33 months ago I wrote my last blog post for this Shane Cycles Africa blog (click). Thats almost three years ago, and I’m now just as confused about life as 46 months ago when I started my cycle trip across Africa. The fight with my alarm clock the last two mornings at 5am, a wonderful weekend with my girlfriend before that and a good conversation with a small bottle of Talikster last night have been a great rollercoaster of feelings in a short time and enough to inspire a good old fashion overshare in the absence of a good bike ride.
The fascinating thing about travel blogs is that most people share amazing journeys then after their return soon disappear off the face of the blogging world. Leaving readers wondering what happens next. Do long distance travellers die and go to some unending sunrise heaven after a trip? Unplug from the internet? Want privacy again after being so open? Or just carry on the mediocre life they had pre trip and don’t want to admit it?
As the book about my ride across Africa is just as close to publishing now as it was 3 years ago, and my inspiration to write as intermittent as my trips in my “ new life” it seems only fair to spill the Whiskey marinated beans.
The short version of my life after this ” life changing trip” is…..it changed my life.
The long version goes something like this:
Making up the balance of a life changing trip
When I handed in my 2 months notice to quit my job in summer 2011 I was nervous, excited and scared of things to come, but so fed up of work, the rat race, people around me and the western world in general. Quitting my job and selling everything I owned made more sense than ever. I armed myself with a letter for the trip, a kind of get out of jail free card should I be having a bad day.
“ Dear Shane,
I write this from the comfort of your old home only a few months before your “little” trip. If you’re reading this it means you’re having a bad week/month and are about to give up/ throw your smelly little towel in the ring/ go running home with your tail between your legs, etc etc
Here’s a few things to think about before your do:
1. Never give up unless you’ve had a good nights sleep, a full English breakfast and a pot of good tea.
2. Nostalgia makes a good companion but poor counsel.
3. Be happy you don’t have to go to work every day, think about that sickly feeling you get when the alarm clock goes off at 5.30am or the feeling of being really tired and just waiting until 10pm so you can go to work a nightshift.
4. Think about the bridges you’ve burned and sacrifices you’ve made past, present and future to be able to do this trip.
5. If all else fails, stop being a little bitch and man the fuck up! Take care, be wise and live life now!
Ironically the letter proved to be as much use as a chocolate fireguard, during my darkest days in Africa instead of digging out my letter I turned to the advice of friends that barely knew me, an ex girlfriend, female stalkers, mirrors and bottles of Tusker. All of whom gave me sound advice at the right time. If you’re prepared to listen, the person looking back at you from a mirror will always give you the best advice.
Anyway, to save me 5000 words and the whole night writing here are some blog posts that highlight my trip through Africa:
Africa had left me burned out emotionally but more aware of myself and life than ever. The months after my return went by in a blur of good food, good coffee, recovering from what was obviously close to an emotional burn out (still waiting for other cyclists to admit to ptsd :Post trip stress disorder). Rest, love and catching up with friends and family brought a quick end to my mini ptsd episode leaving time for other things. Things like running away from my ptsd on extreme trips like cycling in lapland in winter with another nutter cyclist. Being able to share stories and secrets of Africa with someone with similar experiences was a nice distraction in the arctic contrast of Northern Europe in February.
I think its fair to say that for the first 18 months after my trip I still had one foot in Africa and half of my heart in Africa or the dream of Africa that the freedom of the road had left in my mind. I often wanted to go back, and had a hundred “ What if?” questions in my mind, but I knew I’d left because I’d had enough of Africa and being alone. But still wanted to be alone and still wanted to answer some of those questions.
The 18 month curse:
“ Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics” Pt 1. Dating:
Dating hadn’t been a problem in Africa, even if often short lived. Before my return home I was worried that I might become that grey haired old man in the corner of the pub all alone mumbling about a long ago unbelievable journey through Africa. During my trip I’d become an expert in problem solving, logistics and planning. Internet logistics meant I had my first date 3 days after I got home.
