It’s one year since we pedalled into London and brought this part of the cycle journey more or less to a close. I thought it would be as good a time as any to take a moment to reflect and update. To say it’s been a full on year would be an understatement. I always knew it would be hard to adjust back to more or less conventional life, but it nearly undid me.
It was fucking brutal.
I will try and explain. Bare with me, this is still not completely figured out in my head but here are some of the insights I have.
Cycle travelling cuts out the bullshit. You are suddenly and very quickly faced with the things that are universally important. Where do we get food? Where do we get water? Where will we sleep tonight? Those are the things we all really need. And human connection. On the road you have fleeting but wonderful connections with people who invite you to stay for the night, people who stop to give you water, or simply want to ask if you are okay. The overwhelming feeling is of universal kindness. Sure there is the odd twat, but most people you encounter are pretty awesome. There is also a pretty fabulous community of long term cycle travellers and hosts out there who really get what you do. So it’s almost like life it stripped down to the minimum and most important things that we as humans need. Not to say that there aren’t other ways to achieve this. But it happens organically with cycle travelling. It’s almost impossible for it not to happen. In my experience anyway.
This can leave you somewhat disconnected from mainstream society. Because just like most people can’t relate to the time you got deported from Turkmenistan, you often can’t relate to their lives. It’s a little alienating and takes time to remember that not everyone is excited about wild camping in Iran and how long you can go without showering. It wasn’t exactly that I felt lonely, more that I was disillusioned with people and conventional life in general. I just wanted to get back on my bike and leave. But ultimately I have learned it’s not about having to fit back in. With time you find your kind of people and learn to take joy from different things. I don’t want this journey to be the one amazing thing I’ve done. I don’t even want it to define me. It’s just part of what has makes mine and Astrid’s life so rich.
I also found myself feeling much more sensitive to the planet. I think we both did. After spending most of our time living outdoors, it’s hard not to feel a deep connection to the natural world. Cars, waste, lack of recycling, environmental destruction and cruelty to animals affected me in a more intense and emotional way than it had before. As a result Astrid and I have become more or less freegan, something we had been discussing for quite a while on the trip. This means we eat mainly vegan unless say, someone has made us a meal, or we are dumpster diving. It is as much about waste reduction as it is about being plant based. This might be confusing for some but I would rather eat a non vegan dip out of a dumpster that was perfectly fine and would go to waste, than some vegan chocolate that has been flown in from Brazil. Ultimately it’s about reducing our impact on the planet.
Another strong impact that this journey left on both of us was the lack of fear. Sure, we still get scared about things from time to time and I would never call myself fearless, but hell, a lot of people are scared. After being around people who generally carry less fear as they are also traveling and exploring, it was confronting to see how much fear is out there. People are afraid to cycle, afraid to travel, afraid to do anything out of the norm. Afraid of the stories we are told by our politicians. Afraid of refugees. Afraid of fucking everything. I totally get where it comes from, mainly the media, and I don’t really blame people for it, but it does make me sad. Because like any cycle traveler or even half adventurous backpacker will tell you, the world is full of kind people. People who will invite you in off the street to sleep in their houses, people who will stop on the highway and give you food, people who will help you with the endless small tasks everyday on the road. This is the reality of people. Not the bullshit the media and our governments want us to believe. So coming up against the way most people see the world was exhausting and alarming.
For us moving to a big city in the darkest, bleakest month of autumn to start work didn’t really help either. I really questioned for a while the wiseness of going straight back into the same career I was doing back at home. There hadn’t been any time to reflect or really ask ourselves wether we wanted to go back to working as paramedics. It had always seemed like a good idea, but I felt like another me had made that decision. Now I wasn’t so sure. I didn’t feel like the person I was before I left, and there are things I want to change about where my life is going. Things that might be harder from the sphere of a conventional job. And London itself really dragged us down for the first few months. It felt big, unfriendly and dark. We spent a lot of time asking ourselves; what are we doing here?
But finally, out of this rather dark phase I feel like I have gained some clarity. Ultimately Europe is not our home. Neither Astrid or I want to live here long term (as much as we love our friends that do). It makes sense to slip into a job that is both familiar and relatively well paying. We both want to travel more (probably cycle home) and therefore saving money here makes sense. Not only that, but living in England has its advantages; Europe is on our doorstep and we taken advantage of the travel opportunities. But above and beyond that we have been experimenting and learning. The things we missed while traveling we have started to establish here.
To begin with, a kettle. We probably spent the first 6 months drinking tea and not leaving the house. That combined with an oven; bliss. Along with this I am slowly learning how to bake kick ass bread. We are growing veggies. Astrid is learning about bees and we are both experimenting and learning about permaculture. We are figuring out how we want to live when we return to Australia and learning new skills to take with is. Plus we have our super friends and family visiting us, as well as our wonderful London friends. Things are pretty awesome.
It’s certainly a different lifestyle to climbing 4000m passes but one that is fulfilling in different ways.
For us the cycling is not over either. I think some people end a big bike trip ready to move on and try new things. Perhaps it’s because we haven’t actually cycled home, but both of us are super keen to get back on the bikes and get pedalling again. This is just an interlude before our next journey begins. It is shaping out to be a pretty good one.