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A cyclist’s journey


“All that you are experiencing now
Will become moods of future joys,
So bless it all.”

– Ben Okri

Prologue

If you’re not hurting you’re not riding hard enough.
If you’re not hungry you’ve eaten too much.
If you’re not cold you’re carrying too many clothes.
If you know you will succeed it’s too easy.

Days are long on the road. Pack up and pedal into the dawn. Ride until sunset. It’s easy to kill time but you can kill distance only by riding. Roads roll on forever, linking and connecting and reaching so far ahead that to think about the end is to think of something that feels impossible. So settle for today, for earning the small distance that the day’s long hours will allow you. Roads drenched with rain, stinging hail, pulsing heat, slick ice, buffeted by winds on loose gravel, deep sand, tangled rocks, thick snow. Roads of smooth tarmac down mountainsides on sunny days with warm tailwinds and scenes of impossible beauty. Roads furious with traffic through grim slums, bland scrub, concrete jungles, polluted industrial wastelands. Monotony in motion. Roads too hard and too long that break you, expose you, scorn you and would laugh at you if they cared. Roads too hard and too long that you pick yourself up from, have a word with yourself, and make it to an end you once doubted. Roads you have never ridden to places you have never seen and people you have never met. Days end. A different sunset, a different resting point, a different perspective. A little less road waits for you tomorrow. A little more road lies behind you. 
Choose your road. Ride it well.

Stage 1: “What am I doing here?”

“Who am I? Why am I here?”
– Admiral James Stockdale

 I am holding a tangle of bike spokes in one hand, a box of rough red wine in the other, and my back is braced against the tent wall as it bucks and thrashes against the punishment of the storm. The beam from my head torch is the only light. Wet canvas flaps and cracks around my face. Puddles are growing on the floor and everything is wet. The sour wine is half-finished but my attempts to completely re-build my back wheel- beaten and broken on the rock-strewn tracks- are not nearly so advanced despite a whole day working hunched in the gloom of the tent as the gale screams and pummels down the craggy mountains. Frustration boils: at my inadequate lightweight tools, at the cramped workspace, at my own incompetence, at the weather, at the brutally wearing roads. I still have so far to ride. “What am I doing here?” I try to remember.

 My head thumps and darkness encroaches at the edges of my blurring vision. I am dehydrated and the sun is ferocious. I know that I must find water and shade but I know also that I must ride faster and have no time to stop. Paranoid police checkpoints have not yet noticed that I have forged the visa dates in my passport to allow me to reach the border before my visa expires, but the implications of getting caught frighten me. I feel weak and nauseous. But I have no alternative except to keep riding as hard as I can along this mind-numbing desert road past god only knows how many more checkpoints to the border. “What am I doing here?” I curse.

 After squatting with diarrhoea above a ditch of raw sewage I climb weakly back onto the road, busy with traffic and pedestrians. The humid air stinks of fumes and rubbish and sewage and people living cramped together in makeshift shelters of corrugated metal and cardboard. I ride shakily along the frighteningly busy road, anxious to be out of the slum before nightfall, to find a safe hiding spot- away from staring eyes- where I will lie soaked in sweat listening to the whine of mosquitoes until morning. Then I will get back on the bike and do it all again. I have been doing this for so long. What the hell am I doing here?

 And yet, whenever I asked the question I always knew, deep inside of me,  that the answer was perfectly clear to me.

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