I’ve got a bit of time on my hands again now, and so I’d like to take the oppurtunity to revisit the roots of this journey. From the first moments, and the first thoughts of the first day:
I’d really become so bored of Milan, while also I was given too much free time to spend worrying about the trip that I was about to embark on, about the point of it. I was happy to leave when I did, although I’m not sure if I was necessarily happy to be leaving to go do what I was planning on doing. I remember the first moments of leaving from the front door, packing my belongings on the back of my bike, and straight away feeling such a massive sense of confusion, mixed with a little icing of sadness. I remember how it seemed I hadn’t thought about anything at all, that I didn’t know where I was going, that all this stuff wasn’t ever going to fit on my bike, and I felt I was probably going to have to stop my trip after one day because I hadn’t really done any planning.
All the adventure cyclist blogs that I’d scoffed at suddenly now seemed right. The articles which told you to try living out of your bike bags for two weeks before leaving to check that you’ve got everything. Or also to try unpacking and repacking your bag 5 times a day for practice. Or to sit and brainstorm every day for a week about all the things you’d definitely need and not need. And I hadn’t done any of this. In fact before coming to Italy, the to do list I managed to concoct only had a whopping 4 things to do on it, where one of these was just to cancel my gym subscription and another just to cancel the direct debit for paying for the house’s internet. Needless to say (atleast for anyone who knows me), both these bills came out of my bank account again this month. Organisation has never been one of my strong points, but on the other hand, not much really panics me and I’m good at getting through difficult situations. I’d always figured that these other adventure cyclists were older hypochondriacs who needed everything in place or would completely freak out, but I’d now started to wonder if maybe they were actually just normal people with common sense.
But my bags did all fit on eventually, and quite neatly too (by my standards). A saxophonist then played me out of the city as I crossed one of Milan’s larger Piazza’s on the empty and still Sunday morning. His smooth tones completely filled the dank air between the tall buildings, and they combined with the so far surprisingly smooth ride to make a complete change in my emotions. I felt euphoric as I cycled past him and onwards out of Milan, I became excited for the future.
And there it was, within one hour I’d already gone through those infamous highs and lows again. Feelings that I’d forgotten about, feelings that I hadn’t felt since I cycled home from Poland with only 40 euros, though feelings that sudden felt so familiar as I stared down another semi-motorway, with my feet mindlessly pedalling away below. Of course I experience highs and lows in my life in London too, but they’re of a completely different sort; In London they usually occur over periods of days, or weeks, while also the shift isn’t to such extreme ends of the spectrum. Here, you can go from one extreme to the other in half an hour, go from believing everything is perfect, to not getting the point of anything that the world has to offer. But I like this sensation, I think these emotions were something that I was looking for when I decided to do this.
Thus, accustomed to one old set of feelings, another old friend – the spirit of adventure* – decided the time was ripe to introduce himself as well. Go East, he said. And convinced by his hypnotic tones I did as asked, and with no compass or map, but only my bearings and sense of direction, I cycled East for about 25km. And why not? Going East sounded as good a plan as any when there is no plan. And by going East, I then ended up right in the middle of one of those Red Bull events, where people make unmotorised planes and send them off a runway into a lake. It seemed the spirit of adventure knew what was going on Italy, I enjoyed watching the event by the lakeside, and the whole situation further cemented my faith in his guidance.
A storm eventually ended my Eastward cycling and made me take refuge in a bar. I took out my diary and noted how it had been a long time since I’d been sitting in some foreign cafe, in some tiny village, in some other country. Again it was a sensation I’d forgotten, but one that felt immediately familiar. Not just the auditory and visual sensations, the noises of a different language and the look of a new place, but the feeling of being lost, a little confused, being happy, while simultaneously a little sad.
Living in the moment. And by that I don’t mean making the most of every moment, like carpe dium, or something cliche like that. But literally I mean living in moments. The big picture fades away, there’s no what will I do next month, where will I be, will I have a girlfriend, a better job? There’s just what will I do right now, and what will I do when right now finishes. Though even the latter question I tend to ignore, as was the case in this moment of diary writing, where I was warm, comfortable and well looked after by the friendly and funny community of the bar. In this moment it didn’t bare worth thinking of the next, of what would happen when the bar closed and I was sent back out into the storm to search for a place to sleep. I chose instead just to be happy about where I was then, about that moment.
The bar gave me a free cappuccino, some snacks and some beers, I tried to pay, but they wouldn’t let me. This might be because I lied about how far I’d cycled so far, saying that I’d come from London. The truth that I’d come from Milan, 40km away, didn’t seem so impressive. I said it for attention and hospitality. I’m not sure how I feel about it now looking back, but I think there’s almost a side of me that kind of felt justified in saying it because I have done equally long cycles before, and this was my original plan before work intervened. However, the fact is that I didn’t do it, so I probably shouldn’t say I have. And from that day onwards, I haven’t.
Closing time, and I was forced out onto the street into the dark storm to cycle off to find shelter. Again I went cycling off into the night, and this sensation made up the final familiar feeling. Pedalling through dark towns, down dark roads, with little idea as to where I’m going and what I’m doing; it’d had been a while. Though the finance behind me this time does make it easier, knowing that this time if I have to stay in a hotel, I can pay for it. However, my money will last much longer without paying for beds, while also not having hotel options forces you to find other more interesting ones. But saying all this, the storm did eventually grow too thick and I did stop at a hotel to enquire about prices. I heard 50 euros, which was too much, but the recpetionist acting from generosity (or perhaps from the boredeom that sitting at a hotel recption all evening generates) said he had a friend who owned a hotel nearby and he would drive there and I could follow. It’s a funny thing, but I really like having to follow cars and buses on my bike in new and strange places, I always feel like I’m playing one of the first missions in grand theft auto or something, objective: follow roberto to pick up point. But anyhow, we get to the pick up point and Roberto hooks me up with a deal at the new hotel for 20 euros for a night, and looking out the window back at the storm, it seems silly to say no.
I go to bed happy, however wake up a little sad. The cycle continues.