I tried writing this blog on the road, and it was just too difficult, especially as I had to ride, plan, ride, plan, ride, do, visit, eat, wash, wash clothes, wash pots, ride, plan, find places to stay, talk, enjoy, breathe, relax, watch sunsets, visit friends, talk to my stuffed monkey, learn some words in languages other than my own, ride, take photographs, be present, look, learn, read, ride, figure out how to get my bike and five bags on to train station platforms when there are no lifts, eat bananas, talk to deer, count storks, film beetles pushing dung across dusty Portuguese paths, work out what Picasso was trying to say, make my homage to Catalonia, visit the chocolate Lionel Messi, learn what the Catholic Church did to every other kind of faith that wasn’t there own, get sick of cathedrals and crucifixes, understand what cobbles do to bicycles, find out that the French love an overburdened English cyclist, pay my respects to those who died to liberate Europe, cross the whole of Belgium (yay the first country I have crossed in its entirety), ride a 100k in a day in 30 degree temperatures with a full pack (OK I am proud its true), know what its like to burn up all your calorie reserves and eat like a hungry scavenger pilgrim, learn what I am capable of, and then finally find a way home.
But just to let you know so far…
In the first trip I travelled 1200 km on the bike and I don’t know how many thousands more on train, boat and ferry. I visited three countries – France, Spain and Portugal. Since then I’ve cycled 320km from Dublin to Belfast, 1200km through The Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, and 1500km cycling from Strasbourg to Bratislava, through Germany, Switzerland, Austria into Slovakia, and then onwards by coach to Czechia, Hungary and Poland. 14 countries and 4200km cycled so far.
What it has meant to me
A few years ago I struggled to cycle the daily 6 miles to work and back and before this trip I’d never been on an overnight cycling holiday. When I started training for this trip I was a stone overweight and two and a half over where I was in my twenties. I trained for about nine months before the timing was right and I felt confident enough, though still filled with anxiety, to try. I’ve lost 2.5 stones, returning to the weight I had as a twenty year old. My 36 inch trousers hang off me and are going to the charity shop. I feel stronger and mentally fitter than I have for a very long time. Brexit got me down so much (and still does) but this journey has changed my life and I really feel like I have takenbikecontrol over many things that were going on in my life. Things aren’t perfect with me but cycling (in particular taking on this odyssey) has given me back a new sense of my self. I feel as though things are possible again.
I have also met someone and fallen in love. And she is a wonderful kind and loving person. Before meeting her I had been single for over two years and doubted whether I would meet someone again. But you never know when the next miracle will happen. Cycling has been a big part of this because I feel more confident and comfortable with my self, and more able to love in a happy healthy way. My new leg muscles are apparently pretty sexy too!
I am a political cyclist
I’d love to be able to extend my good feelings to the political process but sadly it seems as fraught, complex and mired as ever. Beyond the easy slogans and broken promises we can all at last see how hard it is to get whatever it is we want from the political process. I hope this time has given Remain voters the chance to see why Leave voters were so angry about a whole load of issues and Leave voters the chance to reflect on whether they will in fact get whatever they wanted from leaving the EU, and to question whether that really is what they wanted, or whether it was actually something different. Something that leaving the EU will never give them.
My own preference now is to use this process to get a sensible dialogue of how we can change things moving forward that makes it better for as many people as possible, undermines racism and xenophobia and keeps us within the EU, and all the greater opportunities that affords. The EU is the only super-national body that gives we citizens certain inalienable rights protected by constitution and the rule of law. We should cherish these and understand why they are important, as they will not waiver. The same can not be said of rights protected by national governments. We vote for a political party not all the policies they enact. It is very easy for political parties to undermine our rights within the text of legislation we never see or at least never have the time to read.
I am supporting The People’s Vote campaign now and for a change in Labour Party policy to support a final say on the deal. People should be able to change their mind in this process, or reaffirm their views, or have a second chance to participate, if they didn’t get that the first time around. It’s clear that the balance of power in Parliament is not such to deliver a strong Brexit on either side of the argument and the government is currently being controlled, as Conservative MP’s have already said, by Jacob Rees Mogg. A general election would hopefully redefine this too.
A friend sent me out on my first trip with some advice. Before you go, she told me, write a biography of your life so far, and then when you get back, ask yourself, who went out on the journey, who came back, and what did you bring back for your community. Well, I’m only part way through my journey so I’m not ready to answer all these questions, but answers are arriving as I cycle, and also when I have time to reflect back home. Things will definitely change and I hope to bring back something for my community, that raises this above what it just means for me.