In the state of Gujarat, situated the north west corner of the country, the government enforced strict prohibition on all alcohol trade across the county in an attempt to improve the health and productivity of it’s people. Yet, the Gujaratis, find a way around it, naturally. Sporadically spaced out across the dry plains and often just on the shoulder of the main highway are local tribeswomen with nothing but a few plastic chairs, a 50 litre plastic bucket and a tray of glasses. These are pit stops for drivers wishing to have an afternoon tipple of Palm wine or, ‘Kallu’, a cheap and easy to produce alcoholic drink often made in people's farms and backyards. The trees bark are slashed and the sap from the bark is collected and then fermented producing a foul, sour taste with hints of acidic white wine. I stopped to observe one of these small stalls in action when a few truck drivers approached me and invited me for a taste. Being a dry state I hadn’t had drink in a few weeks, so the sickly, white liquid worked its magic in just a few minutes. More drivers turned up and I felt obliged to join them as they offered me more wine. After an hour of storytelling, mostly aided with sign action and photos from my mobile, I felt too tired and drowsy to cycle on. I had been determined throughout this trip not to have any help from any other vehicles or lifts along the way, wanting to cycle every inch of the way, so when they offered me a lift all the way to Mumbai, a distance of about 90 kilometres I was staggered, facing a moral dilemma that I thought might pollute the essence of my journey. Then I reminded myself that this trip was about experiencing as much as I could, saying yes to all the unique opportunities that come my way, and so I convinced myself that it would only add to my list of amusing discoveries that had already become an abundant list.
We attached a rope to the bike and hauled it up in the back of a large TaTa lorry. These lorries are in abundance across the entire country and are used for transporting all manner of goods. The inside of the cabin was decked out in an impressive array of tacky decoration, flags, pictures and posters of Hindu gods and sari gladded women bleached colourless from hours of intense sun burning through the cabin on it’s many long hauls. The horn was hilarious with its variation of loud jingles, as was the stereo and it’s one loud setting. The two drivers sang along constantly the crackling, distorted songs in their Malalayam language. They would keep checking with me to see if I knew every new song that came on, which of course I didn’t. The cabin was spacious enough to lie down in and I slouched back, exhausted, rested my feet on the window ledge, letting the cool breeze air my stinking feet. The big, hard sun burnt down on the dry plains, over wide, flat land, barren and beaten by the intense sun. I saw the occasional dwelling amongst the fields where skinny farmers, heads wrapped in cloth protecting them from the sun pulled camels with rope across the land, haltered to their necks and from their ring pierced noses. The smell of animal hind was almost tangible.
After a few hours of driving and a handful of fascinated glares from passing drivers who saw me in the cab of a local lorry with two Indians dancing to and singing with our arms in the air, we finally came to a stop in the middle of the highway, a quick chai stop I thought maybe. A squeak from the brakes and a hizz from the engine and we pulled over onto the sandy bank off the road. A phat tire swung from a sad looking tree and an unlit garage was lurking ominously under the trees a few meters away from the road. ‘You leave now’, they said, ‘we go, different road, not Mumbai’. My face dropped with shock at this news, but then turned again into a smile, a sort of amusing nod, typical India I told myself, nothing ever goes as planned here. I stood on top of the lorry and attached the rope to the frame of my bike and started to lower it down.
On top of a lorry, on a hot indian night, to the smell of hot sand and car fumes, trampling boxes of unknown cargo over thick tarpaulin, to the silence of a dessert, interrupted by other lorries screaming past at high speed as waves of light hit my face. This really felt like an adventure. I lowered the bike down to the ground, and watched as the lights of the lorry passed beyond sight leaving me in the edge of a lightless highway with no idea where to go or how far it was to the next town.
