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Trying not to be a loser

Trying not to be a loser Posted on September 8, 201113 Comments

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster
(Elizabeth Bishop)

So, how’s it going so far?

Like a dream. Like an absolute dream.

I’d forgotten – or perhaps never properly known – how much I love touring. All the little rhythms and habits are coming back – the sight and sound of the tarmac under my pedals, the game of navigating between and around towns using road signs and roundabouts, the little hourly breaks for a stretch or a flapjack or a sip of water, and how it all gets easier after that, the unhurried thoughts and ideas and songs that turn themselves over and around in my head, the momentary encounters with passers-by as I eat my lunch or nip into a petrol station to use the toilet.

Yesterday evening I bought a carrier bag of stuff from Sainsbury’s to cook for the friend I’m staying with.

“I don’t envy you carrying all that on a bike!” said the woman at the check-out, spotting my helmet.

I smiled, and didn’t bother telling her my bike was already so heavily loaded that I can barely lift it. It’s the same if I ask for directions to the next town, and people tell me how impressed they are that I’d consider cycling that far. Best not to tell them I’m going all the way round the world then.

And along with all the patterns and habits and routines I’ve fallen into, there are a few I’m trying very hard to get myself into. Sensible habits, like closing my panniers every time I open them – even if I think I’ll be putting the half-finished packet of biscuits back in my bag before I set off, because in all likelihood I’ll end up eating the whole packet, forget I’ve left the pannier open, and ride away with all my worldly goods scattering behind me.

I’ve read lots of books and blogs by long-distance cyclists over the past few months, and every single person has some tale of stupidity I’ve sworn not to emulate. A famous round-the-world cyclist (who shall remain anonymous) at various points left his sleeping bag behind and lost his waterproof. At least three people I know have forgotten their wallets somewhere along the way. Andy Welch left part of his trailer by the side of the road while hitching a lift.

And every time I read one of these accounts, I get a smug little glow of ‘well, I won’t let myself do anything that stupid’. But I will, of course. I’m bound to. It’ll be like when I read this account of couriers losing packages.

Losing a parcel is something that happens to every messenger, sooner or later.

Every messenger? Not me! I’d never lost a package, and I never intended to. But I did, shortly after that. And, over the next few months and years and continents, I know I’ll lose or break or forget several highly essential items of my kit, and cause myself untold inconvenience and expense, and have no one but my silly self to blame.

So I’m being very careful. When I stop somewhere overnight I unpack my kit in such a way that I’ll remember it all in the morning. I lock my front wheel to my bike, partly so that no one can nick it, but mainly so that I can’t accidentally ride off without my lock. I put my shoes in my helmet so that I can’t forget my helmet. I’m training myself to close my bags whenever I’ve opened them, even if I’m likely to have to open them again within five minutes or so.

But life is a persistent comedy of errors. On my second night I noticed I’d lost my hairbrush. I’ve no idea where it went, or why it wasn’t where I’d left it. I don’t even remember the last time I used it. (And now it’s a race to see whether I’ll get a new one, or just give in and shave all my hair off.)

And on Sunday evening I carefully reset my cycle computer before heading out from my old house in East Dulwich to my leaving party in Peckham, about a mile away. Two minutes later I looked down and it was gone. I never found it again, or worked out how I’d managed to knock it off.

So the clock stopped on Day Three, at 269.67 miles. Do you think I should get another one?


  1. I got into the habit of turning to look over my shoulder every time I set off from a snack break, puncture repair etc.
    And so, with one or two small exceptions (!) I very, very rarely lost anything.

    I do think you should get another computer. It’s nice to be idealistic and vague. It’s nicer though to build up those miles with pride, to get bloody good at mental arithmetic (843km to X and I’m travelling at 6mph… I should be there on Tuesday).

  2. Yes, get a new computer. You can always stick a picture over the screen when you don’t want it, and peak at it when you need it.

  3. You lost your hairbrush ON DAY TWO? Well, I haven’t seen it! I did make sure to check the flat after you left!

  4. Yes to the shaved head, no to the computer. Just think of the weight saving!
    Liberate yourself from little things, one at a time.

  5. Emily! We haven’t chatted for ages (I think the last time was at Newington one night at polo when you came down with some Guardian people?), but I came across this this new blog the other day. Ryan told me he made a frame for a friend who was cycling around the world. No idea it was you. So awesome, and so jealous.

    When Adrienne and I were cycling London>Newcastle>Norway>Denmark I lost our map after a stop to repair a puncture. That sucked. I also lost a pedal about 25 miles outside of Cambridge after the threads stripped.

  6. I once left behind two of my three children after forgetting to re-attach their trailer to the bike. So don’t do that…

  7. Ignore that lot up there. Don’t get a new cycle computer!

    Mine got nicked in Sudan & I never replaced it – enjoyed myself much more afterwards, because I never felt guilty about doing a ‘short day’ (nor felt like a legend for doing a ‘long day’), and made better decisions without abstract distances getting in the way.

    Now I only know how far I rode to the nearest thousand miles or so. Big deal – people always round to the nearest thousand anyway 😉

  8. You will probably lose lots of neat stuff around the world, yes. But think of all the neat stuff that you will no doubt also find. And think of the happy faces of the people who stumble across the neat stuff you left behind =]
    I vote against the computer, in case the thought returns to you. I imagine having one will result in you spending too much time looking at that rather than at all the pretty things around you (and not so pretty things and kinda scary things and probably magical things).

  9. I just thought I’d let you know you have moved up three places (or more) in the Google return for “that Emily Chappell”. Not to give you a big head, or anything.

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