First Time Out
The road is a tough teacher
Five months on and the road is not often easy. People say that the adventure starts when the plan ends. If this is the case, then our adventure is an all-time epic. My doubts return frequently. But I begin to understand the process, and how to flow with it all. Each day teaches me where the limits of my control lie. And I learn to work within these limits and surrender to everything else.
For the first three weeks, torrential rain hounded us. I felt insignificant and vulnerable in the face of it. I faced something of an existential crisis as it dawned on me that I no longer had a home and the external structure of safety and security I had always taken for granted no longer existed, and had never really existed. From now on I would need to find it in myself.
The exhaustion which came swiftly on the back of the daily physical and mental exertion compounded everything. Everything took so long. Not yet in a routine, we would spend a couple of hours each day struggling to pack up the bikes before riding round in circles for much of the day. To make so little headway after so much effort was incredibly demoralising. A few days into our adventure, I remember slumping, exhausted by my bike near the French-German border, begging Mickey to tell me why we were doing this to ourselves.
I wonder often if they understand the significance of what they gave us.
But through all this adversity, there were huge positives too. The kindnesses offered by strangers reaffirmed my faith in humanity and in what we were doing. Sometimes such kindness came in the simple form of speaking to us and making an effort to put us at ease in a difficult situation. In France we were forced to shelter from the rain and hail in a local restaurant in a small rural village. All eyes turned to face us as we dripped all over the floor and marked ourselves further as outsiders with our poor French. I remember feeling so out of place and uncomfortable. And then, the lady next to us greeted us warmly and struck up a conversation with us, persevering through our poor French until she had us at ease and chatting freely. Sometimes kindness came in the form of more practical help. A man in a garage in France offered to guide us to a nearby campsite after we enquired if there was one in town. A guy in Belgium gave us two days of his time to guide us through the green lanes of the country. A hotel in Germany opened early to give two weary travellers a bed, a man in Hungary translated and helped book us into a campsite. I could go on. There have been countless people who took a few minutes or more to go out of their way to show humanity and kindness to strangers. I wonder often if they understand the significance of what they gave us.
We recently returned to the UK to deal with an expired driving licence. We’d desperately tried every other option we could but to no avail; we had no choice but to fly back. The delay was far longer than it should have been thanks to a freak mistake by the issuing department, causing us to miss our chance to see Iran. Our route changed substantially from what we initially set out to do as we adapted to this new reality.
I’m blessed to have next to me a man who already understands these lessons I struggle blindly through. I wonder daily where I would be without him. He is the one who holds my hand and challenges me to believe I can do it, never judging when I can’t, but always trusting that I can. He is the one who shields me from those who would reawaken and collude with that old voice that tells me I am at fault when I’m not enjoying it.
So, now we live a life that is harder in many ways. We have less comfort and we lack the comfortable illusion of control over life and events. But it is also a life that is immeasurably richer for its challenges. We try to stay mindful and grateful and enjoy the moments, not the goals. We laugh, we cry, we fail and carry on. We protect one another from the judgement and harshness of the world, grounding and reminding each other what is true and important to us and why we’re doing this. We remind ourselves it is the ethos we strive to live, not the image or the outcomes of the situation, it is not for what others think of us. Sometimes this means we take what looks like a step back to the outside world, but it is always a step forward for us. Our path meanders but it’s our path and we know it’s true to who we are. This life scares me still. Just when I become comfortable the game changes again. We’re currently facing problems that could stop our travels in their tracks; we haven’t moved for weeks. After months of chasing problem after problem, letting commitments drop and readjusting plans we can’t know what will come next or what we will do. Constant change is the enemy of control but old habits die hard. But that’s the thing about this life. It forces me to submit. There is no illusion strong enough that could fool me into thinking that I am in control out here on the road. And each time I rail and push and exhaust myself into this knowledge, I’m forced to accept that fact anew. After that all I can do is have faith. Because after all, “Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat”. And humanity is perhaps the only shot at meaning we have in this life.
Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in the face of certain defeat.