My stomached squelched with hunger, I was crashing from lack of carbohydrates after the rest of the day's ride. The highway is mobbed by loud cars and lorry’s that whizz past as I push on unknowingly down the long, dark highway. After an hour of riding, the only places I found along the way were expensive, air conditioned hotels that wanted to charge £40 pounds per night, an impossible task given my £5 a day budget. I moved further towards the distant lights of a big city, uprising and sparkling in the hot night of the indian dessert. A man on his motorbike rode alongside me for a few minutes and chatted to me on the move, which at first I found incredible irritating due to my exhaustion, but was then suddenly enjoying the company when he suggested attaching my bike lock to the back of his bike so that he could pull me along at a safe distance. We coasted for another half an hour before reaching the next town, an expensive suburb of Mumbai. I thanked the man immensely for his help and advice on where to look for cheap accommodation and then went straight away in search of food and a cold beer. It was 11:00pm by this time and I had started the day at 8:00am. I went into a nearby restaurant, flanked by giant, black palms wrapped in flashing neon lights. All the men inside looked different, I was near the city, closer to money and you could tell, they were nearly all fat! They quarrel and laughed for hours, sipping on beers and whisky, smoking cigarettes and watching the cricket highlights on the surrounding TV’s. I ordered gooey spring rolls, egg fried rice, chips and a large beer.
The food sent me into a deep slumber. I found myself fixated on the cricket game, with almost no energy to move, slumping further and further into the chair. My eyes started to close, feeling the deep need to rest, and drawing in those deep breathes of air just before sleep, only to be awaken by the sudden bursts of laughter from the groups of drunk men in the corners of the restaurant. By this time it was well past midnight, I know I wouldn’t find anywhere cheap to stay in the this seemingly expensive district outside of Mumbai and the thought of searching for somewhere, riding to multiple places, negotiating prices and arguing the occasional cocky receptionist made me even more tired. I accepted my fate of sleeping rough for this night. I hauled my heavy bike from the reception area and started to look for somewhere reasonably quiet and safe where I could sleep. I pondered behind cars deep down dark roads, gaps in the fields on the side of the road, fenced and lightless. I finally stumbled upon a car park around the back of a hotel where a few caretakers were lighting a fire in a dingy garage. They welcomed me in after a few inquisitive questioned and I slept there for the night, on the warm concrete floor next to the fire and the constant low chattering of the three kind strangers. The sound of a gigantic city hung in the background like a soft, all encompassing mist.
While descending down a steep mountain track, something snaps with a sudden metallic clang and the bike collapses underneath me, I’m thrown head first over the handlebars and slammed down onto my back, winded and struggling for breath. I get up slowly and assess any damage by moving my arms and legs, feeling that my teeth are still all there and there’s no blood coming from anywhere. I heave my bike up off the floor and see that the front pannier rack snapped, throwing nuts and bolts across the path and down into the forest shrubbery. It turns dark quickly and It takes me an hour to find all the small pieces of metal, unload all the bags and slowly piece everything back together with a head torch. It’s only my second night and I’m absolutely thrilled to be tracing through some dark woods, led by a small light and to the sound of my bags rattling over the stones and loose gravel. This is what I came for. Moments of nervousness arrive, it’s dark, I’ve got no food, where will I put up my tent? But all these feelings are overshot by the excitement of it all and I start to see bright stars moving between the tips of the pine trees above.
A light appears through trees and I approach a man closing down his small wooden shop. He’s small and chubby with wiry eyebrows and kind, hazel eyes. I ask him if there is a safe place to camp and he replies excitedly that there is guesthouse available nearby and he will take me there.
Tired, in pain and relieved, I follow the waddling man swinging a bulky LED torch to light the way. We walk up a steep track, through a field, across a small trail that falls steeply away to tall grass and reeds, through several wooden gates, a cluster of goats, up several stone steps and to a dimly lit wooden dwelling perched on a floor of concrete that is unmistakably his own house. The man shouts something and two young children rush out the house and are shocked to find their father with a pink, dishevelled looking foreigner with muck and oil on his face pushing a bike through their front garden, we all greet with giddy smiles and go inside. Inside the house his wife is preparing an array food, fresh roti’s, curried veg, brown rice and sour yogurt.
