It’s a truism that leaving is the hardest part of any adventure and it’s a truism for a reason.
A hangover and poor weather forecast had turned the mini fanfare of leaving on Sunday in front of friends and family into a solo event the following day. With all flatmates and family at home or at work, I was alone and struggled to force myself to close the front door behind me and wobble out of London. I dawdled for an hour or so, double-checking tyre pressure and ensuring that everything was secured to the bike. I wasn’t being pro-active, I was just delaying the task of locking myself out of my house, which signified the point of no return in terms of leaving family, friends, and the security of a comfortable life behind. I second guessed my reasons for doing this trip and even regretted my decision to press on ahead with it. It wasn’t a good moment.
The fear had got to me. It wasn’t that noticeable before, but over the last week it had intensified as a result of the impending departure date and well-meant advice from concerned relatives. So I dawdled a little longer and was very slow to build up the strength to shut that door and wobble off onto Cricklewood Broadway, past my old office and over Tower Bridge toward Watling Street, the old Roman Road toward Canterbury. It was the opposite of the jubilant departure I had daydreamed about over the last year.
After an hour of riding, however, all those fears that had stopped me from leaving my house eventually subsided. I worried, to be sure, but the bigger-picture anxieties based on ‘leaving home and everything that came with it behind’ were replaced by short term and immediate concerns such as “I’m thirsty”, “I’m hungry”, and “I’m lost”. These problems were much more manageable than the thought of not coming home for what could be over a year.
Shiny glass offices slowly gave way to suburbia which morphed into retail parks and dual carriageways as I slowly left the urban sprawl of London and cycled into the picturesque-yet-exhausting rolling countryside of the Kent Downs. It then turned out that the campsite I had planned on spending my first night had closed down.
It was the end of a tiring day, it was getting dark, and I was low on water. This was a situation I had expected would induce a mini breakdown given my frame of mind before leaving. Perhaps it was the low blood sugar, but I felt surprisingly calm. I eventually found a country pub and got chatting to the landlord; he took pity on me and let me camp in the beer garden and opened the kitchen specially, just to give me a dinner that was more substantial than several bags of crisps. Nice chap.
By simply getting out of the front door, the ‘bigger-picture’ fears based on the thought of spending every day on a bike for a long time – the fears that made leaving such a struggle – had been replaced by short-term and manageable worries. There have been a lot of initial problems over the first week of this trip, but the fear and anxiety that came with them has not yet come close to that crushing dread and regret that came with the notion of taking that first step and locking myself out of the house. The simple act of just getting on a bike and riding it helped break down the immensity of cycling across entire continents and made everything seem a whole lot more manageable. All it take is getting out that front door.
And if all those short-term problems have worked out in the end, like coming across that hospitable landlord, why won’t the ‘bigger picture’ worries turn out in the same way?