so, when are you actually going to GO?

That is the question everyone is asking me. The question that, eventually, enters every conversation with friends. But seriously, Chris. When are you actually going to GO? When?

A year or two ago I decided that I was going to take a break from work, rent out my flat and head off on some kind of long bike ride. The urge to do it has been building over the past few years, ever since I started to come across people like Tom, Alastair and, more recently, Cass.  In fact, pretty much everyone in that “Some Inspiration” column over to the left.

There is a common theme running through the accounts of many people breaking out of a ‘normal’ life to go and do something different for a while, and that is that it is the leaving that is the hardest thing. Extracting ourselves from all the things that entwine us in daily life can be tricky. And so it is proving. The often repeated advice on overcoming this inertia is to quit your job, and to tell everyone that you’re going. Commit to it and then the resulting external pressure will push you through those obstacles.

For a large part of the past year or so, I’ve been telling everyone that I might be heading away. Over months it slowly turned from an idea into something I knew I needed to do. It became all I thought about, carrying me through uninspiring weeks at work. Slowly I started to put things together. Building a bike in my mind. Trying to find lighter, smaller versions of camping gear I already had. Continuously gorging myself on the content of a few beautiful blogs documenting long term bikepacking journeys (those of Cass, Logon, Alex, Nicholas, Mike, Joe).

After a work contract finished at the end of last year, I decided not to follow up on new long term contracts, and slowly moved from the daily grind in the office, to a daily grind at home. The fun stuff is done. The bike is built, the gear purchased. What has been left is the sorting. For the past year my spare room has been full of the remaining contents of Mum’s house. After she died we pretty much dealt with most of her belongings, boxing up what we thought we should keep. But we didn’t touch anything in the loft until we actually sold the house, as it looked fairly well organised. It turns out that in the boxes up in the roof was a treasure trove of things from Mum and Dad’s life, their parent’s lives and our early childhood, that neither I nor my brother have ever really seen.

Mum’s father died when I was just 2, Dad’s father when I was 5, his mother when I was 11. Mum’s Mum is thankfully still going strong at a healthy 90. But there’s a whole family that we didn’t really know. I could have just kept this collection as it was and put it straight into storage, but if I’m not going to look at it now, then when?

So whilst putting off jobs to do with renting the flat, sorting of my own stuff, selling old gear, trying to extend the lease on my leasehold flat, replacing a boiler, drying out a flooded bathroom and attempting to maintain a physio routine to help resolve a back niggle that I haven’t quite managed to shake over the past year, I’ve been sifting.

It’s been a slow process. In every box or suitcase was a concentrated snapshot of life in the mid 20th century. Both Mum and Dad’s work appraisals from the New Zealand High Commission in the 1960s. Letters to travel agents booking holidays and from wine merchants about their latest offers. Letters between Mum and an Algerian boyfriend when she was in her twenties. Letters from Dad to Mum after a particularly traumatic time in their relationship. Photographs of our grandparents and their families when they were younger. Ticket stubs, souvenirs and letters between Mum and Dad from a business trip Dad took to New Zealand when I was just one or so. Poems and stories written by Mum when she was in her twenties, and more written during Dad’s illness and after his death. Photographs of people we can’t identify. Driving licences, birth and death certificates, medals, work references, identity papers, and words written in memory by friends.

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At one point I found myself sorting through the things that Dad had kept when he had had to sort through his parents possessions himself, after their deaths. Just as we have done with Mum and Dad’s belongings, he’d applied a filter to their things when deciding what to hold onto. And now, 30 years later, I’m repeating the process, applying a stricter filter of my own to those possessions he once decided to keep. A strange angle on the cycle of life. Many of these things can now be let go of. But amidst the gas bills for Grandma’s bungalow, and tucked inside Christmas cards from 1984, are letters from family friends which reveal previously unknown details about our grandparents, photographs of Dad as a child that we’ve never seen, and of us as children in happy times as a young family that we had forgotten. I can’t risk missing any of this, so I’ve been slowly working through the piles, letter by letter, card by card. It’s been not a little emotional, and fairly draining. But amazing, interesting, revealing and I suppose, cathartic.

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Just as I reach the end of this, and finally feel like I might be making some progress, I’m hit out of the blue. When I first decided that I was definitely embarking on a long trip, that there was no reason for me not to do this, and that if I wasn’t going to do it now then I never would, I told myself above all things not to meet a girl and get distracted. Of all the things that prevent people from taking time out (work, relationships, money), this seemed to be the one that could change unintentionally and give me an excuse not to follow through. A month ago I remember mentally congratulating myself on what has been a pretty dull, somewhat depressing but ultimately successful year on that front. It’s been a year of few sparks, of little real connection. Well done, I thought, somewhat wryly. Oh, how foolish of me.