This family is obviously poor, they only have a few cooking utensils and I’m amazed at how much food she has made with so little. A metal chimney runs from the gas cooker straight through the centre of the small room making it incredibly cosy and warm. I’m encouraged to take off my shoes and sit on one of the matted carpets next to the food and I’m handed an freshly glass of water. Naturally, I look for the cutlery but I think better than to ask, the children stare as I struggle to wolf down handfuls of steaming curry as it drips through my fingers and onto my lap. They offer me more and more and I happily comply, devouring as much food as I could until at last I slipped into a deep food slumber and nearly fall asleep on the warm floor. We all clean out teeth together, a worldwide routine that defies country and class, only we do it in the darkness of night under a blanket of stars and and spit into the long reeds of grass below. I sleep wonderfully through the night and i’m awoken to the sound of cockerels and sickles thrashing corn in the fields. A feast of a breakfast is awaiting me.
Something I learnt very quickly in India is that a ‘Hotel’ doesn’t always mean a hotel in the conventional sense of accommodation. At the end of a piping hot, 120 Kilometer ride through central Rajasthan, I was relieved when I saw a ‘Hotel’ sign arched over a beautiful, ivory cladded gateway and welcoming smiles at the driveway entrance. After collapsing onto a plastic chair, the legs sewn together with thin rope, I flicked off my sweaty shoes, threw the burning socks on the cool, tiled floor and indicated my thirst for a chai as I slouched back and enjoyed the shade from the tarpaulin sheet above me. The sun was still burning down in its last few hours, my thighs were burnt at the line of my shorts and my calves were tight and exhausted so I was a little deflating we he replied quite plainly, ‘sorry sorry, here no room, here only restaurant’, bobbing his head side to side as he spoke.
After talking to the owner for some considerable time about where I had come from and where I was going, by this point his entire family had come out to see me, he didn’t hesitate to offer me a place in his house for the night.
Later that evening after a hot shower and a colourfully paletted tray of food that could of easily fed five men, he invited into a nearby town on his motorbike. We whisped through the night down the highway through the smells of sand and tarmac and into the rumbling cacophony of horns, bikes, rickshaws and pedestrians, I spot a few tug on the arm of their friend in excitement and pointing at the white male on the back on locals bike.
I’m taken to an impressive looking temple and sit down at the back of the room where around two hundred people, men, women, entire families are sat on a swirling vibrant rug watching a film on a giant projector. The film is in Hindi of course with no English subtitles but the moral messages of family, education, friendship and honesty are clear. It’s great to tap into pockets of people’s lives and witness their different ways of teaching and developing their own communities, if only for a day. After the film and a rapturous round of applause, two orange swathed gurus are introducing into the room and take to their chairs on a stage festooned with flowers and golden sculptures of deities I had never seen before. A highly energetic man then starts rambling into a microphone from the front of the hall. My new friend looks at me giddily and persuades me to write my name and home city on a napkin. Then, his rapid and twisting Indian discourse Is punctuated with ‘English man from the city of ‘Burn-mingham’. The hall burst into applause, my face reddened and I’m told to stand up in front and come to the stage to introduce myself. As I approach, the gurus bless me and halter me with garlands of orange flowers around my neck. I say a few nervous words down the microphone, a lot of their faces are stunned and smiling as I speak, and then I thank them kindly for their warm welcome and leave to another round of applause. The ceromony was followed by yet more great hospitality as they took down to the open room beneath the temple where giant pots of stewing curry were being stirred by women with what looked like wooden awes. They sat me down and filled my plate up with mounds of rice, Dahl, curry and curd. We struggled to leave on the bike afterwards because of the que of people wanting to shake my hands, but we finally made it away and back out into the sandy winds of the night.
The following day after refusing to only let me eat half a portion of breakfast, he takes me in his car with his wife to visit some other temples and to visit a local Osho* ashram centre. He prepares one more cup of tea and a plate of biscuits before I’m finally ready to go at nearly midday, I hug him and his family, try to offer him money which he strongly refuses, take a picture and continue my lonely way towards Mumbai touched and humbled by the beauty of only a few helpful strangers which are in abundance across this amazing country.
