Some people struggle to readjust after long bicycle tours in foreign lands. Fortunately, thanks to some kind and generous friends and a supportive family, that wasn’t me. I didn’t lapse into any great depression, my life didn’t fall apart and I didn’t mourn for my America’s tour in any way. My ‘recovery’ has been much more subtle and largely based around a drive towards new ambitions. In fact since leaving South America about a year ago life has been great and I feel there is infinitely more to look forward to than nostalgically remember.
When I arrived back in Michigan at the start of summer last year the future was a blank canvas. All I knew was that I wanted to try writing about my travels, detox my mind and body, and continue to enjoy life. Jacob, Katie, Forrest and Freeda at Natures Pace Organics generously gave me the space to start doing just that and I shall forever be indebted to their kindness. I lived on their farm for over five months during which time new desires and ambitions started to rise within me. It quickly became apparent that my lust for ‘adventure’ was far from spent and actually growing stronger.
I had and have no regrets about anything that happened during the five years it took me to ride from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. It was an enormous learning experience that I feel fortunate to have enjoyed. The whole thing was like a giant life shake-down; sieving out the bits I can live without and catching the essence of what I now know to be happiness. Even so, once I’d stopped riding and had time to reflect, it gave me plenty to react against: I’d traveled with too many possessions, every one of which came with a burden of responsibility that chipped away at my sense of freedom. Keeping a blog had become too much of a duty and something I needed to escape from for a while. I was tired of constantly being an outsider and answering the same old questions. And my body felt broken.
All my desires to explore the worlds mountains and trails by bicycle remained, but I wanted to freshen up and re-engage with the purity of self-propelled travel. With that my thoughts led me in an entirely unexpected direction and within a few months of arriving in Michigan I had become hooked on the idea of long distance ultra-light hiking. Carrying less than 5 kg on my back with no bike to look after and maintain, no traffic to contend with, and the ability to really disappear off into the wilds, was persuasively seductive. In UL hiking I envisaged a simpler experience, free from bike noise and the adrenaline fueled distractions of riding. I imagined myself roaming free without even a camera to distract me. My heart became set on hiking, I decided my next trip would be minimal and even considered making it entirely technology free.
Having long wanted to experience the community feel of thru-hiking one of the United States triple-crown trails, I set my sights on the Continental Divide Trail. A less rigid and longer route than the Pacific Crest and Appalachian trails, the CDT is still established enough to make it a relatively easy introduction to thru-hiking. I was attracted to the possibility of escaping other hikers, the multiplicity of route options and the nature of the environments I’d get to experience. New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana are four of the states at the top of my wish list, so the chance of hiking a single trail through them all fitted my intentions perfectly.
As my desires to write about my previous travels turned into a book project, I simultaneously began stepping up preparations for hiking the CDT. Over the last ten months I’ve researched, prepared and geared up to go ultra-light (something I’ll post on in due course) focused on a June 2016 start and southbound hike from the Canadian border down to Mexico. That has since been put back to an April 2017 northbound hike as my writing continues and my rehabilitation from years in the saddle persists. I’m currently looking for a literary agent and publisher for my book while also training hard to iron out some cycling related body imbalances. With the help of my long time physio, Pete Quartly and a new interest to Ashtanga yoga, I’m slowly getting there, but the ‘fix’ is proving a long and demanding road.
So I persevere, keep working and continue to follow my dreams. Come April next year I’ve no doubt my book will be finished and hopefully picked up by a publisher, my body with be balanced and my mind focused on five months of hiking. Before that I have a whole summer to refine my gear choices, work on my book and enjoy the great outdoors with friends.