I got up this morning with every intention of cycling out of Zacatecas yet I’m still here, slouched on the sofa in Hostal Villa Colonial watching a re-run of Wigan Athletic vs. West Ham United. Although a beautiful city it is not Zacatecas itself that has stalled my departure, more a mysterious lack of energy. A few days ago I celebrated a year on the road, a time that if current plans hold puts me a third of the way through this journey. After twelve months I’m experienced enough to know not to force the issue and appreciate that time is on my side. I’ll do better to have a really early start tomorrow and get out of the city before the traffic starts rather than battle out through a polluted haze of angry horns and work bound frustrations.
So here I sit, praying that the Blackpool vs, Bolton match will come on. This was reportedly one of the matches of the season and provides a good jumping off point for my reflections on a year on the road. If you didn’t already know, I was born into the privileged position of supporting Blackpool Football Club (football as in soccer not the game where fat blokes run around in tights jumping on each other). I reflected last year on Pool’s incredible climb into the English Premier League. Its been one hell of a season during which I’ve managed to catch a number of matches on the internet as we out performed all expectation and bought some attacking flare to the league. It’s a marker of time for me that this coming Sunday we have our final league match of the season, against the champions Manchester United in their Old Trafford fortress. If we come away with anything from the match there is a chance we will be a Premiership team again next season.
When quantified as an entire football season a year sounds like long time to me but I’m not sure that it is. Sometimes Alaska feels a lifetime away but at others it feels like yesterday and geographically close too. I may have cycled over 8,000 miles through Arctic wilderness, along Pacific coastline, across arid desert and over mountain ranges, yet I still don’t feel like I’ve journeyed that far. I am only in my third country and have spent much more time than originally envisaged stopped up in places. Granted this has often been on account of issues beyond my control but still it is one example of how things are different from expected. But I set out to discover freedom not to race down to Argentina, so how is this quest going and what am I learning from this experience?
The first thing to note is that I really am all about the journey and not the destination. My enjoyment and most that I’ve gained from the tour so far has come on the road cycling and camping. Ironically though when I look back at time on the bike it almost doesn’t exist… bike time is like meditation a series of moments during which time morphs. This is one reason why I’ve discovered a love of climbing hills for that meditation gains intensity with the exertions and rhythms of the climb. I love the focus as much as I revel in the purpose that tour cycling gives me. I feel free when I move under my own steam between cheeky and often beautiful camp spots. With every sunrise and sunset, full moon and clear night I convince myself of the poetry of my hard-won freedoms. Touring cycling is hard work but undoubtedly rewarding.
This said however, sometimes I see hitch hikers and feel jealous for their lack of property and speed of travel, even if it is at the behest of others. Being reliant on a machine throws up a few limitations but again adds to the purpose. Having Shermy around means I have responsibility for she is my world. It is a stress ensuring that me and my belongings stay together but not big enough of one to make it an issue. What I always come back to when hitch-hiker envy kicks in is that I have the freedom to ditch the bike if I want… but I never will.
Here are ten things I think I have learnt about myself over the last year:
- My mind is stronger than my body.
- I enjoy solitude but need people.
- Although undefined I know our world is built on spiritual foundations.
- My personality is set, my outlook is fluid.
- I need heavy bass lines in my life.
- When a product of choice I think self-pity is inexcusable.
- I love dogs (unless they want to kill me).
- Caffeine is my friend.
- Family is the beginning and end of everything.
- My feet are capable of previously unimaginable odors.
And here are ten things that I think I’ve discovered about the world:
- Most people are good but not all are interesting.
- Good things, bad things… everything goes around and comes around.
- Nature rules everything.
- Patience is a priceless virtue.
- There is some good in everything that is and happens.
- Weather is a state of mind.
- Respect is reciprocal.
- Not all rules are right.
- Materialism is an obstacle in the way of pure happiness.
- Context is king.
When you’re submerged in a subculture your perspective gets skewed. There are thousands of cycle tourists crawling around the world and plenty spinning around the Americas. Some have been going for many years, some have cycled incredible distances and accomplished unbelievable feats (congratulations Remi Lafreniere). We all have different motivations and goals but are united by a love for a game that offers incredible freedoms and a satisfying sense of achievement. More than anything, cycle touring ties the rider to the land he/she’s covering; we know every bump, we feel every rain drop and gust of wind and we smell the country we cover… all rewards are earned and deserved. And if I’ve learnt anything at all over the past year it is that we ride thousands of miles on heavy bikes because its fun and because we can.
Look back on the last year of your life and list your regrets. Look forward and list your aspirations. Do they matter or should it all really be about now?