Keep both feet on the pedals
“ I can count how many times I went out at university on two hands” -
This statement is, with the best intentions, a little misleading. I did leave the confines of the library a little more regularly, but it wasn’t for clubs, bars or the students’ union, it was into the night on my two wheeled steed. I had spent a year prior to university gigging with my band every week and had no interest in replacing nights filled with Jimi Hendrix, Zeppelin and Sabbath for “come in your kit” or “Absolute Filth” at the union....“Absolute Filth”....yep you heard right. Instead, I’d throw some warm clothes, food and a few other essentials into a rucksack, jump onto my faithful 1970’s racing bike and disappear into the night alongside a few other like-minded cycle folk. Nevertheless, there was no denying that during my three years of university I sacrificed a lot for my studies. I was aptly known as “ library boy ” by friends and arguably became the monastic stylite I spent a great deal of my time reading about. This often obsessive commitment to my studies was too much for many of my compadres, particularly during revision period, where I’d get up at half four in the morning everyday from April until the end of exams in June. As I said monastic stylite. However, every time someone pleaded that I take a break, I’d give them the same answer: “Wait til I finish my degree, I’m going to make up for all of this”. I had a plan and I promised myself I’d make it happen. The regular night rides, my escape and arguably my sanity in the face of my sadistic workload, were part of a much bigger dream.
In summer 2013 I graduated with First Class honours, something that will stand as one of my proudest lifetime achievements. In the months that followed the majority of my friends took up corporate jobs, moved to the city and fully immersed themselves in the world of work. I on the other hand, did quite the opposite. Within two weeks of graduating I was boarding a ferry, accompanied by one of my best friends, on my bike. University had left me, like so many others, completely broke. Nevertheless, I spent my remaining savings on some racks, second hand panniers and a few other bicycle touring essentials. However, when your first aid kit is composed of “ Percy Pig Bruise Soothers ” and you can't afford a proper sleeping bag I have to question what exactly I considered “ bicycle touring essentials ”. Perhaps it was the eight packs of dry Muesli bars I had picked up for forty pence each...bargain! None of this mattered, as my 27 x 1 1/4” tyres hit the French tarmac I was in love. My first bike tour.
A lifetime of cycling had come to this. Prior to university I had always dreamed of bicycle touring, but had always been nervous and unsure of pedalling into the unknown. After graduating I had never felt so sure of myself, a new sense of self-belief and determination made anything seem possible. We had no plan, no destination and not a care in the world. I can’t emphasise the sheer euphoria and bliss of forgetting every worry and living in the moment. Bicycle touring brings you back to the bare essentials: food, water, warmth and shelter. There is something almost spiritual about living off these basic necessities. The realisation that all you really need can be carried on a bicycle. Every day provided new challenges, emotional ups and downs and most importantly a recurring sense of overwhelming achievement. During this rather modest four hundred mile tour my bike fell apart, we got lost on a daily basis, the tent was flooded and I ate so many croissants that I threw up. Reading this you may assume my first bike tour was a horror story, but it was quite the contrary, I was in love. I had never felt so alive, so determined to succeed and so infatuated with my bike.
So where am I now. Since France I’ve built this website, turned my 1970’s Raleigh into a touring terminator, joined a new band and moved to London where I gig on...you guessed it...a weekly basis. I have completed John O’Groats to Lands End, recently returned from a Bikepacking tour in Germany, started planning my ride from the North of Italy to the most southerly point of Sicily and begun a career in freelance writing. I guess at this point I should let you in on the promise I made myself way back in the first year of university. I vowed that everything I sacrificed for my studies would be worth it, that upon graduating I would pursue my dreams regardless of the challenges that lay ahead. The road to success is never easy, but you’ve just got to keep pedalling.