Gosh,aren’t you brave!
This is invariably the first comment made by anyone about my trip. But if I had thought that myself, I would never have gone in the first place. It was just that once the idea had planted itself, it refused to go away. On the contrary, it blossomed and flourished, in the end becoming its own reality, by which time I had no qualms about undertaking the trip.
But how did it start in the first place?After all, I am not a macho male in his mid-twenties; rather, a middle-aged mum in mid-menopause. All I can say is, beware charity shops, they can seriously damage your comfort zone!That was where, in September 2005, I casually picked up a benignly-entitled paperback, A Bike Ride byAnne Mustoe, a middle- aged headmistress who had cycled solo round the world some twenty years previously. By the end of reading her book I was thinking, ‘I’d like to do that,’followed by, ‘Well, if she can do it, why can’t I?’
And so I did.
As much as anything, this was a journey of faith and I could not go unless it was with God’s blessing, or even better, with the notion that it was his idea in the first place.Why? I had been brought up traditionally in the Church of England, turned away as a teenager, then started searching and made a personal commitment in my twenties. I have been on the journey ever since, one full of perplexing and frustrating questions, but underpinned by an unshakeable belief in the love of God. I wanted to deepen that relationship.
The ease with which my plans advanced smoothly and effortlessly convinced me that this trip was right for me. Even so, the following summer, 2006, I went on a 10-day cycling taster trip to Scotland to see if cycle touring was even my thing.After all, I had never done more than go off for a day’s cycle ride at the most. It turned out to be about the best holiday I had ever had, a clear confirmation of the validity of my trip.
In December that same year, at a joint birthday party with my daughter and son – landmark 50, 21, 18 years respectively – I blithely announced to all present, ‘At some point in the future, I am going to cycle round the world.’
‘Yeah, right,’encouraged the sceptical voices, ‘like we all do!’ Undaunted, my plans continued unabated.
The discovery of the wonders of a virtually maintenance-free bicycle, to offset my almost total ignorance of anything mechanical, was a joyful revelation.The casual inquiry at work as to whether they would care to give me a 2-year sabbatical, followed by their disarmingly quick response, ‘Yes, when do you want to go?’ saw me plucking from the air a random date for the following year, 2008. All this, followed by a favourable financial arrangement with my father, left me with almost no excuses.The final jigsaw piece was some timely, but crucial, surgery six months before my departure date.
However, it was not all plain sailing.The hardest thing was acknowledging the understandable concerns of family and friends for my safety and well being – alone out there in the big bad world – whilst steadfastly ignoring them. My utter conviction about the ‘rightness’of the trip was my staunch ally.
Apart from the physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual challenges of such a venture, I also wanted to see for myself the goodness of ordinary people. So much in the news is taken up in reporting, with sensational delight, the wars, conflicts, misery and suffering in the world that I wished to witness for myself the redress of balance that must surely exist alongside these negative forces. I went on the premise that most people do not seek world power and domination over others, or become fierce religious fanatics forcing others to share their viewpoint. Surely, just as at home, people throughout the world desire a peaceful life, wishing to live harmoniously with their neighbour, enjoying essential needs of shelter, sustenance and society and basic rights of freedom and fear from persecution. I was pretty confident I would find this on my trip; it would merely be a confirmation of what other cycling travellers had already reported. Even so, I wanted to experience it for myself.
I was not disappointed.The world is a beautiful place and the people therein.That’s not to say there is no dissatisfaction, frustration, helplessness, ugliness, sadness, sorrow. It is that, despite these, the instinctive desire of most people to demonstrate kindness to one another flows as living water and their underlying goodness shines as a light in the world.
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