Disclaimer

I’m going to stop playing it cool, and admit that I am somewhat overwhelmed by this week’s award. Excited and proud too, but mostly overwhelmed. I feel like I’ve given myself a lot to live up to. And it’s brought on a bad case of writer’s block, since I can no longer pretend that this blog is only read by me, my Dad, and a couple of friends when they’re bored at work.

Exactly the same thing happened when my last blog became popular. I wrote a post about the closure of a popular courier watering hole, Buffalo Bill (the godfather of London couriers) linked to it on Moving Target, and all of a sudden my daily page hits shot up into triple figures. Knowing that hundreds of people were now reading my blog, most of them unknown to me, brought on a bad case of performance anxiety, and I felt the need to issue a disclaimer, in order to reduce their expectations as much as possible. I’m feeling a similar need now.

Since my RGS debut I’ve given talks to a few other schools and organizations, and found I enjoy it immensely. One huge advantage of talking over blogging is that you get an instant reaction, the moment the words leave your mouth, and this helps you to tailor what you’re saying minute by minute, sentence by sentence. If the audience laugh easily, you can shoehorn in a few more jokes. If they start to fidget and yawn, you know to wrap up your discussion of early Persian architecture and move on to the story about being arrested in Abbottabad. If they look confused, you can speak more slowly, or simplify your language.

This doesn’t happen with writing. The audience is almost entirely invisible and anonymous, and whatever you choose to say to them is a leap of faith. They’ve enjoyed what you’ve written so far, or they wouldn’t be reading, but there’s no guarantee that whatever you’re planning to say next will meet with their approval. It’s easier when I just forget about it, the way I used to forget about the audience when I acted in plays, because I could barely see them across the footlights, but sometimes that’s not so easy.

When I gave my lecture in Hong Kong, I met several long-time readers of my blog, and knew that I’d be gaining a few more. A few people got in touch afterwards, and told me they were looking forward to my next post. The same has happened in the wake of my award. My viewing figures have doubled. I know there are a lot of people watching, but I only have the vaguest idea of who they are. Mind you, when I try to think about who they might be, it gets even harder. I know that my readership ranges from age 8 to age 80, across many different cultural, religious, educational and linguistic backgrounds. Trying to write something that I think will please, enlighten and entertain them all is an impossible task.

Of course, as someone will tell me every time I start fretting about this, people are reading this blog because they like what I write – so all I need to do is keep doing what I’m already doing. The trouble is, life is constantly changing at the moment, and so is the way I write. It’s nothing like my courier blog, which got better and better the more I got to know my subject. Here, I can’t get to know my subject, because it’s always new.

As I’ve come to realize, cycling round the world isn’t a single journey. It has many different journeys and many different stories within it. Already the early days of this trip seem as distant and as different as my teenage years or my early childhood. There were the Nutella days – the easy, indulgent, autumnal ride through the European autumn. Then the Turkish winter, with all its sweeping snowy vistas, grey and blue skies, freezing fingers and toes, and cosy nights in the tent, burning my lips on hot soup. (I yearn for the simplicity and satisfaction of those days.) There were the busy sociable days of Lahore and Islamabad, and all my righteous indignation over how misrepresented Pakistanis were by the rest of the world. Then the horribly hot and painful struggle across the Taklamakan Desert, where every cell of my mind and body was focused on just keeping going and getting through it. And now the social whirl of Tokyo, baking cakes, giving talks, going for runs, trying to sort out the next few thousand miles, and all the scary logistics of getting myself, my bike and all my kit across the Pacific. A lot has changed since I set off last September. If you’re still expecting the kind of stories I told back then, you’re likely to be disappointed.

People regularly ask me whether I’ll be writing a book about all this when I get to the end, and this seems like less and less of a good idea. How could I possibly condense four years (or however long it takes) into a mere 200 pages, and how could I hope to do every episode justice if I can only write in one style? I now tell people there might well be several books – perhaps one big round-the-world travelogue, then a book of essays about various things that outraged me along the way, maybe also a family album with stories of all the friends I’ve made, monographs on particular countries or cities that captured my interest, countless magazine articles and blog posts, a how-to guide for women who want to ride bikes …maybe even a PhD thesis, one day.

