In 2010 I set off from New York City on a bicycle, headed west for an indefinite amount of time. The bike was my one-way ticket to new experiences, and I was determined to see what lay beyond the boundaries of comfortable living.
There were a lot of reasons why I decided to launch off across America on a bike, but the main one was that I just wanted to - to be more specific, I felt I needed to.
It didn't matter that it was America, or even that I was on a bike. What was important was that I was 22 years old and I felt completely mollycoddled by my previous life in the UK (my knowledge of the word mollycoddle was a prime example of this.) I'd never been tested; never been tried and found wanting. I'd almost always been comfortable and safe, and more than anything I wanted to break free of that for even just a little while.
I wanted to head off into the wilderness, towards places and people that scared me because I knew nothing about them, and to see what would happen when I arrived. How would I respond? If it went well, I would learn to trust in myself a lot more. If it went badly, at least I'd know comprehensively that I was in fact a wimp, and I should return home to wrap myself back up in cotton wool.
To begin with, inevitably, I struggled. I struggled physically, trying to power an overloaded bicycle across the Eastern US with weedy untrained legs, and I struggled mentally, constantly wondering what on earth I hoped to achieve through all of this. I carried guilt too - shouldn't I just have stayed at home and got a normal job like everyone else? Wasn't this a waste of my potential and privilege? And most of all, who decides to have a life-changing experience in Iowa?
This was all part of the process. The further west I rode, the more things fell into place in my mind; my thoughts became intrinsically connected with the tarmac that beckoned me ever onwards. I decided that this was my rite-of-passage - an event that would mark a transformation. And I certainly felt the need to be transformed - years of studying at school and university had left me book smart but survival dumb. The concept of a journey as a rite-of-passage is an idea as old as the hills, and this trip across America became mine, for better or worse.
For 4000 miles I zigzagged my way across the North American landmass, living primarily on the kindnesses of the characters who populated my story. And that is how it felt a lot of the time - like an unreal, storybook adventure, where anything could (and did) happen. I'd never been this far out towards the edge of experience before. Here there were no rules, no sense of predetermined happenings. It scared the crap out of me daily, but each night I slept soundly with a deep internal certainty that I was living the oft-misunderstood notion of 'a life less ordinary.'
When I reached the Seattle and the west coast, I knew there was no way I was ready to give up. So I didn't; instead I turned my handlebars south and began rolling towards Mexico for another 2000 miles.
Everything on a bike takes time - this is part of the beauty. The world seemed to pass underneath my wheels at its own pace - deserts, hills, plains, coastlines. Even the highest mountains begin gradually when you're on a bike - first undulations, then foothills, then switchbacks, then the pass. My thoughts worked in the same way. As miles passed, I slowly came to realise how different I'd become. Changed by the road - what a cliche! But it was true - I'd learned about America, sure, but I'd learned a lot more about myself. When I left New York I didn't know where I was going, in life or on this bike ride (the appeal in that was that it's impossible to get lost if you don't have a destination.) Over time though, I arrowed in on goals. I learned first that I wanted to go to Seattle, then to Mexico (and then to New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia- who knew?) I discovered that I loved making films and writing and wanted, above all, to tell stories. I figured I might actually become quite good at it with a little practice. I became a hopeless convert to the romantic notion of life on the road and the reward of adventure. And I decided to dedicate my life to it, in one way or another.
Now here I am in London, years on from when I first set off. I didn't stick to life on the road indefinitely - eventually I got bored and frustrated with being a poor and smelly nomad. I came to learn that I enjoy most having roots in one place, and using that as a base for self-contained explorations of places that interest me and where I think I can tell a good and worthwhile story (I may still be poor, but I'm now only occasionally smelly or nomadic!)
Adventure is relentless in the hold it takes on us once we've experienced it. Someone tried explaining it to me once through science - how our body releases dopamine and adrenalin in moments of high tension or anxiety (anything from running a red light to jumping out of a plane to going into a war zone) and once our system has a taste...it wants more. In my less intellectual approach, all I can confirm is that adventure, unknown, fear - these are all things we at once avoid and crave; avoid because they come hand in hand with potential disaster, but crave because we know they can also bring out the best in us.
After a few years of attempting to write a book about my cycling experiences, I've finally managed to do it. What took me so long was that I was originally trying to cram all of the exciting adventures I'd had into one overarching story (in the end I rode 14,000 miles through 10 countries on this trip, ending up in Hong Kong.) There was lots of drama, thrills and spills, highlight and lowlights, but the story never felt right when I was writing. Eventually I realised that this was because the heart of the story, my story, was centred firmly in that inaugural ride across America. That was where I learned a little of what the big wide world was like, and also about who I was and what I could do. And so that's the book I've written - my journey across North America, on a bicycle.
I saw incredible things over those 6000 miles from New York to the Mexican border, and I met people that I'll never forget. I hope those aspects of the story can provide as much joy to readers as they did to me when I first experienced them. Above all, however, I hope that my story feels somewhat relevant. Many of us feel the need to go and do something wild. Some of us do go, others don't and often wish they had. A rite-of-passage journey might seem a somewhat abstract notion, so perhaps think of it more as the desire to do something totally different for the first time, something way outside of the norm, something utterly mould-breaking.
I want to share this story because I honestly think it's a good one. I really hope it'll help provide a bit of impetus if you're on the verge of launching into the unknown yourself. If that's not something you've ever considered, then I'd like to plant the thought! I probably would never have made the leap without the encouragement of knowing many before me had done the same, so in the end, I want to share my adventure in the hope that it encourages and fosters yours.
If you would like to read the book when it is release, pop your email in the box below and I'll keep you updated on how and when you can get a copy.