The five year old boy who rode out of Watford ten months ago didn’t have a clue about what was in front of him. He knew he just had to pedal, enjoy the glint of an English summer, drying his tears as he went. The built up emotion of packing his life away into a few bags and his bicycle finally broaching his dam.
The tears wouldn’t last, he had worries though. He was inside the body of a 38 year old man with a history of knee problems and a dubious left shoulder. Would the big adventure end before it had even had a chance to begin?
He dearly hoped not.
On through a European summer he pedaled. Across the blissful cycle paths of the Netherlands, through the wet German forests. Down to Switzerland for a photograph, replicating one taken 22 years before at the meeting of the three countries.
France was next, oh la belle France, camembert and baguettes, such a wonderful place to cycle. The hills getting steeper as he neared the Pyrenees, the worry of his knees playing on his mind. They were stronger now and they got him up and over the Pyrenees into Spain.
Up and down he rode, heading for the most westerly point The north of Spain is anything but flat. The rain came.
It was October and Spain was wet near the coast. Turning a corner he was confronted by the Atlantic Ocean, no further west to ride.
Camped on a spit of land sticking out into the Ocean, a gale came. The tent held, the morning came, the glow of crossing Europe and not having been blown into the sea plastered all across his face.
I had made it, little old me with my dodgy knees.
That was my warm up. A test ride, to see if mind and body could tolerate this life. My confidence grew, no longer projecting myself in the third person.
It wasn’t a five year old boy who flew to South America to chase a dream, it was a nervous, apprehensive man.
I had a vague idea this was going to be somewhat more difficult than cycling around Europe. The weather of southern Patagonia scared me long before I arrived.
I went anyway. I had to try.
To the very south of the inhabited world. To Ushuaia, Argentina in the Land of Fire, 54 degrees south. The very bottom of South America.
Sailors say that below 40 degrees south, there is no law, below 50 degrees south, there is no God.
I cycled out of Ushuaia on a beautiful day. Was this a carefully laid trap by the elements, to get me moving, away from civilisation and into the wild before it hit me with it’s full force?
It waited a few days, allowing me to get comfortable with riding once more before the intensity was turned up. I camped one day at 11am, demoralised. Unable to find the energy to continue battling against the wind.
What had I done? It was a dream to cycle here?
The night I rode out of Argentina towards Chile into a blowing gale as the sun set etched into my memory.
Riding through the darkness, into the teeth of the wind, managing no quicker than walking pace for five hours.
Dawn came and illuminated a small hut by the side of the road. Sleeping the day before cycling through the following night, trying to find a gap in the wind.
A mostly futile endeavour.
A calm day allowing me to pass and leave the Isla de Terra del Fuego, hopes high that the worst of the weather was behind me. This to be cruelly dashed further down the line.
Across the wide valleys of southern Chile, past the windiest point, they had marked it with a monument.
Always against the wind, on and on I went. A couple of fellow cyclists heading the same way, making a three man peloton. Taking it in turns to break the wind for the others, friendship born in an instant.
After a month, the crushing headwinds were behind me and the Carretera Austral stretched in front for a thousand kilometres.
A road winding through the low mountains, a mixture of gravel and tarmac connecting isolated villages. Scores of cyclists past, heading south, enjoying a few weeks holiday riding this glorious piece of road.
A diversion to the Isla de Chiloe proving not to be the smartest move, brutally steep hills and little opportunity to wild camp. Onwards out of Chile, into Argentina’s Lake District.
Tourists flock here in their droves, the money the locals have being obvious. People cycling and jogging for fun.
It wasn’t long before I left the crowds of tourists behind and became the lonely foreigner struggling with his basic Spanish. The beautiful riding and ease of obtaining water petered out.
Across desert land, the huge wide open valleys with vegetation no higher than my knee allowing the wind to attack with the ferocity of a Patagonian gale.
Only here it was hot, wiping the sweat straight off my brow before I had time to notice it. Dehydration was the battle, there is no torture better than an unquenchable thirst. I drank over 9 litres of water one day.
The only clouds I saw in weeks were the dark clouds of loneliness. I was a mere speck in an intimating environment punctuated by short intervals of broken Spanish with locals, usually to just obtain food, water or accommodation.
The riding, although hard, is beautiful in it’s simplicity. Turning the pedals becomes the same as walking. Listening to my body and taking days off when needed. I could do that for the next year, or more. It’s just a routine, cycle, eat, drink, sleep, rest and repeat. Altering the quantities of each as needed.
This was a dream. Dreams are figments of your imagination, aspirations filled with enjoyment. Romance covering the cracks.
To carry on ‘living a dream’ when it is blatantly apparent to myself that the enjoyment has evaporated would be stupid. To carry on because I said I was going to, would be stupid.
To stop now before I sully all the memories with internal angst and self pity is the choice I am making.
Life is too short to blindly carry on doing something that your heart isn’t in anymore. I’ve made the decision over many weeks of soul searching, to be sure this is what I want.
The top of Argentina, the border town of La Quiaca is the furthest north I am going. I’m spending the next few weeks cycling in northern Argentina before returning to the UK.
Regret has the potential to eat you up from inside. I don’t regret a thing. What a wonderful, life affirming trip I’ve had for the last ten months.
I’ve taken my comfort zone and beaten the living daylights out of it. I’ve raised my ceiling and I hope that those looking on from afar can see that they too are capable of much more. You just have to try.
You take what you want from this life, you have a choice.
I could choose to be sad that I only made it a quarter of the way from Argentina to Alaska or I could choose to be happy that I made it a quarter of the way from Argentina to Alaska……
I only need to measure it against what that earlier version of me thought he was capable of.
He would say, “Denners, you smashed it out of the park!”.
I know him and trust him, so I’m happy to take his word for it. After all he is the only one who will ever know everything I have experienced on this journey.