Easter is the time I have traditionally blown the cobwebs from my equipment shelves, gathered everything together and set off into the great outdoor for some kind of adventure. As I’ve aged, the thought of camping during the Easter period has become less and less an attractive proposition. Even the advent of equipment that will easily cope with the cold won’t tempt me back. I guess I just don’t want it as much as I used to or I’ve become so soft that staying at home feels too comfortable to give up on until summer arrives.
When I began cycling again late in 2009 I was so excited at the prospect of touring that I couldn’t wait any longer than Easter to give it a go. I had made plans for 2010 that included a tour around and over Dartmoor and a longer tour in May around the Cornish peninsular. Later in 2010 I hoped to head for Wales, but this rather depended on whether or not the first two tours were bearable. It was all part of my preparation for riding around the UK in 2011 and if I’m honest I didn’t ever think that far ahead as it was too frightening. One day at a time was, and still is, the best way for me to proceed.
I remember the burgeoning excitement, tinged with fear and lack of knowledge as to how I might perform over several days. I didn’t sleep well for days prior to leaving. It felt like a giant leap of faith. Touring existed in my distant memory, but not recently. Easter was not as early as this year. The nights were a little brighter making camping more bearable. I took enough clothing to outfit the whole campsite in my eagerness to enjoy the time I had away. As the sun set I huddled in my tent for warmth, getting tucked up in my sleeping bag by eight o’clock in the evening.
I wasn’t alone and on that first night near Tavistock I met two other cycle tourists, giving me somebody to talk to, some brains to pick on modern touring which slightly reduced the feeling that I must mad to do this. We camped on opposite sides of the campsite, me so as to gain the evening sun and them so as to benefit from the morning suns drying rays. As the sun set to leave a cold night for us to endure we sat drinking tea and talking. I felt more alive than I had felt in a good while.
At this point I was still riding my folding bike, unsure as to whether I would be well enough to ride on more than one day. I also had a folding trailer, both of which fitted neatly into the porch of my three season tent as and when required. If I needed to abandon, this particular bike and trailer would help that process. I felt like I was on the greatest adventure in the world. Everything was brand new and I saw my surroundings in a whole new light, one through which the world seemed to shine brightly as though especially polished for the occasion.
The frosted ground of the next morning greeted me like Christmas as I opened the tent door the next morning. The satisfaction I gained from sitting up in my sleeping bag and brewing coffee, while my mind sipped in the stunning vista, left me wondering why it had been so long since I all but abandonned cycling. This was especially true of touring, something I knew would soothe my soul if I gave it a chance.
On the third day, as I climbed slowly up onto the higher flanks of Dartmoor, I made the decision to extend my trip by another night. I made the decision while brewing up next to a rocky stream, high on the side of the moor. This might not sound much, but at that time it was a decision that reaffirmed that I was not only able to tour by bicycle but still enjoyed it hugely and I didn’t want this tour to end yet. As I pitched my tent later in the evening I had an inner sense of peace and tranquillity mixed with tiredness and fatigue. It would seem that my body was lagging some way behind what my mind felt able to do. I watched the light dance and play on the eastern side of Dartmoor one final time before dark. It was a scene I will never forget, a three dimensional display marking the moor’s grandeur and etching it on my mind.
I have heard it so many times from others as they begin to discover the joy of travelling around by bike. There is a feeling of letting go that occurs when you have been away for even the shortest of times. Moving slowly away from home in the knowledge that you won’t return for a while brings a sense of escaping from the norm and leaving it all behind. In that moment of leaving, the shackles are splintered open, but your slow progress away helps you feel that it’s safe to leave.
You live simply, from one mindful episode to the next. With far less of a requirement to stare at the road and its markings, the bicycles slow progress (for most of us) can leave us feeling as though we are seeing the world for the first time. In my case, after many years on motorcycles it was the first time I had given myself the space to breathe out and enjoy the outdoors as I used to do in more youthful times.
Heightened senses and awareness means that you see things that you would have previously missed. You become acutely aware of your surroundings and the internal clock that ticks inside you. You eat as needed, sleep as required and wake to the dawn chorus at the start of the next day. Is it any wonder that this simple life so readily replaces the overly fast and complex digital world in which you are thrown on returning home? For somebody who is unwell, the space afforded by riding a bike can, I believe, be incredibly therapeutic. No calendars are present. No meetings or pressures other than the ones you place on yourself to get to your next overnight stop. The day is yours and you feel you are in the most beautiful groove that you want to continue forever.
Through each winter thereafter you long for the weather to improve enough to pack your bags and head off into the unknown. For some that will be bigger and greater things, trips that last years or explore far-away places, while for others like me it just means anywhere where I can find more soul food, gather some vitamin D and recharge my batteries.
I have long maintained that it doesn’t matter where you go, how far, or how long. In my experience cycling doesn’t get exponentially better over time. If you have long enough to get lost in your journey, to stop looking at references to how you are doing and just enjoy being, then you will have an experience that will last forever in your memory, encourage you to get out more and to expand your experience. Time and all its restrictions is a man-made affair. Follow the natural rhythms of your mind and body and you will be released, at least for a while, from the ties that restrict us, preventing us living in the manner for which we were designed.
If, like me, you are physically and mentally restricted, then it’s important to learn move your goalposts slowly and carefully and to be happy with what you can do. Constantly yearning for something more than you have is an unhealthy way of living and being, especially as we are brought up to strive without a pause for thought or breath.
We are taught from an early age to want more and more, bigger and better, but this is a nonsense and is unsustainable. There is no nirvana, other than the one we create where we exist in peace with ourselves. We all have to live within our means and explore as and when we are able.
The trick is perhaps not to escape our reality but to learn to live with it in a way from which we can benefit and grow. By making the journeys you can and not waiting for the dream ride that may never come, you improve your life quality ten-fold. That is the basis on which Riding2Recovery was built.
Until next time………………………