15000 miles in 234 days through 23 countries averaging 67 miles every day of the trip. It wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea. We weren’t going fast enough to break any records and we weren’t going slow enough to enjoy the more romantic, exploratory side of adventure travel. We were just going. Despite the reams of advice out there from experienced adventurers that screams at you – take your time and enjoy it – day after day, week after week, we would just battle on.
It was a dog’s life for 8 months. We got up, we rode, we ate, we slept and we repeated but it never got boring. Routine was what we were running away from. The routine of the daily commute to work. The routine of working for the man. Even the routine of seeing good friends and family. But it was routine that made this trip work.
When we set-off were young successful men pumped up on the diet of ambition, competition and scale that fuels so many of our generation. We were out to push our limits, achieve something that was all of our own making and smash the world. A year down the road and we are definitely older, probably wiser and at last theirs time to offer a bit of reflection on the trip.
We were constantly out of our comfort zone, we never knew where we would end up one day to the next. If it was raining or we were tired, there wasn’t the option to take a day-off, we just had to get on with it. Coming back to work and the overstimulation of everyday life it seems crazy that we were able to sit on a bike for 10 hours every day for 8 months with only the thought of the next meal spurring us on.
At the start of the trip we were always striving for comfort, but by the time we reached China I realised it was an enormously unhealthy mentality. Comfort kills you, it makes you lazy and annoyingly if the choice is there it’s irresistible, but take away that choice as we did and you have the time of your life. My fondest memory will always be the two weeks we did across Gansu Province in western China without a shower, sleeping rough in the desert, eating pot noodle and loving life.
During the trip we would cycle from dawn to dusk everyday and never be bored. That wasn’t because of our sparkling conversation or even the stunning landscapes we were passing through. It was because were free.
Only captive animals get bored. On the bike we could just sit there day after day, week after week just enjoying life without an inkling of restlessness or temptation to check emails, Facebook and Twitter.
I wouldn’t even be thinking about anything. If you asked me how many amazing business ideas I came up with on the trip the answer would be a big fat zero. There was barely an intellectual thought that passed through my head the whole time I was on the bike. And after 18 years in education and 5 years in work what a bloody marvellous feeling that was. No requirement to proof I had advanced my knowledge and no pressure to try and climb that next rung of the career ladder. Just a dog’s life with the simple pleasures of eating, sleeping and exercise.
Your only worry is where your next meal will come from and will you find a quiet, sheltered and safe place to lay your head for the night. When I say only worry I don’t mean it’s not a significant worry. As anyone with a dog will know, feeding time is no joking matter. Food and sleep were the fuel that propelled us around the world and ensuring we got that fuel was a full-time job.
That ultimately is why adventure travel isn’t the romantic vision that many people think it is. Many friends and colleagues wrote to me before we left to say how deeply envious they were of us and that they wished they could do something similar. But of those who followed our often far too honest account of the trip, there are few that would still claim any sense of envy.
Our trip was a full time 7-day-a-week job for 8 months with no annual leave or bank holidays. When your daily work involves sourcing the bare essentials of life (food, water and shelter) then there is no time. Everything is geared towards surviving the next day or when we were setting off out into the Karakum Desert in southern Kazakhstan the next week. You worry and your brain is busy constantly weighing up your surroundings but your choices are simple.
How much food and water shall we carry (always trying to strike the most efficient balance between excess weight in the bike and survival) and shall we under that tree or that one? Otherwise everything was about progress down the road. Just keep riding east.
We live in a world where there is an incredible amount of choice and it always seems to be held up as a good thing. With choice we forget how to adapt to our surroundings or how to cope with new situations because increasingly we can just choose not too. There are so many options and paths to take that we can just career through life hitting barrier after barrier and choosing rather than to overcome it to take a different path. Gradually we lose sight of where we’re heading and become so soft and weak willed that we’re stuck in a box of our own making with no way out.
Out on the road these options are not there. You can’t turn back, you can’t stand still and so you’re only option is to keep going. If it’s pissing with rain when you wake up in the tent you get up and you ride. If the wind is blowing 40kph straight into your face you put your head down and ride. If you run out of water in the desert and it’s 100km to the next town you ride. There are few decisions to be made and even though your head is saying no this is a bad idea you will deal with it and you will come out the other end grinning from ear to ear. You’re out of your comfort zone doing something you never imagined possible and you are loving it. You’ve just done something that no amount of after work schooling, networking or MBAs can help you with, you’ve conquered your mind. Do that and suddenly life gets a whole lot easier.
“The highpoint of the trip was probably when we made it to Qingdao on the coast of China. We hadn’t seen the sea in over 3 months, we’d cycled over 3000km on one road through the Turpan Depression in western China (2nd lowest place in the world and one of the hottest, driest places on earth), survived almost exclusively off a diet of pot noodle and we hadn’t spoken to anyone in English in over 40 days. It felt like the hardest bit of the trip was behind us.”
“After 3 weeks in Uzbekistan, both of us were questioning why we were out here. We’d both been very ill for a while, the roads were appalling if there was any road at all and the food was becoming inedible – think lumps of mutton fat swimming in an oily broth. It was when I had to relieve myself, after yet another bout of stomach cramps, half-way up a 3000m pass clinging onto a cliff edge like a mountain goat that I seriously thought about getting the next flight home.
Hardest aspect of the trip:
“The schedule. Life was pretty relentless on the road. The hardest part of the trip wasn’t the actual cycling it was the living when we were off the bike. Waking up in an often wet tent, preparing breakfast, packing everything away into panniers, getting it out again to dry when the sun was up, packing it all away again, unpacking it all at night for camp, cooking dinner and then doing it all again day after day. I’m sure we spent the best part of 4-5 hours every day doing some sort of packing or unpacking. As the trip went on and the days started to getting shorter, the schedule got more intense as we had live quicker and cycle faster in order to do the distances required in day light Throughout the whole trip there was actually very little time for reflecting on where we had been or what we had done.”