Guybrush: I'm on a whole new adventure.
Bart: Growing a mustache?
Guybrush: No. Bigger than that.
Bart: A beard?!?
Guybrush: No. Bigger than that.
Bart: A beard?!?
It’s rare to sit back, cup of tea in hand and realise that the dreams, planning and effort of the last 5 years have brought you to a place and time where everything has paid off. Curiously that place is exactly the same spot where I was 11 months ago, in the kitchen in a house in Tunstall in North Yorkshire.
The trip of a lifetime is over, and people are fond of saying ‘it must be tough adjusting back to a normal life’. Initially, as you’re setting the alarm cock for 7am to get up for work you think yeah, it is, but importantly I have no emotion or regret for the trip being over. I made a dream come true, something a good number of people will struggle to achieve in a lifetime, and there is nothing whatsoever to regret about that. Life for 11 months was awesome, not always easy or particularly fun at times, but always interesting and if for the years ahead I can put as much effort and enthusiasm in, it will continue to be good. I now have new plans which are backed up with the confidence and experience from knowing that if you want something enough, you can make it happen.
There's plenty of stuff in my thoughts that I'm looking forward to cracking on with. And, oddly, I'm looking forward to actually doing some work. Real work. For money. Life will continue, with thousands of photos and videos to treasure, friends across the world to keep in touch with and a smile on my face.
As Terry Pratchett recently said, “peoples whole lives do pass in front of their eyes before they die. The process is called ‘living’”. Looking back over all the living I’ve done recently I get a bit misty-eyed thinking about it all, and images go through my mind with a melancholy Stereophonics soundtrack.
Leaving Tunstall and taking the Chanel Tunnel to Europe and beyond, riding through an abandoned school building, meeting some of the friendliest Poles you could ever hope to at a family BBQ, climbing Mt. Triglav in Slovenia, riding the Alps and Stelvio Pass, late nights with Martin Peterca in Ljubljana, crazy nights in Croatia, riding the Transfagarasan highway – Top Gear’s current ‘greatest road in the world’, swapping stories with other round the world bikers in Istanbul, a birthday ride out and BBQ with a group of new friends, bizarre rock landscapes of Cappadocia; Sensory overload on arriving in India, seeing the Taj Mahal appear when riding into Agra, the manic atmosphere at the India v England cricket match in Mohali and the beautifully decorated boats at Nainital.
|The big day - leaving Tunstall|
|BBQ with Kaja's family in Poland|
|Martin Peterca - former speedway rider, current all round great guy|
|Party time in Croatia with old friends Klara, Tina & Katka|
|Italian biker Michele - met in Greece|
|With Brummies at the cricket in Mohali|
Casually riding past elephants plodding up the roadside in Nepal, hiking through fresh snow to Annapurna Base Camp, riding through the back streets of Kathmandu on the back of Suraj’s scooter, dancing with strangers at a Nepalese wedding, meeting random strangers in Busy Bees cafe every night for a week in Pohara. And New Zealand, from top to bottom, east to west, motorcycling heaven, beauty and friendliness beyond anything I’d ever expected.
|Having reached Annapurna Base Camp |
|Team Orange - riding as two changed my trip|
|Happy times with Sara and Suraj at Eagle Export|
At times my blog has descended into a moaning and wining section which doesn’t tell the whole story, or at least a balanced one. Most travel writing is retrospective, books are written long after the events have taken place. The writer puts ‘problems’ into context with all that has happened. Writing a blog on the go sometimes means it can be difficult to divorce the good from the bad, genuine problems from ‘what if’ scenarios that are on your mind. I don’t often re-read my blog because I groan at trying to write things above the level I can deal with, but after all is said and done, you remember the hard days and the felling of having got though it and onto better things fondly.
Having only been back for a few weeks though, knowing the ending to the story, makes looking back all the sweeter. My bike, bought from one careful lady owner (who had clearly bought it from a succession of several suicidally reckless ones) made it more or less in one piece. The bodywork is ready to fall off like a comical clown’s car, but the engine goes when you press the starter button, every time, despite running off irregular batteries, being run almost dry of oil and generally being dropped, battered, boiled and mistreated.
The early part of the trip was a riot, across Europe to Croatia was easy enough, catching up with old friends and making new ones through couch surfing and random chance. Things became less familiar and more challenging as the road headed through Eastern Europe, adding capital cities like Bucharest and Sofia to the list of tricky places I rode through. Turkey came as a complete surprise which apart from the mad traffic into Istanbul was all pleasant.
