Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Like a hurricane

After 49 years I should have had life pretty much worked out and been prepared for anything that it could throw at me. Instead it seems I'm less prepared now than when I was a naive teenager. I've spent almost every waking moment of the last 3 years planning and dreaming about spending the next 5 years travelling around the exotic places of the world and leaving behind the temptations and pitfalls of London life. I'd left behind a great job, said a sad goodbye to family and friends and put my thoughts and savings into camping and cycling gear which would protect me against every possible danger and unexpected circumstance. There wasn't an instance I hadn't considered, an action I hadn't thought through. I'd bored everybody senseless with what I was doing and where I was going, and offered a sly smile when colleagues offered best wishes tinged with jealousy. I had it all worked out. The next five years was already written. It would make a great blog, a book maybe, but definitely an adventure of some shape or other.

Then along came a little hurricane that knocked me off my feet. After that came a monsoon which put me upright again. The mountains and valleys weren't breath-taking, just cold and wet. The hardship wasn't romantic, just tiring. The open road wasn't liberating, just restrictive. I'm sadly forced to admit that when the going got tough, I got going - home. Suddenly I didn't want it any longer, not enough anyway. I'd voluntarily turned my life upside down to go travelling and then turned it inside out a month later. But the end-result presents a nicer picture which I couldn't have imagined.

I've upset too many people by leaving and probably disappointed the remainder by returning but it is what it is. My long-planned adventure is over, but there are other adventures. I've come home and started down another sunnier road, and I'm happy to go wherever it turns. Thank you to everybody who offered their support and comments via this rather truncated travel journal. Now I need to get a job.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

I'm reviewing the situation?

Muddy passes, washed out roads and dire warnings from motorists coming the other way have activated my self-preservation setting and I've returned south to Shimla to await the end of this ridiculously extended monsoon season. There isn't much in the way of camping opportunities in the steep-sided Sutlej valley and the mud and rough ground have twice left me on the verge of being stranded miles from accommodation. Twice now, I've found myself panicking for lack of mileage but both times have managed to flag down a local Tata bus that I can dump my bike on and breathe a sigh of relief at being delivered to some mud-spit guest house in a one-dog town I've never heard of at 2am. I reluctantly got the message that this one-way valley road was telling me to turn-around.

Two days of spine-displacing bus rides brought me back to my starting point in Shimla for some reconsideration of my targets. I now cannot get up into the Himalaya's through Leh and Srinagar and out again before winter sets in. Judging by the messed up weather patterns I'm not pinning my hopes on a late 'Indian' summer either. These valleys and mountains will have to wait for another year and I'm despondent at my retreat. But these last couple of nights in Shimla have left me wondering if I'm my life is heading in the same direction as my anticipated tyre tracks. What if this isn't what I want? What if all the planning and dreams and remorseless collecting of equipment has proved for nothing. The moment I consider returning home on a hastily booked flight to consider my options, I know immediately that it's what I'll do. To hell with it.

Within an hour I'm at an internet cafe looking up flight deals. Unfortunately the connection is flaky. Twice I'm scuppered by loss of connection just as I want to confirm. Fortunately after a few texts to my parents they've managed to book me a flight out of here. A quick rush around the back-streets of Shimla searching for string, cardboard and packing tape and straight back to box and pack. I've booked a private cab back to Delhi in the morning. I'm going home for a while. I think I'd better think it out again!

Sunday, 26 August 2012


There have been some very supportive comments about my last post and I'm thankful for them. The routine of cycling each day takes my mind of the disabling homesickness but I can't cycle 24 hours a day and, if I'm honest, I'm in two minds about how or if to continue. The rains haven't eased and the boggy tracks and wet gear just take the edge of any enjoyment to be had. Just need to keep ploughing on for now so I can think rationally about what to do when I'm in a better frame of mind.

I've spent the last few days slowly getting higher into the foothills and am now in Recong Peo. Previously I enjoyed a couple of nights as the guest of a local dignitary, Prakesh Thakur, who kindly hosted me at his luxurious Orchard Retreat high above the Sutlej valley. I was invited there by my friend Tony who kindly sorted me out with a local SIM card and introduced me to his many friends in Thanedar. Back on the road the next couple of days was a different matter and it's been a struggle to get up to Recong Peo. A mixture of some ridiculous hills and some monstrous mud and rain. Really hoping the going gets easier soon or I simply get more used to the tough going. I was intending to spend another night as a guest at another Banjara lodge in the Sangla valley. Unfortunately I left until too late in the day to ascend the high valley path and had to turn back down for fear of being stranded and exhausted in the dark. Instead I took a night bus to Recong Peo where I write this.

One pleasant surprise is the lack of any sort of stomach looseness. I've made a point of eating various varieties of local food without worry and enjoyed some cheap and filling meals at dubious looking roadside Dhaba's. So far no ill effects. In Recong Peo I can get a permit which foreigners need for getting to near to the border before circling back west up to Leh. If the rains persist, I may simply bung my bike on top of a bus and cut out some of the misery.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

The shock of the new

It's wet and misty in Shimla. It took me a long day of uncomfortable bus travel to get me and my bicycle up here from Delhi, but from here I should be able to get on the road into the mountains. I wish I could say that I'm excited and inspired and stuff like that, but mostly I'm shell-shocked, sad and full of tears.