Three weeks ago, as I’m lounging on a friend’s sofa on a Monday night before dinner, their housemate walks into the room. She has lived with them for six months, but we’ve never met.

Oh, err. Hi. Umm.

Shit.

Now? Really, now? Just as I’m getting up some momentum and starting to feel the pressure to go, just a few weeks away from leaving the country, now I meet a girl with whom I have that spark, that connection? Really?

Wow. Timing sucks. Just enough time to decide that this could be something, but not enough time to work out how much more than just something, it is? Somewhere, one of those unknown relatives is laughing mischievously at me, surely. I don’t know whether I should be laughing or crying myself.

And so, as the days have turned into weeks and now months, each step forward has been met with an obstacle to be overcome, or side stepped, or somehow incorporated into my plans. And at each step I question what I’m doing. Whether I really want to get rid of the vast majority of my belongings. Whether I really want to leave friends behind and head off on my own. How I’m meant to change my plans for the imminent future to try to incorporate things that are happening right now.  Whether I really know what the fuck it is that I think I’m trying to do at all.

I leaf through the opening pages of Alastair Humphreys’ first book about his round the world bike journey and find these comforting words…

“The bags are packed, my head is shaved (a ‘new beginning’ type of thing) and I can think of no convincing excuse to back out. I am trapped on a runaway train that I set in motion myself but now am powerless to stop. I don’t want to do this. I wake up feeling physically sick with fear. I can’t do this…

…Finally I round the corner, my home is gone and it all hits me.  The mounting pressure and months of denial all explode inside me, and I burst into tears.  I have just left from my front door to try to cycle around the planet. I have left behind everyone that I love. If I was a brave man I would turn around right now. Go home. Go home, and admit that it was all too frightening. Instead I keep pedalling.

What on earth are you doing, Al?  You bloody idiot.

This is one of the worst moments of my life.”

It’s good to know that I’m not the only one suffering some inner turmoil. One thing I do know is that, despite any doubts, I can’t just turn back. I can’t undo the steps I’ve made over the past year, or slide to a whimpering halt. It’s too late for that. The relative ‘comfort’ of being at home in limbo whilst sorting out these threads of my current life cannot last forever, if only because London is expensive and I’m slowly spending my savings. I have to move forward, in some way, as best as I can. After all, there is a new bike waiting (!).

I just have to work out how to bring these threads all together. And I have to do that pretty quickly. I guess that external pressure that I set in motion is now serving its purpose.

And I suppose that my answer to the question “When are you actually going to GO, Chris?” when it comes, should just be “Soon. Soon enough.”

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21 responses to “so, when are you actually going to GO?

    • Thanks Al. Yes, thats a good, to the point, post on Seth’s blog. I did have a date in mind originally but when I realised how much stuff of my folks there was crammed into those boxes I kind of agreed with myself to let it slip, rather than resorting to just throwing it all into someone’s garage… This may explain why I was never the best project manager! However, I do work much better under pressure and focus more clearly when there is an immovable deadline…

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  1. Q1. What are you doing?
    A1. Allowing yourself the most amazing adventure, that everyone should experience, yet so few have the balls to go through with. Remember your words: “Once you’re on the bike, you never regret it.”
    Q2. Do you really want to get rid of the vast majority of your belongings?
    A2. To ultimately feel zero loss, and 100% liberation – Hell yeah!
    Q3. Do you really want to leave all your friends behind and head off on your own?
    A3. You discover more about yourself when spending time on your own than with others (that’s a Harry quote). We’re only an email or skype call away. And trust me, we’ll all be more jealous of you than you will be of us, and you will be having way more fun than us.
    Q4. How are you meant to change your plans for the imminent future to try to incorporate things that are happening right now.
    A4. You don’t need to. Your plans are excellent. Incorporation will happen (and has already started) naturally.
    Q5. Whether you really know what the fuck it is that you think you’re trying to do at all?
    A5. Uh…. see Q1?

    Why am I helping you with this?!? I have my own hot-damn dilemmas to deal with right now!

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    • Ha, yes – I should remind myself that its just a little ride for a few days. Possibly followed by another one for another few days. It’s nothing I haven’t done before. Maybe the leaving party should be a ‘come and take away all of my belongings’ party… That might help…

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  2. We’ve all been there! Its part of the process, a big scary leap in to the ‘unknown’.

    What awaits is an incredible adventure which you will look back on in years to come and think wow I did that.

    A lot of what if type situations turn just before you decide to leave. I was offered my dream job and turned it down!

    Really they are just distractions to test your resolve and commitment to the trip. If the girl is the ‘girl’ she will be waiting when you get back.

    Like all the wise fellows above. Set a date, and more importantly pick a location!

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    • There’s definitely a theme here around setting a date… Alright, I hear you all!

