The plan (no. 2)

So my rough outline of the first three months of next year looks a bit like this.
routepart2A part of me feels I should be more adventurous however I’m sure January along the Bay of Biscay will take me out of my comfort zone. Also I have no idea what riding through the Pyrenees/Andorra is going to be like in early March. I just have a irrational wish to be able to say I’ve been to Andorra. Mid-nineties Lookout records comps are definitely to blame!

(I actually had the Heide Sez comp not The thing that ate floyd, but I couldn’t find the Sweet Baby song on it’s own so you’ll have to listen to the whole thing – or skip to 51:40)

Sick outside view

I’ve been kicking these thoughts around in my head for a while now ever since I had a quick look at the long distance bicycle touring database. The thing that jumped out to me from that website is that I am your average cycle tourist, British, white and male. This shouldn’t surprise me, Jason Lewis succinctly sums up the fact that the majority of explorers and adventurers are white, male and from middle class backgrounds. We are the people who seem to have not only the drive but also the opportunity to travel and explore this globe.

However are we self-aware enough to realise the position of privilege we are in and also to deconstruct the drivers for those adventures? My future cycle tour will not be an exercise in self promotion. To be honest I know that I am far from gifted or special, I am just your average cycle tourist. In marketing terms I have no unique selling point to differentiate me from any other person travelling by bike. Which to be honest is totally fine with me. So I promise you the following three things:

1. I am not going to write a book specifically about my travels.

2. It is unlikely I will circumnavigate the globe, or even leave Europe for that matter.

3. I have no rigid rules for my trip.

So why am I going to make sure I update and write this blog whilst travelling if I don’t want to promote the activity I am doing? The answer is that I know people enjoy reading it and are interested in the adventures I have, plus I enjoy writing. I’ve been a writer since I was young, I enjoy the mental exercise of taking an idea, thought or experience and conveying it to paper. Writing has contributed the sum total of zero to my bank balance over the years yet it brings me immense pleasure. I therefore am a writer about to embark on a trip which could present stories and ideas worth money. Yet I have no aspiration to make a living from it, and there is a very real reason for that.

I am sick of the modern world.

My brain can’t comprehend it, and that has brought me on occasion to the point where I have felt life isn’t worth living. Yet again I hit that point this year and after climbing back out of that hole to somewhere mentally where I could think clearly I knew I had to hatch an escape plan. So here it is, I’m running away. I’m not playing the game any more. Now I know I can’t escape entirely but I can sit on the margins for as long as possible and use my privileged position to think of longer term plans and try to shape an alternative philosophy for living.

We're a fun bunch in the PRBC.
We’re a fun bunch in the PRBC.

This is of course all personal and I don’t expect people to agree with me but I know I’m not alone in thinking that there is something fundamentally rotten in the state of Denmark. So I want to explore this continent that I was born a part of and investigate whether there actually is something rotten in Denmark or if there are flickers of light in the bleak reality of our current existence. I have been called a cynic and a pessimist in the past but the future isn’t rosy when you consider the impacts that inevitable resource depletion will have on our society. All empires fall and our current capitalist paradigm is no exception, I think we need to build something new rather than try to alter and shore up what is an inequitable and ultimately flawed system.

So one day I may write a book but it won’t be a blow by blow account of how I rode around Europe for a bit looking for answers and inspiration. I hope that it will be something that shows us a route out of this mess and gives some hope for the future. Sadly I’m probably not smart enough to write that book. However I know the practice of living in the day to day moment required when cycle touring will feed my soul more than participating in modern life ever has. My remuneration and reward is then happiness whilst I collect the memories and experiences which fuel the ideas that would possibly sit on those pages.

Maybe this is all pretentious bollocks. Just another manifestation of my generation Y identity crisis but I’ve carried the burden of these ideas around for a long time. My recent writing with regards to society isn’t that different to what I was writing in fanzine columns 12 years ago. Just hopefully more thought out and with less of the ‘angry young man’ syndrome that I know afflicts me on occasion. I’ve tried to squeeze myself into the round hole that I’m supposed to inhabit and to be honest I can’t.

So I’d like to raise a toast to sticking to your guns and honouring your principles. If that makes me unemployable and I end up starving to death on a mountain side somewhere, so be it. As it says on the back of my AHTBM cycling jersey, ‘I’d rather be forgotten than remembered for giving in’.

2015 Festival of cycle touring

So my sister very inconsiderately is getting married next year. If the fact she picked the day after my birthday wasn’t annoying enough, it also means I have to come back from tour to go to the wedding. The cheek! ;-)

However it does mean I have to be back in the UK at the end of March which gives me a great excuse to hang around for a bit and go to the Festival of cycle touring.
So save the date, make some plans and come along. The manifesto of the festival is as follows:

1) Bring together those who have undertaken, are planning or who are interested in cycle tours;

2) Encourage more people to get out there and try cycle touring for themselves;

3) Provide training and resources to help people plan their own trip;

4) Be an event where cycle tourists can get together and reminisce about cycle journeys gone by;

5) Foster a community of cycle tourists;

6) Be open to everyone, regardless of age, cycling speed or wheel size.

It is organised on a voluntary basis and all help is gratefully received.

I’m excited. So much so I’ve volunteered to help out, I’m currently trying to find someone to speak about cycle touring with children so if you can do that or know someone who can get in touch!

