As many of you might imagine, I am an avid reader of travel stories. Especially once I had focused on making my trip by bike, I picked out an increasing number of articles related to such journeys. A recurring theme within them is how much time cyclists have in their heads, a potentially treacherous domain.
Before I left the States, I was fully aware that I’d be alone a lot. I was even excited at the idea; solitude refreshes me from time to time. During my ride from London to wherever Oli found me near his village, I got plenty of thinking in, but then spent three days with him and his family, giving me a direct outlet for my thoughts, as well as distracting me from them.
|Mostly with other ideas, like: maybe I should apply to Oxford…|
|…because apparently anything is possible here|
Once I set off on Friday, though, I was on my own. I departed, excited to see the countless abbeys, castles and landscapes that rural England has on offer. My halfway point was Reading, which I reached with relative ease. Then I somehow circled the city for about three hours. It remains a mystery how this has happened to me so frequently, since I consider myself a pretty decent navigator. I’m beginning to suspect a cartographic conspiracy.
At this point, all that flooded my mind was how immensely frustrating it is to find my way around this country, no matter the locale. Realizing how this would set me back in my plans, I must admit I cheated and hopped a train to Bath. I found a hostel for one night, but found social interaction difficult as an incredibly creepy man from California ruined all forms of conversation with other guests.
Following that night, I was forced into finding a bed and breakfast, as all affordable hostel beds in the city were booked for Saturday night. I stayed in Bath for two more nights, deeply enjoying the sites, weather and food. It also gave me a good opportunity to collect myself and do much needed laundry.
|Every seventh day, I’m ensuring my accommodation has a hair dryer, just in case|
On Monday, I missed out on St Patrick’s day but experienced exactly what I’d been anticipating: a picture perfect ride through the English countryside.
My luck with weather so far has been phenomenal, only seeing rain during my two hour ride yesterday. However, winter is about to return, so today I fled to Liverpool from the countryside and the solitude it invites.
With hours, or even days, of almost unbroken self-reflection, emotions seem to undulate even more frequently and sharply than the hills that I recently conquered. I have chatted with plenty of lovely people, and even ended up sitting next to a floor mate from freshman year of university on the train. However, I have spent the vast majority of my time alone with myself.
As a result, I lost confidence almost entirely in myself in Reading and experienced great triumph from my hilly and rainy Cotswold rides. I’ve questioned my purpose for this trip and reaffirmed it dozens of times. I even doubted the entire concept of travel for a few perilous moments, though fixed that with a hefty pub lunch.
It’s been a strange adventure to reach such extremes through such brief periods. Admittedly, hunger and fatigue heavily temper the negative ones which dissipate quickly with meals and naps. However, it has still taken me off guard just how little I understood about solitude before experiencing it. I’ve always had a home base to work from and, more importantly, other people with whom I could directly experience and share an event.
This new style of travel has taken some major adjustments, most significantly of which is understanding the difference between solitude and loneliness. While I do think I would prefer to travel with a partner, I am becoming more comfortable with myself and my own thoughts. Many people avoid this territory, as it can be pretty scary. However, as this teaches me to actually be with myself, I’m learning how valuable our untapped minds can be. I don’t know exactly where my path will lead me, physically or mentally, but I think this past week has opened up some new tools to really take advantage of whatever may come.
Here are some shots of Bath that I couldn’t work into the post but want to share anyway: