Loneliness vs. Solitude

In the question and answer session after my talk at the RGS someone asked if I ever got lonely on my trip. Not having a good answer prepared, and not thinking very fast on my feet with the pressure of having 100 people staring at me, I rambled a bit saying yes but that it was a good type of loneliness that I didn’t mind.
What I meant to say is that there is a difference between loneliness and solitude, where both are the physical state of being alone, but loneliness is a negative mental state of wanting to be in the company of other people, while solitude is a positive mental state of being content and comfortable despite (or perhaps because of) being alone.

On my trip I was very rarely lonely – I tend to be much more of a solitude person.

This article sums up very eloquently my thoughts and experiences.

RGS Talk

So last night I gave my micro-lecture at the RGS, along with 5 other young geographers. It was a really nice evening, learning about different people’s interests and experiences in different parts of the world.
I think my talk went ok, there was only one point where I remembered wrong which slide was next, but everyone laughed at all the right times!

Thanks again to everyone came along.

I’m giving a talk at the RGS!

It’s been a while since I blogged anything. Anyway, now I’ve got something very exciting to talk about.
At the end of last year I applied to be one of the speakers at the Royal Geographical Society’s Young Members’ Micro Lectures. I auditioned a couple of weeks ago, and have been accepted!

My talk will be titled ‘Around the World to Istanbul: A Travelogue of Errors’. It’s on Tuesday 9 March, and tickets are £10, or £7 for members, and that includes 5 other very interesting talks as well, not just me!

Apparently tickets are going fast, so if anyone wants to go, buy one quick!

To B or not to B(rompton)

I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I got back and have read about other cyclists setting off on their adventures.
I went on a Brompton, it’s part of the branding of the site and the tag-line. It was a fantastic ride, and very reliable apart from an issue with tyres. But there were niggling problems. Braking was tricky with rims overheating. Carrying luggage was a pain with the trailer. If there was a way to improve the brakes (I think the only way would be disc brakes) and carry all my luggage on the bike so I didn’t have the trailer, I’d have no hesitation about setting off next time on the Brompton.

But.

But I’ve seen other fully loaded touring bikes, and they look so much easier. No brake issues, no luggage difficulties. And it’s left me wondering about my choice of bike for the next trip. Decisions.

But it will probably be at least two years until next time I set off, so it’s not a decision I have to make any time soon.

To be continued…

Well, I landed back at Heathrow last night (btw, only in England can £5bn be spent on a new airport terminal where you still have to get a bus from the plane to the terminal building…), and took four hours on the tube with delays and closures to get back to my brother’s. Welcome back to London!
Seven weeks cycling undone in eight hours of flying and trains!

This morning I started my old job again. It’s very surreal being back, but great telling stories to all my old friends and colleagues – one even helpfully pinned a newspaper article about the guy going around the world on a penny-farthing to my new desk divider and wrote “how it’s done!” on it. I pointed out even the article notes he only completed the tour on the third attempt, so I have two attempts left!

The blog will continue with plans for the next trip. Currently I’m thinking spring 2010. I’d like to leave in spring so I can get to the southern hemisphere before the northern gets too cold, and I won’t have earned enough money or done enough extra planning by spring 2009. Spring 2010 is a year and a half in the future, so blog entries will likely become much less frequent. Don’t worry though, I am alive and actively thinking about and planning for the next trip.

Heartfelt thanks

Just want to say a big thankyou to everyone over the past 3 months who helped me get this far:

  • Friends and family at home, who kept sending me supportive messages.
  • Jo and Alex in France, who gave me a pick-up a week into the trip – I needed it!
  • Giuliano and family in Italy, who kindly showed me around Ascoli and gave me a meal and place to stay for a night.
  • Sven in Greece, who was a great travel partner for the week we travelled together.
  • Bike shop owner in Alexandroupoli, who was so kind and generous to passing travelers.
  • Rahman, Fatih and family in Kesan, who gave me a place to stay and fed me a wonderful iftar.
  • Ahmet and family in Tekirdag, who also gave me a place to stay and a wonderful meal.
  • The family north of Selimpasa, who let me put my tent in their garden, and fed me a meal.
  • All the cyclists I’ve met en-route, who offered advice and encouragement.
  • Finally, everyone in Istanbul, who have kept my spirit going for six weeks of bureaucratic-induced limbo and tedium.

I wouldn’t have got this far without you all, and I really appreciate all the support from everyone.

Postponement

I’ve been thinking about this for the past 6 weeks in Istanbul. After so much thinking I’ve come to the very difficult decision to postpone the trip. I’ve been “travelling” for 3 months now. Except I’ve spent half of the trip so far in Istanbul trying to arrange my onward journey. There are many reasons to postpone, but the main one is that I don’t want to continue the trip how it is. It turns out I was/am woefully under prepared. I had no travelling experience and no cycle touring experience. I read a few books, bought some stuff, and jumped on a bike trusting that “it’ll all work out”. Turns out it’s not that easy.
I figure it makes sense to abandon this attempt and call it a training run. It was starting to take far too much time and therefore money to salvage it. As winter approaches, time is money, as the more time I take, the more money I have to spend on warm clothes to get through eastern Turkey as it gets increasingly cold.

Here in Istanbul I was going through the preparations for continuing the journey, and actively hoping I’d be held up. I hoped Iran would refuse me a visa, that would give me an excuse to quit. I hoped India would refuse. Why was I hoping to not be approved for visas? Surely a traveller should hope and wish and prey that visas are granted. That is the only way they can continue. I was hoping to be refused. To eventually have so many roadblocks that I literally couldn’t continue. That way I could return home with a story of how it wasn’t me that failed, but the situation that made it impossible.

I wanted to quit, but only if I had a good excuse to save face to people back at home.

I was no longer doing the trip because I wanted to, but because I wanted to live up to other peoples expectations. I’m a stubborn person, and I like to prove a point. But to be unhappy for the next year or longer because I want to prove a point or because I was ashamed of returning home, that’s no way to live. Then came the revellation that, so what if people think I failed? James, my brother, honestly didn’t think I’d get past Dover. I proved him wrong many times over!

How many people can claim to have cycled from London to Istanbul? How many have done it on a Brompton folding bike? How many of either group left with no experience whatsoever of cycle touring?

I think I’ve achieved something, even if it wasn’t my original plan. Many grand schemes have failed for many reasons. Mine was for two reasons: lack of experience; and the plan being too ridiculously grand. Five years cycling around the world with no real experience of travelling outside Europe and US and no experience of cycle touring! I was kidding myself!

But this trip has given me some experience. I have made mistakes. I have learnt a lot. The seven weeks from London to Istanbul have given me valuable knowledge of how to travel. In future I will put more planning into possible routes. I will put more thought into the equipment I choose. I will be stronger in the knowledge of what it takes to cycle long distance. I won’t make the same mistakes again.

However, I want to stress this is a postponement. Sometime in the future I will continue and go for a second attempt, I just don’t know when. But when I do, the date will be published here, and until then I will update the blog with planning for the second attempt, which will of course still be on a Brompton folding bike. Smallwheelsbigworld is not dead!

Jon

Don’t be discouraged by a failure. It can be a positive experience. Failure is, in a sense, the highway to success, inasmuch as every discovery of what is false leads us to seek earnestly after what is true, and every fresh experience points out some form of error which we shall afterwards carefully avoid. John Keats.