One week into my trip, I can definitively claim that choosing to do this by bicycle was nothing but a brilliant idea. My bike, in conjunction with London’s maze-like streets, has assisted me greatly in getting lost: the ideal way to really explore the city.
This theme emerged as soon as I passed through customs at Heathrow airport. Five minutes after building my bike outside Heathrow, my chain broke off. I then spent a half hour attempting to fix it, to no avail; it had hardly taken any time to become stranded. After limping my bike back to the airport, the Underground operators turned me away. My only option was to take a very, very expensive cab. By this point, as hunger and fatigue set in, I had already begun questioning my decision to take such a trip.
My hope restored itself quickly, though, when the desk staff at my hostel pointed me towards a shop and the mechanic promptly fixed the problem after asking, “What the hell did you do to this?” With Rocinante revived, I quickly shrugged off my earlier concerns about my journey. Getting back on the bike after such a long winter reminded me how few sensations are more exhilarating than the freedom of movement it provides.
I got so excited when I started, as a matter of fact, that I hadn’t been paying attention to the streets and ended up far from my hostel. This has become a recurring theme for my entire trip. If there’s one thing I’ve learned thus far, it’s how to get lost.
To avoid listing everything I did, I’ll just mention that I eventually teamed up with a Venezuelan accountant and a Canadian street musician. We would set destinations and barely reach them, straying “off course” to explore whatever came up. Many times we only had a vague sense of our location.
|We were pretty certain other times, though|
Off track wanderings led us to the Chin Chin Laboratory I just wrote about, and to a delicious hidden diner for an English Breakfast. The weather took everybody by surprise by being absolutely beautiful, and we hardly spent any time inside. I took advantage of this rare opportunity to explore London’s outdoor offerings, roaming street to park, from the hectic to the peaceful.
|Speakers’ Corner: Chaotic expressions of every opinion|
Getting lost reached a particular height yesterday during my first inter-city trip. Without a map I set out from London to a friend’s house just outside of Reading. Google Maps had me following branches of the Grand Union Canal most of the way.
|Now we know why they tell you the directions are still in Beta|
Not surprisingly, based on that, I ended up falling far from the directions I’d scribbled in my notebook, ultimately ending up 20 miles off course. I followed this by riding in circles around a town that locals even find confusing. Three hours after my anticipated arrival, I had no idea where I was, and had to call for a rescue. Thankfully my friend and his family found me quickly, saving themselves from continued hunger as they waited.
Despite the initial impression that these episodes may be more traumatic and frightening than exciting, they highlight the purpose of this pursuit. Getting lost is an adventure; it leads to discovery not only of curiosities and cultures, but of oneself. I have relished the challenges of trying to find my way and accepting when it’s time to turn in.
Traveling without a map, literally or metaphorically, makes for the most enlightening of experiences. It can be scary at times, but in hindsight it always works out for the best, and is hardly as bad as it seems. In the end, I’ve already made new friends, discovered great London scenes, wandered the English countryside, and get to finish this off as I sip tea to the bleating of sheep.
|Rural peace works wonders|