I’ve been thinking more and more of coming home. And even getting a little excited about that. Maybe that’s when you know it’s a good time to go back, right? It’s a pretty odd concept to get excited about considering I’ve been watching the UK implode for the last however-many years and more recently egged on by a disgustingly cringy, homophobic, racist wanker and a minority of idiots who actually voted for him. I mean, most people after their travels are sad and wish they could stay away longer. But I’ve actually made this little life for myself where I don’t ever need to end the trip. I could just keep travelling forever. That was always, in some way, a dream come true. Cycling around, teaching English wherever, whenever to top up the funds, cycling some more. But after five and a half years I’m wondering, do I actually want that? I’m majorly winning at this little game I’ve made for myself. It’s not even difficult any more. And I think that’s the problem.
A few days ago I saw a man driving a motorbike with three goats somehow balancing on it and it barely struck me as unusual. Tonight I’m staying in a Sikh temple—I ate my rice and lentil dinner with my hands whilst sitting on the floor in a line with men in turbans. I’m beginning to see these weird and wonderful things as granted. It doesn’t seem exciting any more. Even the madness I see in the world is becoming totally normal. Which has caused me to search for something different to get my kicks. There are plenty other things I want to do in life besides ride a bicycle forever (though that’s always my backup plan). I miss my friends, family, I really want to play piano again and I also have some nice projects in mind. In any case, I can always return to this cycling lifestyle, which makes the choice somewhat easier; I’m not sacrificing anything.
For a long time, since I started this trip, I had a dream of cycling around the world. The idea was to get somewhere over to Asia (okay I finished that part, kinda), and then hitchhike a boat to South America (the place I was most interested to go), and then take another to Africa (wooo!) or back to Europe (the boring and skint option). But as I learnt more about sailing I realised it’s not so easy to sail across the Pacific, and it’s about 100 times harder to sail across it from west to east because the wind blows the other way. Only about 30 sailing boats make that reverse crossing per year, and that means my chances for hitchhiking are pretty slim. If you want to cycle and sail around the world, go the other way. So I figured, well, okay why not go the other way then? Head back from Thailand or Indonesia in the opposite direction to South Africa and then on to Brazil. That would be pretty sweet. But the reality is, that would just take ages. It’s taken me five and a half years to get here, a few kilometres west of Nepal.
As I cycle and spend more time abroad, I’ve realised that I don’t actually want to go around the world anyway—that’s not what I ever really wanted. I just wanted to see it. The pleasant reality is it doesn’t matter if you go around the world or do bits here and there or take squiggly lines everywhere (my preference) – the only benefit I can see of “cycling around the world” is that it sounds cooler when you tell people, instead of saying “well uhm, I cycled that, and then I went there but only for a bit and then went to…”
Oh yeah, and you end up back where you started, that’s pretty handy. Anyway, in a couple of weeks I’ll have cycled more than 40,000km—the circumference of the Earth at the equator—that’s cool enough for me. That’s only counting the miles I’ve travelled, it doesn’t include the thousands more commuting and day rides in various cities across Europe and Asia.
I don’t want to detract from the hardy effort people have undergone to complete a circumnavigation on a bicycle. It’s certainly a laudable achievement. For me though, I had to stop short with taking flights. I couldn’t justify crossing the Pacific this way as it goes against too many grains of mine. Especially when I don’t really need to. To a lot of people that must sound inherently wanky, and I totally get it. I’ll take the wank stamp. I don’t give a shit. Or maybe it’s cause I do give a shit. Delete that bit. Naah.
Some people have suggested other options to cross the ocean. But the era of taking cargo ships or fishing boats to cross oceans is long over. With all the insurance stuff and whiny Westerners who sued some poor captain because of a slip on a puddle on a fucking boat means the current way to take a cargo ship is to pay two grand. I’m not even kidding. That’s like easy 6 months living lux in Asia, so yeah, gtf.
I did, however, find a captain on a little yacht that’s going back to Europe, kinda. I’ll get dropped off in Egypt, which is considerably closer than where I am now, and I’ll learn how to sail, which is something I’m so looking forward to. The trip will also take a few months.
The main problem is that the boat is leaving from a port in Thailand over 5,000km away and I have to be there in about 50 days. That means cycling 100km per day non-stop till I get there. That normally wouldn’t be that challenging but well, this is Asia. The roads are shit, if not shit then busy, or both busy and shit. And often polluted or hilly and shit. I’ve got the rest of the Himalayas to get by, and then onto the serious hills and terrible roads in NE India and muddy Myanmar. The daylight hours are also pretty short right now and I’m carrying a lot of dead-weight like books and journals. Five years ago, at the start of this trip, I wouldn’t have cared so much about all this and just seriously blasted through the whole thing, sleeping for a few hours each night and probably getting pissed a lot too. But the difference from 25-year-old me and 30-year-old me is quite tangible. I’m definitely not as fit as I used to be. I can always be stronger, but the effort it takes now is considerably harder than in the past. We can always keep getting fitter, but there’s nothing that makes it easy like youth. If you want to go on a big bike trip somewhere, that’s one reason amongst many to do it when you’re young. (But it’s never to late, eh?!)
The question now isn’t actually if I am able to cycle 5000km in 50 days but rather, do I even want to? I mean, I certainly want to get the boat, but there are other ways to get there, like skipping part on a bus. That’s more time to experience that weird and wonderful culture that I find so normal.
It will probably take a lot for me to skip a section on a bus though. Because for some reason that I haven’t worked out yet, having a near-term goal like this has given me monumental amounts of energy (as opposed to the “it doesn’t matter where I go” ideology I’m used to). Just a couple of days ago I ruined myself with food-poisoning, sitting curled up in a ball in immense pain at the side of the road whilst monkeys surrounded me from the jungle, and I still managed to cycle over 100km eating only an orange. That night I stayed in one of the shittest hotels in my life, which was raining inside even though it wasn’t raining outside. The following day I was on one of the worst roads in my life, which wrecked my bicycle and the front fixing of my bar-bag. Whilst fixing said breakages in a temple as the rain poured down (outside, this time) my hand slipped and I almost chopped my finger in half with a penknife. (I now have a big bandage on my middle finger. And hey! I finally used my first aid kit after 5 years!) I still got up and cycled over 100km today, and I still found time to write this. Despite all the barriers—the hills, the winds, the roads, the traffic—the biggest obstacle of all, in fact, the ultimate demotivator—is yourself!
Dun dun duuuuun!
I knew in 2013, but it was early 2016 when I told everyone I wanted to cycle to Thailand, and maybe now I might actually get there. If I cycle the whole way or not—it doesn’t matter, I’ve had a blast. And in so many ways I’m glad I didn’t commit to anything even more arbitrary because a lot changes in years, never mind when you travel a lot within those years—I’ve been whisked off into little side adventures to Narnia and down The Yellow Brick Road and I definitely took the Red Pill on more than one occasion. I’m actually surprised that I’m still cycling. I think that’s proof, at least to myself, that I found something I seriously liked.
Now it’s time to find some other stuff I like just as much.