Not the end of the world

Back in June, when I was battling against the Taklamakan headwind between Kashgar and Aksu, I passed a Japanese cyclist called Shamoto, who was on his way to Kyrgyzstan. We spent a couple of minutes taking photographs and exchanging email addresses, and then he continued on his way west, and I carried on east.

Last week I met up with him again.

He finished his journey several months ago, and now works for a company in Tokyo. He and a colleague of his spent a sunny Saturday showing me around the city and all its sights. It was a far cry from the Taklamakan Desert.

And hopefully I’ll soon be catching  up with Yu Ito, who I first met in Yazd, back in February. We got chatting in the courtyard of our hostel, while he chainsmoked and I made the most of the first real coffee I’d encountered since Istanbul, and I found out that he had just spent a year working for an architecture firm in Rotterdam, and was now cycling across Asia on his way home. He finished his journey back in August, and I’m looking forward to seeing what changes a few months of Real Life have wrought on him.

Everyone seems to be finishing their journeys at the moment. In Seoul I stayed with Will and Julie, who had recently arrived home after riding all the way from Italy. I first met them in Croatia, over a year ago now.

In Hong Kong I shared a celebratory meal with Bert and Thijs, who had ridden all the way there from the Netherlands, and with whom I saw in the New Year in Ercan’s flat in Sivas. Two days later they flew back to Europe, and now they’re back at university, missing the road.

Belgian Ben, with whom I rode for a couple of days in Turkey, and a couple more days in Iran, is now back in Belgium.

Michael, the charming Dutchman with(out) whom I (would never have) conquered the Khunjerab Pass, made it to Beijjng in October, after two years on the road, took the Trans-Siberian train back to Europe and is now home, his wandering days at an end. (I think…)

Dean, who I never met (but followed for a while) is now back in the UK.

Johannes is back in Germany.

Matt and Andy of The Cycle Diaries, who I drank pints with in London when we were all but starry-eyed dreamers, are now within a few hundred kilometres of Sydney, their journey’s end.

Sometimes it feels as if I’m the only one left.

That’s not true, of course. There will always be more, and as I type, the next generation of cross-continental cyclists is heading east through Europe, looking forward to the Turkish winter – or looking at the maps on their living room wall, shaking their head in disbelief that they might really be cycling through the Iranian desert in just a few months’ time.

What’s probably even harder for them to believe is that eighteen months or a year from now they will be back in that same living room, surrounded by dusty panniers and a worn-out bicycle, wondering whether it was all just a dream. Most people’s journeys don’t last longer than a year, and there’s a subtle loneliness in knowing that I’m one of the few who will carry on. Now would, perhaps, be the right time to book a flight back to London. I’ve been away for 15 months, which is long enough for everything to have changed in my absence, but not so long that people will have forgotten me, or grown beyond recognition. I’d land at Heathrow in the rain, and ride my bike along the grey roads that lead into central London, enjoying the friendly, festive warmth of the Christmas lights and grinning with the anticipation of running into people I know and seeing how surprised and happy they are to have me back. And then up to Euston, the four-hour train journey to Wales (in reality, of course, I’d ride, but this isn’t reality), just like when I used to go home for Christmas, and then the same quiet, unchanging greenness all around me as I ride the last six miles to my parents’ house, wondering if I’ll have the energy to make it up the final hill, to the point where this journey began.

But this is a dream. The world goes on, and so do I. I’ll be in Japan over Christmas and New Year, and I’ll be riding down the US West Coast next spring and summer, taking a break in June to follow the Race Across America (as support crew, not as a rider) from California to Maryland, (possibly) riding back to LA after (possible) stop-offs in New York and Toronto, and then heading south into Mexico, aiming to spend Christmas somewhere in Central America.

But before any of that happens there’s the winter to get through. Last year the Turkish winter was harsh and horrible, but nowhere near as hellish as all the scaremongers would have me believe. And next year I won’t see winter at all. So this year I’m going for the big one. Sometime in February, I will leave Anchorage, and start riding along the Alaska Highway, bound for Seattle. It will be cold – colder than I’ve ever experienced before – and dark for much of the time. I’ll be riding along lonely, uninhabited roads, often into a biting headwind, and camping at temperatures as low as -40. I’ll often go for days without meeting another person. I’ll have to carry all my own food and – most crucially – melt all my own water. It will be painful, challenging and dangerous, and there is a high risk of failure. I can hardly wait.

In case you’re interested, which I’m sure a lot of you are, more practical details will follow in a few days. Needless to say, this is an expedition that will involve a lot of practicalities.

Leave a Comment

6 Comments

  1. Posted November 27, 2012 at 2:16 am | Permalink

    Hello Emily

    Your post is the last that I’m reading before I turn in. It just after 10.00pm here.
    But I thought I’d check in …Curious about the practicalities? … maybe.

    But I find the last four words of the second to last paragraph much more intriguing …”I can hardly wait”… . Something in me understands … .

  2. paul evans
    Posted November 27, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    Have followed your story on and off, amazing how time fly’s. I’ll be back in Japan from 15 January riding solo from Narita via the coast to Osaka /Kyoto then onto Shikoku and Kyushu.Will be on the road for 7 weeks. Hope you get to see some of Japan, I bike holiday almost every year there and am still gob smacked by the people and the country. Good luck on your next leg of the ride, it is a long cold one. I’m coming onto 62 and never tire of reading other peoples rides and try for a long ride somewhere every year, even with more gears it seems to get harder and longer. Bon Voyage Emily.

  3. Posted November 27, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Permalink

    Timely post Emily. We’re definitely out there… I’m heading out in March to cycle east from Istanbul 😉

    Don’t miss London too much, the weather is diabolical and the Christmas decorations get worse every year. The next leg sounds epic and I can’t wait to follow what I can from the road.

    Happy riding

  4. Posted November 28, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Great post! Makes me kind of sad to read about other people finishing their trips – maybe that’s just me being strange. I can’t imagine what it will be like for us when we decide to stop turning the pedals…

    I will be following and very much looking forward to how you adapt to -40 degrees!

    Take care,

    Geoff and Monika @ travelsonsaddles.com

  5. Doug W.
    Posted November 30, 2012 at 7:55 am | Permalink

    That was a great post, and one heck of a challenge you’ve laid out for yourself!

    We’re not exactly on the Pacific Coast route, but if you need a place to stay a night or three 25 miles east of Seattle, in the foothills, look us up on Warmshowers. We’re the only ones in Snoqualmie that are hosting.

  6. Posted December 3, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I love the can hardly wait, its like a to be continued. Kinda like my life now, chilling out in Australia, just trying to figure out what to do next. I am missing the European road and keep looking back at the 3 months me & Tim spent climbing all the mountains in France and feeling a little nostalgic to say the least, I don’t think I could survive without your real adventures to read and relate. It seems very strange all the hard yards to get here and now I’m not doing anything really (apart from cook and ride up hills).

    Oh and tip for the winter. Merino gloves then big cheap waterproof ski mittens. I lost my gloves last winter (left them at a pickup on a wamer day, you know how it is) so started using a pair of ski mits I bought from TK Maxx for a fiver. Best thing I ever did. Didn”t work so well with gears but on the fixie they were a dream. I wore them in Finland up to minus 25 and they were still toasty.