Throughout the almost 2 years preparation for Africa and during the trip I’d been nothing but decisive, focussed and motivated. I’d looked death in the face, crossed deserts in summer etc etc blah blah. The 18 months after living my dream I was a mumbling mess of indecision and doubt, my mind half at home in The Netherlands, half on the road again. My heart half in a relationship half in Africa.
This would of been convenient time to hunt down the letter I’d taken to Africa.
2. Nostalgia makes a good companion but poor counsel.
5. If all else fails, stop being a little bitch and man the fuck up!
But I didn’t.
I had a woman that loved me and was happy for me to disappear on trips alone and I still managed to walk away, leaving behind someone who deserved better and more respect. All just because I wanted more and was focussed on escaping anything that looked like conformity or a standard life. The months that followed are too dark and personal to share. The combination of working 50 hours a week, drinking too much when not working and serial dating with little success. This left me in a dark place and far from the Shane we all know and respect since the Kalahari incident.
“ Amateurs talk tactics, professionals talk logistics” Pt 2 work:
Work in many respects nowadays is just like dating, mainly based on your network or the internet. Though I hadn’t really planned to return to The Netherlands when I set off on my multi year trip, the place I wanted to return to when I’d had enough was “ home” and not the country I was born in. Being the sneaky bugger I am I’d kept some contacts warm during my trip just in case. A week after my first date when I got home I had a coffee date with the owner of Certifyingstaff.com. The rest was a formality and a question of waiting out the infinitely painful process that is security clearance to work at Schiphol airport.
What followed was a Summer season of working more hours and nightshifts than I’d done in the miserable summer prior to my Africa trip. The new more eco conscious me had a daily personal conflict working in the aviation industry that burns so much fuel as a luxury item. But work is work, it pays the bills and I like to fly from time to time too, ooh the painful irony of being a hypocrite……The light at the end of the tunnel was my winter escape to Canada. My only motivation to work was that for the first time in almost 2 years I was earning money that I desperately needed. After quitting the rat race, enjoying life for 18 months I had now become a mercenary, only working for money, kidding myself that I was making “ freedom credits”.
The ticking time bomb:
Around the 18 month point after my return from Africa the bomb finally exploded.
-I was once again fighting alarm clocks early in the morning or working nightshifts.
-I’d stopped being a nomad 18 months earlier, something that I’d thought I really wanted to be.
-My winter trip in Canada and attempt to be the first person to cycle the Trans Labrador highway in winter had been a flop (and also discovered cycling at -40 wasn’t really my thing).
-I wasn’t happy in the domestic bliss of a relationship.
-Sharing a house with my best friend to save money was starting to show the predictable cracks.
Extreme panic hit, the four pillars of my life where crumbling. Throughout all the years I’ve always had one or two survive through bad times but now work, relationship, travel and home were all a mess. So I took drastic measures and went from the 18 month curse to a crappy year via 2 months somewhere dark.
So, how are you liking that for a post trip report :), Luckily there might be a happy ending so keep reading 🙂
Now at month 33, many things have changed and despite the dark times, doubts and once again working slightly more than I’d like I can still say its all been worth it. I’m healthy, generally happy and thankful for the luxury of having choices, even if I chose to fuck them up. I’m also thankful for the things I learned in Africa and in the time since. Each fuck up makes me a better person and prepares me better for the future.
My four pillars are now stable and building again, and I’m still dreaming of crazy new trips, long and short.
Pillar 1: Work
Though it goes against political correctness to consider work as pillar number 1 its a fact of life. I’m at work in the summer 5-6 days a week for 8-10 hours, thats more than I see my girlfriend and almost as much as I see my bed. Without work there’s no trips, house, food etc. Apparently I’m not a nomad so if I can help it I’ll stick to living in a house or fancy tent rather than a cardboard box, so work is more important than many of us would like to admit.
