Sleepless back in London: three months on
Lying wide awake at midnight last Wednesday, I start to hear distant police sirens wailing in the distance, which triggers memories of having a local police escort whilst cycling in northern Peru. Fast forward through a couple more random memories, I then realise that it’s precisely three months since we finished our circuit of South America by bike.
“How are you finding adjusting to being back?” is one of the most common questions we get asked. Not that I mind of course as I honestly enjoy any opportunity to talk about the trip, but it’s a question that I have probably not given the same answer to twice. I feel like I’m expected to say that “it’s awful”, that I can’t stand another day and that I’m going to leave on the bike tomorrow. Overall, though, I think we have surprised ourselves about how it has been fairly easy to slot back into life.
The small terraced house in south London that we rented out is our home again. The car that I left at my parent’s house is now providing the easy option to get places. Ashamedly, we’ve even reverted to a habit of driving to the supermarket only two miles away which surely goes against any carbon footprint moral high ground we gained from travelling by bike.
The first month back was as an easy re-introduction to real life. Among catching up with friends and family, we had a fantastic belated wedding celebration on the Thames on the warmest day of the year in London. And of course we had the Olympics to watch, an amazing experience which we are so glad we got home in time for.
Come September the job hunt started. For Laura, it couldn’t have been easier when she was offered part-time work at a charity for which she had previously done freelancing for before we left. This also has the benefit to have some time to be able to start research on a book.
It took me slightly longer but now working back in the city of London, I’ve found an interesting contract job for a year to find my feet again and which, in theory, should provide enough time to work out where and what we want to do next.
I find myself feeling self-conscious talking about the trip. It seems a fine line between enthusiasm and preaching about how everyone should consider seeing the world by bicycle. Describing how we slept in the houses of strangers along the way, it seems such an alien concept now. In conversation with work colleagues, I mentioned the couch surfing website only to receive bemused looks as I tried my best to explain it as a cultural exchange.
Seeking to establish some like-minded company on one grey wet afternoon, we headed to a cinema to watch the premiere of an independent film, Janapar by Tom Allen. The documentary records his epic cycle journey and was great to watch, highly inspirational. Although, maybe better to watch before you leave on an adventure rather than when you are just back and settling into normal life again. One of the best parts of the film was Tom’s candid use of the camera as a diary. The good, the bad and the downright embarrassing feelings, he recorded them with incredible openness.
I follow adventurers on Twitter and enjoy reading the stories from the likes of Al Humphreys and Mark Beaumont, but life as a professional adventurer doesn’t appeal to me. I feel I could happily share and speak about the trip, but it isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life. I guess Ranulph Fiennes is the modern day success story, but even he plans many of his trips because book sales and speaking slots have dried up after his last, so he must go off as much for financial reasons as for pleasure.
Neither do I find the option of being a cycling nomad appealing. At the famous casa de ciclistas in Trujillo, Peru, we saw records of people who were travelling without end. We actually enjoyed the planning aspect for 18 months before we left, setting ourselves a route with a start and an end. It worked well for us as we had time to rest and enjoy when we wanted, but also to keep plodding away to make sure we finished in time. Since getting back, we’ve found our appetites are still huge but as we’re not burning up the calories we’re slowly putting weight back on.
We’ve been out on the bikes a few times, along the Thames and we also did a three day tour of ultra-flat Norfolk, but it’s been fairly mundane which I guess makes sense after having completed a continent by bike. One good thing is that our dodgy tan lines are fading.
So what’s next? For cycling, we would like to do some rides closer to home in Europe including completing the North Sea cycle route. Further afield, New Zealand is up there on our to-do list. As for the next big adventure, we’re not sure. The idea is to settle for a while whilst planning what’s next.
When we arrived back there were many things I thought I might miss from the trip. Sleep wasn’t one of them. Yet now, if you were to offer me a comfy bet in a warm house after a day in an air-conditioned office or a tent in the Amazon after a long day riding through the rainforest, I take the tent any day.