Escape by bike: 4.

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Learning to blend in with other cultures should be fun 🙂

You’ve been away and completed your first ever bike tour. Congratulations, you now know the joys of travelling slowly and simply under your own steam. Sitting here I’m wondering what you are thinking.  Why did I wait so long before I started, is common. You might also ask yourself, why was I afraid, or, why did I carry all that extra stuff that I eventually sent home in a parcel? Some things worked well, and some didn’t, but next time you will have more of an idea what suits you personally. Cycle touring is a learning curve. You must get out and explore to understand what works for you in any given environment, and that takes time and experience.

Make a Google search on cycle touring and you will end up with millions of hits. Everybody has a notion of what cycle touring should be and how to go about it. From ultralight to bike-packing to heavy haulage, each person finds the way that suits them. The purpose of my articles is to entice you into trying and to learn from that. There is no correct way to do it, no correct equipment to take and no best bike for the job. It is all completely subjective depending on what you need and where you are going.

You don’t have to learn all the lessons yourself. You can learn plenty from the mistakes of others. For example: a chap took a stove back to a shop where a friend of mine worked after it exploded while in use. Now I’ve never seen a stove explode in this way and it took some time and careful questioning before it transpired that, due to windy conditions, he had dug a hole, placed the stove in it and put a frying pan on top. The heat built up nicely until the stove could stand no more, even with a built-in safety valve, and BOOM, it exploded. As he opened the box of shrapnel to show my friend and the shop manager, they tried desperately to keep a straight face and suppress their laughter. Moral: read the directions and apply common sense.

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Darren and Trish stayed with me during their world tour, 2016. A great way to meet new folk and learn from them

Another example of look before you leave involved a chap with a brand new, never opened, tent. On opening the package, which I witnessed, all the parts were there, neatly wrapped in plastic bags still. But once it was up it became apparent that the outer flysheet was only just long enough and wide enough for him to fit inside and that all his equipment would have to stay on his cycle. Had he been six foot or longer, his head, or feet, would have remained outside all night. With barely enough room to move inside he spent several uncomfortable nights lying stock still, while I snored away next door. When awake, he could be seen regularly foraging in his panniers and bags trying to figure out what was in each one while muttering incoherently.

Entertaining though they are for the rest of us, incidents like these are easily avoided with a little care and thought. Not everything will always go your way though. Some things will take you by surprise, regardless of what you do. I was camping in Scotland one February many years ago. Yes, that right, February. My friend and I had spent most of a whole day of our winter climbing trip going shopping in bleak Fort William where at the time there were no supermarkets of any size. On our return, we stashed our expensive goodies in the tent, which we fastened securely, before retiring for a well-earned pint in the Claichaig Inn, Glencoe.

Getting home, which was the Glencoe massacre site, we found the tent wide open.  All that remained of our large stock of food was a bag of porridge, and that had a hole in it. The sheep had trashed the zips, broken in and eaten everything other than the oats, which I should add that I disliked intensely at that time. To add to the joy, the tent was wide open due to all the zips being broken and the temperature around -14c with a keen wind that night. Worse than that, the sheep then felt they could come in for shelter as and when they wished. The resultant of this was that my friend, who was more than a little pissed off, threw our last surviving onion at one furry pest, hitting it square between the eyes. The sheep didn’t blink, just walked off while munching on the onion. We had to chalk that one up to experience.

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We all travel our own way with the things that make us feel comfortable around us. Jack was on a world tour when he stayed with me. We first met in the Outer Hebrides some months earlier.

Why would you go away if you knew every outcome? There would be little point to it and you would have no stories to share with friends. For me, the purpose of travelling is to gain some new perspectives and to lead a simple life for a short while. Doing this has helped me, and many others I know, to manage our poor health and to move forwards when many doors are seemingly closed tight to us.

If anything was drastically wrong during this first tour, such as your tent, sleeping mat, panniers or saddle, you will know by now. Most people seem to suffer inadequate rear wheels and consequent broken spokes. It’s odd because this subject is well covered in many books and online platforms. You most likely will have experienced highs, lows, good times and moments when you began to wonder why you had bothered going away at all. My experience of these things is that the good times get remembered through rose-tinted glasses and the not-so-good times get turned into amusing stories that never feel as bad when you recount them to friends over a pint of beer. The human spirit is such that so long as we feel the balance is skewed toward the positive, we will keep on going away, searching for those elusive moments where we feel we are at a complete oneness with our simple cycling world, and ourselves.

I have said before that adventure is more down to your mind and attitude than where you go. I believe that in your planning, you must leave room for things to happen by not having too tight a schedule or itinerary. You must be prepared to stop and talk, visit places and to meet people on their terms. I strongly believe that travelling by bicycle (or trike) aids this process.

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The calm after the storm; Pyrenees 2013: After the area was declared a national disaster area and we were evacuated to safe ground.

For me, there must be a balance between camping on sites and being alone. I don’t always want the company of others, but similarly, don’t always want to hide away camping wild. Isolation can make things worse for me sometimes and recognising that I need to be around other people, regardless of cost, is a learned skill. I enjoy talking to people and Riding2Recovery is all about sharing knowledge and encouraging others to talk openly about their own experiences of mental health. But sometimes it’s nice just to sit and chat about the world with a new group of people whose experience is different to your own.

You also should try to balance social media and the demands of others. Whatever you do, people will want something else, something more, or for you to use another medium. Remember, it’s your tour and as such it is your time and energy that is used when you decide to let the world in. Don’t be fooled into thinking you must pander to the needs of others. Too much time spent trying to inform the world of your journey can completely spoil it and drain your energies when you need to be relaxing. You are in charge and you decide. Nothing else matters. When I travel, I either switch off my phone or place it on silent. I try to upload one or two photographs a day with a short statement and that is it. I would love to create videos, travel blogs as I go, but don’t have the energy when I’m on the road. I travel to escape, not to give a rolling commentary on my adventure.

The UK is small in terms of landmass but huge in terms of variety of scenery and cultural variation. People within the confines of these small islands are as fascinating as any I have experienced elsewhere. We have a vastly rich heritage and a wide range of traditions and cultures. If you go in search of some of them you won’t be disappointed with your journey. A smile is all it seems to take to engage people in conversation. That and your laden cycle should be more than enough to start a dialogue anywhere.

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Absolute tranquility: Scotland.

People seem to see you as much more vulnerable and open to talking when you travel by bike. The support I, and many others, have received during our journeys has always left me feeling that people want to be generous and want to share in your experiences. From lifts in cars, to free meals, camping and even beds for the night, there appears to be no limit to the heartfelt generosity given to those who are open to it while travelling. It’s as if something magical happens and all the normal British societal restrictions just fall away. When you are travelling on a bike you seem to transcend the type of negativity that often gets aimed at cyclists who commute. Perhaps, by feeling unable to do something similar themselves, people imagine they can take a little piece of your adventure away with them by helping out? Something that makes their day feel a little less of a burden. Whatever the reason, it will happen, just so long as you let it.

Until next time…………….RIDE 4a