February 17th marked one year on the road since leaving London on that glorious late winter morning. One year, 24,000km, two passports, seven chains, six sets of tyres, three saddles, four pairs of shorts, I don’t know how many punctures, and somewhere approaching twice my bodyweight in Snickers bars. This was what I looked like back then, all my gear nice and shiny, bags still waterproof, way too much luggage, and not much of a clue. Fitness was only so-so, and I was nice and pasty white from an English winter. At that point I still hadn’t really worked out how I was going to cross France. although I thought I knew what my route across Central Asia would be.
And this is what I look like now. Third from the right, in case you couldn’t work it out. Tanned, fit, carrying far less gear than when I started – but still too much. Surprisingly my bodyweight hasn’t really changed much, only a few kg down. Around about 78-79kg now, I was only a little over 80 when I started. But what has changed? Well, I’m a bit older, and better at reading maps I suppose. I don’t worry too much about exactly where I’m going to end up each day, as I’ve found that things always seem to work out OK.
I still don’t plan too far ahead – I have a rough idea of where I’m going, but I don’t worry too much about the specifics. Just look at the event horizon – worry about the most immediate concerns, if you think too far ahead it all just seems too much. I’ve had a lot of time to think, but that doesn’t make mean I’m any wiser. Maybe I have sorted out a few things in my head, but it doesn’t mean I’m any sort of new age guru, so don’t bother asking for advice. I’ll leave that sort of thing for Jan “Mystic” Slatter. All I’ll say is don’t be afraid of change, accept things, it makes life much easier.
How hard was it? Harder or easier than I thought it would be? Not really sure. At times it was damn hard, especially on long hot dull days in the desert, when you’re trying to eat up the miles. It’s easy to kill time, but only riding kills distance. Or so Al Humphreys says, and he would know. It’s tough when you’re sick, and lying in a scummy hotel room, hoping to get better, so you can get back on the road, and feel the wind in your hair again.
But then at other times it’s all too easy. People are by and large friendly and helpful, and when you’re on a bike, people tend to feel sorry for you, and want to help you, give you directions, food, water, vodka, a bed. You’ll be stuck in some town trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your language and getting nowhere – and so they go running off and find the one person in town who does speak your language, or at least another one that you know. How many people in English-speaking countries would go to the effort of trying to find a Chinese speaker? How many people in small-town New Zealand would even speak Hungarian?
I have met many interesting people on this trip, some of them in the real world, others I only know via email. You have all brightened my life in some way, and for that I thank you. Messages from friends and family do make a difference, when you’re feeling a long way from home, and the support means a lot to me. Sometimes it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in this, and forget that everyone out there has their own challenges and difficulties too. I might not always find the time to send messages to people, but trust me, you are in my thoughts frequently.
I’m about to cross into Malaysia, and from there head to Singapore, and the last big leg, Australia. I should make it to NZ in three months or so, insh’allah. Will that be the end? I’m not sure. Perhaps it will be, or maybe it will just be a break, before heading off to do something else. Or will I settle down and do the house/dog/white picket fence thing? We’ll see.