      Location wise…the original plan-of-no-real-plan was to bike south from London and slowly head East. I want to do this off-road, which will be relatively slow. I revised the no-plan-plan slightly as I’ll be setting off fairly late in the year and don’t want to feel that I’m in a race to get as far East as I can before the cold of winter comes. So I decided that this year I would take my time riding off road down through France, along the Pyrenees and then spend some time exploring Spain – I loved mountain biking through the North last year, and would like to learn the language properly. Maybe a detour into Morocco, and then head East as Autumn comes, eeking out the warmth of southern Europe for as long as possible and finding somewhere (Istanbul?) to leave the bike for a little while whilst I come back and visit Nan over Christmas. And then to carry on heading East in the New Year.

      The only problem with that plan is that I’m not sure how much I want to deal with crossing China, and that I keep reading your posts, Cass’ posts, and others about South America, and I want to go now! I kind of figured that I’d work next years plan over this year though. Who knows. In some ways Europe doesn’t feel as exciting as somewhere further afield, but I know it will be amazing, with the right routes. I loved Nick’s stuff on riding the long distance trails of Europe last summer, and think that there is a lot of potential here…

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      • Well it’s dry season out in the Andes…. Bolivia, Peru and north through Ecuador and Columbia. Maybe a quick trip to Cuba and back in time for Xmas ;-)

        The fact of the matter is you can have a great time on two wheels anywhere, armed with a map, a sense of adventure and an open mind.

        Ride where inspires you!

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  3. Excellent post indeed Chris and maybe this inner dialogue is already part of the journey!? I tend to pass on following quote to people who are in search of answers:

    “Have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

    ~ Rainer Maria Rilke in “Letters to a Young Poet”

    So you may take the plunge and see how you get on while swimming. And remember, even though you may leave things behind and set off into the opposite direction, you don’t have to burn the bridges… ;)

    Best of luck and curios to follow along!
    Cheers, Oliver

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    • Thanks Oliver. There is definitely something in trying to not worry too much. None of these decisions are irreversible and you can’t decide whether certain things will work out or not in advance. You can decide what you want to try, but in the end, what will work out, will work out, and I suppose the process of finding out is all just part of it. Easy to say!

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  4. Chris, this reminds me of when I packed it all in to go sailing around the world. And the bit about ensuring there would be no girlfriend made me smile. I went sailing with a physicist in his 70’s that I was sure I wouldn’t ever fancy. I couldn’t be doing with complications such as boyfriends in my life, getting in the way of my adventures. After six months at sea, I met Dan. Thankfully, he too had an adventurist spirit and we sailed on for another six months. That was three years ago. Now our travels are squeezed into shorter times though still filled with adventure.
    I decided to quit my job after I’d been sailing for five days. I knew it was the thing to do. I gave two weeks notice when it should have been a month. I was terrified I’d change my mind. They offered me a sabbatical. I declined. I wasn’t sure when my trip would end. I planned to keep going until the money ran out and wasn’t going to use a crutch of a job (just in case it didn’t work out).

    On the 31st March 2014, I quit my job at University of Leeds to follow my passion for writing full time. Making the big decisions gets easier. I’ve learned to say ‘No thanks’ because it’s what I mean. I’ve also learned to accept gifts, compliments and kindness. Most people in the world are kind and generous, I try to be one of those people.

    It’s never the right time. Many friends have said, ‘I would do that if I …, or I’d like to that when the kids are grown, or when the youngest finishes uni, or when the grandchild is born. We create our own hurdles.
    Set the date. Do it and may the road rise with you.

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    • Thanks Meraid… You are right that the timing is never ‘just right’. If this was a friend of mine I’d be giving them the same advice – just go! The rest will work itself out in your mind(s) whilst you’re away. If something needs to change in a month or a few months, you can make the change. And as far as the rest of life goes, I’m at peace with all that really, despite daily ups and downs. I know that I’ve taken the biggest hurdles by stopping work and slowly emptying my flat.

      But it’s amazing how the motivation and momentum that has been building over many months, the effort that has gone into steeling yourself for heading off on your own for a long time (even with the knowledge that you are unlikely to actually be alone for most of that time), can feel as if it has been swept away so quickly by something new, by the prospect of something shared, by the potential of something amazing, despite that being almost as uncertain as the adventure itself. The frailties of the human mind/heart…?

      Anyway, I am going to start this thing. I promise.

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  5. I’m with Dumbledore / Tom Allen – wise words. And if you don’t like it and decide to come back, there’s a seamstress i know with a spare room in Wandsworth to tied you over. After mid-October that is – before then I’m picking huckleberries with the bears on the Great Divide!

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  6. Loved this. Sometimes the final threads can only be tied out there, on the road. Adventurers aren’t adventures if you are ready for them. We are all out here waiting for you pal…

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  7. Pingback: Where did the motivation go…? | (Un)Inspired Ramblings·

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