I’ve been home in Melbourne now for two weeks. Since arriving my tent has stayed packed in its bag, I’ve been having hot showers, my stove hasn’t been used and I haven’t ridden more than a few kilometers a day. Yet despite that it’s only just beginning to dawn on me that my trip is actually over and I’ve reached the end of the road.
Cycle, breathe, listen, look around, think a little, put on some music.
Then stop, have a drink, a bite to eat, maybe a chat if someone’s nearby. Check your tyre pressure.
Get back on the bike and repeat.
Such is the rhythm of anybody who travels a long distance on a bicycle. It’s a wonderfully simple, purely escapist lifestyle, and addictive in the sense of peace and freedom it bestows. On most days nothing of much significance happens. The scenery changes slightly and the same routine plays itself out over and over again, but there is never a sense of purposelessness. Time spent doing nothing in particular is not time wasted. It is valuable.
Reflecting on my trip now I think about how fortunate I am to have spent so much time doing little else but observing what’s around me. Back in Melbourne, where most people’s lives beat to the rhythm of a cash register there is precious little time to stop, listen, think and observe. While meandering on a bicycle I discovered what I valued and believed, what I had and what I lacked, and I think it’s the days of doing nothing much other than watching the world pass by and letting my mind turn over that are the most valuable of all.
In Sydney I was welcomed into the home of my old friends, Dave and Lou. It was a two minute walk from the door of their Bondi apartment to the ocean and for five nights I basked in the warm summer sun and their warm hospitality
while conducting important research on my strange new location.
The view from my bedroom window was unbelievable! But despite the view, the impossibly soft bed and plentiful fish and chips, there was still road ahead. With a belly full of beer and wine, Suzie and I began the dash to Melbourne.
Away from the city tall buildings were replaced by towering eucalypts and Sydney’s skyline gave way to an endless blue horizon. The fashion conscious folks of Bondi Beach were long gone
replaced by rural locals with even more impressive hair styles.
I passed through bustling hives of activity like the town of Nerriga (fully pictured)
where Christmas celebrations were in full swing.
Most of my time was spent dawdling, enjoying not having anywhere to be and indulging in aimlessness.
As always there was plenty of time to pause and watch life unfold,
pay attention to small details
and sample the local delicacies.
The lure of new places felt as alive as ever
As did my unquenchable desire to discover what lay ahead
beyond that next hill
or around that next bend.
All the while new friends,
friends of friends
and impossibly pretty landscapes lined my path.
The communities I passed through were small, unpretentious and welcoming. Nobody was ever in a hurry. I would enter the general store to buy a snack and wind up chatting with the shop keeper for half an hour.
As the afternoon breeze rolled over my skin like warm water I fantasized about lobbing my smartphone into the snowy river, and with the help of a good woman and a friendly dog building a house and a life for myself out here. I’m sure it’s a little more complicated than that, but the approach and temperament of the people I met made it all seem so blissfully easy.
In the evenings I took to the bush to find a place to call home for the night
before being engulfed by a striking sunset
or otherwise passing the time.
… already there.
Arriving in Bairnsdale, I cheated one final time and caught the train into Melbourne rather than riding through the flatlands and outer suburbs east of the city.
Tim, a friend and companion on my cycle tour through Iran in 2016, met me at the train station in Melbourne and washed away my concerns about my return with beers at my favourite pub.
I rode from the pub to my home, through streets that felt foreign in their familiarity, to finish something that I can barely remember even beginning. As the tarmac of Sydney Road slipped past at that familiar pace I could have been anywhere; lost, confused and without petrol during my disastrous first day riding in Turkey, being thrilled and captivated by the Pamir Mountains or meandering aimlessly around Laos.
I pulled up to the roller door at the back of my house, and there I sat. With my phone in my hand, ready to call inside, for a few minutes I didn’t move. My mind was racing. Nine months of cycling, places, friends, strangers, cultures, encounters, misadventures, indescribable highs and crushing lows, feelings of boredom, elation, uncertainty and excitement all compressed into a single moment.
