In the 14 days that have passed since clambering over my back fence-gate in Brixton, London I have learnt, loved and lost. Mostly I have lost a pair of gloves and the skin on the souls of my feet, but I have lost all the same. Sympathy please.
WHAT ON EARTH AM I DOING?!
In the heat of the moment, many of life’s decisions seem as if they are the most important thing in the world. And then you look back and wonder what all the fuss was about. Welcome to the first two days of this adventure.
Pre-fence scaling, my mind had been largely consumed with thoughts of starting the trip. Then, all of a sudden, I didn’t have to think about that anymore (because I had started). And that left a whole lot of space for my thoughts to run wild. Given that my brain is a living breathing fun fair on an average day, with added freedom it became a full-blown Six Flags Magic Mountain. Everything just felt… odd.
I’ve never experienced starting a journey from my own front door until now. Usually, I hop on a plane and cannonball right on in to the adventure-action. And I’ve discovered that’s a far easier way to begin. Getting on a plane to the start point is like ripping off a plaster at high speed. Whereas starting from your front door is a slow peel, one of those removals that catches every hair and raw flap of skin along the way. Walking away from your own home is mentally painful, and it’s no secret that I spent the first day thinking: “What the heck am I doing?!”
IF YOU DON’T LIKE SOMETHING – CHANGE IT.
And then there was the walking. Now, where in the name of Mary and Moses did I get that idea from? Walking from Brixton to Harwich had all the ingredients for success. I had lots of friends with me, we were sleeping wild in woods, spending far too long in the Surrey Quays Decathlon and eating pub dinners. But what became quickly apparent was that without a set destination, ‘type II fun’ just isn’t cricket. Uncertainty and suffering are a fine thing when you have an overall goal to work towards, a fixed destination per se. But when your goal is simply to enjoy each day, then enjoy each day you must. And as it turns out, walking down dual carriageways in Essex is about as much fun as stuffing chilli into your eyeballs. So I changed my mind. I picked up the Bat-Phone and called for Boudica-back-up.
Did I feel silly about swapping to a bike? Yes. Embarrassed? A little. Was I worried this meant that I was ‘giving up’? Yes. Was it the best decision I could have made? Abso-friggin-loutely. We all make choices, after all. Every single day we tumble out of bed, pull on our lucky pants and make a choice about how we spend the time between then and our heads hitting the pillow again. Sometimes I forget that life has to be about exercising those choices. And when your gut tells you it just ain’t gravy baby, regardless of what others might think, you’ve got to change it.
Once I was moving faster than a snail, the journey to the land of the Nether was quite literally plain sailing. I don’t even think the Stenna Line from Harwich to ‘The Hook’ should be considered travelling. I got on, called Jamie, drank a beer and went to sleep. In the morning I was woken by a rendition of “Don’t worry, be happy”, which trickled softly from the speakers and into in every cabin at bang on 6.30am. I rolled onto Dutchie soil fresh as a daisy and ready to be wowed. And wowed I was – mainly by the quality and abundance of bike paths. I began to thoroughly embrace carefree riding, separated entirely from the motorised four wheeled beasts, where the only danger I faced was missing the signposted turn off for my particular bike route. Nightmare.
Over the few days crossing The Netherlands my love for it and the people who live there went from strength to strength. I got to hang out with some friends I haven’t seen in donkeys years (thanks for sending me to Utrecht), I visited a talented artist and we had fun taking pictures and eating Bitterballen (who knew creamed deep fried meat could taste so good?!). You sent me to Apeldoorn, which is just about the most beautiful forest-surrounded village I have ever had the pleasure to pedal through (again, thank you), and I had my first Longboarding lesson in Nijmegen. Suffice it to say, I heart the Netherlands and I’ll be back again soon, of that I have no doubt. Possibly on a longboard. Just. Sayin’.
GETTING COMFORTABLE WITH BEING UNCOMFORTABLE
Unlike cycling the 50 states or running New Zealand – this particular challenge is 100% mental. I like to plan. I like to chat, and I like to ‘connect’. So what happens when I can’t do the former, and the latter two are reduced to smiles and sign language?
Two weeks in and you’ll be delighted to know that both elements are still proving a challenge. The non-planned aspect is intense, but with you lot at the wheel it’s turning out to be a whole heap of bonkers fun. Alas, conquering the language side is proving more difficult. It turns out that I actually get more nervous than I remember when trying to speak other languages. I’ll confess I was slightly aware of this, because my French is flawless when I’m drunk or talking to small children (not at the same time), but sober and to adults – I get all embazzed and clam up.
I stood outside a pancake house in Holland for 5 minutes last week, psyching myself up to go in. And yes they speak English, but I’d quite like to be able to speak Dutch. In the same vein I spent 20 minutes this morning desperately wanting a cheese and ham sandwich and another cup of coffee in a German Bakery, but the woman behind the counter had struggled to understand my German for the first cup, and so I concocted the idea that the second attempt would be so awkward that it would result in me wanting to climb in the oversized oven behind her.
But this is precisely what I’ve come in search of. The point of this journey is to explore the *edges*. Because the edges of ourselves are the most important parts. We know the middle bits well. The middle bits are where we’re comfortable. But the squiffy edges, that’s what I’m interested in. Understanding those is the key to true Arnie style mind-strength. And I’d quite like me some of that. I have realised that I would honestly rather run up a mountain naked, carrying a 35kg backpack, or give a talk to a room full of 3,000 people than I would order a cheese and ham sandwich in German. Now what on Earth is all that about? I’m not sure, but it’s really very annoying and so I intend to keep trying until it ceases to feel uncomfortable. Watch this space.
And on that note, I best go off to practice my German. And I’ve got some votes to count up, don’t you know…. more from the land of beer and Bavaria next week.
Ta ra for now,