“There’s nothing to writing, all you have to do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed” – Earnest Hemingway I was thrown back into a different world, it was as if the floors of my room dropped beneath my cold feat as the music formed high screens surrounding me, suspending me in the projection of a clear, animated memory. I was transported. I felt the wind at my shins, the sun warming my cheeks, the sticky line of sweat on my brow beneath my sun bleached cap. I saw spring giggle and glow from fields and great green pastures hemmed by thick, wiring hills. I remember the evening approaching, burnished, changing colours falling on a matt-haired boy looking around in amazement, lost in the splendour and novelty of it all as the sky started demanding purple and pink of it’s younger, white-marble clouds. As the music poured from the speakers in my room, it felt like I was actually there in totality, riding on that warm, winding road, with the gentle fibrous pressure from the thighs strengthening with each rotation and lengthening my bewildered, curious, inquiry to discover this remote world. So remote yet so familiar, just like moon appeared later that evening , blinding white refulgence, Van-Gough night sky, which brought forward the outline of surrounding hills, and in fact the world in a smokey blue-silver haze.
The music was drowned out by my rapidly regained subconscious, and almost as quickly as I was on the saddle, I was on my office chair. Back to earth with a thump. I looked at myself in a small mirror to my right, and tried to see the world behind behind my eyes, all twenty one countries, all 7,000 miles over seven months, but it wasn’t all there, only diamond like fragments on a black sky of muddled memory. I can count on one hand how many months ago that evening was, prior to where I am typing this letter, yet it feels like a lifetime ago. Whatsmore, that person who I identify with, doesn’t quite feel like me. Strange to think, no?
Is it a case of where you are dictates how you are, or does it lean more towards, how are you, dictates where you are, in your mind? Food for thought at least, plenty for me to feast upon anyway, and right now my appetite is soaring high as I eat a hob-nob and type with o-n-e f-i-n-g-e-r.
I arrived back in England with Gastroenteritis, an intense form of dehydration, symptoms include crippling stomach and kidney pains, and a rapid weight loss due to the unearthly amount of liquid that comes out of your bowels. I dropped from 70 to 60kg in less than a week (hence my devotion to hob-nobs) and found that coming home wasn’t the smooth sailing that i’d hope for.
After a few weeks though, I was back on my feet, I ran for the first time in eight months and spent a few more days lounging retracing the nooks and crannies of the house which I had grown up in all my life but which now felt highly unfamiliar, and buried my head in a few books. The one thing I wasn’t reflecting on was the huge two-wheeled odyssey I’d just endured, and it seemed really odd that I wasn’t doing just that.
When I returned from my first tour across India I was practically spewing with enthusiastic stories of life on the open road regaling to all that asked and didn’t ask about life changing accomplishment and self-discovery. So why did things feel so different. I can only compare this unprecedented feeling to being unplugged from a certain electric housing; a dormant plug lying on the floor, completely removed from the notion or memory of a thriving electric current that pulsated through it not long before. There was an element of worry straight away, for fear of it not being the ‘way things should have been’ , or to pollute some idealism that I would come back in the form of that younger, bright eyed traveller fresh from India for the first time. There was more at work here though, and I felt that I was floating in a suspended wave of something, something I couldn’t quite put a finger on, holding me there, motionless, tense, imminent.
I carried on as best I could, still feeling quite clueless and unsure about it, buoyant in a sort of limbo, trying to keep my head up and crack on with things as normal. I started applying for jobs, seeing a few friends after isolating myself for nearly two weeks, and started eat healthy, nutritious food. When friends would speak I would find myself looking straight through them, onto a silent mirror of myself. Something was in suspence, a tangible wave in my chest.
And soon enough, one sunny afternoon, that wave rolled, roared and crashed. It felt like a cancerous pall of smoke rising through my body, a liquid seeping into my blood, a stomach of tin and slate knotted and crushed, that increasing, tense wave suddenly crashed with all the force in the world. I was flooded with an overwhelming and inconsolable sadness that had no title, no clear identification, just a gut wrenching feeling that pinned the very core of me to the deepest ocean bed of my being. I felt totally lost, empty, vacant. I had never experienced anything like it. What was it and why?
