Gnarled tree

The time leading up to the start of any journey is always a special time. You prepare yourself and your equipment, mindful of  your hopes and fears for the coming weeks, months, or in some cases years. You will almost certainly have mapped an outline route that you will use to guide you on your way and if you are experienced you will have memories of certain of moments that you hope will be replicated in some small way during this adventure. Most of all you want to start, to get out amongst the scenery you have visualised and researched to see if it meets your expectations. Most of all, if you’re like me, you want to be free of the complexity o modern life for just a short period.

The Ride of My Life is different from my previous undertakings. Most of he scenery is familiar to me. I have either lived in the areas I’m travelling to or have visited many times. I won’t be fundraising either, just riding for myself, although I will always talk openly about mental health issues in a bid to open lines of communication and reduce the stigma surrounding this difficult subject. I have broken this journey into four stages, one each in May and June and two that run back to back in August, which I hope will help me to rest and recuperate as well as maintaining my therapy sessions without undue interruption.

Next Saturday I’ll be setting off along the South Coast of England heading for Hampshire where I lived for sixteen years in total. It isn’t a long journey, but it is an important one. It’s the first and shortest stage of The Ride of My Life, a journey back through time to rediscover the places, people and events that have been important in making me the person that I’ve become.

During this stage I will revisit the places where I first discovered sea-cliff climbing at the age of eighteen years. I will ride past many of the sites where I used to fly paragliders, soaring high above the cliffs and downs of the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. I hope to meet a few old friends and some not-so-old friends on the way as well. Some of the places I discovered in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s are still places that I love now. When in the area I still use the same campsites now as all those years ago and have seen many changes over the time I’ve been visiting. That’s the whole point of this journey. To take my time, absorb what’s there now and to reflect a little on the past as I go. All in all it’s an exciting time.

Given the ups and down of my health recently it feel entirely appropriate to start gently along this soft coastline, a place that encourages romantic thought, fills your heart and soul with warmth, and causes you to slow down and stare in wonderment at your surroundings. How many films use the power of the scenery in Dorset to embolden the image they are  trying to portray? Who can ever forget The French Lieutenant’s Woman as she stands waiting on The Cobb at Lyme Regis , or the scenery around West Bay near Bridport used in the award-winning TV drama Broadchurch. The list goes on and on. Whatever the genre of your film , it will almost certainly be enhanced by using Dorset as the backdrop. Some of the world’s best examples of fossils from the Jurassic period have come from here. It’s special, and that’s why it’s a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Drake's Trail near Tavistock, Devon, UK
Drake’s Trail near Tavistock, Devon, UK

For me it’s a chance to escape the humdrum and get out in the world. There are no targets that need to be hit and no goals to be chased during his ride. It’s a simple case of being there for the sake of being there, ready or not. Although I’m feeling more down to earth than a couple of weeks ago I have a great sense of uncertainty about going away on my bike. In past years I’ve had pre-tour nerves but they were to be expected. This year is different. My nerves come from the feeling that I don’t have the resources to deal with things going wrong at the moment. My body is tired, my ability to cope with the fluctuations in my mind is diminished. I know that to be a fact so I’ve tried to start this journey gently and as ever one step at a time.

Perhaps the challenge for me is just to be there, away from the security of home, living with my vulnerability and fragility. In previous years I’ve found life away from home easier in some respects but I’m always glad to return there after an adventure. There is a solace in camping and cycling that I don’t find in many places. It’s the same feeling I get when I’m in the mountains, one of belonging, of having a place in the world.

You could be forgiven for thinking that I was about to embark on some epic African safari or world trip, not a pootle along the south coast of England to another county. Sadly, it doesn’t feel so different to me than going away long-term to some far away place. My security is based at home in my routines and changing those is still a major challenge to me despite the fact that I’ve plenty of experience of doing just that.

But there are constants to be found in getting ready to leave home for a while. Yesterday I was pottering around sorting equipment for my own use and for Michele and I to use when she joins me in Hampshire in a week and a bits time. I have purchased a new bag, a waterproof roll-top affair to use on the trike with panniers. I was sat looking at this when I suddenly felt bereft. How could I possibly go away without Trevor, my faithful Carry Freedom trailer.

