I’ll be yet another year older next weekend. Or at least, the numbers will show that to be the case.
On that same date in 2014, I was rolling out of Newcastle, New South Wales, on the original Beast, having started riding up Australia just a few days earlier.
It was day 152 since I’d left London, and although I’d not yet covered half of my projected round-the-world distance, it felt like I was heading home already. And things were going pretty well. I’d ridden across North America with no worries, after all. How hard could it be to get to London from Australia?
Time moves on, and the experiences of the year since have made a mark. Both literally, in terms of visibly broken bones, and metaphorically, in terms of some massively profound lesson-learning (you may decide after the next couple of paragraphs that this is overstating things, just a bit).
For example, I now know that riding a bicycle solo across the outback to Darwin in the wet season would have been a stupid idea. It was hard enough riding fairly close to what the Aussies claim to be civilization. I now know why Thailand’s apparently benign main roads are so iffy for cyclists. I even now know that Scotland’s culinary reputation as the home of deep-fried-everything is a little harsh (you can get sandwiches up there, too…).
Perhaps most profoundly, sitting around waiting for my shoulder and back to heal this summer allowed me to revisit some reading. Reading is a particularly risky pursuit, as there’s a perpetual danger that you might learn something.
I re-discovered a definition of madness from the famous cyclist, Albert Einstein: madness is doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different outcome. He was, by all accounts, a fairly clever chap. And he clearly meant that trying to ride another eight or nine thousand miles will just end in another serious traffic accident (or a similar disaster, possibly with more fatal consequences). This was obviously something that needed due consideration.
So where’s all that hard-earned wisdom got me? Well…
There’s a massive bag of anti-malarial tablets in my room. And a mini-pharmacy in my first aid kit. There are tools, spare parts, bearings, tyres and tubes, duct tape and kevlar emergency spokes spread around, seemingly at random (though actually – obviously – carefully filed and ready for packing).
Various potions are ready for embarkation: grease, mosquito repellent, chain lube, toothpaste, sunscreen, Loctite. There are freshly-printed visas for exotic places in my passport. There’s a large cardboard bike box waiting to accommodate a newly-serviced touring bike.
You don’t need to be a genius to work out what’s going on here.
There’s a seat on a plane waiting for me at London Heathrow on Tuesday morning. And there’s very little between me and it (other than a little last-minute panic shopping, sock washing, and a horribly early start to get to the airport on time for the usual security hassles).
Vietnam is calling, and the start of the road home. After a week wandering around Hanoi and Ha Long Bay as a ‘proper’ tourist with my friend Matt, who’s kindly agreed to see me off.
I’ll be resetting the odometer at 14931 km (9277 miles), with a similar distance still to cover to get back to London. Probably eleven countries to get through before I hit Europe (and the exceptionally over-rated ‘comfort zone’) again. Maybe another fifteen or so (thankfully much smaller) countries once I’m back on my home continent. And two countries to warm up before I hit Thailand to resume battle with their heavy goods vehicles. About another eight months of sore legs, sweat, forests, deserts and mountains.
I’m going to use part of my ‘tourist week’ before the riding kicks off to get my head around a slightly unpalatable fact: that I’m still only halfway through the round-the-world bike ride that I was halfway through at the end of March. My summer reading indicates that this probably has something to do with relativity. I think.
Anyway, I’m close to being finished with Einstein now.
Except that… Ignoring Albert’s definition of madness, which was obviously not intended to apply to long bike rides (that’s my position, and I’m sticking to it), he did get some stuff indisputably right.
I did say he was a famous cyclist, didn’t I? Or, at least, famously a cyclist. But he also dropped the following pearl, which is this year’s contribution to my dwindling collection of wisdom. “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
I couldn’t agree more with that. In life, and on the bike, it’s time to get moving again.
Next stop, Vietnam…