A fair old while ago I had a conversation with someone who was about to do a long ride. They were off to pedal down the entire length of a country, one of the big ones, and next year I’m hoping to do something similar in the fifth edition of the Transcontinental, their adventure was longer and off road but we find ourselves at similar stages of trepidation and thought. We talked about lots of things then over tea and biscuits; preparation, training, logistics, the mental strain of distance, and bears. But there was one question that we never really answered and just kind of knowingly jokingly skirted around and it is that which has come back to haunt me. It is my turn to try to avoid answering now.
Why are you doing this?
We pondered the whys and wherefores before doing a little tiptoe dance up to the question that often pokes at such long-distance ventures. Are you doing this to run away from something or are you pedaling towards something else? At the time we half seriously discussed this in non-specific terms and reached for another biscuit any time things got awkward and to punctuate the pause. We knew each other well enough to know there was perhaps a deeply important and raw under-current to it all that we were probably both too scared to broach.
I have decided I would like, need, to do next year’s Transcontinental; 3,800 kilometres, give or take, Belgium to Greece, a mind-weeping 30,000 metres of climbing, 250km a day and two weeks in the saddle. Despite it being a massive step up in my riding It seems like a natural progression, I’ve done enough stuff in the past and looking back there has been a steady upward process of challenges, a slow chipping away at fears and upping of miles, but of late things have stagnated a bit. I have been dicking about, and while there’s nothing wrong with enjoying where you are and dicking about it can get a bit stale. Doing it because it’s what you do. As imaginative and testing as going down the pub every Friday night with your mates.
Sometimes the little voice that nags at you to strive for better gets a little shouty. Feet get itchy.
In that graph of progression putting a bid in to do the Transcontinental is a big gulp and a dramatic steepening of the curve to something like a cliff, a big pedal stroke into the unknown, and something I don’t necessarily have to do to prove anything, but do. And I can’t really think why.
If really really pressed to answer that question that we never properly got round to answering back then I could find a few things that I’m running away from, but they’re the day-to-day things that I can escape from on a normal bike ride round the hills. I’m savvy enough to know that it doesn’t matter if the bike ride is two hours or two weeks those things are not going to go away, however mundane or serious they may be. Likewise there are definite gaps in my life that this could be seen to be plugging, a convenient way to paper over the cracks for a bit. But then there’s always been an emptiness that needs filling in there, it is my character, and bike rides have always done a good job of shoveling stuff into that hole, it’s my character. This could just be a bigger spade.
If there have to be reasons I could come up with some but they would mainly be easy platitudes to keep you quiet and make you walk away satisfied but to answer that uncomfortable question I feel like I’m running towards something, absolutely, even if I don’t exactly know what it is right now. I’m genuinely interested as to where this might take me, I’d go so far as to say that I’m looking forward to it even though it’s going to be ‘quite hard’, both in the preparation and the execution. I am ready for this. The 600km ride I did with my hopeful Trancontinental team-mate Gavin completely opened my eyes and changed my perception of what’s achievable on a bike. Turns out it’s a lot and I’m keen to capitalize on that, experience that further (and further and further) and welcome what and whom I might meet along the way with open arms.
The more I ponder this as routes are plotted, training planned and a submission entered it turns out there are actually no reasons, I simply just want to do to this. Sometimes, very rarely, something pips up on your radar that requires no thought or rhyme or reason, it appears at the right time and place to be a totally natural desire without the need for any justification. It is just is.
That person and I never really got round to speaking about whether they had found themselves to be running away from or towards anything on their adventure across their continent, it didn’t seem to matter after what they had achieved. Maybe we’ll meet along this road I’m on and we can have that conversation again and I could perhaps ask that question, and they could ask me back. I best pack biscuits.
Jo Burt has spent the majority of his life riding bikes, drawing bikes and writing about bikes. When he's not scribbling pictures for the whole gamut of cycling media he writes words about them for road.cc and when he's not doing either of those he's pedaling. Then in whatever spare minutes there are in between he's agonizing over getting his socks, cycling cap and bar-tape to coordinate just so. And is quietly disappointed that yours don't He rides and races road bikes a bit, cyclo-cross bikes a lot and mountainbikes a fair bit too. Would rather be up a mountain.