24km to Calcutta
After a few busy days in Calcutta in mid December, arranging my luggage and the shipment of my bike back home, I caught a flight back to merry old England. A journey of more than five months, and 6,587.4 miles, had come to an end. Following almost precisely the same route I had pedaled those many months, the Boeing 777 of my return journey took just 12 hours. I landed in a damp and chilly Heathrow airport in time to see the grey light of the December morning begin to illuminate the bleak, wintry English countryside. I was still hours away from my native Yorkshire, but already I felt at home.
For the longest time I wondered how I would feel upon returning home. There were times when I longed for it like nothing else, and others when I was terrified at the very thought of bringing this great adventure to an end, and trying to return to a normal life. I reflected on what I had wanted the trip to be, what I had wanted to get out of it, and whether I could be content that I had achieved all I had set out to achieve. I had overcome all of the challenges and temptations that threatened to bring my journey to a premature end without reaching Calcutta, or even India. But it was never about getting to India. It was about doing something out of the ordinary, about stepping outside the box and plunging myself, head-first, out of my comfort zone, and into the deep water of the unknown. No amount of research prior to setting off could prepare me for what I was likely to encounter, but an open-mind, a positive attitude and a will for adventure only made this more exciting.
Of course, countless people, from all over the world, have had longer, harder, wilder adventures than mine. People have ridden bicycles around the world, doing it in record times, or spending years. There are people who have travelled to far more countries than I have, and probably have even better stories to tell. I wasn’t the first person to cycle to India, and I certainly won’t be the last. But it was never supposed to be a competition, and I do not measure myself or my adventure against any other benchmark than my own sense of satisfaction that I have done it. I would often find myself, during the long days of long miles, grinning from ear-to-ear, hardly believing that I really was living my dream. I may no longer be on the road, my sun-tan may be fading, and my waistline may well be expanding back out to its previous size, but I still find myself grinning to myself sometimes.
Cycling to India was a dream that I’d harboured, in various forms, for years. Once I’d realised the opportunity to fulfill that dream, I felt that I would be being unjust to myself not to take that opportunity. But it also gave me the opportunity to help other people, and allow it to be greater than just myself, by supporting a charity. Cancer care is something that has been especially personal for me after it claimed the life of my cousin, Claire Jones, in 2006. Doing something on this scale allowed me to promote not only my own adventure, but also the cause of two charities, the World Cancer Research Fund, and the Teenage Cancer Trust. With the help of many donors, and the exuberant efforts of my mum (who was the main driver behind the fundraising whilst I was busy cycling), a total of £1,755.45 has been raised, which will be divided evenly between the two charities. If you haven’t donated yet, there is still time to either visit the Just Giving page, or contact me.
Smiles for miles
It really was quite strange being home at first. Things which had always seemed very normal to me, things I had once taken for granted, suddenly seemed very foreign, as I found myself looking at everything from an altered perspective. Simple things, like a trip to the local shop, were so incredibly unlike what I had been used to for a good while. The streets, peopled only by the occasional dog-walker, seemed so very quiet and calm. Cars drove down the road on the correct side (as apposed to both sides), and didn’t sound their horns without due need. I could go to the toilet without having to support myself over a squalid hole in the ground, without my legs screaming with pain as they cramped up, and without the obligatory rat, tentatively peering at me from the hole. It felt like I’d entered a different world. It was a culture shock that, ambling along at a few miles a day, I hadn’t really experienced on my way to India.
It seemed strange, too, to stay in the same place for more than a day or two. I had become so used to the incessant push onwards, and eastwards. I suddenly found myself with no real direction, no destination to reach each day. Fortunately, arriving home just a few days before Christmas, a sudden dash out to do my Christmas shopping, and the liberal availability of mince pies, sufficiently occupied my attention. It was great to see my girlfriend, my family and my friends. I enjoyed all the home comforts that I had longed for and had promised myself during my months in the saddle half-way around the world. A fry-up was certainly long overdue.
In the last week, I have returned to Leeds, where I moved into a new flat, and a successful interview with my old employers was enough to get me a job. Life is slowly returning to normal, but my changed perspective remains undiminished.
My bike, packaged up and ready to head home
Having shipped my bike back home, it arrived just a couple of days after I did, like an enormous yellow Christmas present, with ‘DHL’ written all over it. I unwrapped it and pieced it back together, and was surprised how shiny it looked. It will certainly need a few replacement parts, but I have a feeling that it has many miles, and perhaps another great adventure, left in it. After months on the road, I’m quite content to return to normality for the foreseeable future. I have a job, and a new flat, and I’m willing to limit my adventures to evenings and weekends for the time being. But I wonder how long that contentedness will really last. I wonder if I, too, have another great adventure left in me.
Chasing my shadow through the desert in Iran