One year in

And here I am.

When I sat up in bed at 2am on September the 1st 2011, writing the last post I’d publish before setting off on my long-anticipated adventure, I didn’t give any thought at all to where I might be a year thence.¬† I think at that point I still assumed I’d be coming home within a couple of months. (Perhaps the thought that I actually might succeed, and stay on the road for several years, was at that point even more frightening than the possibility of failure.)

But now, a year later, I can’t stop thinking about where I’ve been and how far I’ve come – or about how far I’ll be going in the next twelve months. Plans continue to fall into place, and I’m already accepting tentative engagements as far away as California next June. It seems unfeasibly distant now, but, having seen how far I’ve come in the past year, I’m now reasonably confident that I’ll get there in the end, if I just keep myself going.

It is rather a shame that I wasn’t actually on the bike to celebrate this anniversary. Although, the last couple of weeks of laptop slavery (there’s a Big New Adventure being planned for this winter, and it’s taking a lot of work) remind me very much of how I spent last August – escalating through increasing levels of stress and panic as I tried to get everything planned, prepared, tied up and finished off before I left. (Of course I never got to the end of the To Do list, and of course it didn’t matter.)

And the next two weeks promise to continue this theme of stress and panic. In the end I was only given a 15-day visa for China, which means I have to cover the remaining  1,600km from Lanzhou to Tianjin in only 11 days cycling (i.e. 90 miles a day with no rest days) because the train journey to Lanzhou will eat up the first two days, and the ferry to Korea only runs twice a week Рthe latest one I can take is on the morning of Sunday the 16th, which robs me of another two days.

I briefly considered just overstaying my visa and paying the fine (a rather hefty $50 per day), but reading this poor man’s blog post quickly changed my mind about that. And I thought about stopping off in Beijing (where there are some friends who I was hoping to be able to visit while I was in China) and gambling on getting an extension there, but since I wouldn’t be able to get there before Saturday the 15th, I’d end up applying on Monday the 17th, which is the last day of my visa, and that would put me in rather a sticky situation if I was turned down, as seems likely, judging by how reluctant China was to grant me this visa in the first place.

So it looks like I’m just going to put my head down and ride 90 miles a day, reminding myself all along that people like Mike Hall, who averaged just under 200 miles per day when he set his world record for circumnavigation, have suffered and survived far worse. Perhaps it’s a fitting finale to Asia, which has thrown greater challenges at me than I could ever have imagined, not least all these tiresome visa deadlines. (I’ve had a visa clock ticking in one corner of my brain ever since I picked up my Pakistan visa last August, and realized that I’d have to have crossed all of Europe, Turkey and Iran by mid February if I wanted to get in before it expired.)

I won’t need a visa for South Korea, and I’ll be met off the ferry by my wonderful friends Will and Julie, who have assured me I can stay with them for as long as I like. And then I’m meeting two London friends in Nagasaki on the 21st of October, and we’ll be riding to Tokyo together. I don’t need a visa for Japan either, and suspect that, with the impeccable roads, clean and upright toilets, congenial company and relatively tiny distances, I’ll rediscover the sense of perpetual holiday that I enjoyed back in Europe. Whatever happens, it seems very clear that I am ending – well, more than a chapter – perhaps Volume I of this journey, and turning over the flyleaf of Volume II. My 11-day dash will be the frenzied climax of my first continent.

(The seemingly unrelated photographs illustrating this post show what I’ve been up to for the past month – not gawping at skyscrapers and guzzling dim sum, as most people seem to do when they come to Hong Kong, but walking dogs and sitting on top of hills, admiring the view. There’s a lot more to Hong Kong’s skyline than just buildings. And isn’t it beautiful?

Also, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that the hideous 1990s tie-dye pattern on my sandals was not my choice – this was the only pair they had left in my size.)

Leave a Comment

14 Comments

  1. Posted September 1, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    What a wonderful blog, such great writing

  2. Don
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    I quite like the sandals..!

  3. Posted September 2, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Now if you start humming the Grateful Dead while on a long ride you have the sandals to blame!

  4. Cudzoziemiec
    Posted September 2, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    Is that actually a large dog in the photos? It looks a very small white lion!

  5. Posted September 2, 2012 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I was about to compliment you on your footwear choice, Em. And I’m glad that you mention California in the same sentence as June because I was just about to find out when you planned to be there and if you would still consider cycling the California trail with me?

  6. Jan Talbot-Jones
    Posted September 3, 2012 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    Just catching up with you, Em. Very impressed with how far you have got. Nothing wrong with the sandals so no need to be apologetic! It’s handy to have a quirky style …
    Jan x

  7. Posted September 7, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Good! Was worried about the sandals…

    A friend just sent me a link to your site about two days ago (Planning a trip through Pakistan’s Balochistan in a few months myself) and I think I’m about half way through your posts.

    What you’re doing is pretty damn awesome!!

    If you’re still in Hong Kong and need anything… Wouldn’t want to offer unwanted help… Just saying! And if not then hang in there and have fun!

    Your newest fan, Hong Kong Nick.

    • Posted September 18, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

      I’m not in Hong Kong any more, but I will probably be paying a flying visit in mid October, and it would be wonderful to meet you, if you’re free (and if you’d like me to bend your ear about Balochistan).

      And I’m always happy to be offered help! (Worried that post might have been counter-productive.) It’s when someone insists on interfering without first checking whether their interference is welcome that I get annoyed. (It’s equally annoying not being offered help when you really need it, as I discovered in China.)

      • Posted September 19, 2012 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

        You made it!!
        Not that I doubted you but it did seem like a bit of a stretch. Congratulations!!

        If you do make it back to Hong Kong in October than please let me know just a bit in advance and it would be an absolute pleasure to get to meet you, hear all you have to say about Balochistan and everywhere else you’ve been.

        And no worries, I did understand where you were going with that “offered help” post. My offer still stands for your next trip to Hong Kong.

        Until then, hang in there and have even more fun! Korea should be wonderful just before winter.

  8. Steve Sprague
    Posted September 11, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

    Hey Emily,

    Thanks for the adventure! Been great reading your posts. You are more than welcome to stay at our place here in Sacramento, CA if it works out for you. Just hope our twin 5 year olds won’t bother you too much. Enjoy Hong Kong and look forward to reading more of your travels. Cheers, Steve

    • Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

      Five-year-old twins? Wow! Then I’m definitely coming to stay – hosts with children are the best. May/June next year suit you? (And thanks – looking forward to meeting you all.)

  9. Posted September 13, 2012 at 6:18 am | Permalink

    Happy Anniversary Emily – a bit late I know, but well done!

    R x

  10. Posted September 25, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    A continuing amazing trip!