Being back home, in the place and from the world which I left behind, the reality had at last caught up with me. This was the land I left behind, it was the home of a blossoming relationship, where the girl I fell in love with lived, lives and now loves another. This trip was nothing like I had expected. I had hurt on this trip, as a result of what I call a beautiful sacrifice. I created wounds that I thought I was protecting, preventing. This trip was long, tough, gritty and I experienced all too much in abundance, I forced my young, centred self into a world of struggle and extreme challenge, and for what? For a stubborn and moscocistic idealist who was blind to everything else in his periphery; relationships, jobs, money, friends, community. How did the seed of a simple idea take me so far away from the person that I was, from the world I was familiar and comfortable with. How did it get to this point?
My mindset was totally in the wrong place and I was looking at all the negatives. I had no money to my name, no job, no girlfriend. I had the world of a thousand sunsets under my skin, the rhythm of changing seasons in my blood, the sort of freedom that one acquires by being totally unshackled and moving through the physical earth on two wheels powered by nothing but pure desire and porridge, and yet, I felt utterly depressed, anxious, stranded, lonely. It left a harsh aftertaste in my mouth, a corrosive film on my stomach,
Thinking of this only made things worse. I was annoyed at myself for feeling so sad and lost, as I buried my head in my hands in waves of crushing anxiety attacks. I knew the world that I was living in, I knew how to survive, thrive, I understood that simple world, I felt comfortable in that, I know who I was and how to live in it. This world is abjectly different. I quickly felt that I had absolutely no idea what I was doing here. I didn’t know how I was going to fit in again, how would I make money, what job will I get, am I even qualified for anything, who will offer me a job, how will it feel to live in England again? I’m just a vagabond on a bike that’s been roaming around the world for most of his adult life.
I started to kicked myself for not staying with my partner, and that world that came with it; good people, security, a great job, community, a space and place to grow with someone that I adored. I hadn’t been in a stable or long term relationship for four years because of my restless legs and itchy feet syndrome.
Everyone around me it seemed was either in a committed relationship, with a good job, a mortgage and a pretty good or at least clear idea of what they were going to do with their lives. This time around these things started to bother me. But it was all false, artificial mental niggles, jumping between an unconditioned world to a conditioned one, a sort of flushing egoic panic of comparison and over thinking that can only be associated with an unhealthy form of mental-masterbation. I figured that it was an emotional knee-jurk reaction to coming back home from life on the open road, a sort of extreme case of the travel blues that hit me like a ton of bricks.
* Jumping back in time a little, I was perched on an little embroided cushion on the floor of a hillside café in the smokey hills of upper Dharamsala, north India, home to his holiness the Dalai Lama and his exiled people. It had been raining all day and it played a continuous chorus of music on the tiled and slate rooftops like paper clips falling on thin sheets of metal. I dropped two cubes of sugar in my chai and started to chat to my neighbour, a local man with jet black hair, soft pudgy cheeks and a wobbly hung chin. “Ba-ha-rat” he said, wobbling his head side to side, “Bharat”, is the original name of what now call 'India' and links back to Persian times. It’s three distinctions run down an ancient thread to three root nouns: Sensation, rhythm, and tuning, “this is the original name of our country, this is its meaning”. I’ve thought about that definition a lot recently and just how powerful that triplet is when it’s applied to our own lives. When unbalanced, out of tune, discordant and flat, it effects the whole equation, does it make it wrong or incomplete though?
John Keats said that “Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced”. It’s not until these imbalances that we can effectively take from them what we need to in order to move forward, toughened, gilded by life’s lessons and emerge forged and embellished to become the brilliant you that you are today. Not until this experience can we balance the tuning, with the right rhythm and the joyous sensation. Your own tuning cannot be forced. What we experience, we experience for a reason, listen to whats being said, don’t impose a tune or any noise over it, that will never work, and the lesson will only be learnt when you’ve received all you need from that present situation, only then can you move forward and know.
