Sitting around in Kathmandu. Visa anxiety. Long overdue route consideration. Self doubt. Questions about life choices and personal identity.
Endless opportunity for contemplating the long journey to reach here, the people I have met, the places I have seen, the methods of transport employed and realising that the easiest part of the journey is actually the cycling! It’s a hilarious realisation because for the majority of people who question me about bike travel this is (understandably) their main focus of stress. Am I fit enough? Can I cope with that amount of cycling? Anyhow after these thoughts subsides another, more insidious and problematic for me right now … am I actually still a cyclist? What does that mean to me?
The distance travelled to arrive at this point in geography and in time has been by bicycle more than any other mode of transport but does this carries emotional weight and anxiety in a forward thinking way since I haven’t travelled by bicycle beyond the immediacy of the local shops in my neighbourhood (be they in Nepal or Thailand) for the past 4 months.
And prior to that the distances travelled (theough Nepal in the rainy season) had been slow and extremely unsteady. I had (and sometimes still) spent too long identifying myself as a sick person. True, the toll on my body and my psyche had been tremendous but retraumatising myself by ruminating on the past was creating additional problems and had (has) become a habit to keep myself within ‘safe’ boundaries or rather just limiting myself.
I guess what I am trying to process is … do I really still buy into the lifestyle of the cycle tourer? Does this method of travel still spark my imagination and light the sort of fire in my belly (that joke is on me!) which will propel me up dirt track Passes, carrying enough food and water for an indeterminate number of days out of sight of habitation, amenities and the (potential) solace and safety of others? Do I really want to spend more of my life, predominantly alone, doing this?
I believe so but recent sickness has led me to reassess the capacity of my body, my mortality and therefore how I spend the time allotted to me. So the jury is still out and will I believe remain out until I have a couple of 100 kms tucked into the waistband of my newly replaced, ready-to-be sweat soaked, travelling trousers.
I still believe that the process of travelling by bike is the best way to travel the world, that the opportunities for interactions with local people/all people and the immediacy of access to the flora and fauna of any given region is unparalleled.
That bicycle travel is the most environmentally sustainable, gives people a level playing field within which to relate, is cost effective and is a means of maintaining a positive level of psychological and physical fitness and flexibility, from wherever you start.
It has also given me a place to practise mindfulness of the present moment and to see the world through a more conscious mind. Note the use of the word ‘practise’! It certainly isn’t an easy one for me but when my body is engaged in an activity like cycling (or dance or Tai Chi) my mind finds it easier to settle into a more conscious rythmn.
Anyway back to ‘now’ … these are only ideas, only concepts until they become worked through in the reality of any given situation.
I guess the bottom line for me is that I have become ‘lazy’ and (again) used to a level of comfort that does not translate to the lifestyle of the grubby, semi-ascetic transcontinental cyclist (which I previously identified with). Life with daily access to filter coffee, a plentiful supply of water – both hot and cold, a warm bed, personal safety (of the level which means I don’t even usually consider it), shops providing a boggling variety of food and access to (basic levels of) company as and when I want it.
All these aspects, which were previously not taken for granted, have returned to being the norm and I am uncertain, after such a long period of sickness and recuperation, whether I have the resources to adapt again to that voluntary ‘have not’ lifestyle.
Mentally I play with the concepts as I wait for an indicator (India visa shaped) which will determine my ongoing route and which will herald the start of a new phase of this journey.
How I identify is up to me and whether I continue in this manner will be determined in the not-to-distant future!
In my head I hold a memory of my tent set up on a far away piece of Plateau in Mongolia, in the midst of a herd of camels, after the stresses of the previous days … because, for me, travel by bike always holds the spectrum of the mind-blowingly amazing through to the heart wrenching catastrophic. Containing extremes is at the heart of touring.
One day major theft and the next the opportunity to dance my heart out, alone except for the company of camels who have come to join me for breakfast. The space for magical moments as well as the tough times …
And it is being out of practise with the psychological and physical elements of endurance, through the tough times and into the magic, that will pose the biggest issue I think.
Back to the need for focus.
Back to just pushing through!
Back to …
One pedal, One pedal …
And the consciousness of the magic in every moment.