Likewise, this blog has varied a lot, and will vary still more. Here’s the disclaimer:

This is a travel blog, but only sometimes. I also talk about cake a lot. Sometimes I go off on feminist tangents. Sometimes I reminisce about the life I left behind. Sometimes I introduce you to people I’ve met along the way. Sometimes I share my inner demons. Sometimes I wax lyrical about my abiding lover affair with the road.

And who knows where it – and I – will go in the future. All I can safely tell you is that it’ll change a lot. And I hope you’ll stick around. It’s been nice having you with me so far.

Leave a Comment

11 Comments

  1. Mary
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 8:24 am | Permalink

    Hello, I’m out here reading your blog about an adventure I’ll probably never take. I’m not sure I’d want to, to tell you the truth but I’m here. As I was reading your latest post I started thinking of Horton and his little clover that carried a speck. A speck that was in fact a whole other world. I sit in an office working third shift and see very little sun light. Once a week or so I check for a new post from you. Something interesting going on in the light somewhere far away. Just so you know I have no expectations. Sometimes when I open the “world wide,” window its sunny and your having fun other times its cold or raining or you are blue. I just hope you continue to carry that clover that contains that speck.

  2. Don
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    One of my (other) favourite bloggers, Steven Fleming (cycle-space.com), once said that he wrote his blog like a diary. I think the point being that its impossible to second-guess what people want to hear, so you may as well write for yourself. If the topic is worth writing about, then people will read it.

    One of the things I like so much about this blog (and ‘thatmessengerchick’) is that you seem to write in the same way. There is so much passion and honesty in your writing that I can’t keep away!

    I’m really looking forward to seeing how your journey (and your writing) develops. Best wishes and thank you!

  3. Posted November 25, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Bravo Emily!

    This is your experience … whatever shows up, write about it … or not.

    Just keep on riding and when the spirit moves, stop … or not!
    This is the riding/writing trail!

    Be well.

  4. Jamie
    Posted November 25, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Permalink

    Don may be right here. Just write want you want to write and it will be better for it.

  5. Posted November 26, 2012 at 8:38 am | Permalink

    Hi Emily,

    I found your blog recently and it is one of the most interesting cyclist’s diaries I know. Really, you are doing a good job!

    Myself I’m at the last miles of my long journey from Norway to South Africa: http://north-south.info/en/ and I promise that once I come back home, I will spend more time on reading your older posts.

    You are doing a good job! Wish you tailwinds! :)

    • Posted November 27, 2012 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Oh wow – congratulations on nearing the end of your journey! Looking forward to exploring your website. I expect it’ll come in very useful when I get to Africa myself.

  6. Cudzoziemiec
    Posted November 26, 2012 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Your subject is “always new” you say as if that were a problem, but the newness is a constant – making new the new familiar. There are plenty of people who know than you about the Turkish mountains, expat high life in Islamabad, survival in the Taklamakan or the pleasures of Nutella. Some even have more cycle touring/expeditioning experience than you. But they can’t be new to those things and as a rule they look at the places and things, not the spaces between the places and the somes between the things.

  7. Steve
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

    Emily, we have met as few times, I doubt you remember. Your blog is beautifully written, your journey inspiring and your award well deserved.

    • Posted November 27, 2012 at 8:11 am | Permalink

      Oh, there’s a good chance I do remember! Where did we meet?

  8. Angela
    Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on your award, Emily! I second the comments above (or 3rd/4th/5th): just be yourself when you write, and it’ll be fine. Good luck for Alaska – though I worry for you if temperatures are going to plunge that low, and hope that you will in fact get to sleep indoors more often than you are currently planning. Stay safe!

  9. Posted December 4, 2012 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Emily! I’m so pleased for you and proud of you! You’re struggling, on a very public stage, with questions that most of us only grapple with in much more circumscribed ways. This necessarily makes for some scary spotlight moments but your need to write will carry you on again, of that you can be sure!

    Much love!