So my two weeks on the farm have drawn to a close and I’ve made my way back to my parents in Dorset. The ride from Exeter across to Poole was tough, East Devon and West Dorset are quite hilly. The hills of Yorkshire are individually brutal, the hills I rode yesterday were more a war of attrition. The highest points reached weren’t great but each time you conquered a climb you then dipped back down to almost sea level only to start again. A continuous roller-coaster eastwards. Luckily it flattens out a bit after you pass Dorchester and I managed to reach my destination just as darkness was falling.
I enjoyed my time on the farm but I was ready to move on again. The work was interesting and I learnt a lot however the scale of the operation meant that tasks lasted just longer than I wanted them to. This gave a level of monotony to the jobs which meant the novelty wore off after a while. I would highly recommend people go and work growing food though if only to see how little we know about our food and what is involved in getting it to your plate. If I go to another farm in the future I’ll probably try to find a smaller one.
My time on the farm was also fun because I realised that I knew more people in Exeter than I’d previously thought. For the whole of the trip so far I’ve been finding that I’m either totally on my own or surrounded by people. I’ve grown accustomed to being alone and enjoy the solitude, conversely any trip into an urban area with all the trappings of modern society generally does not fill me with glee. However it has been nice to spend time with friends and meet new people.
Sometimes I feel very detached even from friends, relatives and the social scenes I mix within. I don’t see myself as a particularly happy, positive person and a lot of the thoughts and feelings I have at the moment differ quite heavily from what is considered the ‘norm’. I’m increasingly not bothered about being alone in both the physical sense and also in an emotional sense, be that friendship or something more than that. I am aware that there is a part of me which does naturally trend towards being social or forming bonds with people but I guess I’ve suppressed that and promoted a certain level of disconnection. However talking to old friends and meeting new people recently, I can see that maybe I’ve been taking too negative a view.
We are all unique in our personality, experiences and outlook on life, yet there are common threads. So life is almost like one big Venn diagram, we all have thoughts and feelings which overlap and sometimes those overlaps are greater than you might think. I’ve been yet again reminded to not judge people too quickly which I am definitely guilty of far too often. In addition we are, as people, at different stages of our journey through life. I’ve spoken to people who hold future aspirations to do things or alter their lives in certain ways but don’t want to act on those thoughts quite yet. Whilst I know that as a person if I have an epiphany I want to change things up now.
I know it’s been said by many people that we travel to learn about the world and other people and in doing so we also learn things about our selves. I would add to that that as with most things there is a balance to be struck between the space given by solitude and the knowledge/experience of interacting with other people. I can see now that I have to a degree been forcing myself towards isolation. I need to make sure I seek out social experiences on occasion to better address the balance and if I do that then in the future anything is possible.
(Jonesin’ – ‘Lone)
Sorry for the silence. The truth is I’m tired. Managed to get myself all the way to Exeter and now on the farm. Shillingford is a 42 acre organic vegetable farm and pretty busy. The starts are early, the work is physical and I’m really slow. I am enjoying it though and have learnt a lot already.
As the voluteers finish at 1 I’ve also had plenty of time to read and think. I’ve been reading a book on psychology by Ernest Becker called ‘The Denial of Death’. The basic premise is that man is governed by his anxiety about dying and his awareness of being finite. There are some really intesting concepts in the book and how this anxiety affects us.
One such concept that jumped out to me was in the analysis of fetishism and particular our sado-masochistic tendencies. Becker writes:
Masochism is thus a way of taking anxiety of life and death and the overwhelming terror of existence and congealing them into a small dosage.
Now my friend introduced me to the concept of ‘type 2 fun’ last year and Becker starts to unravel why we gain enjoyment in suffering. It neatly gives a nice solid basis for seeking ‘adventure’ as we put ourselves in percieved dangerous or arduous situations look death in the face and challenge our anxiety.