48 hours ago I had a well-paid job and now I'm unemployed; 48 hours ago I had a beautiful girlfriend and now I'm lonely again; 48 hours ago I had friends and work colleagues in an environment I understood and now I'm an alien; 48 hours ago my children were a couple of hours away instead of another continent. I feel utterly out of place and the tearful goodbyes at Heathrow were crushing and too, too memorable. I'm not sure I really know what I'm doing but I hope it gets better soon. Knowing it may be a long time before I return home just emphasises all my feelings of isolation. I think it must take a very strong and determined mind to wander around the world, unsure of where or what tomorrow will bring. Perhaps I haven't appreciated just how much mental toughness is required, and I'm not sure I've got the right stuff. Dreaming is one thing, doing is definitely another!

I know, I know, this is all just the shock of the new and the pining for the comfort of the old. I'm not usually this negative, but it's a lot harder than I imagined to get into the right frame of mind and, at the moment, there's too much time and not enough scenery to stop me dwelling on what I've left behind. However, just writing this blog in a dusty internet cafe on the Shimla Mall (together with power cuts) helps me put things into perspective and feel more positive so please forgive me feeling sorry for myself.

I'm hoping the rains will stop tomorrow and give me a chance to cycle north without a soaking. I'll be heading into the Spiti Valley and somewhere along the way an Australian friend of mine manages a holiday lodge. I might stay for a couple of nights to acclimatise to the altitude before cycling further north to Leh and west to Srinagar. It will be nice to talk to people and feel less out of place. Let's hope so.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Time's up

Time is up. The past 6 weeks have flown by in a tangled blur of emotions, worries and nervous excitement. I completely stopped thinking about the practicalities of my adventure about 2 months ago. There was nothing left to plan, no routes left to trace on the map, no possible opportunities that I hadn’t already considered a hundred times. Instead, I just forgot all about it and left the bike and my gear stored in the spare room ready for the day of departure. Now the day is upon me and, like an electric shock, I’ve suddenly recalled the enormity of what I’m planning to do. But there’s no more time to consider, no more time to worry, just leave work and get to the airport.

I’ve realised that there’s no pressure to do any more or less than I feel comfortable with. The time off from considering all the practicalities has freed me to admit that I may simply return home in 6 months and get a job, or I may wander aimlessly for 5 years. I’ll go as far as I want to, no further. Let’s just see how it goes. Next week: India – I’ll keep you posted.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Only in Australia?

Is it only Australia that has the political will to attempt to safeguard their marine environment with any degree of urgency? - World's largest marine reserve

Other nations seem to be taking their lead from Nero as their territorial waters sicken from increasing pollution, acidification and over-fishing. As deadlines for measures needed to replete fish stocks are missed, the target is simply put back another five years and ministers congratulate themselves on their far-sighted plans. Short-sighted and often ill-managed fishing fleets then race to beam-trawl copious amounts of ever-smaller fish from the global waters while they still can (discarding millions of tonnes of dead by-catch along the way). In the process, sustainable and carefully managed local fleets wake to find their waters fished-out and their prospects scuttled. -
Pitiful progress on oceans

Any delay in the introduction of an expanded global network of well policed marine reserves is bad news. Over 60 million sharks are finned annually, ancient coral reefs are dynamited daily and once healthy coastal waters are constantly deadened by terrestrial pollutants. In five years time our expectations of what healthy, productive oceans can offer us will be significantly lessened. In fifty years time, in the same way that we regard the Amazon rainforest as a beautiful natural ecosystem, we might think it perfectly normal to have to travel to Australia to witness a pristine and beautiful ocean the way that all oceans once looked.

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Bending mettle

Middle-aged people really are the most adventurous it seems. A survey published widely this week has established that 41 is the age when people feel most able to pursue an adventure. Reduced family commitments, increased disposable income and a growing intolerance of work and routine all combine into a perfect storm of opportunity to prove that life really does begin at 40. Sooner or later (mostly later apparently) an astonishing realisation hits you square on the nose – you need to take more out of life and, as Bob Dylan put it, "but for the sky, there are no fences facing".

Where does this long-acquired lust for adventure take the mature risk-takers? An oft-quoted route for adventure is along 'the path less traveled', but a truly remote wilderness is hard to find in a world with 7 billion people and many of the standard 'package' adventures are too sanitised and itinerised to qualify. I've been on a few however, and they do, at least, leave you wanting something more raw. Anything potentially life-threatening, though, might have to be ruled out. But not always.

Perhaps something extreme, with a good dollop of danger but within a regulated package is what draws novice adventurers to the ultimate adventure of climbing Everest. Many of this years intake will have seen more than they bargained for as they carefully stepped around the frozen, dead bodies of fellow climbers (10 this year). The picture in this report: Everest is shocking if you imagine yourself at the back of the line, slowly slushing towards an 8,000m death-zone. It's not my idea of adventure. It doesn't even look like climbing. It's certainly foolish.

Nevertheless, a need for adventure is an instinct that, once recognised, demands resolution for good or ill. Middle age brings the experience, the life-skills and the desire to put ourselves up for judgement. It bends our mettle.

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”
Chris McCandless

PS: Some astonishing statistics are quoted in the survey conducted by Discovery Channel: 42% of people claim never to have attempted an adventurous activity and 14% of 18-24-year-olds thought virtual world gaming was an adventurous activity. I'd claim that gap years are wasted on the young.