Big ideas

from Littlehuan


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Pour mes belles filles.

I write this for my three beautiful girls back home.

Dear N, M and E,

I’m having a wonderful time, and when you read this I will have ridden my bike all the way across France and into Spain. Mostly I’ve been staying in my little tent. It’s been just big enough and just warm enough for me every night. I’ve ridden through a huge forest on long, straight paths as far as the eye can see. It took me two whole days to cross it! Tonight the stars are amazing, and I stopped my bike to look at the Milky Way.image

I think of you all every day and imagine what you are doing. I expect you are all ready for your Christmas plays and concerts. I know you are all going to be fantastic, and E will count her sheep perfectly.

Every morning when I wake up I make tea in the cup you gave me for my birthday. I love doing this because not only do I get a hot drink on a frosty morning, I also get to think of you and remember how kind you are to me.image

The one thing I miss most about being away is your hugs. If there was a World Championship of Hugging, you three would win gold medals. So make sure you practice your hugging while I am away, because I’ll need extra special ones when I get back.

I went on this trip because it is a dream I had for a long time. An ambition to do something big and exciting. And now I am doing it it is like one of my dreams has come true. I want you all to realise that if you have dreams that each of you can make them happen. You can have adventures as big as your imagination. You can achieve things that no-one has done before. You are so, so special- please remember this always. You are not ordinary. You are amazing. I love you.

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Ferried away.

What a day. I woke this morning to a favourite sound: the happy murmurings of my children. Knowing I wouldn’t hear their contended voices for a whole month was a tough realisation. They will miss their daddy, and however wet, cold or aching I become, this trip will be hardest on them. And I’ll not forget the debt of gratitude I owe those three wonderful little people.

It was all a bit of a rush, really, but somehow they got to school kissed and hugged, and I gingerly made my way to the station atop 35 kilos of quivering steel and stuffed panniers. Christine and I shared a tearful platform goodbye, hearts touching through train windows, but it was all a bit much and she needed to be hugged by a passer by, the first of many acts of kindness that will surely characterise this trip.

I’m pretty sure I spotted the Red Arrows practicing in the distance as we sped through Lincolnshire. Time passed swiftly as the good luck messages arrived, and soon I was perched once more on Andromeda, my Super Galaxy, amongst the taxis outside King’s Cross for the transfer to Waterloo. And bless, her, she’s not the most nimble of beasts. In tight London traffic we wobbled and weaved, but my acceleration at the lights must’ve matched the ferry on which I sit as I write this.

I’ve bumped into two touring cyclist couples on the ferry, but neither is venturing south of Brittany, and one has only empty panniers to fill with wine for their return tomorrow! The seas are gentle and all is well.

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Not so easy…

With only a few days to go, I’ve been feeling really nervous about the trip today. You know, lots of self-doubt, procrastination, a bit of insecurity, taking it out on those around me, that sort of thing. Horrid little questions I wish would go away.

“It’s too far, you’ll never finish, the miles will get on top of you, you’ll be a cold, wet, lonely failure.”

Here’s me looking anything but cold in a snowfield at minus 10. Yes, my kit is frozen solid.

Well I might have bitten off more than I can chew, with 2500km in 26 days; what, with the kit I’m taking,  my propensity to get lost going to the corner shop, and my desire to curl up into a ball when things get difficult. But there’s a chance I’ll make good progress on the flat of France and ride myself into form for the hills of Spain. That I’ll encounter fair weather and following winds. And that I’ll roll into Santander with a day to spare, wondering what all the fuss was about. But if I fail, on who’s terms will I fail? On the brilliant CTC Trail Leader course I did recently, with the inimitable Craig Walmsley, we spent a bit of time mapping out shortcuts; alternative routes and escapes back to base if things go differently to the plan. And I’ve planned such routes for this trip. Wouldn’t it be amazing if I took so many interesting detours, accepted so many offers of hospitality and thought, wrote or photographed so much that I had to ride straight to the ferry terminal or miss Christmas? Would my trip be of any less value if its destination was other than the westernmost tip of Spain?

