Greetings from Ushuaia: ‘fin del mundo’ – the end of the world!
The next land mass from here is Antarctica, and we don’t fancy going there (not yet at least). After 9,000 kilometres travelled, three countries, ten border crossings and over 103,000 metres ascended through the Andes Mountains on bikes — now seems like as good a time as any to stop.
Where in the blazes do I begin with the summing up of a six month journey? I’m going to start where you should always start when feeling a little overwhelmed— where it is the most marvellous.
MY FRIEND FAYE, AND I
Faye and I were putting up our tents for the final time last night when she paused, mid construction, a tent peg in one hand and her ground sheet in the other:
‘Anna…’ she said.
‘Yes mate?’ I stopped wrestling with my own pop-up-palace, and looked across at her.
‘I think we’ve done really well, you know. I don’t mean the cycling, I mean… well… us.’
I smiled. ’Well?! I think ‘well’ is an understatement Faye-bomb! It’s not normal, living the way we have. It’s enough to drive you bananas. And we still very much like bananas.’
There was a moment of silence.
‘I think it’s been the best thing, you know. Us two.’ Faye continued quietly.
‘Me too mate, me too.’ I replied. We smiled at one another, and then went back to putting up our tents, just as we have done almost every night for the past half a year.
The truth is, cycling up mountains is wonderful. Gasping for oxygen at 5,900 metres high is tougher than I had ever imagined. Dealing with crashes, dog bites, sub-zero temperatures, running out of food, 70 mph cross-winds and gastroenteritis — these are challenges I won’t forget in a hurry. But if you asked me what it is that I am most proud of about this journey, then it’s the way that Faye and I have managed our friendship.
Spending 24 hours a day, seven days a week with another person for six months is quite possibly the most dangerous thing you could do to a friendship. It’s hard to explain the kind of relationship that develops through that kind of intensity.
We are far from blind to one another’s flaws and cracks and ugly bits. In fact, we’ve seen everything there is to see (quite literally on more occasions than I care to remember). But at the heart of it all, there is trust, there is respect and there is patience.
On the outside, Faye and I are very different. In certain areas we couldn’t be more different if we tried (take tent cleanliness for example — I live gleefully in a pig sty, Faye maintains a palace). But at our core we have the same stuff. The good stuff. When all we want to do is fly off the handle or sulk, it’s that good stuff that makes us take a deep breath and pause. The good stuff that allows us to tolerate the silence, or to look past the words that are spewing from the other’s mouth and to actually listen to what it is that they are trying to say — which usually boils down to: ‘I’m frightened’, ‘I’m frustrated’ or ‘I’m hurt’.
In short, our friendship is like a Jammie Dodger. No one really cares about the biscuity bits around the edge of a Jammie Dodger, after all. Biscuity edges are ten-to-a-penny. Biscuity edges break, crumble and turn to dust. But the stuff in the middle — that’s what counts. It’s the jam that makes a Jammie Dodger special. And we both got jam in our middles.
ON ANOTHER IMPORTANT RELATIONSHIP
Most of you will know that I left a very lovely boy behind in England. I could pretend that the decision to spend six months apart was no big deal, but that would be a big fat hairy lie.
I’ll level with you… I freaked out more than once in the lead up to my departure. I cried a bit (a lot), and at times I feared we were making the most stupid decision possible. All the while Jamie McDonald stared at me, blinked, held my hand and said: ‘Anna, this is us, it’s going to be fine.’
And guess what? It has been fine. Goddammit I hate it when a boy is right! In fact, it’s been better than fine, it has been wonderful. Liberating, exciting, all kinds of romantic and a huge relief for two fiercely independent adventurous souls to know that we can both spread our wings, do our thing, and make it work.
So I have learnt a big lesson in not worrying about things that have not yet to come to pass. And I have learnt that thousands of miles and hundreds of sh*t Skype connections are no match for two hearts so full of love.
WHAT ELSE HAVE I LEARNT?
I have learnt that I am an ‘ambivert’. A what?! Allow me to explain. One of the most incredible things about being on an adventure like this is that I am afforded the time to read. I have devoured over 40 books since leaving the UK (and that’s in between Radio 4 Desert Island Disc podcast marathons).
By far and away the greatest book to pass through my ravenous retinas is ‘Quiet’ by Susan Cain — which uses a mixture of scientific psychological evidence and personal anecdotes to explore the intricacies of introverted and extroverted personality types.
As I turned the pages, I found story after story which sounded painfully familiar. I discovered that I am not (as perhaps others would perceive me) a whopping extrovert. I am, in fact, an ‘ambivert’ – half introvert, half extrovert. Yes I am loud, excitable and I have no problem standing up on stage and delivering a talk to 1,000+ people, but with such excesses of energy comes a need to recharge. To spend large chunks of time in my own company, something which I have always been a little bemused by.
Being part introvert explains why I love to spend hours sat in coffee shops on my own. Why I would rather stay in on New Years eve with a few close friends and some vino, than brave the crowds outside. Why loud bars are my idea of hell. Why I am renowned on nights out among my friends for disappearing for an hour to the toilets, just to get some ‘down time’.
This may be a self indulgent point, but I feel like a weight has lifted. And that right there is the magic of adventure. It opens up doors to new parts of yourself that you never even knew existed. It offers you the space to explore those parts and to reject or embrace them before introducing them to the whole wide world (as I have just done).
WHAT WILL I MISS??
Perspective! Oh how I will miss the freedom to take an oversized step back from my life, and to take stock. There are some that would argue that this has been one rather long holiday, but I don’t see it like that. Time spent adventuring is time invested in the future, and I’d say that’s a pretty good place to spend your beans.
I have spent months upon months alone with my thoughts, unpicking what is important to me, and I’m returning home to the UK with some much needed clarity. I want to write (books, mostly). I want to speak, and I want to continue to find ways to encourage others to blow the doors off life and grab it by the balls. Everything else is just detail (or, more likely — a distraction).
Can I bring a little of that adventure perspective into my normal existence? I hope so. I’m convinced that even a hour a day will be enough. When was the last time I spent an hour of my ‘normal’ day doing nothing but thinking? I can’t remember.
So I’d like to say a big fat thank you to Oxford Bike Works for lovingly building Bernard from scratch — he has coped far better than I ever could have imagined. Bernard is nails. To our friends at Crewroom for making sure we didn’t cycle naked (or only when we wanted to). To the team at Caxton FX Card for helping us get access to our spondoolies abroad, and to Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports for donating a tent and sleeping bags to keep us warm and dry at night.
Lastly, and most importantly — THANKS TO YOU! I freakin’ love you lot, I do, my rockin’ Adventure Army, and I wish I could give you all a gigantic squeeze right now. Please pause for a moment to accept the virtual squeeze. There it is. And breathe.
This journey is done, but it’s far from the end. At long last (!) a book about the 3,000 km run through New Zealand is being released in July. If you’re signed up and following this blog via email, you’ll be among the first to hear the details, or get news about future adventure plans. And if not, you can join the Adventure Army mailing list here.
And if you know others who would be interested in a little adventure-injection to their lives, you could forward them this here post.
Today is a day like any other. Today you got out of bed and brushed your teeth (I hope?!). And so today, like any other, you, and you alone, get to decide how you spend the precious hours between now and when the sun goes down.
Thank you all for deciding to bring so much joy to my life over the past six months. It’s been a blast. Let’s do it again some time..?