Inspiration. Where do you find yours?
There are so many good blogs out there, so many people doing incredible things. Now that I’m taking time out from my travels, I have time to read more, and this invariably means following the stories of other world travelers and their reason for choosing adventure. It got me looking back at my own journey, which has metamorphosed into something completely different to what I had envisaged.
Not everyone has the time to read through my 33 months of blogging, so here is a (shorter) version of my story. I’m going to serialise it into smaller chunks and I hope in some small way, others can take inspiration from it.
Part 1 – The beginning
Truth is, my round the world bicycle tour began long before I set off from England in November 2012. When people talk about ‘bad luck’ what do they really mean? It seems I have struggled all my life, from a very early age. It’s a story I’m committing to paper for later, but the abuse I suffered as a child and then the cancer which lifted me from that abuse (which I believed was a good thing) sowed the seeds of a very broken man.
They say broken people attract other broken people and this was certainly true of me. I went from one disastrous situation to another and at the age of 21 decided to join the Army, because the alternative for this crazy out of control person was jail. Surprisingly it turned out to be a good move, but my past still held me back. Unable to form meaningful relationships, my first marriage was doomed to failure and even the birth of my first son could not save it.
I lived with an alcoholic, and learned that physical abuse was not just a ‘man’ thing. Of course you don’t speak about it, because men aren’t ‘real’ men if they allow women to push them around. It took five years for me to finally snap, to raise my hand to a woman for the first (and last) time. Just the once, but the shame I carry to this day remains. I walked out, leaving behind my second child. To give up, to admit defeat, was something I never, ever, wanted to do. It broke me.
Then I met Caroline. She needed help just like me and we soon realised we had each found our soulmate. I don’t honestly know how long we were together, but we were married for a good part of the twenty plus years. It was a mixture of joy and great sadness, as the wanted for child never materialised. Cancer became a part of our lives, first with me in 2005 and then Caroline in 2007, when she had her breast removed to stop the cancer. In 2009 it returned, this time as secondary stage cancer. We asked “how long” and were told 12-18 months. Talking it over later that same evening, we made what has now become known as a ‘bucket list’ of things we’d like to do. To this day I’m proud we managed the top 3 on the list, amazing really when you consider she died just 9 weeks after being told we had 12-18 months.
I fell apart. Life had no meaning for me anymore. The successful photography business I had spent sweat and tears building became a millstone around my neck, I let people down and more importantly, I let myself down. I shut myself away, friends were pushed away from me and I sank into the deep hole of depression. I’m not going to pretend over the next couple of years there weren’t some moments of joy, but they were fleeting and I finally reached the bottom, ending my life would be a relief from a life of such immense pain. I tried, I really did, only to once again come up short.
When told in October 2012 my cancer had returned, it was a blessing. At last I felt a longing, a need to finally make something of my life and setting out on a cycling trip around the world fitted my needs. I sold and gave away everything I owned, paid my bills and just three weeks after being given my diagnosis and told I would not be able to cycle at altitude, I set off for the Himalayas. The real journey had now begun and the results would defy both belief and logic.
My weapon of choice was the Surly Long Haul Trucker, one of the most popular touring bikes out there, which I over packed with more than 73 kilos of luggage. I would soon begin to discard items I either didn’t need, or just decided I could live without to save weight. It was a steep learning curve, the actual cycling though proved to be the easy part even through the cold winter of France and Spain. In truth I was carrying a great deal of residual fitness at the start of my tour and days of 200 km’s were not out of the question. I knew that I had to go well early, because I was pretty sure my illness would catch up with me eventually. Two years later and I would struggle to complete less than a 100 km’s, even with a full 12 hours of riding.
I had a plan. It’s just with me, things never seem to work out the way I want. My decision to follow the Camino de Santiago pilgrims route through France and then Spain seemed like the right decision, especially seeing as I had issues with my faith after everything that had happened. As I mentioned above, I don’t like failure, don’t like giving up. After the first snow stopped me in Sauges, France, I took a taxi ride (along with two hikers) to the other side of the snow line, then carried on cycling.
I didn’t get far. This was winter. Winter here means snow. Lots of it. Unable to cycle, I took a train to the east coast of Spain, where I would cycle down to Morocco and then cross the Sahara desert into Africa. I was changing, becoming a different person. The meetings with other travelers, the kindness of total strangers, the solitude, all gave me much to think about. I needed this time, the pain and injustice I felt would take time to work itself out. Slowly, it became more about others and less about myself. If I treasure anything from my incredible journey, this is what means the most to me: I became less selfish. I was ready to give something back.
I’ll tell you more about that in part 2, which I’ll post in a day or two.