“You’re irresponsible. It’s such a big risk for the future.”

Ok, Ok, I return home as an unemployment statistic. Jobs will be advertised and posts filled while I am away. But this trip is space for really good decisions about my future and deciding how I want to spend my days. Might my redundancy provide so many opportunities at a time when I’m able to take them? Can I convince people the skills I love to share are worth paying for, and make my passion my career?  Is someone who’s proved themselves self-reliant, determined and creative more or less employable? Why not read the intrepid and highly readable Travelling Two’s answer.

“You’re a bad dad for doing this.”

Yes, I’ve heard it in my own mind and even from others. I’m worried about my girls. Just now I want to shower them in love and never let them go. But there is absolutely no good time to do this from their perspective. They want their dad like they want ice cream before dinner- but if it’s good it’s good enough to wait for. I can’t wait to write them special messages. The eldest has asked me to write a letter. That’s great. In an age of email my child values the physical, written word. But I hope to befriend the technology to share stories face to face, or at least webcam to webcam. I’m determined that the dad they get for Christmas will be an improved, relaxed, calmer, more fulfilled version of the one they love now. And I’ll be the best beard in the playground at school. Except the terrifying headmistress, Miss Whiskers.*

If this was easy for me, it’s likely I wouldn’t be attempting it. I’ve planned something which takes me as far as can in the time I have. Long nights and short days add to the difficulty, as does the need to make and break camp each day. The weather will whisper threats of snow and ice, and silently deliver her promise. My journey will require my best and test my resolve to its limits. For how else will I find out what my best is, or where my limits are? I’ll be cold, wet, hungry and scared at times, but equally I’ll be warm, safe, energised and excited. Emotions will undulate and moods will swing. But I will do this. And I will do it well.

*Names have been changed to protect the innocent…


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Keeping the home fires burning

Here’s a wonderful guest post from my partner Christine, about what it’s like being the one left behind. Needless to say, without her support I wouldn’t be making this trip. With it, I know that anything is possible. She showed me what adventure is by jumping into this river when I wanted to stay on the bank. Her boldness inspired me to make this journey. Christine, it’s all your fault.

So about 4 weeks ago Patrick asked me my ‘opinion’ on his plans.

“Sounds good.” I said holding back the tears. But what can I do? Because as I thought about it the more I admired his determination to do this, and I would probably like to do the same given the opportunity. (there will be time… Pat)

So I decided to be supportive and, given Patrick’s loveable forgetfulness, try to get him as well equipped as possible. We settled on a on a ID bracelet as I can’t guarantee that he won’t get his hand caught in a crevice for 127 hours, and my idea of taking him to the vets to get him chipped did not go down well. Then there was the obligatory Trip to Go Outdoors where I asked the bloke for small long johns (for myself of course) a sports bra (definitely for myself) and then tried on a number of silly hats. Although we did buy dry bags, a water pouch, a red plastic blanket thing, oh, and some energy bars… Dear me, it’s starting to sound like a 80’s games show.

Then, of course, there are the snippets of information that Patrick keeps telling me.

“I don’t want to plan my route too much.” I must  have gone pale as he has now at least looked at a map and decided on which way he needs to point the bike.

“It’s going to be really cold this time of the year.” Erm, exactly how good is your sleeping bag?

“They close the passes cos of the snow sometimes.” You’ll need that titanium spork to dig yourself out then, I say. And today… today!

“They have bears.” What am I meant to say? Pack a few tins of John West salmon, start growing a beard (he already has) and they’ll accept you as one of their own!? It’s ok, they are all called either Pooh or Paddington depending on clothing. Just don’t get them mixed up; it pisses them off.

Obviously I have extensive knowledge of all these things, so it’s just as well I’m staying home. That and the fact that I need 6 layers and 2 duvets just to stay in a caravan.

No, I’ll be waiting at home for Patrick just hoping that he has remembered to eat.

Thanks, Christine. I’ll try.