* Having touched on such gloomy thoughts, it’s important to know these were just fleeting feelings from my first month back home, from a weak, head spinning and climactic fall from the heavenly gardens of an adventure soaked life of a world traveller. The power, poetry and positive effect that’s come from this trip has slowly started to show through the seems, illuminating everything, leaving a sediment of peace in my heart, a soft glow to my bones, a glimmer in the eyes. I did what I set out to do a long time ago. I fulfilled a 7,000 mile cycling trip across half the world, but it wasn’t about the goal, it was and always has been about the process.
I know now, in the rawest way, how it feels to be truly alive in this world, on this earth, in this remote spec of dust floating somewhere in the universe. To be alive? An evident awareness from our inborn senses surely? This is a different type of awareness of the word alive however; physically, geographically, and in an infinite, majestic sense of time and space. The noun ‘alive’ come from the latin vita, ‘life’, the source of which comes from an ancient word meaning to ‘tremble’.
I’ve gained an invaluable sense of perspective that very few in this life will ever experience and let me tell you, ten seconds of that raw experience, both in real time and in reflection, is worth more that an entire life lived without it. I conquered my Everest and braved the unknown world with hearty stoicism.
I know how it feels to be sitting on some high window ledge on a warm evening in Istanbul, in a cheap hostel, to the chorus of car horns and bats squeaking amongst the mosque preyers, unique smells drifting up my nose, half way around the world with no idea where I'm going but able to ride east with the wind at my back and new world embroided with a thousand sunsets just waiting to be discovered. I know how it feels to warm cold hands over a crackling fire in a world of snow, with a belly full of warm rice, overlooking a deep purple river and peering at the blurry lights of a cosy little austrian village through the trees, blue smoke piping from chimneys, where no one knows where I am. I know how it feels to stand in silence watching the stout outlines of Yaks moving slowly down the black mountain slopes somewhere on the high planes of central asia, to be utterly aw struck at a giant, iridescent moon hovering over me, illuminating a crown of mountains and an alpine plateau of crystallised rocks and minerals that glisten under foot like an endless black quilt stitched with diamonds.
No responsibility, no waste of energy, no false commitments, just simply being. Allowing time, space and opportunity to test myself in this world in the most primitive, self-governed way, under my own terms, and being the sole benefiter of my failures and successes. To be alive, to softly tremble, echoing new and vital life as it pulsated through you, like a silent cloud that never evaporates, full of thunder, full of rain, and full of sun.
So, whats next? A few lessons from the horses mouth that I can maybe offer. Firstly, whatever you leave behind, it is always in exchange for something more, I cannot stress this enough. That beautiful sacrifice I mentioned. Secondly, forget comparison, competition, and relationships that limit you. Relationships are hard, love is a powerful and painful thing, but becomes dangerous when attached, trust me on this one, I learnt the hard way. Khalil Gubran said, ‘let your love be like open water between the two shores of your souls”. Honour the space in between. If it works out then it’s mean to be, if not, you’re preparing for someone that honours the courage and bravery you exhibit to fulfil your dreams and supports you fully. Respect and honour yourself for the decisions you make. Finally, no half measures. Drive a stake into the ground that will act as a benchmark for the rest of your life. Don’t lie down and “see what happens”, take bold actions, make radical changes in your life, and climb your personal Everest. Nothing will ever be the same, I promise. More so, I dare you!
The sun bleeds through the wall of conifers behind my house and I look through the window at the slowly rolling clouds turning amber in the autumn light. The music starts playing again, I’m drawn out into suspended memory, I feel my chest warm and the wind in my hair, I see a stretch of desert in Kazakhstan and an epic twisted sky of melted gold, flaring pink and splashes of purple, I can smell the sand, the flat road stretches out and arches over the horizon, the heavy silence is only interrupted by the distant wails of camels, and I am lost once again, a constant smile radiating from my face as the last fingers of sun play over my closed eyelids.