So the day has finally come! I’m Peru-bound (although by the time I post this, I will have arrived). It’s been a hectic month since I finished work at Inition. I headed over to Wales for 5 days to teach myself how to tour (yep, believe it or not, I’ve never been cycle touring before!), packed my flat up, went to France for the best part of a week to cycle up 40,000ft of mountains and meanwhile did my best to tie up the loose ends of all the facets of a modern first world existence. It’s a relief to be sitting here in the plane typing this whilst sipping on a beer and starting to relax, although an hour delay in taking off (due to a dodgy plane tractor) may seriously affect my chances of making my connecting flight to Trujillo! What will be will be – I think I need to get pretty used to letting things play out without stressing out! (Update: No such worries – all went smoothly!)
As I touched on already, if somebody told you that they were planning a major trip along the lines of what I’m doing, you’d probably assume that they had a fair bit of experience. They would probably have done several tours before of varying lengths in different countries. It would be a fair assumption. So, the fact that I’ve only ever done 5 days of touring in South Wales might be somewhat surprising! I’ve been cycling for years, commuting to work and then, in the last 4 years or so, actively pushing my limits on a road bike. I’m a prime example of the ‘Wiggo Effect’, having been inspired to get a more ‘racy’ road bike off the back of his yellow/golden Summer in 2012 and never having looked back. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to a fantastic group of cycling friends (thank you Allan and dear Ben) and we’ve taken on ever more arduous challenges around Europe. I can be a competitive sort and will chase PBs/KOMs on Strava as much as the next guy (or girl) – I love seeing what I’m capable of and comparing myself to my friends or, dare I say it, to the Pros. That said, I’ve also come to appreciate more and more the social side of the sport and the amazing places that it can take you to. You can cover an extraordinary distance in a single day on a bicycle at a thrilling speed. Or, you can meander slowly with your head up and uncover hidden gems just round the corner. I guess it just seems like absolutely the right time to do the latter, slow down a bit and embrace the world around me.
I’ve only briefly discussed my motivations behind this journey and something occurred to me whilst cruising along at 36,000ft. It’s not that I’ve always wanted to do a bike tour in South America. It’s not a long-held dream. As I mentioned already, I’ve hardly ever toured before! I have always wanted to go to South America – I guess it’s been a logical step, having done Spanish as part of my degree (even if I am far from fluent). What has really driven me though is a deeply held conviction that life really is for living and I haven’t been making the most of it in London recently. I’ve led a very charmed life – that is to say, I’ve had it pretty easy. It’s not a coincidence – my parents have worked very hard to give me and my sisters every possible opportunity and this has provided me with the tools to negotiate the rat race in a relatively trouble-free fashion. I can’t help but think there’s more to it than that though. This ’struggle’ is obviously nothing new. I’m guessing that many of you have either been through this (and found some sort of inner peace) or continue to go through it. Perhaps it never ends – is that what drives us all forward?
The death last year of my friend Ben, who was the very definition of ‘life and soul of the party’, certainly also had a profound effect on me. Our motto, amongst his family and friends, of ‘What Would Ben Do?’ is essentially a challenge to embrace every opportunity and follow every dream. Get the most out of everything, and then preferably have a booyah (massive party) at the end to cap it all off! He would definitely approve of what I’m doing, even if he’d probably think I was utterly bonkers for pedalling the whole way!
I’ve yet to actually determine for sure if bicycle touring is something that I truly enjoy. It does, however, tick one really big box for me. I’ve grown somewhat dissatisfied with travelling in recent years and speeding past people and places, often looking down from on high, being shepherded along well-worn routes from one ‘sight’ to the next. I guess I’m after a more ‘authentic’ experience and that means taking the rough with the smooth, challenging my assumptions and talking to people more. I’ve always tended to be somebody who is confident amongst friends but invariably shy amongst strangers – I need to get a lot better on that front. A bicycle seems the perfect way to fulfil these aims.
So, you can see how the ground was fertile for this idea to grow from a little 3-week trip to a 10-month adventure! Anyway, that kind of got away from me and I’ve rambled on a bit – I’ll try and make sure that my next post has a much better pretty picture to waffle ratio!
One last thing though… I had been trying to decide what to call my trusty steed on which I will be making this adventure. I knew that it was definitely a lady – I needed a caring type and, frankly, I didn’t fancy swinging my leg over a bloke every day for the next 10 months! Besides, my previous bikes (Reggie Ridgeback, Claus Cube and Dicky Dolan) had all been blokes so it was time for a change. I will give credit to Maryke for prompting the final decision – I had popped into the office and told the ladies there that I was weighing up between a couple of options. Maryke immediately burst into song when I mentioned the first one, “All you gotta do is ride around…”. And so it came to pass. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you ‘Sally Surly’. Here’s to an enduring friendship…