For those of you that don’t know me, I am Phil. I grew up in a town called Hythe on the South coast of England. After school I had year off before I studied for my degree; in that year I lived in Brighton volunteering for 4 months doing care work with a disabled student. I also spent 4 months travelling round India. I completed my degree in Religion and Theology at Manchester University last spring and after that I moved back to Hythe to live with my parents, work and save up for this trip. I worked a care assistant at a residential home for the elderly in Hythe. I really enjoyed the work and learnt a lot from it, primarily to make the most of my youth and good health. Anyway, that is me in a nut shell; this blog is about my adventure by bicycle across Europe, up India to Nepal, around South East Asia and into China.
In the summer of 2010 I cycled down the West coast of France, down Spain to the middle of Portugal with some friends to go to Boom festival. Prior to this trip I had read blogs and seen videos of people like Mark Beaumont (the guy who held the round the world record by bike). I had been thinking about a similar ride travelling by bike. The ride down to Portugal cemented in my mind that bicycle is the way I want to travel. With a bicycle you feel every undulation of the land, you are open to the elements and you are at a speed that you can appreciate the landscape, you really do get to know the country you are riding in. But that is not the only reason for travelling be bike, I could wax lyrical about it all day. And seeing as so many people seem baffled as to why I would choose to ride a bike great distances I think I should name a few more reasons: It is ethical and sustainable (I hope my second hand bike lasts at least 20 years), it gives you a sense of satisfaction reaching your destination by your own steam, you have to eat as much food as you can, it makes you fitter, you can go where you want whenever you want so there is no waiting for buses or trains, it is cheap and (hopefully) reliable, I hope to be approachable by locals as bicycles often seen as a ‘poor’ mode of transport , I will be forced to visit small villages and towns that are off the tourist routes and most importantly; I love riding my bike, whether slogging up a hill, whizzing down the other side or cruising along the flat, the feeling of powering yourself and your luggage is liberating.
Ok so you know I like riding my bike, but why choose to travel, what do I want to achieve by this? Well basically, to experience new things everyday whether good, bad, ugly or beautiful is exciting. Travel gives a sense of independence and freedom which is difficult to find elsewhere, and which I think enriches people. There is an element of ‘personal development’ to this trip, I hope to hone my political and moral ideology. For many years I have been an atheist and strongly left politically but find it very difficult to pinpoint any groups or ideas that I could agree with wholeheartedly, in fact I am pretty disillusioned with politics in general. I hope to meet some likeminded people, see other ways of life and, through reading as well, find things I can agree. One aspect of this trip is about leading a simpler life. I will be carrying all my belongings on my bike, I will have shelter, warmth, a way to cook and provided I can find food and water there is very little else I will need (my kindle and camera will be very useful though!). I will be leading a fairly ascetic existence, and I hope to experience the ‘sublime’ in natural beauty. Similar to the ‘sublime’ of 18th century philosophers who found an aesthetic quality in nature which struck them deeper that just beauty, and gave them a sense of awe and wonder of the mystery of life around them. Exposing myself to spectacular scenery, and camping in it wherever I like, I hope will inspire me. But I do not think this sense of ‘sublime’ is found just in mountains and valleys, I think it can be seen in humans, and more specifically their relations to other humans. Most people are generally nice, something which the media trying to instil fear in us wants us to forget. So on this journey it is not just about the scenery I see but also about the people I meet.
I think that in Britain and in many ‘developed’ countries people are happily in their comfort zone, with their job, flat and sky subscription. They are blinkered from the world and shielded from it to a great extent. I think this a very human and natural reaction, the desire to look after ones own, whether parents or children or friends. People do not want to know if their clothes are made by slave labour or if there is a drought in Sudan, ignorance is bliss after all. Now, I am not claiming to be high and mighty; that my way is morally right. Because I am just as much part of the problem as well. But there is a niggling feeling inside me that the world just is not right, it is unjust, it could be so much better, something which I want to explore.
Well I appear to have already fallen into ‘hippy’ rhetoric before I have left, but that is a basic overview of my feelings before this trip and motivation towards it. It is not all seeking the ‘sublime’ though, it is also a very long holiday! A way to learn to cook other types of food. To inspire people to ride a bike, maybe. To appreciate and understand other cultures slightly better. And a means to avoid the potential monotony of life. I have been working long hours full time for over a year and it has slipped by very quickly, I do not want to see my life slip by before me by falling into the hands of a career, mortgage or debts. And yes I do realise how lucky and privileged I am to have this opportunity, to work for just over a year and then travel for a long while. Most people in the world work harder just in order to survive, in order to have a room over their head and food to eat.
I am quite comfortable in my own mortality, and I could die on this trip. As could you tomorrow for all you know. I hold quite a Buddhist view in this regard, that we should be mindful of the impermanence of life. However not believing in reincarnation or any form of afterlife means that one should make the most of what we do have. Life is fleeting, that is what makes it so wonderful.
Finally I just want to say thank you to my friends and family. I wouldn’t be who I am today without you, and I do appreciate it. So, thank you to everybody, and sorry if I have not made enough effort to stay in contact with you.