When I was 15 I set off to cycle around the UK with a couple of friends. I remember buying my first ever bike less than a week before we left. It took us four days to get out of Northern Ireland (we'd figured on one) and we spent much of that first trip making terrible navigational errors, complaining about how big the (small) hills were and apologising to policemen for accidentally cycling on motorways. It was brilliant! I loved it so much that the next summer I cycled with a friend from Northern Ireland to Germany for the football World Cup. It was another poorly planned escapade with more wrong turns than right, and in the end we only got there because Germany is so big that we couldn't help but run into it eventually. Needless to say, that adventure was also life-enhancingly wonderful. It didn't matter that we got lost, or weren't sure how to fix our bikes, or that we didn't speak any German (or French or Dutch) - all of our shortcomings seemed to add to the fun.
*By 'busy years of studying' I mean: lying in bed until 12pm and rarely doing anything useful with my life other than reading the occasional book
That journey took fourteen months in all; after 14,000 miles of cycling I ended up in Hong Kong, ten countries and three continents away from where I started. There were many great things about that trip, but clearest of all I remember the impression that those first four months had upon me - cycling across America, from New York to Seattle, and then down the west coast to Mexico. I'm quite sure the experience left me permanently changed, showing me the thrill of an uncertain, unpredictable action-packed lifestyle. My life revolved around waking up in a hedge and cycling all day so I could sleep in a different one fifty or sixty miles away. I realised then that the best things in life are found at the edge of normality; wild camping, downhill cycling, exciting places and every tomorrow a new unknown. There was no going back from there.
Last year I pedalled a folding bicycle around the British Isles, climbing the highest peaks in our six major regions along the way. That was a new type of two-wheeled adventure, but the principals were the same - uncertainty, physical exertion, reward-through-slog and joy found in the little things (a quiet road, a good sandwich, a town with a funny name, the view from a mountain pass.) Being on a bicycle makes us vulnerable, wherever in the world we might be, and that in turn encourages others to show openness and generosity that may otherwise stay hidden. I made many new friends during my three-week trip last summer, and was the recipient of many free meals and unsolicited sofas to sleep on.
These are some of the reasons why I travel by bicycle - I have found it to be the best way to access the full range of emotions and experience that travel can offer. The full list of the appeals of bike touring may almost be inexhaustible, but this is a start. Very little, I've found, can match the buzz of taking the first pedal stroke down a new road and having absolutely no idea what will happen along the way or where you'll sleep that night. That's the stuff that makes life worth living!