‘To go and actually make a choice and to gain some awareness of who you are, why you are, what you are, is priceless’
I make a rare pit stop at one of the more luxurious restaurants off the highway that runs through northern India’s dessert state of Rajasthan. Tour companies bring their guests here for lunch breaks as they rush between their destinations in their air-conditioned taxi’s. An iron trellis coated in beautiful flowers and weeds opens up to into a lush garden circumvented with terracotta walls and carvings on their pillars. It had an expensive gift shop at the front and verdant gardens ringed with palm trees attended by straight-backed staff, clean shaven and dressed in pristine white jackets. I sat down and ordered the cheapest thing on the menu.
A mini bus pulled up in the parking area. I got used to easily identifying which vehicles carried tourists, normally white Hyundai’s with polished silver wheel hubs.
Several English people folded out and walked into the gardens, they sat on the table next to me. They wore clean, colorful clothing with hideous floral shirts and crisp-white shorts. They drank cold beer, ate vast amounts of food and talked excitedly about their next destination, one of them was repeatedly informing the others from a guide book. Their driver sipped chai quietly on a separate table.
My shirt was creased and thick with dust off the road and rings of encrusted sweat spread under my pits and down my back in rivulets. I stunk!
After finishing my meal and complaining to the waiter about the price of my coke, which was written on the bottle and yet charged double, I headed over to chat to them, I felt compelled, partly though curiosity, partly through excited ego. There’s definitely an ego involved in big adventures, no matter how humble one may seem, every mountain climber, every long distance explorer, every endurance explorer carries with them a bold ego of personal endeavor and psychological challenge which in turn drives them to pursue such big dreams and actively participate in them.
One of them men from was drilling me with enthusiastic questions, he was in his late forties with a thick Newcastle accent, he had a shaved head and taught wrinkles webbed around his fresh eyes. He spoke softy and upbeat, but I sensed an inner frustration deep down in the nuances of his voice that sunk somewhere deep in my memory. He asked me why I was doing it, how this was shaping up my life so far, where’s next and a few, deep existential questions. The was a moment of silence. I saw the light in his eyes. Eye to eye. He let out a sigh and a shook his head. The clean shirts and sandles seemed lost on him, like he suddenly realized what his essence of travel could have been.
The tone of regret; one of the saddest sounds.
He was suddenly a reflection of the older me that wished he had done something like that when he was younger. I observed a sense of nostalgic regret, the young zealous explorer inside of him, squeezed out by his adult life, the fulltime job, the family, the other commitments. The painfully poignant look in his childlike eyes reminded me of my journey and the grand importance what I was doing with my time. I convinced myself that I wouldn’t get to a stage in life where I regretted the things that I could of done, but didn’t, instead I would make incredible adventure, and pursue this theme tirelessly and relentlessly for as long as I could. All mindful, and heartfelt decisions have wonderful repercussions. This meeting would prove to be one of the most important in this long, endless journey.
I said goodbye and pushed off again into a whirling headwind reuniting with my saw legs and aching wrists on a highway shared by lorry’s, mopeds and camels pulling carts of people that waved as I cycled past. The English group pass in their taxi moments later, waving out of the back of the window and taking photos. It’s nice to think I’m in their life now, and they’re in mine. Maybe a blurry photo of me exists in their photo album, small against the backdrop of the vast, flat landscape, dust kicking over me and huge grimace on my face as I wave them onto their the rest of their journey.
As I lie down in my tent later that evening, I think again of the group of English people I met earlier that day, as they rush from one city to another, missing out on the intricate beauty I felt so lucky to be experiencing. I think the world is a place to roam slowly, piece by piece, moment by moment, if you travel quickly, you miss out on the real rhythm of a place as it unfolds.
India is a place of paradox, of contradiction, a place of commerce and spirituality, chaos and tranquility. I’m in a small yet busy town in the northern crease of the Himalayas, the emerald river Ganga runs majestically past the hard knees of many towns and it’s devotees. The constant buzz of traffic and squawkers is interrupted with pockets of meditative, hypnotic sounds spilling from the hearts of temples and ashrams. Audible evidence of sacred practice kept alive in these mountains. There are real gurus smoking hash among the Ganga here.
I rest by bike against a tree and down onto the sandy banks of the river. People around seem deep and sentient. The evening breaks out with mantras from the temples and people migrate from the narrow streets down onto the shaws for that final golden, sacred hour. They sit and play music, meditate, give out prayers, contemplate.
