It's now been 3 weeks since I finished cycling. I'm not quite sure what it was that I'd hoped to achieve by this point in time, but an increased level of confusion and career-minded contemplations were certainly not it! Suffice to say the transition from daily pedaling to daily pondering has not gone quite as smoothly as I'd hoped. Upon returning I've felt like I haven't quite merged fully back into society yet - sometimes I'm more like the extra piece of lego at the bottom of the box after the toy has been assembled; useful perhaps, but not the correct fit. I am out of practice in this hectic, vocation driven world and it is not as easy as I once thought to find the right niche for me. People with much more experience than me warned that I'd feel a post-ride slump, and they were absolutely correct. However! After a couple of weeks of slightly aimless wonderings, I'm finally able to see the potential of the situation. The world is out there for us to make of it what we will, using the skills that we've been given. With this in mind, I've been thinking a little about what I've been able to extract so far from the experience of such a long distance cycle. Just as importantly, how can these factors fit into a more regular lifestyle?
Straight off the bat - here is the press release that I have issued - it briefly explains what it is that I've been doing for the last year, and why it will be of interest to others!
It's now been just over a week since I wheeled into St. Paul's Cathedral, London, and I've had some time to begin organising my thoughts for the future. Inevitably, my head is still very much immersed in memories, reflections and ponderings over the last year. Slowly however, plans are forming for what kind of shape the next few months might take.
The journey from New York to Hong Kong was, above all, a learning experience. In saying that, I feel that it is all still too fresh to really define exactly what those lessons have been. Each day that I wake and don't cycle down an unknown road brings more clarity, but there's still a way to go before I make sense of a lot of it. Of course there are also effects that have been developing since Day 1, and those I can pin down. The most important is that I sense I am much more driven, motivated and confident about what it is I am aiming for. Goals now seem clearer, and I believe I had a new sense of focus with which to chase these.
Undoubtedly I'll deem it necessary to reflect on the rest of the lessons I've learned in due time, and you will all be subjected to those contemplations on this very blog. But for now I'll give you a brief idea of what I'm planning on doing next. I've even split it into 3 points so it's nice and easy to read.
1 - I left NYC with the plan of making a documentary. That still stands, and I'm even more excited about it than ever. Soon I will be tackling the mounds of footage taken en route, and beginning the creative process.
2 - During my time cycling I became very reliant on my journal to document memories and feelings that could not make it onto video (along, of course, with those that did.) I found that writing is a very cathartic process for me, and I actually enjoyed it to such an extend that I missed it when I did not write for an extended period of time. It has been one of the many joyous pleasures of being able to keep this blog that some of you very kind readers have commented positively on my writing. Based on this, and some advice I have taken in the last week or two regarding articles I've penned, I've decided to perhaps have a shot at writing a book. Essentially I suppose it will be the book of the film - a book charting the people I met, their many and varied passions and interests, and my own journey amongst them. More to come on that as it happens!
3 - Finally, and currently the most advanced and concrete of the three, I am now giving talks based on my adventures from New York to Hong Kong. Primarily I am aiming at speaking in schools, initially around the UK. The talk is suitable for all school age children from 6-18 and combines educational content (relating to the curriculum), exciting and humorous stories from the road, and a keen message of inspiration - the power of what we are all capable of, and the importance of giving 100%. The talk is also available for groups and societies, and is tailored slightly to fit in with the focus of each recipient. If you are reading this and are interested in making a booking, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, via the Contact Page on this website, or on 07850269193.
So that's almost where I'll leave you for now, but there is one more thing. I'd like to take this opportunity to say a huge, massive, all-embracing thank you to everyone who has followed my adventure over the last year. Your reading of my blog, supportive comments and insightful suggestions have consistently inspired and humbled me. I'd also like to thank everyone I met on the road - those who took me in out of the rain, fed me when I looked hungry (which was most of the time) and generally went out of their way to aid me on my way. I owe you all a great deal, and look forward to creating pictures and words for you to enjoy now that I am finished.
The latest endorsement for The Cycling Reporter has come from another great cameraman who I strive to emulate in both the quality and subject matter of my work - Claudio Von Planta.
The trip to collect my new Santos bike has become one of the casualties of the current severe weather in the UK. Admittedly this is a minor casualty compared to some of the crazy stuff that's been going on, but it still means I'm 5 days away from leaving for NYC, and minus a bike. With any luck I'll get to Lancing tomorrow to collect it, then I can breathe freely again.
Meanwhile, I'll save you from the boring details of my life recently - it's mainly involved lots of emails trying to sort out somewhere to live in NYC. Instead I'll share another of the encouraging messages I've received recently.
Will Gow worked in the city while undertaking the odd adventure here and there, before deciding to set up the go all Polar - recreating Ernest Shackleton's legendary Nimrod Expedition of 1909 when his team came within 97 miles of the South Pole before being forced back. Will happens to be a direct descendant of the great Shackleton, and the rest of his team were also related to the original members.
I went along to hear Will speak about their adventure as part of the Canterbury Festival, and managed to grab him for a quick chat afterwards. It's always good to talk face to face with inspiring people, because it can really give you a kick up the backside motivation wise. Will was very down to earth, and was kind enough to give me a few words of encouragement about my trip -
"It sounds like you are taking on an amazing challenge. Best of luck –it’s a bold dream, now make it come true!!"
