A BIG QUESTION - WHY AM I CYCLING AROUND THE WORLD?
I've been thinking a lot lately about my motivation for continuing my ride, having struggled in recent months with a gradual weariness derived from long term movement. I have spent around four and a half years of my life travelling, always on a shoestring budget, and almost two years of that have been spent on a bicycle. I have seen wonders in more than 50 countries and had experiences that I will treasure forever. But with at least another three or four years of pedalling to reach my goal of cycling 100,000 kilometres through 100 countries, I am increasingly questioning my reasons. I started travelling because of a bad case of itchy feet; that inexorable pull towards the unknown which we call wanderlust. Stopping in one place for more than a few months drove me half mad and all I dreamed about was roaming, free and unburdened, to make an adventure out of my life. My wanderings have given me that and so much more, but after so long on the road I find the enthusiasm needed to continue more and more difficult to maintain. Never before was I interested in the idea of settling down, but now I find myself starting to crave it. Stability, comfort; an easy life with friends and family around – increasingly I'm coming to see the appeal of these things.
It's a difficult thing to travel alone for so long, particularly on a bicycle with so much time lost in your own thoughts. The cycling is the easy bit. Counter to what many people tend to assume, loneliness and boredom are far greater challenges to overcome on a trip like mine than physical obstacles such as mountains or deserts. The short term friendships I make along the way are precious but draining – it can be tough constantly getting to know and like someone only to move on and have to start again. Living like that for years on end starts to wear on you. And I sometimes go days or even weeks without speaking to anyone in a language I can understand. Talking to yourself only goes so far. Sometimes I do find it very hard.
These are thoughts that worry me a little, coming as they do now; on my way through Africa with 62,000 kilometres still to cycle and years more of this ahead of me. My wanderlust is less strong now, certainly, than it was when I started. Why continue then, when a growing part of me wants to stop? Many reasons keep me riding, some good and some bad. For one, I am riding to raise money for a fantastic charity and I don’t want to let them down. I’m also very aware that if I gave up and quit the ride, I would most likely regret it for the rest of my life. I would feel like a failure. And for all I know I'd quickly grow weary of a stationary life. The grass is always greener; we humans can be such fickle creatures.
Amongst the worst of my reasons is simple stubbornness. Having announced publicly my ridiculous nominal target of 100,000 km, I’m now too proud to admit that it is far too much; that I've bitten off more than I can chew. I wanted a huge goal in order to challenge myself, but some days I bitterly curse myself for it. And stubbornness is not a good reason. Not by itself. A drug addict who stubbornly refuses to admit he has a problem is not courageous, but deluded.
Why then? One of the better reasons I had for starting in the first place was that I concluded I would learn more and develop more as a person from travelling than I would from doing something else. I am not a religious man and I have still not entirely made up my mind on what I think the purpose or ‘meaning’ of my life might be, but I do believe in the importance of personal development; that we should all aspire to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.
This ride has made me a better person, no doubt about it. I am more confident, more relaxed, more organised and more determined than I ever was before I started. I have become comfortable making do with the absolute bare essentials which has given me an appreciation for what really matters in life. I have a wealth of experience to draw upon and have made friends all over the world. And after years of travelling I do still believe that a person learns more and develops more by moving around than by staying in one place. In going out of my comfort zone and meeting thousands of people from all walks of life I am exposed to a vast number of new ideas and cultures, and so my understanding of the world and my place in it continues to expand. Staying in one place we tend to interact within a fairly small bubble of people, most of whom are our friends and thus usually have broadly similar interests and beliefs to ourselves. Long term travel exposes a person to a wide spectrum - it is a tired old cliché, but travel really does broaden the mind. It's also the reason that I usually prefer to ride alone rather than with a companion. The greater autonomy is a factor, yet primarily I choose to travel solo not (or so I'd like to think) because I’m an insufferable git who nobody could put up with, but because the solo experience is very different and usually more challenging than travelling in a group. When there is a problem there is nobody else I can ask for help; I have to shoulder all of my burdens alone. This makes it harder, but it also pushes me further out of my comfort zone. Everything is always on me.
Lately though I have begun to reach, or suspect that I’m reaching, a point of saturation. I have been riding long enough now that less and less of what I see feels ‘new’ to me, and the everyday challenges I face no longer much faze me. Riding around the world has become my comfort zone, and the longer I travel the more places start to look and feel the same. Diminishing returns are at play – when you see your first waterfall you are astounded by its beauty, but after seeing a thousand would you really be as motivated to see your thousand-and-first?
Nevertheless, I do feel positive about the future and the road ahead. If there is one continent that is ‘different’ enough to re-inspire me then it is Africa, a place of which I have no prior experience at all; a whole new challenge to test myself against with fascinating cultures and landscapes to discover. I still have so much more to see and to learn, and I continue to believe that this ride is the best way for me to do it. I am not at saturation point yet.
I tend to think that most of us are motivated by certain core emotions; by specific feelings that make us happy and which we therefore seek to cultivate. In my case I am rarely happier than when on top of a mountain, with the wind on my face and the world spread out before me. That sense of unbound freedom is something which I hold dear, and without which I know I would be miserable. More than anything, the road gives me that. My ride has given me a life that is truly free, and I will always be grateful for it.
We are incredibly privileged in the West to have the luxury of choice. If you could write out the story of your life knowing that, within reason, whatever you wrote down would come true - what would you write? Would your story be the same as your life, or would you be doing something different? Because in the West, we really do get to write out the stories of our lives; an incredible gift that most people do not appreciate. A major breakthrough for me was the realisation that the only thing separating my story and my life was a willingness to act. And for me this trip - my ride around the world - this was what I wrote down.
So I’ll keep pedalling, even though it’s hard sometimes, even though I sometimes want to quit. Because this trip is not a holiday; it’s my life, and maybe it’s not meant to be easy. Because it’s worth it. Loneliness and boredom notwithstanding this remains the great adventure of my lifetime and I know I will always be grateful to myself for mustering the courage to keep living it.