Bullshit aside, my attitude to work has certainly changed since Pre Africa. I no longer depend on an employer for my income, courses or future. By learning to be flexible during my trips, seeing how hard people work in other parts of the world and learning to want to have more influence over my future, the step to become self employed and starting my own company after the 18 month curse was a logical step. Naturally for now I’m a one man show and still dependant on others, but its early days, 4 years ago I wouldn’t of had the confidence, imagination or balls to take this step (especially smack bang in the middle of a world recession). Though being self employed means I’m still working more than I’d like to right now, and is still the illusion of freedom at least I now have the illusion of making my own career choices. It’s so nice to move from project to project rather than sit around bitching at how crap a company is.
Pillar 2: Relationship
Yup, I love the idea of being the lonely cowboy on my bike in the desert or in the mountains, but many of my recent trips have been lonely and I’ve been missing something. Now it seems, I’m finally ready again to share the awesomeness of this planet with someone else. I’ve spent a long time fighting it, but its just a fact of life. The last year has been a big challenge, trying to share my time between work, travel, and yet another new relationship and trying to still find time for myself. But, the foundations are laid for building this new pillar.
Pillar 3: Travel
The wish and need to travel and have adventure is in my bones, its been there since my first escape when I was three years old, and will probably always be there. I consider my self lucky to have already seen what I have, at 39 years old my bucket list was complete, now at 40 I’m making a new one. Its obvious that super long trips are not my thing, but give me a map of the world, 9 days to 9 months off work and enough money and I can dream up a dozen awesome trips in as many minutes. To say I’ve seen a awful lot of awesome things in our world would be an understatement, now I’m eager to return to many of the spots and people I’ve visited for a little depth I missed the first time round. That of course and awesome new slightly more extreme new stuff now that my focus is slowly returning.
Pillar 4 : Home
After living in a tent or cheap hotel rooms for more than a year in Africa it was a joy to once again be home. I had and still have an acute appreciation for many of the following things that most people take for granted:
-Electricity all day every day
-A fridge, freezer, kettle and other kitchen luxuries
-Clean fresh water from 6-10 taps in house whereas many villages I passed through only had one tap for dozens of families
-A well stocked supermarket within walking distance
-A choice from dozens of different types of fresh bread rather than dozens of stale white loafs.
-A machine that makes your cloths smell nice rather than hours of hand washing.
-Gas/ electric cookers in a separate kitchen rather than a charcoal stove in the one room house/hut or outside
-A clean spacious bathroom
-Waking in the morning not itchy from mosquito or bedbug bites
-Education, welfare system, medical system and strange things called work contracts and pensions.
-Fairly efficient and not too overcrowded public transport
-Fast reliable internet
-Police that are generally not corrupt
-Health and safety laws
The recent refugee crisis in Europe has been a stark reminder of how good our life is and how lucky most of us are to have choices and somewhere safe to live.
After Africa I chose to rent a room for the first 2 years to save money. Eventually the irritations of sharing far outweighed the extra cost, so now I have my own expensive place again. That and the convenience of a car to commute to work rather than two hours a day cycling mean I’ve finally fallen back into the rat race.
“ Even if you win the rat race you’re still a rat”
For now though I consider myself in the rat fun run, and I hope to come in last.
Making up the balance:
Taking 18 months off work is not cheap, especially if you’re a mess and only work 6 out of the 12 months after that.
The last 4-5 years have been a fascinating experiment in personal development. The personal insights, self recognitions and ongoing personal development plan far more penetrating and sustainable than any coach, therapist or HR manager could have thrown at me.
The only word for this whole process is…
With my four pillars in life finally clear to me and all now have solid foundations its time to look forward and fine tune the balance between all four. Hopefully these pillars will be great building blocks for the second 40 years of my life.
Now excuse me while I disappear off the blog radar and get on with my mediocre life 🙂