Reflecting on the JourneyRidden on June 16th, 2019 by The Reads
It’s now been two months since we arrived back in Wellington. The first week was a blur, that fun, friendly feeling of being surrounded by family and old friends in the lead up to Easter weekend was good, it felt like a holiday. Week two was harder, reality set in, our boxes arrived - all 34 of them - roughly 140 cubic feet worth of clothes, shoes, books, niknaks - stuff that we’d managed to live so happily without for a year and then suddenly found ourselves needing in order to fit back into ‘normal life’, whatever that might be. At first it was fun unpacking, a little like Christmas, peeking open the corners of parcels wrapped in brown paper. Then we got onto the clothes boxes - joy oh joy to have more than a choice of one jumper and a pair of leggings to wear! Joy, soon turned to discomfort - do I really need ten jumpers? The charity pile grew…
Half-way through that second week we had the pleasure of housesitting for some friends who live a two-minute walk from the beach at Lyall Bay. It should have been bliss but all of a sudden a wave of depression hit and I started sobbing uncontrollably. I wasn’t ready for it and didn’t see it coming. I was the one who wanted to get back to Wellington and start a new life again, who persuaded Jules to save cycling up the North Island for another trip, who said stop - let’s settle down now. Many people in my life have struggled with depression to varying degrees but it wasn’t until that day that I really understood how they felt, how a big black hole can open up inside you and nothing anyone can say or do can take you out of it. Having Jules for support was crucial and walking outside, talking through how we felt, slowly helped me to piece myself back together.
Would I do it again? My initial response has been not for so long, although perhaps as a retirement holiday later in life - I was inspired by many of the over-60’s we saw throughout our cycle! I will definitely be doing shorter tours. Even a weekend (we’re yet to do the Remutaka Trail just north of Wellington). The experiences you get when travelling by bicycle are unique. You roll into a village pretty much anywhere in the world and are almost instantly on a level playing field with those around you. Your possessions are there for all to see, you are vulnerable and open, but that also makes you less of a threat and open to opportunity. I can’t count the amount of times a smile, ‘hello’ in local tongue, or friendly nod to a passerby resulted in a conversation, an offer of tea, food or even a bed for the night. The things we learnt about those people, their way of life, their country, gave me insights into a whole new world. In contrast to the constant barrage of bad news the media brings us, our journey showed me that 99.8% of people have a good heart. It was often the poorest who were the kindest, who valued their family and communities the most and left us with a warm glow in our hearts as we pedalled away, genuinely feeling we were leaving life-long friends.
Personally the trip has pushed me beyond mental and physical boundaries I wasn’t sure I’d be capable of crossing. I’m naturally gung-ho, willing to give most things a try, but cycling into headwinds with sub-zero temperatures at high altitude I broke. I cried, I stopped, I took deep breaths, and carried on, because there were no other options except stay there and freeze to death! I’ve realised I have the ability to push through my fears such as cycling up steep inclines that at the beginning of the journey made me want to get off and walk. They still get my heart racing but I tend to be able to control the panic in my mind a bit better now and am learning to apply that to other areas of life.
It was extremely liberating to travel for a year and let go of social hierarchies, perceptions and the ‘keeping up with the Jones’s’ mentality that seems to pray on us all and keep us from being happy. I re-discovered the feeling of pure joy and wonder that makes you want to whoop and laugh and hug someone. Those are the moments I’ll never forget and that will keep me exploring the outdoors and silencing that little voice inside that says ‘I can’t’ - because 9/10 times you can and you’ll feel 100% better for giving it a go either way. So what are you waiting for? Get up and go!
OK, where to begin…? It’s now just over two months since we laid our heads on a pillow in a house where we remained stationary for more than three nights in a row. At first this was an incredibly comfortable feeling. A kettle was on hand as was fresh clean drinking water. A cup of tea could be made instantly. This as well as other conveniences made themselves aware over the following weeks and I slowly sunk into a stupor of comfort.
What followed was the reality of also sinking back into a ‘normal’ life again. Or whatever that perception may be. I was brought up and indoctrinated into a western view on how my life should proceed. Educate yourself, go to Univeristy, employ yourself, find a partner, buy a house, have children, retire and pass onto the next generation. With this comes an awful lot of baggage - preconceptions, judgements, acceptances, competition and the rollercoaster of ‘everyday life’.
Going through the job hunting process I had been in touch with many former colleagues and the common question they would all ask - ‘this must have been life changing? How will you return to everyday life?’ I guess with time, this will happen. It will slowly bubble away and morph into the life I knew before setting off. Or will it? This journey gave me the opportunity to peel away and remove so much of what we build up in an urban interconnected environment. The opportunity to go back to basics - find food, water and shelter each and every day in foreign environments with little to no common language, essentially operating on what we needed. The basics. And this was by far the most valuable part of the trip for me. For a whole year we gained a perspective we hadn’t experienced before over such a long period of time. And this was strangely liberating. We tossed out the ego’s, the narcissism and the everyday competitive spirit which snares us once the basic needs of everyday life are safely beneath our feet. What we saw for much of the world (for we were generally in rural locations) were people simply surviving. Subsistence living at its very best. And what accompanied this was a low level of impact on the environment and a limited footprint. This taught us a huge level of respect for the communities we were passing through.
Fast forward to having arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand for just over two months and suddenly I’m faced with this paradox - for a year we survived with very little. All our possessions were on our bike. Our ‘world’ surrounded us. And now suddenly we are encumbered with everything we boxed up in the UK and sent via ship to NZ. I couldn’t remember half of the stuff I packed. Hopefully resetting our views slightly can persist into the future and we can continue to tread lightly.
Perhaps most frustratingly, the Wellington region is abuzz with single car occupancy generating traffic levels we never envisaged having left 8 years earlier. This was incredibly sad to see. We can proudly announce we haven’t succumbed to purchasing a car and have been riding our bikes all over town (#twolesscars) and plan to do so for as long as we can (watch this space!)
If you’re thinking about doing a trip like this, I can’t recommend it enough! It will teach you how to be resourceful, how to challenge yourself, how to wake up each day excited about what lays ahead and it will teach you that the milk of human kindness is well and truly alive and kicking. This last aspect is certainly what Milly and I were humbled by the most. And it has left us reminiscing for days, weeks and hopefully years ahead. People will often ask us ‘which country was the best’ or something similar and we will often remark on a few different countries, Turkey, Pakistan or Myanmar perhaps - however we will always reflect on the situations where we left beaming at each other riding happily down the road. Situations where someone had invited us to tea or a meal or even put a roof over our head for the night.
Handing in our notice in the UK was the hardest part for sure. Hopefully if you decide to take the plunge you are rewarded in a similar way to us.
Watching the supermoon rise over the ocean in Eastern Malaysia