Heading out on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK

I felt this so strongly that I headed out to the shed where I found Trevor gathering dust, with his box detached, looking a little forlorn. I had already removed the original base plate (1.75kg) and replaced it with a plastic (400 grms) version. Before you could say boo I found myself washing Trevor and the aluminium box I use in conjunction with him while smiling inanely. I’m sure he was smiling too, but perhaps that’s my imagination.

Whatever the reason, the outcome is that Trevor is now siting in my lounge, looking shiny, waiting to be filled with goodies. My thoughts toward travelling lighter were in tatters due to the immovable image of sifting through panniers and a bag each and every day in an attempt to find the thing I wanted. An image was now planted itself firmly in my mind, Oe where I’m losing it completely as I try in vain to find stuff that I need, which according to Sod’s law will always be at the very bottom, regardless of how you pack in the first instance.

The trailer’s waterproof, dustproof box makes life easier and therefore it’s preferable for me. I’ve used panniers lots and there is no comparison. I’ve never had a problem due to towing, parking, maneuvering or anything else and have only ever had one puncture in many thousands of miles, so all anti-trailer arguments are void as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, I digress. I was saying that here’s comfort to be had in the familiarity of equipment that’s linked to many other adventures, small or large. My wee tent for example. I have no idea how much longer it will last but I love it to bits.The same applies to my other equipment and memories flood back as I get it out with a felling similar to that of meeting an old friend who you haven’t seen for a while.  In inspecting these items, ready for use, and creating a pile of equipment in my spare room, I’m already starting the process of leaving.

My mind sees this process as positive and I get distracted in the preparations, rather than the distress of leaving. My sleeping bag spent yesterday flapping around on the washing line getting aired. Various bits and bobs were gradually assembled and added to the pile I’m creating  day on day. When I see this burgeoning heap of stuff I feel freedom that I don’t sense at any other time in my life. I feel a strong  possibility that I could escape from the restrictions of my daily life, a distinct and almost tangible aire of positivity and excitement equally matched with an indescribable dread at the thought of leaving home.

Out in the wilds: Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK
Out in the wilds: Bodmin Moor, Cornwall, UK

There a distinct difference between being prepared to leave and being ready to leave. By the time I go I have the equipment I need along with most other things. Anything I don’t have can be acquired later on, especially if it’s is not strictly neccasary. On completion of those things I’m prepared to go. I’m never ready to leave. To me, being ready is a mental process that I only complete after I’ve left home,  shut that door and cycled away. As I pedal my life finds a new rhythm, one that hears the birds and sees the world around me in a whole new light.

My mind adjusts to a new way of living through cycling, one that feels much harder than normal due to the fact I’m carrying my world on my shoulders, or preferably my cycle. Once I become accustomed to the weight and effort required to move it I settle into a new kind of life, a slow and gentle one governed by what I eat, where I sleep, and which turning I follow at the next crossroads. Only then is the transition complete and only then am I ready to keep on going.

Below is an outline of my first few days cycling.

Ride of My Life: First week:

Saturday pm: A short ride to Barley Meadow campsite at Crockernwell (On the old, defunct, A30 Exeter road)

Sunday: Old A30 to Exeter and National Cycle Network route 2 to Budleigh Salterton

Monday: Budleigh Salterton: Therapy session PM. I’ll be camping at Pooh Cottage Campsite Sunday and Monday nights.

Tuesday: Eype: I’ll be following the horribly hilly NCN2 most of the day via Sidmouth, Beer, Branscombe, ending up camping on the coast south of Bridport.

Wednesday: Osmingtom MIlls: Weymouth Using NCN2 via Dorchester.

Thursday: Tom’s Field campsite, Langstone Matravers, Purbeck, Dorset, using the coastal route to Corfe if the ranges are open.

Friday: A Lazy day at Tom’s

Saturday: Tom’s to Round Hill campsite, Brockenhurst, New Forest (Via Milford on Sea) NCN2 as far as Christchurch and then my own route.

If you would care to join me for a chat, cake, or to shoot the breeze while riding get in touch. I will be keeping in touch via posts here and on my Facebook page which is also called GraemeWillgress.com