To sit alone beside the Ganga in twilight is to experience undisturbed tranquility, a very powerful place and time to be alone. It is a truly peaceful experience that can lead to a sort of inner centering. The river flows as it has done for thousands of years and like it will for thousands more when I have gone. Like many rivers around the world the movement continues with or without me. The transient beauty inspires my sense of time and space, it brings me into appreciation of the joy and power of now in a serene and sedate way. I contemplate where I am in the world and how I got here. What a rich, beautiful opportunity taken with both hands, I feel so grateful to be all the way out here!
I sit in a languid stoop, my tight and strong legs folded underneath me and dive into thought, a deep reflection helped by the flow of the river. I contemplate on where I am in the world and how I got here, the journey so far, the amazing challenge, the daily novelties, the new found enthusiasm for my incredible life on the road. I turn to see monkeys jumping between mossy arms of a pine tree. The first wave of thoughts already wound round the corner of the river, lost forever taking with it soil, debris and ash and along with it, hopes, dreams and gratefulness. Everyone has their spot and time to sit and think on the banks of the Ganga, India’s holiest river, where millions of prayers are dashed out to it everyday, feeding the hearts and mouths of so many millions who devote and depend upon it.
Just like the pace of India, my journey can often be quick, flashing past intricate sections of life, a thousand stories and lives pass by every day; a face behind the trees, a man in tattered suit and hat under a palm, a group of children crossing a bridge holding hands.
All these details and wonderful intricacies of life in India surround me everyday, surrounded by so much noise and activity, beautiful silences in the whirling chaos of India.
They are people in their moment, their own little fragile worlds. I am most fond of these moments, they provide the most wonderful, short lived experience of the real people and moments of the journey, caught in the quick flash of the eye. Just two individuals passing through two different lives, each one so vastly different from the last, our circumstances so different, our cultures so different, our attempts at life, so vastly different.
I filter down through the rough, winding track of a cold forest, and into an old mining town where a few small bazzars selling only chai, omelets and cigarettes are sitting in the constant shadow of the valley.
From above a busy bridge I look over and down on to the banks of a river, its flanked by a surface of ragged rocks on one side and dense, over spilling forest on the other. A woman in a bright orange lungi walks down the steps to the river and lights a candle in a dried coconut husk, there’s a guru smoking in the sun perched on the crumbling lip of a temple balcony. Across the river an old paunched man with his worn body is praying in the water, lifting his hand in the air and bringing them back down to his heart. All the while, rickshaws, and rattling, chocking lorries and buses steam over the bridge and pass by noisily and relentlessly.
Diggers and men with chainsaws smack and saw and rip through metal, stone and wood in a nearby quarry. Life here, eve in the most remote of places is industrious, loud and dirty. A great pall of black smoke rises from the construction area and drifts up and into the arms of the tree-armored cliffs surrounding me. India is so alive and I feel grateful to see it’s ever changing face, and the worldy different lives and intricacies that life within its ancient lands.
Later on that day, while descending rapidly though a stretch of forest in the northern slopes of Himachal Pradesh, I tie together beautiful, smooth sweeping s-bends and lean into the corners, feeling the weight of the bike shift underneath me seamlessly. The sun streaks through the tree line and warms the side of my face, giving it a warm glow. I stop for a moment and enjoy the fingers of amber light breaking through the trees. The trunks are covered with soft moss and alive with the nesting habits of small birds.
I see a movement across the path. An adolescent girl is combing hair on the balcony of a small, stony house on the side of the road. Her back arched slightly, head titled to the side as she brings the mass of wet, black hair into a knot. It's a beautiful site. The wall behind her is turquoise and peeling like old stucco, smudged black with smoke and grease like an old Cuban fresco.
Behind the chaos, the mess and the struggle, India is a place full of beauty, and cycling allows me to capture these beautiful moments as they unfold naturally.
