Around the world in oh so many ways
Looking back at what we've done can be a bit mind blowing... Crippled by blisters, de-masted 1300 miles from land, chased by whales, lost in ghettos, dehydrated in waterless deserts, capsized in storms and felt the icy winds of the Bering Sea. We're not hardened adventurers but have just set our minds on doing things and got on with them. If we caught a train tomorrow we could be in London within 3 weeks and so feel closer to home than we've been in a long time. But we're not in a hurry. We plan to indulge in another slow 6 months to trek, train, bus, ferry and cycle our way home.
For me it all started on my 18th birthday, when I received a cheque for £1000. I was so excited I didn't want to spend it and tucked it away in a savings account. I figured there was something out there worth saving some pennies for. It wasn't a house, a car, a new computer, smart clothes or lots of holidays. I wanted to do something different and adventurous one day, and I didn't want money to be the excuse to never do it.
A few years later I met Nick, now my fiance, and soon learned that he had been doing the same. By the time we had both left University and settled into London life we started to contemplate these dreams together. We both felt pulled towards the weight of a huge and unexplainable world out there. We wanted to get glimpses of how awesome it is and experience it for ourselves. To help us gather our thoughts we bought a huge world map and splattered our fragmented aspirations all over it. Within 6 months there was a very disjointed, wiggly line across the map, lots of doodles of bikes, boats and trains, lists of desirable skills and jottings from inspiring adventures of old. It all gradually pieced together. It became clear that we both wanted to go on lots of epic adventures that would help us get off the beaten path, pick up some new skills and most importantly, provide us with a lifetime of hair raising stories.
A couple of years of working life went by with hardly a blink. As much as we loved our London lives, neither of us wanted it to go on indefinitely. The map became increasingly hard to ignore and savings grew faster. Before we could get swept up in the treadmill of careers, mortgages and being grown ups we set a date for our adventure: In September 2008 we would leave the UK to travel around the world without flying. Not jumping on and off planes or in and out of sterile airports would force us to use more interesting modes of transport and visit more obscure parts of the world. We both fell in love with the concept of traveling along our own unbroken line around the world.
We are now just over a year in and don't regret a second of it. After cycling to Spain, walking to Lisbon, sailing The Atlantic, hitch hiking around The Caribbean, chicken busing up Central America, cycling up the US, getting on a container ship across The Pacific, catching trains around China and jumping on jeeps over the Himalayas we have made it to Nepal. So far we have been in and on 248 different vehicles including 2 tandems and 1 side car. As much as possible we try to use publically available transport or travel by human power to increase the challenge.
When we get back our average speed around the world will have been about 3mph, the speed of walking. So far the world has proved to be bigger, more intriguing, more welcoming and more awesome the slower you travel through it. We have tried to make our means of travel as enlightening as the experience of actually traveling through somewhere. In most cases we have found that the means of traveling can actually be more important than where you are. It completely changes your perspective as well as how strangers perceive you. When you are an unexpected visitor or don't comply with the norm you immediately open yourself up to your surroundings. Rather than being intimated, locals are intrigued and want to be part of the adventure. The world is on your side. On our fully loaded tandem, even the most inhospitable dusty backwaters of middle America became havens of smiling, bemused and welcoming faces. Every inch of the way we have been overwhelmed by the kindness of strangers. The trip has given us a chance to spend time with people of all ages and from all walks of life. It has given us an invaluable insight into how we want to lead our lives, what type of people we are and the human psyche in general.
That said, it hasn't all been rose tinted. Being on the road for this long takes its toll at times. In between the big challenges and big planning sessions there are down times that can feel very unreal. When there is nothing to focus your energy on not working feels very unnatural, especially when money is a constant concern. Our budget is such that we can't afford to swan around seeing sites everywhere we go. Whilst it can be hugely revealing to find ways to kill time on the fringes of tourist attractions, in random suburbs of big flashy cities or in a free camping spot, on a down day it can be very frustrating. But luckily we both always look back on these moments fondly because we've seen a patch of the world others might not. We also recognize that patience is a valuable lesson we've been forced to learn on this adventure.
We both have very mixed thoughts about going home. We will have had a blissful 20 months of living by our rules, being very active outdoors, seeing incredible sites and meeting a huge variety of people. Whilst all this is hard to say goodbye to, we both remember home very fondly and are excited about returning and seeing what the next phase of our lives bring. We hope that we will return to England a little bit wiser about the world and what we want from it, which seems like a good foundation on which to make the next batch of life decisions!
To see the full article go to 'Around the world in oh so many ways...', Geographical Magazine, November 2009