I suspect that what awaits Rob, after the excitement and pride has worn off, will be much the same feelings that I am still going through: delighted to be home, frustrated to be home, not wanting to devote similar chunks of our life to the draining demands of the open road, yet also not at all satisfied with the other alternatives.
“What next?” has gone from being the exciting, challenging question that made waking every morning an exciting pleasure to the millstone round my neck that worries how the next 40 years of my life can possibly match up to the last 4. It is up to me to ensure that they do. And that begins next Saturday, when I get married and Rob will stand as my Best Man.
Welcome home, Rob! Have a read of his latest missive below, or visit his
which is raising funds and awareness for the
. He is just £2000 short of his target of £20,000.
“Yet how good it is to come
Home at last, home, home!
… Tired of wild, uncertain lands, strange faces, faint hands.
Has the wondrous world gone cold?
Am I growing old, old?
Grey and weary . . .
let me dream, glide on the tranquil stream.
Oh, what joyous days I’ve had, full, fervid, gay, glad!
Yet there comes a subtle change, let the stripling rove, range.
From sweet roving comes sweet rest, after all, home’s best”
– Robert Service, The Rover
It seems strange to write it, but I am almost home.
Later today I will set off from Brussels and cycle for the remaining few hours daylight, before camping in a Belgian field (behind a tree). It is getting dark early and getting chilly at night, but there is not much more wild living to endure.
Tomorrow I will ride to Dunkerque and catch a ferry to Dover and then camp in English field (behind a tree).
And on Sunday I will cross the Thames, and ride past Big Ben, down the familiar backstreets of Notting Hill, and finally up to my parents front door. I imagine it like a dream.
The last 2 months riding through Europe have been fleeting. I chose to take quite a “classical” route through my home continent – Istanbul, Greece, Rome… then on through the Alps to Geneva and finally skirting the eastern side of France up to Belgium. I feel I know much less about my own continent than I do Asia, but the sense of history and development in Europe is mind blowing.
For much of this final leg I had company – 3 different visitors join
ed me on the road. Firstly, for 700 miles through Turkey to Istanbul, Olly the doctor : Olly taught me to cook risotto on a camping stove and made me jealous with his sleek lycra outfits.
Then Nate from America joined me from Greece to Rome. I was grateful to spend time traveling with someone so brilliantly enthusiastic – Nate reminded me how to appreciate the epic landscapes we were seeing and the privilege of living wild.
And finally from Italy to Switzerland, my cousin Richard joined me for a wind beaten brawl of a ride over the Great St Bernards Pass in the Alps – and who afterwards told me that if I ever chose to set up a travel company, I should name it “non-stop agony tours”!
All three of my companions proved tough and impressively non-complaining. It is great to see old friends again.
Whilst in Italy I passed my 3rd year anniversary since setting off – I think the last year has been the hardest of the trip… a year ago I was just leaving Australia by boat to Singapore… and over the following 12 months and 10,000 miles I cycled through the humid hills of Vietnam, the icy passes of Tibet, the crowds of India, the security panics of Afghanistan, and the dry winds of Iran. I also made 2 emotional trips home.
By the time I got to Switzerland I was exhausted, and so pedaling on past Lake Lemon I headed for a Christian retreat centre in the French village of Taize. Taize is a great place to just stop being hectic, and to practice being still… no emailing, no cycling, and no writing – just compulsory stillness. I was exhausted, and wanted to spend a little bit of time just reflecting before entering the busyness of British life again.
Last week I arrived in Brussels for a final pitstop, staying with a friend who works with the EU. Christine came over to visit for a few days from London so it was great to see her again and I am immensely grateful to her for putting up with a “faraway, bearded wildman” boyfriend these past 2 years. It will be good to see her more often from now on!
It is quite hard to reflect on what the point of the past 1139 days have been about or for… and I think further reflection on the common questions of “how have you changed?”, “why did you do it?” and (dauntingly) “what next?” will have to wait until I have actually got back. I think I can say it has been harder and better than I ever imagined. And I think it was worth the time and effort and work that I had to put into it…