I’m not counting the days exactly, but there are only about two left. The rest of today, all of Tuesday, all of Wednesday, and then I leave first thing on Thursday morning.
But I’m not feeling all nervous and tragic about it. Oh no. I’m still caught up in the To Do lists. For me, two days doesn’t yet mean “only two days until my life changes completely and I wave goodbye to everything I know” – it means “only two days to get everything done …and oh my god, I mustn’t forget to cut my toenails!” Although it does feel slightly surreal that a few months ago I was wondering if this would ever actually happen, and now my departure date’s so close that I’m fretting over whether my laundry will be dry by the time I have to pack it into my panniers.
Oh god, and I still have to buy superglue! And lighters! And spare tent pegs! And put Loctite on all the screws on my bike! And figure out how my stove works…
My parents are still remarkably unfussed about the prospect of losing me for the next half-a-decade, although my father did pointedly drop this newspaper onto my keyboard the other day.
(In case you can’t see that, it’s a page of the Guardian, with a picture of Nato oil tankers on fire after being attacked by gunmen in the Balochistan desert, and an article about PKK guerillas being killed by the Turkish army in northern Iraq. Both of these are areas I plan to ride through.)
I’m not so worried about stuff like this at the moment. I’m more concerned about the fact that I haven’t really ridden a bike very much for the past month, and my left knee still hurts when I put pressure on it (though not when I’m cycling or walking, and two doctors, an acupuncturist and a massage therapist have told me it’ll be fine, so I think this is probably just hypochondria). And I’ve had a nagging headache and a sore throat for the last couple of days.
The latter symptoms, of course, might have something to do with the dozen or so Londoners who trekked up to Wales this weekend, for what I’ve taken to describing as my stag party. Because, bizarrely, I’ve found that getting ready for this trip is not dissimilar to what many of my friends are currently going through in the run-up to their weddings. There’s the same big this-is-where-my-life-is-going decision, the same arbitrary, self-imposed deadline – and then once the deadline’s been set, something that will eventually be magical, romantic and challenging is temporarily reduced to an impossibly long list of boring and time-consuming chores. I’m used to friends complaining incredulously that they had no idea how much time, effort, strategy, logistics, diplomacy and plain hard work goes into getting married. I feel very much the same. I know it’ll be wonderful when it happens – and in fact, how wonderful it will be is directly proportional to how much work I put in beforehand.
But oh my god, it’s been a lot of work. And running alongside all that work, exacerbating and impeding it, is a whole lot of fear, doubt, excitement, ambivalence, and general worry about whether this is the right thing to do, and whether life will be completely turned on its head after The Big Day. Or maybe it’ll just feel the same as it ever did, but with a slightly different view. A bit like getting married.
Oh course, one of the lovely things about getting married – or setting off to cycle round the world, which seems at the moment to be pretty similar – is that people will rally around you like never before. Everyone I’ve ever met – and indeed, many people I’ve never met – seems to have heard about my plans and got in touch to wish me all the best. Probably about half the stuff I’m taking with me has been given to me as presents, either by friends, or by incredibly generous strangers who stumbled across my blog. And knowing that their time with me is limited, my nearest and dearest have spent the past couple of months ostentatiously showering me with love and attention. It’s been lovely. It also means that I actually do have to leave, and spend a decent amount of time out of the country, even if I don’t actually make it all the way round the world. I can’t accept all this generosity, and then pop up again six weeks later saying “erm, thanks for all the farewell presents chaps – now how about a welcome home party?”
So I made the most of my stag party, or whatever else you want to call it. There were vast quantities of cake and bacon and gin, and endless practical jokes. I was pinched, and punched, and hugged and humped. I drank more, and slept less, than I have over any weekend since I was a student. I was relieved of some of my hair. It took me all afternoon to clear up the debris after everyone had left. And we all parted ways just a little bit more in love with each other than we had been before. Maybe that’s the power of these big life-changing events, like getting married, and leaving to cycle round the world – ultimately, they bring people closer together, even in the act of moving them apart.