Goodbye London

Two good pieces of advice I received when I attended Explore at the RGS last year:

NOBODY is ever completely prepared when they leave on an expedition; there is ALWAYS more that can be done but one could go on preparing for ever!! (Hallam Murray)

Set a date, tell everyone that’s when you’re leaving, and stick to it. (Alastair Humphreys, quoted by someone else.)

And as I’ve trundled – and lazed, and panicked – through my several months of preparation, I’ve realized just how right they were. Shortly after Explore, I started telling people I was leaving on the 1st of September, and suddenly the trip became a reality rather than a pipe dream. And now, in the final stretch, I’ve accepted that there are certain things that I just won’t get round to doing. I think I’ll still survive – and even if I had ticked off everything on my list, I’d probably still get six weeks into the ride and discover things I should have done but hadn’t.

It was the same with leaving London for Wales, where I’m spending the next two weeks before I disappear. My last day of work was Sunday, and I could have hung around forever tying up loose ends, but luckily my mother reminded me of the effectiveness of a self-imposed deadline. So I booked a train ticket for lunchtime on Monday, and then stayed awake almost the whole weekend trying to get everything finished off, tidied up, packed, sold, given away, chucked out, signed, printed, scanned, sealed and delivered.

At 4am on Monday morning it seemed like I wouldn’t make it, but with the help of chocolate-covered coffee beans, I was somehow out the door by 9am, twitching with exhaustion, but leaving a clean and empty room, and riding a bike that carries all my remaining possessions in four neat Ortlieb panniers. A couple of genial hours queuing and submitting at the Pakistan High Commission, a serendipitous Hare Krishna lunch as I passed through SOAS (they fed me every day for a year when I studied there, and it seems somehow apt that they also served me my last meal, as I leave London homeless and unemployed), a fond farewell to Jim of GTW, since I was passing, and then a surreal half-an-hour sitting outside Euston, thinking about all my courier friends, and wondering which parts of London they were in right at that moment, and realizing slowly that it was all going to continue without me.

I’ll be back, of course. Briefly, in passing, on the 3rd and 4th of September, and then – well, whenever I want in the future. London will always be here, I hope.

And eventually, finally, I was in Wales. My brother collected me at the station and I followed his back wheel home, concentrating furiously on keeping the bike straight, because we all know how clumsy and stupid I get when I’m tired. I was struck, as I always am, by how green it is here, and how quiet. By the time I got to bed, I hadn’t slept for over 40 hours, and London already seemed a lifetime away.

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