For me it was in Turkey, India and Nepal that the trip really came alive. At times they weren’t easy, with extreme temperatures, sickening pollution and deathly traffic. There was great poverty in India with kids from babies to teens eking a living begging under bridges and living off marginal land. I know this because I regularly saw it through the visor of my £200 Nolan helmet. These are also the places you’ll see some of the most beautiful sights in the world, man-made in the Taj Mahal and natural in the Himalayas. When you enter Nepal and first see the Annapurna range, you find a moment to rest and say ‘holy shit, I’m really doing this’.
You realise travel is sensual, lines on a map you were looking at pre-departure change entirely. The 73 from Darfield to Greymouth becomes the awesome mountainous glacial scenery of Arthur’s Pass, the little wiggly line from Mut to Ermenek becomes one of the freest flowing fun motorcycling roads through sun-backed Turkish mountains and the H10 brings you to Snow View, many people’s first sight of Annapurna and Everest.
You can balance that against minor set-backs where a Lonely Planet will promise “strolling around the streets will spirit you into the past." It doesn't say whereabouts in the past exactly. Sometimes, the world seems stuck in summer 2008, where Coca Cola umbrellas adorn tables outside cafes, there’s a HSBC bank around the corner, and every other shop sells souvenirs. On the whole though, there aren’t many places that make me regret my route. The only huge disappointment was paperwork based because India’s ‘no return in 2 months’ rule meant I couldn’t get to Bangladesh to see the ship breaking yards which offer some of the best photographic opportunities anywhere on the planet.
I do now feel qualified to use the golden phrase ‘when I was in’, pronounced ‘whenIwasin’. Four words that sound like one word, that comes out of the mouth of someone with tedious frequency when they've recently been travelling. I say it a lot. With pride too.
What’s the last thing to write about this trip? There can be only one, long, long, list. I’ve hung out with some great people over the 11 months. For making my trip everything it was, thank you to these and many more besides; Mum, Dad, Pete, Stacey, Freya, Allen, Kate, Mike, Ashley, Ady, Mike and Charlotte for the send off; Steve & Jo, Lien, Wendy, Kaja, Marcin, Wojtek & family, Asia, Wolfgang, Maude and Radi for being great couch-surfing hosts, ambassadors and much more besides; The Peterca’s for making Slovenia my favourite place in the world and always having an open door, and the late, late nights; Klara & Ibo, Tina & Katka for bringing some glamour and lots of Jaegermeister to Croatia, Corina, Michele and Luiga for ganging up to tackle Istanbul together, The Istanbul Bikers Club for friendliness and practical help way beyond the call of duty including a birthday ride out – Mehmet, Adil, Apo and Taylan; Everyone at home for the birthday video! Fellow round the world bikers Harry and Roland; Ashwani and Praveen for their kindness of complete strangers that still touches me more than most; Big Tom – Big inspiration and motivation popping up a just the right times, the Brummies at the cricket for a fun filled day to lift the spirits; Asia for making Nepal even more special than it is anyway and proving riding in a pair is far better than alone; Jens, Damon - photographer extraordinate and a hell of a laugh, Suraj and Sara from Eagle Exports for endless food, drink and hassle free shipping in a part of the world where that’s not to be taken for granted; Natalie, Colin and the Lusseys in Auckland for the best welcome to New Zealand, Sebastian at BMW, couch-surfers at the Tongariro Crossing walk; Chrissie, the van Dorresteins; John and Matthias for the single best two weeks on a motorbike and being so easy going for my first time group-riding buddies, Suzi and Allen & Kate for sharing their time in NZ that wrapped up my trip and for the greatest thing of all, for having a hot cup of tea on and a group of friends round as soon as I was off the plane home.
|Too many to mention - bikers in Istanbul's club|
|Ashwani, Praveen & Big Tom|
|On the road then rounding off 2 weeks of awesome riding with Matthias and John|
|Rounding off this trip with Kate & Allen|
Oh, and you! There are a lot of words on this blog because I enjoy writing it because you seem to enjoy, or at least dutifully stick at reading it. To the folks who’ve pushed it over 10,000 page views I have just two things to say, thank you, and get out there yourself, it’s easier and better than you could ever imagine. What this trip has really taught me is that you don’t have to ride eleven months across the world to have your adventure. You can do it in a week, in a weekend, in a day or in an hour. For me the spirit of adventure is just jumping on a bike and riding anywhere. There’s no reason you can’t find or indulge your own thing that brings out that spirit. Bizarre that it’s taken a great long trip for me to realise this.
The bottom line is that even with any physical and mental changes I've undergone in the last 11 months I can't have changed that much because I’d choose to do this all over again given the chance. For now though it’s time to pack away the maps and hang up my travelling boots. There will be cake, warmth, comfortable beds, showers and home.