‘Just because you’re curious doesn’t mean that your going to do something that’s valid, but it does motivate you to go out and start looking and trying. We’re all running curious, because in that lies the roots of creation’ North Face
In my zest for solitude I agreed to turn my back on a lot of structural qualities that framed my current life, turn my back on security, comfort, good money, from the arms of assured career success, from predictability, from a life that could of easily been drawn out beyond me in a rigid, horizontal line. Instead I would trade it all in for simplicity, adventure, perspective and curiosity.
I just didn’t see the appeal of working like a mule all week, and getting drunk on the weekend as making the most out of my time.
And by virtue of my escape I would at least, by the bold and feverish surges of excitement that I once felt, experience the wholehearted liberation and impenetrable feeling of freedom I so desperately craved.
When someone is curious there’s often a level of ignorance involved. Being curious will lead you into unknown territory and provide a chance to explore something new, to learn and to grow in strength, experience and wisdom. I would tell people of my plans to cycle the length of India. Many would be buzzing with excitement for me but of course some would ask, ‘Isn’t it dangerous? Where would you sleep? What will you eat? I would always respond naively by remarking that I’ll I have a tent and I can sleep anywhere that I could, on the side of the road or in field, that I have no idea where or what I’ll eat but I’ll eat whatever’s available and deal with any danger in the moment. Some people looked at me with pity on their faces. There’s a definitely a stubbornness involved whatever I do, if someone says something too hard or too dangerous, it simply evokes in me a need to do it more, to prove them wrong and to prove myself that I can and not to be discouraged by other peoples limitations.
Where there’s negativity and doubtfulness around you in whatever you do, there’s always an opportunity to turn it into positive challenge, a character building adventure to be attacked with confidence and enthusiasm.
The crux it seems of curiosity is that we are never satisfied, that once we get a taste for that exciting world outside the boarders of our comfort and knowing, then we get hooked, and the feeling multiplies. Something greater that mere success is created, we shift our ignorance, we enrich our lazy minds, and feed on the milk self-discovery. I thought maybe this long, testing journey would satisfy the constant squeeze of curiosity I was experiencing, would simmer it down to a gentle bubble.
In reality in did the opposite, now the heat has been turned up and waters of adventure-tinged inquiry are over spilling. Now every map I look at the blueprint plot for an exciting new story, I imagine myself far fetch places across the globe, I point at random and think to myself what would it be like there, what stories would I have from cycling or walking through that country, or that mountain range or that incredibly long coastline. Extreme distances become playful thoughts to juggle with, what would it be like to walk the length of Russia, cycle the length of Africa or kayak around the Greenland? My whole attitude becomes stimulated with provocative quests and new experiences. Curiosity doesn’t just rest in the search for hardcore global exploration, it spills over into the mind of an individual, curiosity, adventure, it’s an attitude.
Dark, muscular women carrying mountains of wood on their heads walk with downcast eyes along blisteringly hot roads. Their faces are barely visible under their saris and they turn to look at me as I cycle past. Their pink, spiral motif saris revealing small slices of their waists that ripples with the weight. Small children shadow them dragging bundles of sticks along the floor.
On either side of the road I see the real India. There are small thatched dwellings with pink walls cracked from the heat, mangles chewing on storks of sugar cane, goats tied by the neck to a mound of bricks, donkeys scratching their heads against ploughs, women sculpting cow dung into flat circular disks and laying them down in rows on on the floor. There are pools of stagnant water, waste and garbage festering on the roadside and slender white egrets perch on the rough hind of buffalo, nose ringed and chewing methodically in the sun.
As I cycled past bystanders they stopped and stared in amazement. Some open mouthed and baffled, some shout something inconceivable and point. But it was the children who went crazy as the sight of me peddling through their town. Through almost very village they would run or turn round on the bicycles and chase me, screaming and laughing giddily, ‘hello sir, hello, hello, hello!’ continuing to chase until their legs could go no further. Whenever I would pass a school and the children would be having an outside class and they would see me over the wall outlining their playground, it would only take one to turn and point and the whole class would run up and spill onto the road waving and shouting.
I alleviate some back pain by resting my palms in the centre of the handlebars, (there’s only three positions which I’m restricted to for 6 months) I view my surroundings from a slightly altered angle, below average eye level and look out into the open mist of palm groves and mustard fields that stretch on as far as the eye can see. Occasionally I can make out the small roaming, bent-back figures of farmers deep amongst the shrub, they have no idea that I’m passing through their remote town unaccustomed to any foreign appearance.
