Cycle Across Africa
Cycling Zambia: HOW TO LIVE with Memories & Look Forward | BLOG#9
Despite spending a few days horizontal with dehydration while cycling Zambia, the last few weeks, once again, surpassed all expectations. Cycling Africa with my entire possessions packed onto the bike, continued to bring more meaning and purpose to life – an idea that many people once laughed about.
For the first time in four months I was no longer a stranger but ending up crashing again, with loneliness. In the end, someone must have been smiling down on Africa, as I remembered every reason to be happy and how to move on.
For two weeks, I ignored something and paid dearly for it. I was burning more calories than I was eating, add this to a few days of illness, then another week of no appetite and you‘re left with an Irishman resembling a beard on a stick.
There‘s an obvious solution, stop cycling and eat everything in sight but I had already entered the mountains and for two days food wasn‘t so plentiful-not even a banana to be found. This might not seem like a big deal but riding a bicycle across mountain ranges requires energy, lots of it and so without proper foods, those days became a solitary grind with one relentless climb after another. At this point my mood plummeted, I was focusing all energy solely on NOT allowing for self abuse. “Just keep moving“ was repeated over and over– it hurt, not so much the body, but the mind, I hated my own voice, I shouldn‘t have expected to be able for this sort of endurance without being in the right condition.
“ Accept the consequence of your actions.“
I now realise how often I blamed other people or issues in the past for something not going right. You learn to accept full responsibility when travelling or taking challenges alone, it‘s a stand out feature of the past four months – You get out, what you put in.
A Smile as wide as Zambia
Even these harsh days cycling Zambia were sprinkled with unexpected joy. Gravity eventually takes the pressure away from the thighs, the wheels turn by themselves, the pedals follow suit and a smile as wide as Zambia is reunited with my beard – it‘s called a Downhill and every single one is priceless. I‘m continually stumped every time these brief moments turn my bad moods into epic highs and it always happens in an instant.
If I could have just one memory of this Africa bicycle tour, it would be rolling downhill, smiling like a lunatic. No doubt I look like a smug idiot with head tilted back in my stupid hat but for those few seconds, it doesn‘t matter – nothing does.
Knight on shining bicycle
Who would be lucky enough to arrive on a steel horse during the night and spend Valentines with three amazing Scottish girls? Catriona, Geum and Lorna were backpacking Africa and the only excuse I needed to take a break from the bike . They organised food, showed me around and I absolutely loved hanging out with them – a laugh a minute. Unknown to them, our meeting was another big turning point for me while cycling Zambia – for the first time in four months, I was no longer a stranger.
Being alone on this bicycle tour is proving to be completely worthwhile but it obviously means I spend the majority of the time as a Stranger. There are countless memorable acquaintances and I have genuinely made many good friends along the way – but inevitably, I wind up leaving them for some place new and start the process again.
Strangely, this mirrors my life to date constantly in search of a new and different place, leaving when something becomes familiar. Australia, Spain, Africa, South America…“The grass is always greener“ comes to mind and I was so happy during my stay with the Scottish girls, I began digging for these reasons: why do I keep moving, even when things seem right?
Africa Bicycle Tour Versus The past
Really, it was wrong of me to compare them – this journey and cycling Zambia is no comparison and very different to my life prior. The nature of the Africa bicycle tour is to keep moving, it‘s supposed to happen this way – onward to new experiences and new people. But still, thinking about it did bring about the reason I left in some circumstances – it wasn‘t because of my adventurous spirit but rather I was stubborn…stupid. I guess it‘s better to admit some things and move on, instead of dwelling on them – like past relationships.
Embarrassingly, the day I left the girls in Mpanshya, I struggled to make sense of the trip and crashed with loneliness as I pedalled away. I can still see it now though – a couple of hours later, cycling up a steep incline into a new mountain range, sweating, tired, I started grunting – it was a noise that no normal human being or animal should make…ever, I couldn‘t help but laugh at how pathetic I must have looked. Just when I needed it most, I started telling myself “C‘mon, you‘re better than that“ – it was something screamed at me most weeks from the sidelines, playing football as a kid.
It got me through that day – it‘s inspiring for someone to believe in you, but it‘s even greater when that someone inspires you, to believe in yourself.
Doing Anything Alone
Travelling solo in Africa it was difficult coming to terms with being so alone but now I can‘t imagine this trip being remotely the same with another person. I‘m so grateful to know how it feels to sit by the bicycle alone in the middle of a desert, I‘m always inspired to stand with just my own thoughts on top of a Mountain, I‘m proud to be doing this with no support team or person to turn to when it gets tough – this is what makes it.
