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 – the 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.)