Since I posted last night, I’ve received a great deal of sound advice and wisdom from a great many people. (Thank you.) And perhaps I should have realized that, after all I said about Kohistan, no one was going to say anything other than ‘take the bus!’, for fear of being the one who sent me into the arms of my kidnappers.
I think the advice that most successfully struck home was this:
Your indecision is that place inside you giving you space to think carefully before moving forward. You have to consider your motives. If you’re bowing to pride than you’re making a mistake. If you’re wanting to be seen as a risk-taker then you’re thinking is only from the ego and therefore misplaced – many risk-takers don’t make it. If you’re riding along on your luck then know that good fortune can fade and the way you got through Zahedan, Balochistan, Kohala, Abbottabad may not remain the norm. Then ask yourself why you’re putting yourself at risk when you have so many more miles and so many more adventures ahead of you in the coming months and years. Sometimes the decision to back down takes more courage than the decision to carry on.
Many more people assured me that their admiration wouldn’t falter in the slightest if I took the bus. “You’re fantastic and daring and mad anyway, nothing will change that as long as you’re ALIVE”, said my friend in Köln.
The most immediate result of this was that I started looking at bus timetables.
Another, less immediate result is that I’ve begun to question my motives. Why, after all, did I want to risk life and limb riding through Kohistan and maintaining my unbroken line? A lot of it, I realized, had to do with what people think of me, and the superhero image I sometimes like to think I present to the world. And with living up to the daredevil exploits of people who’ve done this sort of thing in the past. There’s an episode in one of Al Humphreys’ books where he asks all the experts’ advice on whether he should cycle through Columbia, and they all say it’s a very bad idea and that he’s likely to die, but he does it anyway, and has a marvellous time. I wanted that sort of narrative.
You’d think I’d have realized by now that there’s more to this expedition than what it looks like to the outside observer – or that, even though this is a major factor, I should leave myself space for something other than the tired old stories of overcoming fears and laughing in the face of danger. There is, of course, the deep, simple and exhilarating joy that I feel when I ride my bike. That’s very real, and the main reason I want to keep going. There is also the sense, which struck me a couple of weeks ago, during a conversation with my father, of being entirely at peace with that portion of my character which, in most people, will always be whispering “what if? what if? what if you had dared to pack it all in and cycle round the world when you had the chance?”. That’s a wonderful feeling.
But, even though I sometimes go to great lengths to emphasize the mundane elements of this trip and my character (how infrequently I wash, for example, and all those days I waste sitting around eating junk food and playing on the internet), I still kind of want people to think of me as a hero. Yes, I do want to be seen as a risk-taker, as the cyclist who kept the line unbroken, and as the plucky girl who triumphed where all the men failed. But this is my ego talking, plain and simple. And it shows a lack of imagination. I shouldn’t be trying to be the next Dervla Murphy, or the next Alastair Humphreys, or even the next Loretta Henderson. I shouldn’t be trying to shoehorn my journey into predetermined templates, or straining towards targets like the fastest, the first, the strongest or the bravest.
The person who wrote the paragraph I quoted above no doubt intended to flatter me when they said that it may well take more courage to back out than to carry on. But let’s leave courage out of this for a while. We know all about courage. Courage is boring, and gets too much airtime, and drowns out all the more interesting little fragments of my motivation. Let’s give ourselves some space to think about what other emotions (admirable or not) might be influencing our decisions.
And I have plenty of space right now. There aren’t any buses today, so I have at least one more (unplanned and unwelcome) day in Islamabad, with nothing left on my to do list, and my mind and legs going crazy for want of the bike and the road. I think I’m going to go and run up a hill, sit on top, look at the view, and give myself a good talking to.