An Update, Long Overdue
It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything for my website. For various reasons, I just haven’t felt like writing; it’s been a crazy year. Covid-19 has continued to dominate the world, and for most of the year travel has remained difficult. For me, though, it hasn’t been Covid that has been the central component of 2021. In fact, since April, Covid has hardly been on my radar. I've had so many other things to worry about.
Seven months ago my father passed away. He died unexpectedly, leaving me with a family to look after, a business to restore, and an ever-expanding mess to clean up. It’s been probably the toughest period of my life, and certainly the most stressful. Losing a loved one is never easy, and in my case it's been compounded by an absolute mountain of admin. The worst has now passed and I feel at peace with my father's death, but it's no understatement to say that it has completely taken over my life - I’ve just been so damn busy!
But first things first. The last time I posted I was in Europe, cycling across the Alps, towards the end of summer 2020. After months of lockdown in Argentina, I was joyful to be on the road once again, and the summer was warm and beautiful. Having made my way down through Europe as far as Split in Croatia, I’d taken a ferry back across to Italy and spent the last few weeks of my trip exploring the mountains of eastern Tuscany, before finally flying back to the UK to settle down for the winter.
I moved in with a friend for a few months and started freelancing as a content writer. In the past I had always simply worked in whatever odd jobs I could find, for however long I could manage, saving up as much as I could before returning to the road for as long as my funds would stretch. My first year of bike touring, from New Zealand to England, was funded by the two years I spent working and travelling in Australia, and the last three years were mostly funded by the year I spent working in England on my return. Going for so long between jobs was only possible because I have always travelled on a very low budget, usually aiming for around £5 per day. Being disciplined and becoming comfortable 'roughing it', has meant I’ve been able to make my savings go a very long way.
I was always a little frustrated, though, by the fact that, sooner or later, I would have to stop somewhere or go back to Europe, and pick up some unsatisfying, low paying job, to build up a cushion in my bank account once again. And I really hate job-hunting. It’s been on my mind for some time that it would be great to find a way to make money as I travelled, or at least get myself set up as a ‘digital nomad’, able to work from anywhere in the world. It feels great to have now made that happen and to be in a position where, once I’m able to get back on the road for good, I’ll be able to stay there indefinitely, stopping from time to time to work on writing contracts, but fully location independent. It feels like a major step forward in terms of lifestyle, so I’m very pleased to have made it happen.
That was last year. 2021 started with a flurry of excitement as I headed back out to Africa in January to work on designing a new long-distance cycling route for Kenya, the Trans-Kenya Bikepacking Route. I won’t go into too much detail on the Trans-Kenya here, as there will be a much longer post coming soon on the making of the route, as well as a short accompanying film (not to mention the route itself, which should be published by the end of the year) but suffice it to say Kenya is one of the best bikepacking countries in the world, and I’m incredibly proud of the route we created.
March was a hectic month. I had barely enough time to finish riding a second loop of the route in Kenya when I was forced to bring forward my departure and make a hasty exit back to the UK. Covid cases were rising sharply, and rumours were circulating that Kenya would be imminently added to the UK’s ‘red list’, which would necessitate a forced hotel quarantine for 10 days on arriving back in England, something that would cost me upwards of £2000. Wanting to avoid this, I’d booked an earlier flight, getting out of the country as soon as I could and arriving back in London, where I was picked up by my father at the airport.
Having dropped me home, he passed away that very night, dying in his sleep. It was completely unexpected. He had been in relatively good health, had seemed very cheerful, and was only 68 years old when he died. The autopsy would later show that he had died from heart failure, most likely caused by long term lifestyle issues. My father had not been looking after himself especially well, though he was still relatively mobile, and a fondness for rich, fatty foods, and alcohol, combined with a lack of exercise, not to mention a lifetime of heavy smoking, no doubt played their role. It would at least have been quick and painless, and there is solace in that. It's not a bad way to go. I’m very grateful that I got to see him one last time before he died, and it feels very serendipitous that events conspired to force me to fly home early, when I otherwise would have missed him. It’s very lucky that I was already home when it happened, as I seldom am. Sometimes the universe does seem to have a plan.
Since my father passed, my life has been a whirlwind. Death is a strange thing, a shadow hanging over each of us that we all pretend we cannot see, but which none of us can ever escape. Everyone seems to cope with death, or grief, differently, and we never know how we will handle it until the time comes. Some people are shattered by it. In my case, fortunately, I seem to have coped fairly well. The years I’ve spent on the road have protected me, I think, to a huge extent. These days my mental health is generally very stable and comfortable, something for which I give my years of pedalling a great deal of credit.
Over the course of my ride, I’ve had a few very close calls. The first was whilst riding through Papua New Guinea. There was a moment where I was almost completely sure that I would be killed, and although obviously, that didn’t end up happening, the incident forced me to confront my own mortality, the possibility that I might die during my ride, and the concept of death in general. I’ve had so much time to think about things. Four years of cycling around the world does that for you; if nothing else, it gives you time to think. I have, I think, come to a fairly good understanding of what death means to me, and I’ve made my peace with it.
We all have to die eventually, and that's okay. My father is now gone, and one day I'll go, too. That's just how it is, and I don't think there's any point dwelling. What matters is the life we live before that end. My father lived the life he wanted, on his own terms, and there's nothing sad about that. I was shocked by his death, but not smashed by it. And although I will miss him dearly, and although it's been hard, I’ve been doing okay. It hasn't been easy, but I'm happy to say that I've been able to stay fairly cheerful, and fully functional, throughout.
Just as well, as I’ve had an enormous amount to do. Partly because he died suddenly and unexpectedly, and partly because he was a remarkably disorganised man, my father left behind a pretty extraordinary mess. His affairs were not remotely in order, his business neglected for years, and it has been a full-time job for me this year getting things sorted out. My family has also needed taking care of, and so I’ve had very little time for myself. I’ve had to put the completion of the Trans-Kenya project on hold, and I’ve had precious little time for cycling. I did manage a couple of weeks of bikepacking up in Scotland, and it did me a lot of good – wilderness has always been my best medicine. Scotland blew me away. Even having visited before, albeit many years ago, the Highlands far surpassed my expectations, and I can’t wait to get back there for a longer trip, hopefully in 2022.
Although I’m still busy, things are now finally settling down on the home front and 2022 should, hopefully, be a much less hectic year for me. Next week, I will be heading out to the Canary Islands for the rest of the year, and I will finally have time for some proper cycling. With some exciting new brand partnerships, I have a beautiful new bicycle to test out, and I’m incredibly excited to get back in the saddle. The Trans-Kenya Bikepacking Route is finally just about finished, and I’m making good progress with putting together the accompanying documentary film. I’m looking forward to the last couple of months of 2021, and buzzing for what '22 will have in store.
Because of the madness of everything that’s happened over the last 12 months, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on my website, but I’m determined to get back in the swing of things, so there will be a lot more on the way. The future's bright, and I'm full of optimism for what it will bring. The best is always still to come.