In a few days I will be setting off for what can only be described as Mind Over Matter: Part 2.
For this second instalment of our very own set of life-changing events I have decided to cycle home to my parents’ house, 232 miles north in a town called Bolsover, Derbyshire. A route that will take me from Southsea on the south coast, through the vast expanses of Hampshire’s rural countryside, on to the quaint home-county villages of Berkshire and Oxfordshire, north through the backbone counties of Warwickshire and Leicestershire before cutting neatly in between Derby and Nottingham and onwards to the small ex-mining town of Bolsover, my hometown.
Whichever way you look at it, it’s a long way. Oddly though, looking at the map, it looks really easy. If you were to get a ruler and lay it on a map of England north to south there is a chance that you would have the general direction of the journey. I will be heading north, so much so that following a map almost seems laborious and unnecessary. Almost.
It won’t be easy of course and the chances of taking a wrong turn and ending up looking lonely and confused in someone’s back garden just outside of Banbury is a distinct possibility. The plan, or maybe more the hope, is for the journey to take no more than three days. I will be leaving on Monday morning before the Portsmouth rush hour necessitates weaponry to get out of the city and aiming for a b&b in a small village called Shillingford just south of Oxford; a distance, without mistakes, of just shy of 88 miles.
Day two will take me north and through Oxford before heading into the open countryside and half-forgotten villages of middle England before winding up, some 80 miles later, just north of Leicester. Leaving, all being well, a short(ish) final 60 miles north through the East Midlands where, in my head, a crowd of people will be waiting with party poppers, freshly prepared bacon sandwiches and teary eyes outside my parents’ house. In reality, my dad will probably put the kettle on and my mum will tell me to be quiet because Coronation Street has just started.
Why though, I hear you say, what’s the point of my journey. What are you trying to prove? Who are you it doing for?
Well, in all honesty, there is no point to my journey. I’m not doing it for a charity, I’m not out to prove anything, it’s certainly not a race. I suppose, more than anything, I’m doing it because I can, for the hell of it. A journey taken for the simple pleasure of the journey itself; like Hans Christian Anderson famously once said, “To travel is to live”. I tend to agree.
When I was in my late teens and early twenties I read Bill Bryson books, all of them. I became transfixed not only about the places he was describing but of the lives and the characters he met along the way; numerous encounters with the weird and wonderful that helped to paint a picture of the journey better than any guidebook could.
For me, it was like scratching an itch, the more I read the more I wanted to do the same. Fortunately, I have travelled, quite a bit in fact. However, I’ve always felt like I’ve missed the basic fundamental purpose of travelling: to build up a journey from A to B; to actually live the art of travel itself, to feel the bumps and divots in the road and the the rain against your skin or to feel a sense of accomplishment at end of the journey itself.
It is definitely something that Morgan and I felt as we raced from Hanoi to Singapore. I’d travelled throughout the region a few years previously but there was something almost magical, a stirring of the senses that came with cycling from village to village.
The smells emanating from the various local cuisines being prepared at the roadside ready to sell to hungry passers-by, the small glimpses of family life, industries synonymous to the area – it becomes the narrative to your very own mental story in a way that, for example, travelling by bus or train simply cannot do.
Now I’m not for one moment comparing mid-Warwickshire to the sights and sounds of rural Laos but the principle is the same: a journey from south to north, through villages, across counties – experiencing all of the subtle changes along the way, it is something that makes cycling long distances so tempting.
So just a weekend to fill a couple of panniers with Soren and service a bike that’s not seen action since rolling over the finish line on the streets of Singapore back in April.