3. Thoughts on Jan 26th ’13 – Expect to Begin?
Perched on a rainy hillside in the Southern Peloponnese. So this is where I start to write? Just over four months ago Alice and I boarded a blue & white ferry on a similarly rainy day in Newcastle and in so doing began our epic honeymoon of attempting to cycle from the UK to New Zealand. Three months pedal turning later and we completed what we have come to think of as Phase 1 of our journey by arriving in Greece to see out the European winter. And this, this is the first time i’ve decided to put any one bit of it down on paper?
In truth I suppose that it’s largely down to laziness that i’ve not thought to keep a written record of our wanderings. Alice diligently (for the most part) logs our daily distances and where we’ve ended up each night. But for my part i’ve always found something to keep me from putting pen to paper. It has, however, always been my intention to log, in my own way, these experiences. ‘Once in a lifetime experiences?’ How stupid. What does that even mean? By the very definition of time every moment is surely a ‘once in a lifetime experience’. But what we’re doing here is, i suppose, extra-ordinary (in a literal sense at least) when placed in comparison with the other options available to us at this time; starting out on our married life together. This is our choice.
That’s been the point really; not to settle for ordinary. Or rather, to define in our own way what is ‘ordinary’. Because, to tell the truth, much of our time over the past 4 months has felt relatively ordinary or normal. To stand apart from other times when I’ve travelled in my life, this has become to feel more like life rather than a trip or a holiday… or even a honeymoon. This has come to be the normality that we have chosen for ourselves; and it has been a curious sort of normality to adjust to. A life almost entirely dictated by what we want to do. This, i suppose, brings me back to my lack of written record; until now I’ve not felt like it (or not felt like it enough to do anything about it). I’ve, in my own way, been exercising my right, earned to me by this life-choice we have made, not to do anything I don’t feel like doing.
Or maybe that’s just pretentious bollocks!
Either way, i’ve opened my book now and so, in this moment, I feel like i should make some attempt at recalling the way life has passed over the past few months. Because there will be a time where this is not ordinary, it will only be the memory of a time past that will stand out as exceptional for the rest of our lives.
It didn’t happen like i’d imagined it, leaving, but then things seldom do. This, though, this had been imagined a lot. The sole purpose of our endeavors for almost two years had led to this moment of leaving and yet somehow it felt unremarkable. How else should it feel standing in the cold on the single platform of Matlock’s train station. I remember that my feet were cold. Such a hectic battle to get hold of those bloody shoes in time. The only shoes I was taking with me for two years of cycling across the globe and in Matlock train station my feet were freezing!
Looking back now, the weeks leading up to our departure had taken their toll, getting wrapped up in the details of planning (or rather worrying at our lack of planning) combined with numerous messy nights in the name of saying farewell to friends and family. All of whom bestowing on us their enthusiasm and admiration for this; our momentous embarkation on an ‘experience of a lifetime’ and now that it’s upon us we’re standing in the worsening drizzle in Matlock, waiting for a delayed train and all i can remember really feeling was that my feet were chilly. I can’t recall if ‘anti-climax’ was a term that entered my head at that moment or not.
Getting totally wrapped up in the idea of something leads you to consider it as a whole. Expectations, like memories are only postcards from a perceived reality that may or may not ever exist… (But then i’ve written about that before…)
In this case we’d spent our time considering far away places, off the beaten track and different to everything we’d ever known, selecting our equipment to cope with the harshest conditions of Central Asia or the Himalayas. The reality of this beginning turned out to be somewhat closer to home. This leaves you in a place you hadn’t ever imagined being. Dealing with this unexpected feeling and adapting our new reality became dominant factors of life in the first weeks of the trip. Holland is not Tajikistan! A startling fact that took some time to sink in.
A two meter wide stretch of tarmac with a white line perforating the middle hand-rails the road that stretches across a flat, grassy expanse that you suspect shouldn’t even be there. Even as we arrive on dry land, the flat, salty water seems still to be the dominant force in this landscape north of Amsterdam. Our epic journey of tens of thousands of kilometers begins with a clearly sign-posted, 30km stretch from the ferry port to the city center where we plan to stop for the next four days. Our ‘mini-break’ honeymoon before setting off proper. But there’s a lurking pressure as I ride my shiny new bike in my clean new cloths across this impossibly flat, increasingly sub-urban landscape. ‘This is your once in a lifetime experience?!’
Predictably Amsterdam passes in somewhat of a daze as we gradually start to unwind from the accumulated stresses of the year leading up to our departure. Looking back at a picture of me on the first day I appear worn out, grey almost, as I attempt to enter our ‘mini-break’ in the relaxing & carefree manner in which it was intended. Pleasant is how i remember our experiences in that city of a million bicycles. Beers on bustling sunny streets; warm, buttery corn-on-the-cob from a street vendor just because we can; meandered wanderings through the dappled light along shady canals, the trees beginning to show their colored hints of the coming winter. Enjoying our freedom.
There’s a tension, however, to this newfound liberation. A matter of hours out of a life wrapped up in detailed plans & it’s proving difficult to let go: “Right, here’s the plan:- we get up, have a coffee in the hostel, you get breakfast, we’ll eat here then head out to this district, later we’ll get a beer by a sunny canal, then we’ll explore this area &…” “We’ll eat this, then we’ll do this, then we’ll go here…” Days meticulously well planned in their spontaneity. “No no but we can’t stop here, it’s not quite how i’d imagined…” A painfully stressful way of being, letting the expectation of an experience rule it’s course. I was impatient to settle into this life imagined with it’s freedom and spontaneity but i wasn’t there yet. I think in this time my frustration told in Al’s frustration for me. Fortunately though, this specific spot on the map is unique in it’s ability to unwind and as such, my overriding memory of the time as ‘pleasant’.
Crossing The Netherlands itself passed in a somewhat similar fashion, all be it on a tighter budget. Oddly, a standout high was a day of torrential rain. We stopped for shelter in a bike shop, a woman made us a coffee and for some reason i felt alive, more so than in weeks. Around the same time, those peculiar little adventures of cycle touring, the ones that you hope to retain memory of forever, began to make themselves apparent. I could slowly feel myself beginning to settle into this actualised reality of our chosen new life and, I suppose, beginning to let go of the expectation of what that might hold… PM