It’s been a while. I read through my last post just a few days ago and I couldn’t help thinking, ‘did this all happen this year…?’ Cycling the TEMBR trail, dancing on the streets of Cali and getting that sketchy boat around the Darien Gap – it feels like it all happened in an alternate life. For everyone, 2020 has been a tough year to understate it, and therefore I count myself lucky when comparing myself to others. Firstly, although I wasn’t able to finish cycling around the world, I was able to have two of the best years of my life living out on the road, exploring exotic countries and their unique cultures, whilst meeting incredible people, many of who are now close friends. For that I can only be thankful. The fact I couldn’t complete a personal goal in the way I envisioned pales in comparison to the perspective a global pandemic has brought around.
Coming home back in March enabled me to see my family (from a safe distance) for the first time in two years. I had been due to arrive back for my Grandad’s 90th birthday in June, but sadly he passed away that very day. Being back in March meant that I spent many days out in the garden with him, chatting and just enjoying each other’s company. In fact, I think I saw more of him in those months than I ever have done in my life. That alone was more worth breaking the trip up for. Last night I took a trip down memory lane, scrolling through the photo’s from the trip I realised I would give away may worldly possessions without hesitation to keep hold of those memories. Knowing I can’t get that time back cements them in to something more powerful for me – no one can take the joy they still bring to me away. That’s the same way I feel about those days in the garden with him, there are no regrets, only beautiful memories to relive.
Of course life has to move on from the trip, and although I’m often introduced as ‘the guy who did that crazy bike ride’, I feel positive that is happening. Immediately after arriving home, family was the priority, but the good weather we had in the UK was taken advantage of in the form of a lot of bike riding. Initially I only had my old fixed gear available to ride fast, before I built up my new ride. All that time on the road meant I knew where the next step in terms of bikes lay, and after a lot of further research and hours building in the garage, ‘the Fairlight’ was born. A British designed frameset, the distinctive steel frame and wide carbon forks have given my riding here at home a new lease of life. The design premise was, ‘a bike for the next five years that would allow me to push a fast pace with a cycling club, but I could switch the wheels and go bike packing off road in the Andes the next day…’.
The bike has been a revelation. After riding to Sydney using old school down-tube shifters, I didn’t feel guilty treating myself to an electronic groupset and tubeless tyres. I know bikes are truly here to stay in my life, and after seeing so many people stop cycling after completing their world tours, building the bike straight away was important to keep the momentum. Between family visits, I enjoyed a couple of longer rides over the summer months. I rode the famous Fred-Whitton route in the Lake District – suffering my way up Hardknott and Wrisnose pass around the 100 mile mark – then a long and hilly, 280km loop from Bourne End to Cirencester and back. Me and Rodrigo managed to do some beautiful rides in West Wales, with the highlight being a stunning summer ride around the man-made ‘Llyn Brianne’ lake. Taking things off road, completing the New Forest gravel route with a non-cyclist friend was a true highlight. We camped out overnight on a sailing boat moored in Bucklers Hard marina, before taking off into the forest for a full day of gravel riding.
Bizarrely I was spotted on that ride by another long distance tourer who follows me on Instagram. Recognising my beat up Surly from the photos, he shot me a message and then lead us down some fun trails through the forest there. It was lovely to recount stories from the road with us forming the instant connection that only tourers can. Sinking a pint with my friend, Chris, at the end of that day, I was reminded of just how rewarding even a day trip can be. I know the key to maintaining my sanity is through fostering my curiosity through these smaller scale adventures. The grand continental cruises will have to wait for the time being, not least because I have taken up a new position. If anyone can remember back to the start of the year, I had a few PhD interviews from a hotel room and a hostel kitchen in Costa Rica. I was amazed to come through them with the news I had been offered a funded position studying at the University of Oxford.
I still can’t believe it worked out like that, and of course it wasn’t as simple as I’ve led on – there were a few blips in securing funding and even switching group halfway through the summer to overcome. Part of the reason I’ve been on a sort of radio silence is that since September, I moved to Oxford and have been engaged in a pretty full-on course, getting me up to speed on all things Nuclear Fusion. Coming from two years riding a bicycle and then switching from Chemistry to Materials science with a good helping of Physics served up, there’s definitely been a strong dose of imposter syndrome to contend with. On the road I had built up many constructive habits: Meditation, learning Spanish, writing and of course cycling. Predictably many of these have fallen by the wayside. Spanish is just about holding on in there, whilst cycling is the only one still going strong. This is the first time for me writing anything other than academic work, and truthfully I have missed it. My goal of cycling around the world inspired me in a way I doubt anything else can. Writing about it was joy and a felt it a duty. Where before I had direction with my writing, I’m now wandering a maze blindfolded.
I have ideas: a podcast, writing for the student paper and engaging in Blog about what it’s really like to do a PhD project. But currently they are nothing more than that – ideas. I am lucky that what I am learning if truly interesting, and I shouldn’t neglect how lucky I am to be in this position. To be researching materials necessary for a possible solution to the worlds energy problem is more than a worthy cause. It’s inspiring. I just need to find my equilibrium in this work, and my hope is by writing this first rambling blog post in nine months – a farewell to 2020 – I am taking a step in that direction.
Those who know me well, will know that I have avoided mentioning a particular adventure the took place this year. I will avoid it some more, as I would like to tell it in the detail it deserves at a later stage. Out of all the things I did on my trip, this surpasses them all in craziness. Anyways, for anyone who has read this far, I want to say thank you, this transition to life after the trip doesn’t make for dramatic reading. I’m looking to produce some more varied content in the New Year, and with that I want to wish everyone a happy new year. I can’t believe I’m writing this, but let’s hope 2021 brings less surprises than the year gone eh! I’ll leave the Blog for 2020 with a photo of me and a sheep – to laugh and to move on – best wishes to everyone.