The air is perfumed with a thousands different smells. Every few kilometers brings with it new intoxicating smells. Roasting sugar cane (it has a strikingly similar smell to Heinz tomato soup) the hind of cattle, goats, horse, pig, buffalo, camels, burning wood, rusting metal, diesel fumes, coal smoke and beedies. I breathe in India and her immensely fragrant body…
‘Your too young to be panning memories Adam, you should be making new ones so that the mining will be richer when you come of age’
– J. Stenbeck
We’re always being told to make the most out of our youth. To do these things ‘while you're young and you’ve got the time.’ To live life fully before the looming cloud of adulthood and responsibility kicks in. What does this mean, and surely, how can we know before it’s too late? Everyone is different in this vision. Some see a two month trip to South East Asia, all beach parties, vodka buckets and iconic land marks as making the most of things, of squeezing in some travel, some freedom before they commit their life to something or someone else, ‘you can carry on with life now, you’ve done it, now get back to work!’. Some people I have spoken to are already in the mindset, before they’ve even left their home country, that their short trip will be a mere tick on the ‘To do’ list, something to say that they’ve completed only to move on with the list, with their goal orientated life. Yes, they’ll enjoy it and have fond memories but this is where it will end. Of course I aim to make the most out of my youth, but I don’t do so in order to pinpoint the highlights of a life lived with the sort of freedom only associated with the chapters of my younger years, nor do I do it in a way to define who I am, I simply part of the growth. There’s no goal orientation with it, there’s no overall objective, it’s simply an embraced essence of life that I couldn’t live in any other way, and with this comes the flooding satisfaction of the thing which I believe we must always listen to and trust the most; the heart. You should do what you believe in. Follow this feeling. Everything else is a lie.
But of course some experiences take me deep into a youthful frenzy, a bubbling realization of the budding life of a young man.
A long, arduous day of cycling in rural Rajasthan. Under the crimson curtain of dusk, shreds of clouds, like stretched cotton flared pink and then burnt out with the last minutes of blazing sunlight.[h1]
Through the hills, I pass bright gardens of lemon grass hemming slate stone houses enveloped in arching palm trees and tenanted by sleeping buffalo. Witnessing more pockets into worlds untouched (uninfected?) by modern civilization, scenes which haven’t changed for hundreds of years and probably wont change that soon either. As I cycled through these small callous patches of life either side of the sinuous track, children run out from nowhere waving and calling out in ecstatic, high pitched yells. I continued to ride into the night with the shuddering light from my phone leading the way.
I relished and beamed a tired smile to myself in the image of what I was doing. I remember this clear sensation of insatiable pride, self satisfaction, a oneness connecting dreams and reality. And yes it was shaping my youth, but defining it was the novelty of what I was doing and the strength that came knowing that I’d found something that fulfilled the thirst and that would only get broader and crave more with age. Pulling hard on the handlebars, heart pounding, breathing heavy through cold night air, working my way towards a hill top as the sky dips ink black and the moon hangs on my left shoulder like a pearl. I cycle on into the darkness, smiling all the way.
Several hours later I look out of a cheap motel window, exhausted, the sound of pigs scuffing through the waste below is the only noise under the moon, that salmon-colored moon, the only familiar object in this totally alien world.
'Although my days have a routine, the experiences along the way are far from predictable, far from ordinary. It’s exciting and nerve-racking, at times disappointing and shocking, at times delightful and bewildering. Moving through life this way is feast for the open mind and a satisfying squeeze for the soul of spontaneity. I love waking up and not knowing what I’ll encounter and I especially love cycling straight into the warm path of a setting sun without knowing where I’ll sleep tonight; a garden or a ditch, a locals house or a cheap motel.
Somewhere high in the foothills of the Himalayas, the cold gravel summit of a mountain pass provides a perfect place to set up camp for the night. It’s bitterly cold and below the ridge is a thick forrest of evergreen trees, the last nuggets of sunlight clinging in their boughs. The sky is a sheet of pink, orange and blue melting into each other like a water colour in a childs sketchbook.
