“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.” – Nelson Mandela.
When I tell people about the cycle, they often tell me how ‘brave’ I am. By brave, they seem to imagine I’m not scared or nervous; that’s not true, and in fact, if I was, I would argue that would be mere stupidity. Surely someone not even slightly nervous hasn’t properly confronted the risks and dangers. My definition of bravery would instead centre around proceeding in spite of the risks, having minimised them where necessary.
That’s not what this post is about though. Of everything that scares me, one worry towers above all others. More than axe-wielding murderers who clearly live in forests the world across. More than all those dangerous insects, spiders and snakes in Australia. More than cycling through lands where we don’t share a common word (or even the same alphabet). No, what I’m most afraid of is loneliness.
My travels up to this point; Camp America, Horse Ranch, Ski Season and so on, have all forced intense relationships with who I can now call my best friends. At the time I didn’t realise it, but the power of hindsight shows me that it was the people who made these experiences the unforgettable times they were. The cycle is different. I’m sure it will still be very people-centric; the people who I meet on the way will be the main characters in my memories and tales from the journey, but, and here’s the big difference, they will be more transient. A stranger who, despite lacking the ability to talk to, I connect with and forget everything else, sharing one of those laughs where you continue ’til your sides hurt; a passing car beeping it’s horn for support, encouraging weary legs to carry on for the last part of the mountain pass; an old man and a young boy who come out of their hut to marvel at the strange person who’s just stumbled into their small, unchanging world. Such connections are evidently very different from my previous experiences where I’ve worked, slept and played in the same bubble for months on end.
On a bike tour, although I have no first-hand experience, instinct tells me it’s not all powerful highs such as stunning mountain passes, generous hospitality from strangers and new, confusing places, but also hour after hour, day after day, of working hard in the saddle, inching across the map, enveloped in silence, with little for a wandering mind to focus on. That seems to me a dangerous concoction and the perfect recipe for missing friends and family.
As well as the loneliness on the journey, there is also a fear of loneliness upon my eventual return home. There are countless incredible people I’ve already met and the thought of losing contact with them is a tough one to process. When I eventually return, will it still be the same with my friends? Will they have moved on in their own lives and forgotten about me?
I’d like to end this post with answers or some worry-quashing conclusions that puts my fears to bed. I’m afraid I can’t do that. I don’t have any answers. This post is called ‘I’m terrified’, not ‘I was terrified’. Instead all I can do is have hope. Hope that I’ll be able to keep in touch with friends and family adequately, hope that when I return, I’ll meet up with friends and it will be like we were never apart, hope that the adventure will bring me into contact with amazing people all across the world.
Now I’d like to ask a favour – if you’ve travelled and come face to face with loneliness, is there anything you did which helped? Don’t hesitate to comment below! Thanks!