Cycle touring for four months taught me a thing or two

This is not my usual kind of blog post and really it’s more of a reminder to myself that the lessons I learned on the road are important. I should not forget them.

Doing nothing is good

My days would usually start with a frenzy of activity. There was breakfast to be made, my belongings to be put back in panniers, my tent to be dismantled, and my bike to be made ready for the road. I rarely rushed doing it, but it had to be done, occupying my mind and body for the first hour of the day. And then I was off, pedalling an inconsequential part of my travel. My legs knew what to do, freeing my eyes to take in the scenery, and my mind to wander where it would (which often was nowhere at all). A feature in the landscape would stop me or a bench in a village invite me to rest. So I would. Brakes on, bike leant on a wall or laid on the ground, I would stop and watch life go by for five minutes or an hour. I didn’t need to think, didn’t need to read, didn’t need to check my phone. I was allowed to just be there and take in the world.

It’s easy to forget this is okay. And I’m the first one guilty of it. I always have one more e-mail to reply to, one more book to read, one more blog to catch up with, and don’t I also need to go to the post office to send a parcel right now? No. I can stop and sit at my window to watch the garden stand still.

There are many hours in a day

If there was one thing I was rich with on my journey, it was time. I had no watch and my phone was buried deep in my pocket, an accessory to be taken out in case of emergency. Time didn’t matter. The days were long and mine to shape according to my stomach and fancies. I rarely had to be anywhere and there were no deadlines to reach. I could meander at will, knowing that the feature in the map that had made me turn left, would still be there the following day. I could sit on the grass and read for hours if I wished to. I felt like the master of my own time.

Back in employment, I let this lesson slip too often. I look at the pile of books by my opened laptop and despair. Where has time gone? Nowhere. It’s the same as it has always been, but I get carried away by the constant ticking of clocks on walls, phones, ovens, computers… I have time. It’s up to me to shape it according to my fancies.

A cup of coffee goes a long way

Cold and shivering from the rain and wind, I huddled closer to the tree in vain hope that its leaves would shelter me better closer to the trunk. Someone passed by and gestured for me to come out. We established quickly that our shared language skills were scarce but it’s okay the warmth in their eyes and their constant pointing at the café opposite the road were words enough. I followed them in, my muscles relaxing as the heat engulfed them. A chair was brought for me and a steaming cup of coffee followed soon afterwards. I would offer to pay but they would refuse, almost offended by my coins. Sometimes they would stay with me, sometimes not. Sometimes it was rain that made them buy me a cup of coffee, sometimes not. But always it was kindness for the stranger on the other side of the road and a need to let me know I was welcomed here.

I am not invited for a coffee any longer, my vulnerability eradicated by the simple fact that I blend in. But not everybody does. There are people who are alone and sometimes cold. It costs me nothing to bring them a warm cup of tea.

It’s important to make time for conversation

Complete strangers opened the doors of their home, sharing the sanctuary of their privacy with me. They cooked extravagantly, a feast they would have to pay with scarcity the following week. They showed me around their town, proud to reveal the gems to be found in their locality. And then I would leave, a sadness gripping my heart and theirs most of all. I knew I would meet more people further along the road but they would have to remain where they were. Lonely and deprived of human contact in a world where time is made to feel scarce, where busy is the golden word, and were strangers are to be avoided at all cost.

So I remind myself to talk. It’s quite cold today, isn’t it? The person turns their head incredulously and for a second we may be awkward, an unspoken rule has just been broken. But I’m smiling and yes it is rather cold but they’re saying it should warm up next week. And in the minutes that follow, we become humans again.

I have earned this moment

I stand at the kitchen island, looking at a rich chocolate cake and the flame of a candle flickering in the dark. Behind me the sink hides the remains of dinner, the empty cookware weathered from months on the road. All around, the house is empty, rooms resonating and echoing with the quiet sounds of my footsteps and laptop. In my bedroom, my deflating sleeping mat is hidden below my sleeping bag still cocooned into its bivvy bag.

This is all a bit ridiculous, but my partner and new housemate have not moved in yet. So I’m alone, in this new house, in this new city, camping within four walls. Family and friends have laughed at how ridiculous this is but it feels right to end the year as it started.