I looked down at my gear. Every dent, discolouration and tear ignites a memory. Suzie’s frame is chipped from various big and small spills. Her chainrings are bent, chain is worn and bottom bracket is wobbly. Tyres have chunks missing and gashes from glass on the road. Gloves are held together with more emergency stitching than anything else. Panniers are stained, worn and patched with glue; only one of the original five remains waterproof. My bell is scratched beyond belief from all the times I upturned my bike to repair a puncture. Shoes are shredded. My shins are a collage of scars from being scratched by my mudguards.
And in that moment I became hopelessly nostalgic for the memory attached to every bit of damage, wondered how much further it all could have taken me, and a lump grew in my throat and my chest felt tight.
In the lane way behind my house I found myself at the end of one road and the beginning of another. Nowhere to go but forwards. Finally, I phoned inside and distant but familiar voices from beyond the door grew louder as they approached.
The door began to slowly rise.
And I rolled inside.
Arriving home has, as expected, been a confusing experience. I was thrilled to see my family again and it has been wonderful to be reunited with my friends, but there is also a natural and underlying sadness about all I have left behind.
In a life where I feel I have taken very few risks, where I have followed a linear trajectory from school to university to full time employment, my journey from Turkey to Laos is an outlier. It stands out as one of the most impetuous, ballsy and audacious things I have ever done.
I was, for a period after my breakup in June, so desperately low that I lost all motivation to continue forwards. For more than a month it was difficult to get to sleep and difficult to get out of bed. I genuinely wasn’t sure whether I wanted to continue my ride at all and were it not for the company of Jack and Elliot in Tajikistan and the logistical difficulties of finishing in Central Asia, I’m not sure what would have become of the rest of my journey. But later on riding my bike in other parts of the world, when the wind was right, the sun was warm and my legs felt fresh, a feeling of joy would inexplicably pulse through my body so intense and pure that I felt like my chest would burst. It’s a feeling that I think I’ll be chasing for a while.
The journey has at times been difficult, trying, tedious and lonely. But if I am lucky enough to have time to reflect on my life before the end I have little doubt I will remember it as one of my most treasured experiences. I have peeked into ugly, banal, bizarre and beautiful corners of our globe and encountered just as an eclectic mix of characters inhabiting those places. My paths crossed with the kindest, most inquisitive and generous people you could ever hope to meet who offered up homes for me to sleep in, hot meals or even just a cup of tea and some unsolicited company. I still feel grateful to and inspired by many of these characters and think about them daily.
I have at times pushed the limits of my endurance and motivation and in doing so have developed a perspective that life in Melbourne could never give me.
Life alone on a bike is a life of boundless freedom. Away from the invisible pressure we feel to act or behave a certain way, life on the road allows you to be the version of yourself that comes most naturally.
But this is not always the version of yourself best suited for life back home. I’ve always been a bit of a socially anxious person, but since arriving home I’ve noticed that even amongst friends, extended periods of socialising can be exhausting. I have found myself in conversations with absolutely nothing to say and in that moment wished I was back alone with my thoughts and my tent on a high plateau somewhere. Max Leonard considers cycling to be a “socially acceptable way of being on your own” and I may have indulged in my inclination to be alone a bit too much. Or maybe it’s just a psychological after effect of the trip that will wear off in time.
The journey is over but it was never something that would last forever. At the end of my ride I felt that my challenge had been met and overcome and it feels right to now move on to something else. I know that I can’t become the man I want to be by staying on the road and riding forever, and in that sense I’m glad to be home.
The difficulty now will be holding onto what I’ve brought home with me. With every passing sedentary day the journey becomes a more and more distant memory and recalling all of the ways in which it has framed my priorities and refocused my outlook will become increasingly difficult.
It would be easy to feel constrained and trapped by the job I’m about to start in the city, but I don’t. With an empty calendar on my wall the road ahead is wide open and long. I have no idea where it leads and that’s a little bit thrilling. It helps to know too that there are still so many places yet to be ridden, so many people yet to be met. My tent and sleeping bag are right there in my wardrobe. And as I now know, the only thing stopping you from riding those distant foreign trails is the decision to go and do it.
This blog will probably fall silent now, so to all those who read my posts, followed my journey, commented or messaged me – thank you! You were a bigger and more important part of my trip than you know and at times when I longed for a sense of community and support, your messages were where I turned. Thanks for coming on my journey with me – it’s been an absolute blast!