Friday, 11 October 2013

Some things are unexpected

The item that I spent the most time deliberating over in preparation for our travels was my pair of shoes. In a two month long saga I scoured Trademe, US shoe sites and Dunedin sales tables. The reason it took so long was that I was looking for a pair of shoes that was tough, waterproof and warm for cycling in the blizzards of High Asia, while also being light and springy for trail and mountain running as we went (and costing less than $50 of course!). This single memory is now a fascinating insight for me into the expectations and mindset I held as we prepared for this great adventure from the dining room at Glendining Ave, and in what ways this has differed from what we have found.

I haven’t gone running once. Despite all our passion for trail running, and having on my feet these perfectly running-capable shoes, I have only broken into maybe a five minute jog on no more than two occasions that I can remember. I had no idea how all-engaging cycle touring would be. How much more it is than a physical challenge. My expectations were that on a half day or a day off the bikes, if we weren’t too tired we might go for a wee scamper up a hill, explore some off-road terrain and fun little tracks. At the end of any short day or day off, I read, I sleep, I email home and I eat. There’s been no running happening here.

A typical end of day
It has surprised me how much energy and time it takes to find us a safe home at the end of each day, and how to time this with having the necessary water and wholesome food that we need onboard the bikes. How dramatically the temperature and weather changes with any altitude gained or lost on the road, and how we need to find a route that puts us in the right places for the fast changing seasons of a continental climate. We are often communicating in situations where no English is spoken, and have had to learn a smattering of seven different languages so far, and expand our repertoire of mime. It takes some thought and shrewdness to maintain the security of our possessions without truly lockable bags, vehicles or homes. And to stop animals peeing on our tent every night. The food is different in each place, and it takes time in a new country to find the foods that we can carry on the bikes and create three meals a day from. Sickness has been a big challenge. We have spent a lot of time bent over all manner of toilets, with an impressive track record of giardia acquirement, and everything is hard when you’re sick. We have found how small our “bubble” is on a bike, as opposed to a car. When anything changes – weather, air quality, traffic, gradient, population density, it effects you and you engage with it. We require frequent stops for food, water and shelter, and so rely on the kindness and welcome from numerous strangers every day.

I am not writing all this to impress you all, I think most of you are already more impressed than you ought to be! We have not made a long line on the world map, we’ve cycled a few squiggles here and there through Central Asia, and made most of our progress westwards on trains. We have clocked up some kms, but it comes out at a very poor daily average if you count all the time we’ve been away. This has surprised me. I had thought we might do something quite physically impressive, linking huge areas of the globe only by bike. We have met a number of cycle tourers who do do some amazingly long journeys through some horrific conditions, and achieve amazing kilometer counts, and they deserve a lot of respect. But that’s definitely not us. Cycle touring has been a much more holistically challenging and rewarding experience than I had imagined from home. Truly remarkable, engaging, humbling and full of wonderful surprises. The learning is still going on! What will tomorrow bring?


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