It also gives us a platform for another concept in the book that of personal ‘immortality projects’ where we try to transcend death through heroism. The heroic explorer is a mode of making sure we live on in the minds of others. These days we try to consolidate that through creative mediums such as writing. However it is hard to be heroic. The bar for heroism has shifted and you may also lack talent. Then in Becker’s analysis this self generated solution to solving the problem of death anxiety will fail.
I haven’t finished the last chapter so I can’t spoil the ending but I would highly recommend reading it. Although it is tough and I won’t pretend to have understood it all it has certaintly given me more food for thought.
So I’ve come to the realisation that I really need to stop planning my tour based on 40 mile days. Even starting late in the day, with hills and bad weather I’ll cover at least 50 miles. On relatively flat terrain with extended spring daylight hours that is only going to increase. Time to revise the estimates and plans accordingly.
On a slightly related note my route in the UK has now changed. I’m no longer going to head south west from Bristol instead cycling straight to Exeter. The reason being that I am now volunteering on an organic farm for two weeks. ‘Wwoof-ing‘ is something I am considering doing next summer in Scandinavia. So through a friend who works there I’ve arranged two weeks thrown in at the deep end on a commercial organic vegetable farm.
As someone with a definite ‘back to the land’ philisophical/political rhetoric I guess it’s time to put my labour where my mouth is. As with everything at the moment I’m swinging between excitement and dread. The future is such an unknown quantity it is hard to really fathom it and I am trying to live without expectations. Doing that though is hard, I’m used to routine. For most of my life I’ve known pretty much what the day ahead will hold. Even when cycle touring there is a routine of sorts based around food, distance and shelter. It’s exciting to throw different things into the mix but it definitely challenges me and makes me anxious.
Then of course come the questions from friends and family. “So what are you going to do when you finish touring?” If I knew the answer to that I arguably wouldn’t be touring. The sub-text of that question is always shrouded in terms of work and jobs. Now I know I can be naive and idealistic but I still possess enough realism to know I can’t tour and/or volunteer forever. However the world of paid work makes me more anxious than the ‘unknown alternative’ that currently doesn’t exist. Watch this space. I reckon I have approximately a year to either dream one up or stumble across it. Ever feel the pressure that the clock is ticking?
Ten and a half years ago my parents came and collected my possessions and took them back to their house. A month later I flew to Austrlia and spent 9 months there making new friends, drinking and occssionally being a ‘backpacker’.
So on Saturday again my parents collected what few possessions I own and took them back to their house. Now a part of me feels like I should be having some kind of existential crisis, that my life hasn’t progressed in the last ten years. If I judge myself on the house, wife, kids and car narrrative then yes I really haven’t got much to show for those years. Also from the perspective of my mental health issues and my continual battle with alcoholism I’ve definitely gone round in circles a few times.
However I’m a different person, I am a changed man. I have had some amazing experiences in those years including new horizons in travel, music, writing and briefly (step) fatherhood. Those experiences have shaped me and made me more self-aware. They have also given me a level of confidence that I’ve never had before and wish I had gained earlier in life. So I’m single, unemployed and soon to be of no fixed abode. Do you know what? I don’t care. I don’t need symbols of status to validate my existence. I’m me, just one guy making it up as he goes along and enjoying where possible as much of this life as I can because I know it’s short.
So at times I’m down and cynical and want to rage against the unjust society we live in but I still need to remember to smile. Today is just a pixel on the canvas of my life and looking at the picture of the last ten years it was great. I have a host of happy memories of my friends (old and new) and their smiling faces. That is what is important to me, not material wealth, so as this new adventure starts I look forward to what the next ten years holds.
Re-visting old posts isn’t something I do often but I feel I need to share this and give it some context as to why I am.
Today’s guest blog on Alastair Humphrey’s site perfectly encapsulates a point I was trying to make about a month ago in this post. A really good example of the idea I floated about quality over quantity with regard to raising children and also making room in your life for the things that make you who you are. So please read the guest blog linked to above written by Satu Vänskä-Westgarth and always be open minded that there are different ways of doing things.