[I’m using the (Un)Inspired Ramblings Facebook page to post some more regular updates and photos in between main blog posts here. You can find it here.][Caution – this post may contain a small element of over-emotional soul searching. Please don’t read on if you think that will cause you to cry, get angry or harm small animals. I promise that future posts will be much less serious:-)]
I don’t know where, or how it went, or what to do about it. But somehow it went away and hasn’t really come back yet.
The last few months have been both amazing and difficult; something of a very big roller coaster. After all the slow build up of the past couple of years – deciding to stop work, rent out the flat and head away on an open ended trip, came the cliche of all cliches of meeting a girl just as I’m trying to prepare to leave; the surprise of an unexpected connection so close to home. Initially I didn’t understand how this could fit into my plans – I didn’t want a deadline, a limit, a schedule to the trip. They were all the things from which I was trying to escape.
Then came the slow undoing of this rigidity around my plan having no plan, to enable some compromise. This trip never had a stated timetable or aim, because I wanted to be free to slow down, see what happened, who I met, be open to be possibilities. So when should that openness to possibilities start? When I roll off the ferry into France? After a month on the road? Or in the present, once I have taken the steps to stop working and had committed to doing something slightly different?
Soon there was an idea of an adventure shared. The potential for a combined plan, the possible merging of two separate paths. What an amazing feeling. What potential. The opportunities seemed endless. No rules. Anything is possible if you want to make it happen, right?
But all too quickly came the slow and painful realisation that perhaps anything isn’t possible right at this moment. That although the two paths might be headed in similar directions, they may still be a little far apart at this moment in time. The realisation that I must either push ahead with some version of my own plan, or fall back to the life I had started to leave behind – the London commute, 8 hours sat at a desk each day, struggling to fit everything I want to do in the time that remains.
Somehow, all that steeling of myself to go alone, that spark that I have had building for the last couple of years about the long journey, despite the known hardships, seems to have gone. My motivation mostly disappeared, my confidence somehow seemed shot. The thought of travelling and camping alone for weeks on end now seemed like the very poor option. The risk that I would regret leaving someone behind who I have this deep urge to spend time with seemed all too real. Floating around at the same time, came the conflicting feeling that I was making too much of this, that heading away didn’t need to be the final, momentous event I had original envisaged.
I know that I can come back. That its just a bike ride. That when I have let out the flat and started the trip, that the situation will become simpler and clearer, and that I’ll be able to be much more flexible. That I’ll know more about how I feel about being away. That whilst I’m in Europe, there are opportunities to visit. That I need to set off, even if I decide to return after one month, three months, six months. None of this has changed, despite the events of the past few months. There has been much good, well meant advice along these lines, from friends, family, and strangers. It is all true. I have known all this. But still, setting off has felt so much more complicated, even though I know it should not be.
So why have I struggled so much to translate that knowledge into motivation? Am I that weak? Or has this all just highlighted what I might actually be looking for, deep down? Even if this is the case, I’m not sure I understand how it has eroded the motivation for even a shorter journey. Perhaps my friend who, in only slightly less subtle words, essentially asked me, ‘So, are you doing this because you’ve failed to find a wife?’, was correct ;-). Or perhaps this has all just amplified the nerves and doubts that you might expect to accompany the process of purging your life of most of your possessions, renting out your home and hitting the road with no deadline, commitments or real plan.
At the start of the year, I felt like I was wading through treacle, fighting through everything to do with my flat, my parents’ belongings, the events of the past couple of years, in order to get away. Being away was the dream. If you had given me the chance to transplant myself onto a French trail with the bike pointing south and weeks of forest camping ahead without having to do the work to get there, I would have grabbed it with both hands. But over the past few months I have felt that each step that I’ve taken to get to that point has somehow felt wrong. Each action of packing something up, of making arrangements for letting out the flat, has been accompanied by every fibre in my body screaming ‘WHAT ARE YOU DOING?’ at my brain. Being away, alone, somehow now doesn’t feel like the dream anymore. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a strong feeling of having no idea what I’m doing or why as I’ve had over the past couple of months. I’ve just continued to head in the same direction because I couldn’t work out what else to do. And all this time, the looming pressure of the deadline of leaving has made ‘normal’ life a little impossible. I’ve been in limbo, neither suffering at work nor being away and enjoying the trip that I had planned. And despite my efforts to deal with the looming pressure, it has built and built. My efforts to deal with it have in fact, I’m sure, made it worse.
After a little low point a couple of weeks ago, the agreement of a date for tenants moving in has finally kicked me into autopilot. I always did need a real deadline to get focussed. I remember getting books out of the University library weeks in advance of the due date for an essay only to leave them unopened until a few days before the work was due, at which point I would then spend 72 hours manically trying to churn out a piece of work to hand in just an hour before the deadline. The frustrating (or jammy) thing is that this kind of stressful pressure produces my best focus. And despite promising myself that I wouldn’t let this way of working carry on ‘when I grew up’, nearly 20 years later I’m doing exactly the same thing…
The past couple of weeks have been a blur of sorting, throwing away, recycling, donating, freecycling, bed building, flat painting, box moving, friends’ loft using, tip visiting, and bike packing. Finally, it is done. The tenants move into my home today.
So I’m here. I have essentially given myself no choice. I don’t want to go back to my previous work just yet – that would mean the last few months had been in vain, despite the undoubted necessity and benefits of such a life-purge – and I do know that being cooped up in an office for 8 hours a day would make me yearn to be away (I at least remember vividly how awful being back in the office felt after a couple of weeks riding through northern Spain last year). And I can’t stay living in limbo in London, spending money without earning it. So the flat is let out. Most of my belongings have been sold, given away or recycled. A minimum is left in boxes at various friends and family (thank-you, all of you, for your help, motivation and physical space!). The remainder of my stuff is here:
Hopefully nothing important has been missed. My head has been so focussed on the flat for the past month or so that I’ve barely thought about the gear for the trip. Hopefully, my obsessing over it for the previous 18 months will prove worthwhile, although it seems that I didn’t do quite enough obsessing over weight – this thing feels heavy and will need to go on a little diet over the next week or two!
I don’t really know what the long term plan is, and maybe thats ok. The original idea in my head was to head East and keep going, although I became distracted by wanting to spend more time in Spain and avoid winter in eastern Europe / central Asia. I’m also really drawn to South America, largely down to the impressive tales of Cass and Mike. At the moment though, I simply can’t picture next year at all, so I’m just not going to think about it for a while. Perhaps I will keep going, or perhaps this is just Phase I and I’ll end up back in London for a while before starting Phase II, whatever that might be. It’s good to have options.
But for the next few months I’ll simply head off-road through France, Spain and hopefully Morocco, initially using the network of Grand Randonnee (GR) trails that weave across Europe. From Caen, I’ll head South along GR routes to Clermont-Ferrand where I’ll pick up the Grand Traverse du Massif Central mountain bike route which will take me to the Mediterranean. From there I’ll turn right and head for Spain, traversing the length of the Spanish Pyrenean foothills and then heading along the North coast before turning South again. Depending on how long I spend exploring Spain, I may make it to Morocco for a while before coming back to the UK for a planned Christmas visit to my Grandmother. Thats the current plan anyway, but as we all know, a plan never survives contact.
Now I just have to have faith in what everyone has told me: that all the rest will sort itself out. I’m sure the motivation will return once I’m properly underway. In the meantime, I’d better get on my bike – I have a date in Montpellier in a few weeks time ;-).