Bridging the Gap

Border-crossing bridge for nationals only between Afghanistan (left) and Tajikistan (right).  June 2019.

It is with some trepidation that I begin writing again. Six months have elapsed since we returned home to the United Kingdom from our bicycle adventure across the world. We travelled some 18,000km and visited 26 counties, spending 16 months, or 487 days, on the road. The adventure was everything we could have possibly hoped for and, of course, so, so much more.

Writing now, our trip doesn’t just feel like a dream, but pure fantasy. The Coronavirus has thrown us all a curveball. I was not ready for this kind of new adventure.  After living side-by-side for those almost-500 days, Olly and I spent three months locked down in different households and, despite only being a day’s ride apart (an hour in the car – more on that mode of transport another time), we respected and adhered to the rules which only collectively followed will enable us all to move forwards.

It was never my intention to stop writing the blog, but a week after returning, I lost the second Tajikistan blog post into which I had really poured my heart. It was like a Horcrux. Losing that blog post, a combination of my technological ineptitude and Google being too smart for its own good, made me really sad and the thought of returning to it and starting again felt impossible. This was such a pivotal part of the trip for us both and I felt that I had done it justice and now that was gone.

After crying for an hour – such a waste of time; such a wasteful loss – Olly and I went to visit his paternal grandparents for the first time since we had returned. They were both so happy to see Olly home and reassured me that all was not lost, the memories remained.  They said they had devoured the blog and insisted that I finished it, however long it took.

And so the next blog post is dedicated to them.

Olly, Hilary and Andrew on the Pont de les Peixateries Velles in Girona.  September 2018.

I originally started writing the second Tajikistan blog post at an Airbnb in Prague whilst we waited for the arrival of my family whom I hadn’t seen since we cycled away from Severn Close fourteen months previously. I was excited and nervous too: I could barely sit still and only managed to write a few opening words in which I remember I reflected upon the concept of “home”. I like to think it was salient stuff. 

Reunited.  The Charles Bridge in the background.  Prague, October 2019.

Even writing in October about our adventure along the Pamir Highway which had taken place in June posed a challenge to my memory. Writing now, I’m casting my mind back a year which is hard to comprehend! We did not heed some of the advice we had been given by fellow, former-adventurers which was to “lay low for a while”. Instead, anxious to start earning again and replenishing our bank balances; keen not to become a burden to anyone; and not wanting to appear lazy or ungrateful, we flung ourselves right back into The Man’s game. “Real-life” recommenced too quickly upon returning: metro-boulot-dodo de nouveau. I did not feel inspired to write; nor did I feel I had the time. I was tired. For other reasons too, though, I didn’t return for so long to my memories. For example, reconnecting with friends and family; trying to embrace the new old-life as wholeheartedly as possible. We only have the present, after all. 

I feel that many find it difficult to know where to start with asking us about our trip too as it was vast, and so we have almost stopped talking about it.  This fact pains me, but I appreciate that starting every single sentence with “on the trip…” can get a bit tiresome.  For a time, I craved recognition for the journey that we had just undertaken and a Warm Showers host in the Netherlands, just a matter of weeks before we returned to England, summed it up brilliantly when he said, “you want to cry from the rooftops, I’M INCREDIBLE, look and listen to what INCREDIBLE THING I have just done”, though admitted that, “rarely do people respond well to that”. Instead, for six months, I have been a bit of an ostrich. My heartfelt thanks to those who continue to ask questions or to humour us as we attempt to recreate bubble milk tea for their delectation. 

Cycling across one of the two huge suspension bridges along The Timber Trail in New Zealand.  January 2019.

Wonderful Kerstin and Jens in Geesthacht, who offered us a Warm Shower on the same night as we sent them a request, asked us, over a delicious dinner in their amazing, new, smart-home, whether we felt we had changed thanks to, or as a result of, the journey. My impulsive reaction was to blurt out, “I bloody well hope so”. Neither I nor Olly had ever declared this adventure to be one of self-discovery. We both had a fairly comprehensive grasp on who we each were: the good, the bad, the ugly and neither of us set out with the intention of fundamentally changing. For sure, I fancied a few upgrades, though I admit, I’m not sure I achieved them.  Regardless, you don’t need to cycle across the world to grow, adapt and change.  Every single day offers an opportunity, it’s surely whether or not you realise it, and then take it if you do.

That said, of course we experienced things that we wouldn’t have if we had remained at home and so I wanted the trip to have made a mark; left a lasting impression for my overall betterment. Inevitably, Kerstin’s second question was, “how?” and I didn’t have anything concrete to offer in return. Olly’s response to the initial question was “no”, he said he felt just the same. He continued by saying that he was sure he probably had changed in some ways, but that it would take being back at home for a time to realise how. That sounded more philosophical than my answer and so I declared that that was how I felt too...

Sitting here now, I don’t know how I feel. There has been no seismic shift. Small fissures though, I think so.

Preparing to take the leap.  The Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 2019.