Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Recession Dodging

So, this is it then. We're off!

Sometime in the last year or so a friend of mine spoke to me about the possibility of us riding bicycles across the width of America. That hasn't happened (yet!), but it made me realise that bicycles and travelling might go very well together, and the idea took root. At some point since then I decided that I would go out on another adventure this time with a bicycle.

Two years ago I left home to backpack through India, Nepal and Thailand, then spent the last year and a half working in Melbourne. Visa restrictions meant I could only work at any one place for six months, but despite this finding enjoyably challenging work was certainly more likely than back home in the UK when I had left.

To call my last two years away “recessions dodging” would be only partially true though, because although I can embellish my experiences of the last two years, and the adventure ahead, with grand reasoning or philosophical explanations it would be avoiding the most fundamental motive behind it. Going on adventures is fun. Going travelling is enormous fun. It makes your stomach tight with excitement in a way that queuing for a roller-coaster does when you're a kid. But once you've done it it does lose that freshness of feeling when you do it again, and if you want to replicate those tummy turns you have to raise your game. The fact that riding a bike across some country's is environmentally sound, good for your health, and makes you sound cool are ideas that are applied to it later.

Our bikes: second hand Giant Rock MTBs.

For the first six months I only read around the idea of an extended bike trip, but did very little concrete preparation other than buying a bicycle – a second hand Giant mountain bike from a bloke off the net. It cost $60, and the idea was to use it to get into cycling again (I hadn't ridden a bike since 2005, and even then only to and from the shops for about 3 months before it was nicked from my Uni halls) and then buy a proper touring bike later down the line. I never did, but instead had racks and sturdy wheels fitted to my second hand beast, in the hope that I can prove that you can do a big tour on a cheap bike. It could very easily go the other way though, and I might be taught a lesson in going out on a big tour properly prepared. We'll see.

So for a while the idea dawdled, remaining in the realm of possibility but hardly venturing out beyond a few vague conversations with people when they asked where I would go after Australia. And then, six months ago I got together with an amazing girl called Olivia. When having an aforementioned vague conversation about my plans to cycle I asked her if she would want to join me in doing something like it, and she said yes. So now, six months later, after perhaps a dozen weekend cycle-camping trips, countless long hours sorting out visas, insurance, injections; many late nights trying to figure out how to fix a certain part of the bike, or spending a weekend trying in vain to attach the wrong component; after plenty of google image surfing to get us excited, and plenty of evenings worrying about what dangers might stalk cyclists camping in woods – after all of the preparation and daydreaming, today we finally got going.

I think it's probably a good idea to let Liv introduce herself at this point, before I yack on too much about myself...

When I mentioned to friends I was considering cycling around Asia I think they either thought I was an idiot or they just smiled and nodded thinking it would probably never happen. That is what I thought too actually.

The idea of cycling Asia seemed terrifying, incredibly difficult and maybe even dangerous. And don't you have to be super fit to do something like this anyway? Well... I hope not - we're doing it.

Waiting for the train on our first trip
French Island, VIC

These are all things that worried me after Robin had asked me to go cycling with him and I'd drunkenly said yes. It sounded like such an adventure and the very thought of it made me feel excited and a little bit anxious. But honestly I didn't really believe it would happen. Partly because it seemed impossible and partly because the whole idea sounded so absurdly exciting I didn’t want to feel too disappointed when it never materialised.

I've backpacked before but it has been a while since I have actually had worries about going somewhere new. The first time I travelled I visited Nepal, I wasn't sure if I'd last five months there alone. I did and it was amazing and of course I wasn't alone but the scare factor is good. You need it, it changes an experience into an adventure. I think that is why cycling Asia seems like such an attractive prospect. Its not going to be easy, there will be horrible days and as my friend pointed out its going to be so hot but these things make it interesting and not knowing exactly what we're up against is part of the fun.

As far as cycling goes, I used to do it a lot as a kid but got pretty lazy once I could drive. A few years ago I started cycling to work and exploring all the delights Dorking has to offer. I loved it but these were three hour bike rides around countryside I know and in perfect weather. I quickly gave up when the snow hit that winter and left the bike to rust at the back of the shed. So why travel by bicycle for a year?

Robin and I have been living in Melbourne for the last six months working, saving and going on mini cycle trips around Victoria. I arrived in Australia after an overland trip by bus from London. I visited a lot of amazing countries, met incredible people and ate some delicious food. I travelled through a handful of countries in Europe and headed east eventually arriving in Melbourne. It was a wonderful trip and fantastic a experience but it was too fast. I'd spent only a few days in Istanbul and never picked up any of the language. I didn't have time to go to Persepolis in Iran. I couldn't spend a month in Nepal meeting up with old friends and trekking to Everest base camp. Mount Marapi was exploding in Java which I could only see in the distance out of the bus window. This trip although wonderful proved that travelling is not about moving through a country at a fast pace. In order to really appreciate somewhere, its people, the culture and customs you need to travel slowly.

The thing I loved most about the bus trip however was seeing changes as we rolled by. The landscape slowly building up becoming hilly, then arid then mountainous and then flat again. These were subtle changes and everything would look the same but suddenly you'd cross a boarder and everybody has a moustache. Travelling on the bus like this was fascinating everyday wherever we were. I learned that what I loved about travelling was getting to know a place well and experiencing the changes between places.

Cycle touring seems like the perfect way to travel.

So here we are six months on with Indonesia just around the corner. Now it really gets interesting.

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