We’ve all dreamed of quitting our jobs and riding around the world but for many of us, it remains an elusive dream, continually dashed by mortgage payments, pension planning and the prospect of exorbitant college funds for the kids. I’ve decided to push all that to one side for a couple of years, hit the road and worry about it when I return. As I prepare for the longest journey of my life, I wonder whether an armchair traveller can become a true overlander…
Ill-prepared is a phrase that springs to mind. I remember a feature I wrote for Bike magazine back in 1997 when a young Simon Pavey was preparing to enter his first Dakar Rally. He was pictured in a rather scary pair of underpants, looking a tad overweight and slightly confused. The caption read something like ‘Simon’s our rider – and so far he’s got no bike, no riding gear, no mechanics, and from the look of him, he’s not been training very hard either’. Well, that’s exactly how I feel right now.
Coincidentally, as it stands I’m still trying to sort out the bike. And riding gear and camping equipment, come to that. There’s no turning back though. I’ve handed in my notice at work and told too many people in the pub what an incredible journey I’m about to embark upon (my words not theirs). I’ve sipped my pint, looked friends in the eye and genuinely said things like “it’s not a question of how can I afford to do it, it’s more a question of how can I afford not to…” Twat.
If you want the truth, I’m nervous as hell. On a good day (and in front of my kids) I laugh in the face of danger, even if it’s only perceived danger. How hard can it be to ride around the world? You just pack up the bike, point it in an easterly direction and keep going. Buy now, pay later, live a life less ordinary and then dine out on the memories – and clichés – when you return?
So, here’s the loose plan. I love riding bikes and enjoy running marathons, so I’m going to try and combine these two passions by riding around the world and competing in seven marathons on seven continents. No records, no heroics, it just breaks the journey up into manageable chunks that makes it seem somehow less daunting to me. I’m a nervous rider and a fairly average runner, but this trip is about endurance, not speed, and I’m comfortable with that.
My intention is to start this journey solo, because I believe that’s the best way to engage with strangers and have those chance encounters that almost certainly wouldn’t happen if travelling with mates. My hope is that once I’ve started rolling, I’ll rarely ride alone, but with lots of new and interesting people, from all over the world.
There will be no book. It’s been overdone already and besides, this is personal to me. What I think is more interesting is the detail of what happens before you go: the preparation; choosing the bike and equipment; admitting a complete lack of confidence and a real fear of gravel rash – and deciding to do something about it; adventure maintenance; working out a route; dealing with documentation and vital paperwork such as visas, carnet, insurance, medicals; saying goodbye to family and friends; making a will; having second thoughts and asking for your old job back…
In a nutshell, I’m hoping to bust the myth of how difficult long-distance adventure travel is and prove that anyone can do it, even someone lacking in riding ability, mechanical skills and deep pockets, like me. I’m resourceful, but that’s as far as it goes. If people can learn from all my mistakes and be inspired to attempt their own adventure as a result, then it’ll all have been worthwhile.