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?
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
The title should say it all! But I've jumped ahead of myself. I should start by saying Happy New Year -2010, who'd believe it?! I had a great new year's celebration back in Canterbury. Everything here is starting to feel slightly more special because my departure date is imminent. However, that too is pretty special. Tomorrow marks the commencement of the year in a working sense for me, and I'll have just under 2 weeks to get everything ready to up sticks and move to New York. My main concern at the minute is getting my bike on the plane without having to pay an arm and a leg for the privilege. Talking of which...
I'll be picking up my Santos Travelmaster this Friday! It feels like it's been an age in coming, although I've only been waiting a month for it. That's still quite long though. We all now how hard it is to have to wait for something we really want. Patience is a obviously a virtue I have to work on. Anyway, only 5 days to go. Don't worry, I'll take my camera along.
I'm still looking for somewhere to live in New York City, so I'll need to up the ante on the search for that. Conversely, expedition stuff is coming along nicely. One of the real pleasures recently has been the lovely messages of support and encouragement I've been receiving. They've been coming from friends and strangers alike, and it makes my day when all the boring emails I wade through eventually lead to some kind words. I thought I'd share a few with you over the next few blog posts. For today, I'll share the incisive inspiration of Josie Dew. Josie is an English cyclist and author, and has been touring regularly since she was 15. I read one of her books, The Wind in my Wheels, a few years ago when I was first contemplating my big adventure. Her stories were a breath of fresh air from all the 'serious business' cycling stuff I'd read before. Fun seems to be top of her agenda when she's touring. Anyway, it was great to get a word of encouragement from someone who has had such an effect on my mindset.
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"Cycle and see the world, Leon. There's no better way!"
"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."
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)
Just thought I'd share a sentiment I read recently on the topic of discovery. I think the idea, the hope, the need for discovery lies at the heart of every great adventure. In fact, I reckon the notion of discovery dictates most of the excitement in our lives, whether we acknowledge it or not. From the banal discoveries of a new type of pasta sauce (don't knock it, it brightened up my dinner this evening) to a thrill with slightly more longevity such as all those new species found on the recent BBC2 series 'Lost Land of the Volcano' - discovery is everywhere.
It's certainly a key factor in my wanderlust, and one of the catalysts in my decision to finally get on my bike and hit the road. But what can I discover? Taking cliched responses with little real meaning like 'I'll find myself, man' out of the equation, what is there really for me to discover? Surely everything worth noticing has already been found, studied and probably had a TV show made about it. Well, in a way, yes. But, assuming I don't discover a new Grand Canyon somewhere in the middle of the USA that everyone else has somehow just missed, I think there's still plenty to search for. For me, I'm fascinated by people and what they have to say. Listening to folk talk about themselves and the environment they live in, well, I reckon that can unlock a whole store of information about a place, a time, even a feeling. This idea is perhaps losing a little of its focus as I stray away from tangible discoveries, so I'll leave you with the words of the Nobel Prize winning Scientist Albert von Szent who said:
"Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody has thought."
Couldn't have put it better myself. In keeping with this blog post theme, here's the famous picture of 'Bigfoot.' I'll try and get a clearer one.