Possession within tent

Some snaps from the bikepacking trip Carl and I took this weekend. Route was over Sharp Haw to Hetton and back via Barden Moor. Tested out the tent I’ve been lent for my tour and it did the job, although it’s very blue! I definitely slept better than in a bivy bag but it felt odd not being able to see what the noises that wake you up in the night actually are. No rain so couldn’t see how waterproof it is.

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Hey jealousy

Earlier this year as part of the Say it right writers circle project I’m involved in I wrote a piece about biting my tongue and self-censorship. I vowed not to do it essentially. The below is probably the first time I had to make a concerted effort to stick to that vow. I might lose a few of you with this I realise but I hope it also makes a few people think.

In the past few weeks I have had a lot of people telling me they were jealous of my forthcoming trip and how they would love to do something similar. This was usually followed by a number of excuses as to why they couldn’t or what was holding them back. In some instances I think the sentiment stems from the same dissatisfaction with the world and the current system that I feel. They realise that although I can never escape completely I can spend some time living outside the hamster wheel of work, buy, consume.

At the time people telling me they were jealous made me feel odd. I didn’t have a good response, I didn’t know what to say. I felt embarrassed like I was doing something I should be ashamed of because they felt they couldn’t. Of course this made me go away and think and I started to realise that actually those people could do it and they were putting up barriers to stop themselves. I can easily split the people I’ve spoken to into two camps, those with no commitments and those who do have responsibilities usually in the form of children.

If you sit in the former group and have no commitments, then stop making excuses and just do it. I’m taking a more radical approach and selling or giving away everything that is unnecessary. We are so ingrained in our culture of consumption that this seems insanity to some people. However most things we hoard and buy are essentially unnecessary, we don’t need them to survive or live. We spend our limited monetary resources on them and have to work more to afford those things we find ourselves desiring. I think the phrase is that your possessions posses you. So if that possession has a second hand value convert it into cash and you can then use that to meet the most important need you have, food.

Unfortunately happily handing over our limited monetary resources isn’t restricted to material items though, so whilst selling your possessions read Tom’s blog I’ve mentioned previously on mental preparation which outlines other ways to save cash by living the simpler touring lifestyle at home. I’m not currently doing all of those things, it is quite hard in a shared house where other people have access to the heating and lighting. Also consider other things such as your alcohol consumption, wasteful habits when it comes to preparing food at home or the premium of buying take away food instead of cooking etc. As an example of this I stopped drinking at the end of June this year, I didn’t really have much money behind me for our trip to the Alps in September at that point. Within two months of not drinking I had enough to survive on the trip without budgeting and feeling like I had to count every penny.

The less radical method of course is to save up money over a defined period of time to pay for equipment and your living expenses on the trip. A good example of this is Alastair Humphrey’s Adventure 1000 initiative that he’s been encouraging people to do this year. Putting a little bit away every month can lead to big gains. It’s also good because you can piece together your touring gear whilst in this saving phase and have some fun testing it out. The only drawback is you’re not committing to actually using the money you save to go cycle touring. Circumstances do change and it’s very easy to suddenly find yourself sucked back into the system before realising your dreams.

The people I’ve spoken to who have commitments in their life are pretty exclusively part of family units with children and mortgages. Essentially having children is a big thing because you have to provide shelter and food for more than just yourself. However having children does not preclude you from cycle touring. Clearly the most radical approach would to be to do all of the above but take the kids with you. Most people freak out a little bit at this point and say you can’t take children cycle touring, except that there are plenty of people who have done just that. The usual argument against going on an extended cycle tour with children is education, however if you are dissatisfied with the system why are you letting it educate/indoctrinate your kids? I mean essentially do we only let someone else educate our children because we don’t have the time to do it ourselves? The ‘Pedouin’ family highlight that there are an endless number of things you can learn on the road which we normally associate with formal schooling.

Ok so maybe you’re not comfortable taking the kids with you, so why not plan a cycle tour for a shorter period of time? Perhaps we need to see contact time with children in terms of quality over quantity. Would you rather be more satisfied and happier which would translate well to your children or dissatisfied and depressed which children do pick up on. The infuriating thing is that our society sees it as perfectly acceptable to work long hours or to go away for a long trip ‘on business’ but if that trip were to be more cerebral and not generating income then it’s clearly abandoning your responsibilities even if you are time bound and plan on returning to them.

The other clear commitment people have is that of providing shelter for their family and that usually revolves around mortgages. Essentially you are then limited in the length of your trip based on how much you can save to cover the mortgage in your absence. However if you are touring as a family then renting out your property is an option. The most radical solution of course is just to sell up and use the proceeds to fund your tour, you might need a longer term plan though unless you intend cycle touring forever.

There are also arguments given about partners views if you did any of the above. This sounds very blunt but in my opinion you have to do one of two things. You can either persuade your partner that this is the path for you and your family and show them how much it means to you. The alternative is that you need to find a new partner who is supportive or go it alone as a lone parent. If this is important enough to you that your dissatisfaction causes you some mental anguish then it’s important enough to discuss with life partners and be a possible deal breaker. As someone who is currently single that is very easy for me to write, but essentially I know that my previous relationships have broken down in part because myself and my partner didn’t see eye to eye in terms of world view and how we should be conducting our lives.

So stop telling me you’re jealous of my cycle tour and start planning to do it yourself. It doesn’t even have to be a cycle tour, any action that moves you towards future happiness is valid. It’s ok to dream, it’s even better to realise those dreams and push aside the excuses you let win everyday.