For months I have been on the road, happily cycling in the Iberian Peninsula with not a care in the world. Life was easy back then. There was nothing to think about, no commitments, no rent, no bills. But I came back and life got complicated. I felt trapped by modern sedentary life. I wanted to go away, shut myself from job applications and house hunting. But how could I? I needed to be there, ready to jump on the coach to Bristol to attend an interview and visit a house. My life was not mine to enjoy. It was held at the mercy of employers and estate agents. I was not happy.

I spent long hours on my longboard, the focus needed to acquire new skills obliterating every thoughts from my mind. But however long I stood on that board, I always needed to come home, to check e-mails, to apply for jobs, to arrange for viewings.


I became drained. I snapped and yelled and cried. And finally, after three months of toing and froing from London to Bristol, and countless rejections, I found a home and a job. A home that is empty for now but will soon be filled with friends, with books and bikes and maps and happiness. And a job that is unlike anything I’ve ever done but is getting me excited.

I blow out the candle on the cake, I dip my fork into it, and I savour every last bit of it. I have earned this moment.


Pedalling Portugal – Questions on my mind

My last day at work is this Friday and the week after I’ll be heading to France to visit my family and start making my way to Spain on the 3rd of March. My trip is no longer an idea I mention casually. It is happening now. I am not pedalling yet but it is impossible to backtrack on my plans. A train ticket has been purchased, travel arrangements have been made with my family, an insurance has been selected, and lists of things not to forget have been compiled.

I try not to think much about the journey. I have no real routes planned. I had hoped to begin in Faro but it turns out to be too complicated without flying so instead I am starting in Irun, in Spain. I am thinking of following the Camino del Norte before descending into Portugal but this may change. So the preparations are done and all that is left for me to do is wait.

But still my mind doesn’t leave me alone. I think about being on the road. I do not ponder what I will see or what will happen. Guessing at answers would be akin to divination or lead to hours on Google Earth. Instead my mind pushes me to consider how I will cope on my own. I have no illusions of a bicycling idyll. I will get miserable. I will throw tantrums and yell at my bike and equipment. I will cry. I know that. This happened on a solo tour of ten days, how could it not happen on a solo tour of three months?

‘I felt a strange mixture of freedom and pointlessness. The self-containment of the solitary traveller gives you an otherworldly, off-to-one-side lightness of being. You have not the slightest bearing on the events. You cannot even converse about the business of the day, supposing you have heard it about on the radio. You do not matter. The irrelevance of the traveller, your absence of responsibility, most of the time, for anything but yourself is a strange condition. You might as well be a ghost.’ Horatio Clare – A Single Swallow

How will I cope? This is the one question I cannot answer with satisfaction or shrug away easily. And if I’m honest, it is the only aspect of this journey that scares me. So I avoid thinking about it. I stop my mind from forming assumptions based on the past, or guesses based on nothing at all, and hope for the best.

I do not know how I will react with days of my own company in countries where my grasp of the language is minimal. I repeat to myself that this is okay. I will manage as thousands before me have, and thousands after me will. And if all fun ends and there is no joy to be had during the days on the road, I can still turn back and head home early.


Pedalling Portugal will begin in March 2016. For more information about this upcoming trip, visit this page.

Pedalling Portugal – Why am I going to Portugal?

If you’re following this blog or following me on Twitter you probably know by now that I’m getting ready to cycle in Portugal for three months next year. But why am I going?

This is a question that have weighed on my mind a lot. My answer was simple when I first came up with the idea for this trip, but as the months went by it grew in complexity and became plural.

But most of it was a lie.

When I prepared to announce my plan to my family and friends I became terrified that they wouldn’t understand my drive. So I searched for ways to justify myself. I was going to cycle in Portugal to launch a career based on my writing and sounds. I would come back and take up studying again, retrain into something new. My experiences in Portugal and what I would produce based on them would act as my portfolio to help me get into the school I had chosen.

I applied for a few grants to help me financially but really I sent my applications because I wanted to be able to say ‘See, my trip is not a whim. I have financial backing.’ I am now glad I did not receive those grants. They were just a mean to validate my trip in the eyes of others.


