Thoughts on returning home after six years around the world by bicycle
My journey around the globe began fatefully – with a life-changing decision, taken in the pub.
Pint in hand, mini-atlas flipped open on the table, I sat in the beer garden of The George near London Bridge on some forgotten day in 2008,
parading a new plan to a small circle of friends. Pen hovering above the tiny dot of London, I flashed a grin at my audience – all frowns – and began sketching out my route around the globe and across six continents. All would be conveniently handled, I’d affirmed, by bicycle. ‘In six years, give or take.’
Two weeks ago Sarah Outen returned from nearly half a decade of cycling and rowing around the world, half a decade of vigorously roughing it in a manner that puts my similarly spanned escapade to shame. Roughing it, properly: heart-plunging, soul-shivering stuff on the open ocean, replete with crashing personal crises, soaking self-doubt and premonitions of death. It’s safe to say that facing down Pacific swells that would breach tall buildings is distantly orbiting the comfort zone of most of us.
Georgia is a country of curves – from its meeting with the Black Sea, a bitemark of coast, to the probing tongue that composes the border with Azerbaijan. From its looping script, to the roads that circulate packs of mountains, succeeding in switchbacks like the restive rivers they chaperon. But before my friend Oli and I take on these roads by bicycle, I encounter another sinuosity: that of the Georgian toast.
1. You put your entire leg through a rip in the crotch of your shorts when trying to find the leg hole
2. You ‘sense’ wild camping opportunities, like a Jedi
3. If you are a woman, there is consistently a crust of peanut butter in your facial hair
To the lake…
I was just a few kilometres from Ulaanbaator, but there was no hint a world capital lurked close by. The sky reached to wider horizons, plucked of the reaching soviet tower blocks, city traffic surrendered to silent space. Concrete was traded for yellowed steppe, salt and pepper peaks and the odd gur clinging limpet-like to the leeside of hills.