Across Continents

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Dark days, lonely nights

 

“I cried a lot, I was scared a lot and I wanted to quit most of the time”

Back in February, beyond Istanbul, there’d been dark days, lonely nights. I’d really struggled, endless tussles with myself. Was this really for me? There were glimmers of light, my stay in Alapli with Zehra and her friends, but the clouds soon returned. But why? True, the Black Sea escarpment had some serious climbs – maybe six thousand feet each day – but that was bearable, even if I felt a bit frustrated by such slow progress. I was confused. The small villages I passed through reminded me so much of Serbia and Bulgaria, countries I’d felt so enthused by. People were welcoming, friendly, often beckoning me off the road for sweet Turkish tea. It just didn’t make sense.

There’d been tough days before, but never the insidious self-doubt that was beginning to creep in. I found myself becoming increasingly pre-occupied with self-analysis, much of it far from helpful, trying to work out what was gnawing away at me. I’d always imagined, even expected, there’d be times when I might falter a bit, question what I was doing, and why. But not yet, not here. I’d gambled everything on this project, thrown my all into it. Failure, I told myself, simply wasn’t an option. Period. There’d been tough times in my life before, but I’d always persevere, never given up hope, never quit. And I wasn’t going to start now. I couldn’t – wouldn’t – let people down – family and friends, The Outward Bound Trust, people I’d met on the road who’d been so kind and generous.

It seems so obvious now, looking back, but that’s the beauty of what mathematicians call an elegant solution to a problem, its breathtaking simplicity. I lacked focus. I needed clarity, definition, but instead felt as if I was drifting. I’d been determined, driven even, to set off on my chosen departure date, to stop talking about it and just get on with it. Across Europe, following the Danube much of the way, momentum borne out of wanting to stay ahead of the winter further east. Mission complete. Asia had a fairly well defined route – across Turkey, Georgia, the ’Stans and China, down towards Australia – but – given I had a year to complete it to achieve the optimum weather window for Alaska – I was missing the time pressure I’d found so motivating across Europe.

Back then, when things seemed far less clear, I at least knew I needed to do something. But what? So I bought a small notebook, scribbling down thoughts, ideas, issues I needed to address, searching for The Plan. Slowly, ever so slowly, the mists began to part, a glimmer of light. Then the realisation, so obvious now, that I needed to generate the same focus and momentum I’d had for Europe. But how, and where? For a brief moment – a few days – I’d contemplated a return to the UK, albeit not my own cottage, but my brother had rightly counseled against that. More scribblings, scouring the maps, and I hit on Malta. An elegant solution it seemed, and it was. Take up the slack in the programme for Asia, sort out some niggling minor injury, and a few other issues before wilder times in the ’Stans and China. I had the makings of a plan, something to drive at. I’d met up with my Dad in Trabzon, eastern Turkey, and discussed my idea. We agreed it made sense. I had The Plan.

But I was still feeling unnerved by my bouts of self-doubt. Was this really normal, to be expected? And so soon? I’d met Al Humphreys a couple of times when I’d been researching my venture. He’d spent four years cycling around the world and had written a couple of books about his experiences. Honest, frank writing, beautifully crafted, enthralling even for those who aren’t cyclists. I’d remembered he’d been very open about the tough times – “I cried a lot, I was scared a lot and I wanted to quit most of the time” – there’d been many, he’d often felt like quitting, but he’d made it. So I asked my Dad to bring the books out to Turkey. I read them quickly. Reassuring.

[To find out more about Alastair Humphreys visit www.alastairhumphreys.com]

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One response to “Dark days, lonely nights”

  1. Myles says:

    Keep Going Ken, just a small hiccup which is only natural in such a big adventure. It would not be an achievement if it was going to be easy. All the best.

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