I think the riding across Europe is going to be the easy bit.
For the last I don’t know how long there’s been a dull undercurrent of fear, panic and restlessness. It’s that pre-big-exam dread combined with the giddy stomach waltzer of falling in love. A feeling that’s a sticky apprehension churned together with an itching excitement to create a thick cloying inability to be able to think about anything else. A little bit sick all the time, careering in jolts between abject panic and serene calm without touching anything in-between. And then back again. In minutes.
Ask me about how I’m feeling about competing in the Transcontinental race and you’ll get a different answer every time you ask.
All the useful training that can be done has been done. There is nothing worthwhile to do now except spin the legs occasionally to keep them moving and have a bit of fun doing so if possible, there will be more than enough serious later. Have I, have my Transcon pairs team-mate Gavin and I done enough? I don’t know, I know that we have both done all we can within the confines of work and trying to live a normal life, although what constitutes as a normal life doesn’t seem to be what most people would consider as such any more. I’m pretty sure I could maybe have done more and I had plans and excuses for rides that I would have liked to tick off but they just couldn’t squeeze into the already squashed schedule. So now with just a few days to go to the start in Geraardsbergen it is what it is.
There comes with this a serenity that there is no point in worrying about the legs and the preparation any more and it’s a little odd to not be clipping into the bike whenever a gap appears which has been the constant refrain over the last year or so. There is no permanent hunger or lingering tiredness either, which makes a nice change. But to counteract that there is the endless panic of all the things that must be done before the off. There are a lot of last-minute threads to be tied; bits to be got, promised kit to be chased down, that other thing to do, something crossed off a list, something remembered and added to the list, and all of the mundane housekeeping that goes along with leaving a house for a fortnight or so. Once on the bike and having to get from A to B via all the letters in the alphabet the days will take on a easier agenda; ride, eat, ride, eat, ride, eat, sleep a bit maybe, ride, eat, ride, ride…
It’s a simple theory. It is however a little more complicated than that with most of Europe to zig-zag across and Gavin has been absolutely stellar and made excellent use of office time and faster computers to plan our route, which is no small undertaking. There has been a lot of direct message chit chat and looking at maps, zooming in on streetview to check on what could or could not be a road, discussion on the long flat way versus the shorter hillier way and generally opting for the prettier way, with switchbacks. We’re not doing this just to stare at our stems for days on end. Gavin has said he’s happy to do all this, he’s an excellent route planner, it’s his thing and he’s always coming up with ride ideas. In this case having the route in his head settles him and breaks the unimaginable into manageable chunks. He has my total trust.
It’s impossible to comprehend the endeavour in one lump, the brain shorts out at the concept of riding to Greece so it needs to be dealt with in achievable gobbets. The first one of those will be getting to the start in Belgium, which has already been the subject of much planning and sorting. I think we’re okay. From there on in it’s a pedal very much into the unknown, somewhere further than either Gavin or I have been or ever imagined. Break it down into digestible legfuls, first countries to breach, then big towns to reach, then places along the way where there might be food, water, shelter and a loo. We just have to get to there. Then there. Then there. Then there…
The money involved in this has also been a major hurdle to stumble at for both of us. It’s not a cheap two weeks away. The cost of the kit involved is no small investment and while both of us already have a fine cycling inventory there’s still been a lot of bits to acquire, and it’s not all the big exciting stuff, it’s the silly little necessary bits and pieces whilst not much when taken on their own all add up to take their toll on funds. Wait till payday, spend most of it on bike things. Wait till payday again. I have sold off much pre-loved bike kit to supplement funds and if it wasn’t for the help of a long list of kind sponsors and people happy to give us free or heavily discounted stuff then neither of us would be able to roll up to the start line. Then there’s the saving up for the costs to come of spending a fortnight on the road and all the eating three times as much food as normal from supermarkets, petrol stations and cafes and all the other random assorted costs this kind of travel brings. There are bills at home that are going to have to wait.
We are riding into lot of unknown, there is a lot beyond both of our experiences, sometimes this will bring on an understandable cold wash of fear and other times there is a warm hug of calm for there is no point in wasting energy on things that you have no control over and there is the promise of adventure. Deal with the unknown as it occurs and treat whatever misfortune and delight pop up with equal measure. It is likely there will be a lot of this. There have been times when I wonder what the hell I’m doing, quite a lot of times actually, on a daily basis. The whole escapade is ridiculous, pointless, and to a great extent incredibly selfish, especially considering recent events which have led to another layer of fret and worry to family, loved ones and friends. “Ride safe” is said too much still.
All too often though it has been just too much to cope with as I can feel myself stuck in the undertow of the waves of stress and panic and I have thought about bailing and making that awkward call to my team-mate. I can easily think of a thousand reasons not to do this, I could delay it for a year when I’ll be more ready, or at least maybe feel a little more prepared, but that’s an lame excuse you can make for anything that might scare you. Add to the maybe later list. People would probably understand, I could wring my hands and reel off the reasons and they would say it was okay, there’s always next time. But against all of those reasons there is just one large unstoppable shoving persuasive hand of reason to do it, and that is simply that I said I would. And I couldn’t look at myself if I backed down, well, I could stare at my shoes for a long time, and mumble apologies at Gavin for considerably longer, but I couldn’t look myself in the mirror.
I still don’t know if I’m running away from something or running towards something, which is a question that came up when I first knew I was doing this, a resurrected quandary chewed over with a friend who was off to do something similar a long while ago and something that still bothers. Indulge me. Again the answer varies minute on minute. I suppose I’ll find the answer somewhere out there, maybe it will be waiting at the finish or I won’t come to a conclusion sometime after I get back home, or maybe never. Right now not running anywhere and sitting still would be a pleasurable option. But that’s not an option, and maybe part of the answer.
It is going to be hard, everything from Day Three onwards I’m guessing. And then it’s going to get harder again as soon as we head out of Italy and into the fringes of Eastern Europe where the world is a little less polished. The comforts of home become sparser, there is the promise of feral dogs and the threat of bears and the reality of roads that look less than inviting. Hard and challenging on many levels. While there may be stoic and weary staring at the camera we are both aware that this is our choice, we can stop any time we like and go home eventually to a nice hot bath and a comfy sofa for snacks and naps. A lot of people don’t have this option, we are privileged to make this hardship our decision. A large part of why we’re doing this, or the reason that sparked the agreement between Gavin and I to sign up to the Transcontinental is for some friends that for very different reasons didn’t have a choice in what happened in their lives. When things get tough we shall think on these things, stiffen a lip and carry on.
We weren’t going to be doing this for charity because we’re weary of being constantly asked to put out hands in out pockets for people doing cycle rides for various causes, but Gavin was asked so often, because it’s incomprehensible to a lot of people that you might be doing something stupid like this without raising money for something (I mean, why would you just do it?) that he’s set up a justgiving page that you might feel you can help towards. If you do, thank you.
You can follow mine and Gavin’s progress as we descend into dirty, smelly hollow-cheeked shadows of ourselves, and maybe watch us drift further and further apart on the road in awkward silence via instagram as vecchiojo and themanfromicon. There will also be pictures of the nicest roads in Europe that we’ve decided are worth the effort of going the pretty way.
All that there is left now is to sort out all the tiny little last minute trinkets, get a haircut and make sure there’s enough cat food in the house.
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.