There is no doubt this is the hardest blog for me to write, and I have purposely given myself time to reflect on the totality of the tour. Had I written this immediately after we had arrived in Elviria it would have been completely different . I have never understood why, when sportsmen and women are interviewed after winning an event, usually an event they have taken a lifetime to achieve, that they often report they don't know how they feel until it has sunk in. I do now understand this completely.
So let me start at the beginning. I wish with all my heart I had never made this journey. I am completely resigned ( and comfortable) that this feeling will never change, there is no doubt that I am learning to live alongside this, and there is absolutely no doubt that the ride has helped me to try to do this.
This ride was such a privilege in so many ways. First the privilege to be able to take time to travel within the countries along our route. This ride has reinforced my belief that time is our most precious commodity; and we have a duty to ourselves to maximise our use of it, to waste time is an insult to honouring life.
Seeing people achieve "personal bests"- something we celebrated every night along the way- was a complete joy, and the wonderful thing was sharing the joy that was felt by those people when they had done something they had never done before, but much more than that was the uplifting effect it had on them, and how they took time to talk to me about how it had changed them. Towards the end of the ride it was difficult for me to look or sound surprised, since I had had the same conversation with so many people. The other extraordinary thing was just how many personal bests were achieved on Sandra's bike; I can't think of a single person who didn't comment on how they felt such a connection and extra fortitude when riding the bike. One time Ian was riding Sandra's bike and we had a rather unexpected brutal hill to climb at the end of a very tough day. I am sure Ian would not mind me saying that he was not looking or feeling too chipper, so much so that Paul R was taking more and more professional interest rather than a supporting role. When it was suggested that Ian might like to stop, his reply that no way was he quitting when on Sandra's bike was very firm! Such was the inner strength it gave people.
There was never a single day that I felt that I did not want to get on my bike and ride, I have reflected on this quite a bit and I think the reasons for this were; 1) Because every day was a new adventure, we literally did not know what we were going to see around the next corner, and so often we were taken aback by the sheer beauty of the countryside we were within. Also it was astonishing just how quickly the countryside changed. 2) Travelling with different people meant every day was different, the group dynamic changed on a daily basis which meant so much to those of us "all the way downers"
And so to the "all the way downers" . When I have told people that Paul B, Paul R , and Mac had never met until the day we set off, people have looked aghast. I have to admit there were times before the ride that I did wonder if I was making a mistake, as the potential for conflict was huge. Here were three very different people, who had put a huge amount of trust in me, when I formed my team. The reality is I needed different people around me, I needed different skills and boy do these three people have it in spades. I really need not have worried as here were people who were actually already bonded by their individual love of Sandra, and who absolutely got what I was trying to achieve. Differences were always explored with humour and respected. These were three people who I have "known" for a very long time and yet here are three people who I now know infinitely better, and I feel we now have a very special bond.
I have also reflected on my relationship with all the riders on the tour and feel that I have got to know people who I thought I knew well so much better.
So many people commented that the ride was an awful long way, I have thought about this a great deal and my perception has changed a great deal. During the ride I can honestly say that it did not feel like a long way, Our attitude of simply enjoying the day, not looking at the next day, not looking at where we were staying in the future was a great triumph. It's a terrible cliche but it kept us in the present. So not only was the journey split into 50 (ish) mile days but the day was actually split into small sections to the van. It was not until I flew home looking out of the window that it dawned on me that we had indeed travelled a very long way, and bizarrely as time goes by it seems to be feeling longer and longer.
Having the van was simply one of the biggest success factors of the trip. I knew its physical presence; i.e. transporting bikes, luggage, people, and food was going to be key. What I had not understood was how emotionally important it would be. The uplifting feeling when you came round the corner and there it was providing warmth, or cooling, water, shelter, food, and fresh clothes could not be underestimated; it was our little bit of home. Then there were the van drivers , they developed a role far in excess of what I had imagined, and it was extraordinary how the character of the van driver influenced the ride while they were on duty.
So to the end, many people have commented that it must be great to be back to "normal". I had the privilege of spending six weeks with wonderful people, without looking at a TV once, not reading or listening to any news, completely missing the circus of political campaigning for an election, to return to a terrorist attack, a horrific fire and an election which made matters worse for the country. So I must confess that "normal" does not seem that appealing right now! I know we were living in a balloon- indeed Paul R and I did have the Forest Gump discussion as to the merits of just carrying on- however I am glad that this chapter has ended with a desire to do more.
For me this is not the end, the most important thing this tour has taught me is to trust in the journey and the destination will take care of itself. Being forced to re invent my life is a very scary prospect for me as I am naturally such a planner and destination focused person. The paradigm shift of trusting the journey has given me real hope, it has showed me that I can be genuinely happy again, and I have a determination to trust the journey and honour life.