A single concrete shelter with a goat tied up outside is the only shelter around, several old farmers are mixing rice in a deep copper cooking pot over a wood fire. Deep shadows fall over their body, the wall behind is a black wash with ash from the hundreds of cooking fires. They don’t speak a word of English but I help to stir the rice as we continue to communicate through sign language. The moon rises, the stars reveal themselves. The night is icy black. I stumble outside for some fresh air my legs are tight and sore from the days ride. I climb to the top of nearby ridge and listening to 'Big Hard Sun' by Eddie Vedder, the epic theme tune to the soulful film ‘Into the Wild’, a song wrapped in audacious veils of adventure sononymous with that rich heart of Christopher Mccandles. I started to scream silently at the stars. I felt a gigantic rhythm beeting within me, so high and out there and wild and happy amongst such epic nature. I have travelled far yet my skin and my bones and my head and my heart are right here, right now, a far away crease in the surrounding Nepalese Himalayas, a clear cold night, the warmth from the fire slowly fading down from my fingers and then out of my palm.
On my return to the shelter I notice to the goat is no longer there. Inside now holds a different stench and I notice fatty clumps of meet simmering in the pot. For the rest of the night the men continue to regale me with gestural stories, music and lavish amounts of goat stew smothered in chili and pepper. The heart was particularly chewy. The first swells of morning light break the horizon and start to warm the forests below. The gentle changing light falls on my tent and melts the ice that veiled in during the night. I open the zip and inhale the first fresh breath of the day, the smell of pine and glacial water fills my lungs. I’m tired. I’m happy. The dirt and grime of last nights meat under my fingernails, hair straw dry, thick with ash and the scent of smoke from the fire. My face is patchy and dry until a boiled water wash from the copper cooking pot. As I start to collapse my tent and load my bike I notice the goatskin, hung out in ribbons from a tree for it to dry in the early alpine sun.'
A couple of weeks ago I found myself hurtling down to London after hastily purchasing a ticket for an 'Adventure Gathering' event hosted my one of my idols, Mr Al Humphrey's, a world-cyclist, micro-adventure pioneer, all round adventure Gooroo. I went down there in a pool of cluelessness, not knowing what the event was really about, the layout or who I would meet, purely triggered by colourful buzz words, 'adventure', 'film makers', 'authors', 'community', 'inspire', so I brought a ticket and jumped at the opportunity.
Located at 'Escape the City' HQ, a company whose goal is 'to help talented professionals escape unfulfilling jobs and forge exciting, unconventional career paths.', seemed even more humours and almost mocking to its surroundings as it was, out of all places, in the centre of the banking district. A building full of incessantly energetic and colourful individuals just one floor up from a crowd or grey faced, double chinned bankers heading to the bar opposite the office to tie the evening off with talks of figures and percentages.
The purpose of the event was to help, inspire, advise, and connect adventurers of all ages who were planning adventures big or small (mostly big). And what a WONDERFUL event it was too. It was incredibly refreshing to be communicating with such like minded people. My idea of of cycling around India was a huge one in my mind, but speaking to a lot of people throughout the evening I realised just how small the idea really was in comparison. There was non of the 'sensible' people telling you that it's stupid, or silly or asking you 'shouldn't you been getting a real job', these were exciting, bubbly characters that were fully supportive of everyone's endeavours, you could of told someone that you wanted to cycle round the world on a unicycle with a bucket on your head and they would of been like, 'Hell yes! Why not?! GO FOR IT!'.
I heard someone say once that 'Environment dictates performance' and I believe in in wholeheartedly. With interesting people or role models surrounding you, you'll start to dream bigger, plan bigger and achieve more, more of the 'right' thing and you won't feel so alone in you big, hairy, audacious ideas. So force yourself into an environment with people that can help and inspire you and help you create that momentum to whatever it is you want to achieve, and don't be distracted or swayed by 'respectable' people and their raised bloody eyebrows. Let them continue with their sensible lives and continue with your exciting adventure!
Me and Al and a couple of must reads from the shelfs of 'Escape the City'.