In the few weeks when my trip was only an idea known to me, my reasons to go where entirely different. I wanted to get to know Portugal more intimately. I wanted to find a head-space I lose too easily in London. I wanted to explore writing and sounds at my own pace, without the clutches of work during most hours of the day.

I never wanted this journey to bring any money or to build a new career on the back of it. But as I started to talk about it to others, I felt those ingredients needed to come into play. So I began to make notes on how people made their living from travelling and exploring new places. I knew this was not the life I want to live but I kept on anyway because their stories fascinates me. I admire and on a certain level envy them. But what I envy is not their job but their passion. They love what they do and are driven by it. This was something I had and lost. I have been wandering ever since, letting myself be carried by the flow of life. I want to know again what it is to do something you love on a daily basis. And this is why I am going to Portugal.

Now is the perfect time, a moment when I don’t have many ties to hold me back, when I have no squabble leaving a job I don’t really care about. I have enough savings to allow for this trip and just about enough to scrap by when I come back. So I’m going to make the most of this privilege and explore what I love. Not for others, not for money. But for me.


Pedalling Portugal will begin in March 2016. For more information about this upcoming trip, visit this page.

Talk to strangers

“Don’t talk to strangers,” we are told by well-meaning family and friends. “The world is full of murderers, rapists and thieves,” the media adds, fuelling our beliefs.

I’ve never had much faith in those statements. I was called naïve and reckless but I didn’t bulge from my position. How could the world be so bad? Weren’t my family good people? Weren’t my friends simple strangers I had started to talk to?

And yet, I didn’t act on my convictions. It was easier to live in my comfort zone and not engage with others unless they took the first step. After all, I have a family I chat with weekly, a few good friends I speak with and meet on a regular basis, and a good relation with my colleagues at work. Why would I need to accost strangers?


This past September however, I moved away from my routine. I set out on a two weeks cycle journey in the Scottish Highlands and Orkney Islands. I was on my own and only had a dinosaur phone to text my girlfriend to let her know I was still alive.

I would stop by the roadside and people would start chatting to me. I was after all an oddity as a lone female cyclist in normal clothes with all she needed to live packed on her folding bike next to all the LEJOGers (Land’s End to John O’Groats) on their fast bikes and with their support crew. I would receive waves and car horns in encouragement, and in the evening I would settle at a campsite and discuss with the owner and my camp neighbours. Life was easy and the only time I was scared was when I was on my own encircled by towering hills or forests blocking my phone reception, and knowing the closest human beings were miles away.

I was safe with human, unsafe alone in nature.

By the end of the trip, my comfort zone was blown to pieces and when a fellow train passenger asked for my home address to sent me a brochure about a walk I shown interest in, I did not hesitate and shared the information.

When I arrived back in London, I forced myself to remember how simple and harmless it was to chat to strangers. In a city this large it is easy to be afraid of others and not speak with people because they will not start a conversation with you. But it was time to change this and act on my beliefs. I smiled a lot, received a few odd stares but kept on smiling undeterred. And every now and again I would chance a word and would often be rewarded with a few sentences exchanged, a smile and maybe even a laugh if I was lucky – my day and theirs suddenly made brighter by this small interaction.

Those few success boosted my confidence and this is when I remembered I had signed up to in the Summer. I had however never made my profile public or filled in any information – my bravery flagging at the reality of welcoming wanderers in the sacred space of my flat. So I changed all of this and within a day I had a couch surfer booked.

My friends and colleagues were a mixture of disbelief, horror and envy when I mentioned it but I ignored them. This man who was about to live with me for a few days was not going to murder me. I would be safe. And I was.

He came, we chatted long into the night about our thoughts and passions, shared a beer and some food and by the end of his stay I was convinced and had another surfer booked for a few days the following week.

People are nice and today I can’t quite remember why I ever let this slip out of my mind. I had sheltered myself in my daily routine and forgotten that life is better when you talk with strangers. So “Talk with strangers,” I will tell my niece and nephew. “The world is full of wonderful and friendly people. Ignore the media and trust your instincts.”