- Will Gow
"I had nothing to lose but the chains, and I hoped to find down the country roads Ma in her beanery and Pap over his barbecue pit, both still serving slow food from the same place they did thirty years ago. Where-you-from-buddy restaurants."
- William Least Heat Moon, 'Blue Highways'
My great friend Lizzie recently bought me 'Blue Highways: A Journey into America' by William Least Heat Moon. In the late '70's, Least Heat Moon got bored with his life and travelled round America in his van, following back roads and seeking near-forgotten boondocks. On the old highway maps of America, these back roads were marked in blue, hence the title. It's a great travel book, to my eye a quirkly blend of John Steinbeck and Jack Kerouac if that makes sense. Anyway, this paragraph really grabbed me by the throat. This is exactly the kinda thing I'm looking for in America! I like to think me and Least Heat Moon would have got on well. The places that get forgotten about in the shadows of the cities, the people with the real stories to tell. That's the America I'm going to find.
Unrelated, but not worth another blog post for are some more photos I've taken this week - another early morning walk, this time in the unseasonal sun. I hope you enjoy."
I've spent much of today re-watching my favourite travel and adventure documentaries, in search of some inspiration for my own trip. As a big fan of the genre, I've grown up loving everything from Michael Palin's endearing supported-trips to Benedict Allen's eschewing of any crew, and from Werner Herzog's beautifully mad portrayals of peoples and cultures to the even more obscure expeditions that have only been shot on amateur cameras.
Undoubtedly though, my favourite documentary of all time is Cannibals and Crampons. For those of you that don't know it, it charts the expedition of two ex-army officers as they try to climb the south face of Mt Mandala in New Guinea. One is the adventurer Mark Anstice, and the second is explorer Bruce Parry, who went on to greater fame in the BBC shows 'Tribe' and 'Amazon.' Why's it so great? Well it's just a proper, proper adventure. They set off into deepest Indonesia, without permits, any form of support or any real knowledge of what might face them - just armed with the little research it was possible for them to do (given the lack of exploration of the area) 90kg packs of gear each and a heck of a lot of spirit. They film it themselves, and trek through the jungle for months before finally climbing the mountain (without any ropes.) They face, and overcomes things you wouldn't even dare to imagine, and to me they embody what true expeditioning is all about. It's very, very different from my trip obviously, but I hope I can draw some inspiration from their remarkable achievement.
So that's my favourite, a hard choice to make in such a exciting genre. What's your favourite? Anyone agree with my choice?
This week another one of my personal heroes has come out in support of the expedition. Mungo (real name Paul Mungeam) is one of the best known, and best, TV cameramen around. He has worked with some of the big stars in TV adventure documentary such as Bear Grylls and Charley Boorman, and his career has taken him all over the world filming numerous shows for BBC, National Geographic, Discovery, ITV, Channel 4 and so on - You name it, he's done it. Mungo is a top quality example of the type of cameraman I'd like to be someday - working on exciting projects that would take me all over the globe, filming things I can only dream of at the minute.
So, you can imagine my excitement when he sent me this endorsement for my trip - what a good bloke!
"Leon is an inspiration to us all, setting off in the true spirit of an Adventurer and living life to the FULL. I wish him all the best in this latest adventure & I look forward to seeing the results... I'm green with envy! All power to your legs mate - you'll need it."
Mungo (The Cameraman)
On Wednesday evening I attended a very entertaining and enlightening talk by Charley Boorman as part of the Canterbury Festival. For those of you that haven't yet had the pleasure of becoming aquainted with his work, Charley is a world famous adventurer. In 2004 he rode east on his motorbike from London to New York with his mate Ewan McGregor. The trip was called Long Way Round, and has since become a favourite among aspiring adventurers. Since then he's riden the Dakar Rally, done Long Way Down (John O'Groats to Cape Agulhas, SA) and two series of his latest show By Any Means.
After his talk last night, I managed to speak to him briefly about my trip, and today I received this great message of encouragement:
"I wish you all the luck on your bicycle ride. It will be an amazing adventure for you and I can’t imagine the people you will meet along the way. People around the world are very generous and so you will be in safe hands. As an ambassador for UNICEF I am delighted you are raising funds for such a worthy charity. All the luck in the world."
So the first part of my route takes me from one side of North America to the other, and along the way I will inevitably see and experience many fantastic places. Some of these will come as a pleasant surprise (mainly due to my ignorance of many parts of the continent) but there are others I'm definitely already excited about. I thought I'd share a few of these with you quickly. (My choices are probably also a little biased as I think they're mainly based around the route I know I'll be taking!)
New York City - How could I not be psyched? For me, it's currently the home of film. I can't wait.
Niagara Falls - Pure, awesome power of nature at work
Great Lakes Region - Looks stunning, and I can't even comprehend lakes that size
Mount Rushmore - One of those things I think you gotta see to believe
Yosemite Valley - Apparently surrounded by mile high, near vertical cliffs, sounds pretty dramatic
Yellowstone National Park - Quintessential U.S. National Park experience
Seattle, esp Pike Place Market - Seattle really appeals to me from what I've read, and theres some great music
Pacific Coast all the way to LA! - Need I say more?
Portland - A cyclist's paradise
Whistler - All set up for Winter Olympics, appeals to me greatly, as does the rest of the area of Canada to be honest!
Thats a quick tour of my highlights that come to mind right now, there are of course many more. What are yours? Anywhere you recommend me to visit?