I remember saying how naive it would be to think a bicycle tour can fix problems but it now seems that actually, getting back in the the saddle quite often does exactly that. It‘s bizarre, I‘ve tried breaking it down but there are many reasons for it – the exercise is good, the turning of the wheels is a familiar comfort and the bike allows you to leave undesirable places quickly but the biggest reason of all is that being on the move is a firm reminder that I know where I‘m going. But it‘s not the Indian ocean, Kenya or Cairo I‘m referring to – it‘s the fact that, every time I turn those wheels, it takes me another meter closer to the person I had always wanted to be and the life I had always wanted to live.
Joys on a Bicycle Tour
Cycling Zambia, as with anywhere else, is incredibly good for the mental state. The exercise is obviously good for health reasons but the freedom it allows you to be alone, go where you want, as far as you want and make every decision for yourself is priceless. Time spent on a bike can be therapeutic, thoughts go uninterrupted and a steady momentum brings clarity when you least expect it. It was spending quality time listening to myself on a bicycle tour in Africa that made the real difference.
I think of people who might be reading this, maybe someone who doesn’t have have so much time to think about it, possibly part of the so called “Rat race“. It may sound hypocritical but I figure, you don‘t necessarily need to change job or move location to escape feeling that way – I could have done this at home with a change of attitude, getting outdoors more and not focusing so much on my self exaggerated job title.
Back on The Road – Hello People of Zambia
Over sickness and the worst of the mountains I found pork, chicken, chips, bananas, cereal, pasta, vegetables. My mood sky rocketed – By the time I hit the Great East Road in Zambia, I was beaming, properly fed and back in the mind of an Irish adventurer.
This feeling seemed unattainable only a day before but cycling Zambia continued to be inspiring, lush, green and full of people. I make a point of stopping quite often to talk with them, buy fruit from roadside stalls, high fives, convince them there‘s diesel in my panniers that keeps the bike going. The elder folk are engaging, there are many hand gestures motioned by a Zambian and theirs is one of “respect“ or “well done“ by which they clasp their hands together while nodding or place a palm to their chest – I feel so humbled by this every time and do my best to reciprocate, while dangling to stay on the bike.
Reality of cycling Zambia, hills and melting
The actual cycling in a physical sense had become as difficult as anything so far – the hills were relentless, I almost frowned at the sight of a downhill, knowing full well it would quickly undo my hard work and translate into yet another uphill later on. The bike seemed to get heavier for no reason and the heat was now ridiculously intense, which might sound inviting to read from afar but not here, the reality means literally melting while cycling Zambia during the day and spending the entire night in bed sweating profusely – It’s a beautiful thing when it starts to rain.
Remember the Children
The kids……they‘re everywhere, imagine the face of a 2 year old opening a present on Christmas morning – I get to see this expression almost every time a kid sees me on the bicycle, mouth open, big wide eyes, shock, gasps, amazement, smiling and yes sometimes they cry. One of my favourite moments came recently – I managed to high-five six children in a row while cycling past and looking back, they were leaping around with a big red sun setting behind them, jumping, cheering, high five-ing each other as though their favourite team had won the cup final – I cycled away in disbelief, what had I done? Is it possible to bring that much joy to a kids life with a high five?! It appears, yes – just like the western world, our time means more to them than possesions – that‘s what they remember, not their toys. Why do we forget this as adults?
When I eventually hit another town and turn off for the market, the road disappears and I‘m swallowed up in organised chaos – I bump and rattle the bike down a dirt road, hoping nothing falls off, dodging people, chickens and children as they rush about in all directions. Music blasts from every second market stall or shop, it‘s louder than any club I‘ve come across but the locals are un-phased – it‘s just like any other Tuesday, but not for me, this is straight out of a travel memoir from last century. Life hasn‘t changed much in many parts of Africa and my bicycle almost blends in, I convince myself for a moment that even I too, almost blend in………..“HEY JESUS“…………Almost.
I moved onward cycling Zambia, witnessing culture change at the slowest possible pace, places also changed but people not so much, they all just seem to live on their own terms – the way it should be.
The Real World
After some time and much thought, I found it very difficult to come back to the website this week. Despite a great interest in technology and social media – I was torn, stepping back to a time when I felt no need for any of it, a time when the internet and cellphones were replaced with the outdoors, when Facebook, Twitter and Dating websites didn‘t suggest I was missing out or determine how I should feel. A time when I lived in the moment and not through some digital world and that‘s it really, the past few weeks have been a reminder to “live for the moment“ – in general this phrase is overused but for the first time in a long time, I‘m not concerned about where else I could be, what anyone else is doing or how I should be feeling.
It‘s dawned on me that advanced technology has not improved the quality of my life but rather the opposite. That mobile phones are no longer about keeping contact but about detaching us from real life at a high cost. It‘s dawned on me that everyone already knows this yet continues to do it. It‘s dawned on me that too often I‘ve sat on a bus, in a bar or at home, ignoring the real person beside me, my eyes swallowed by an electronic world, engrossed in something or someone elses “reality“. It‘s been fun but really, it‘s time to stop.
True meaning and lasting memories are not something found on a smart phone, an ipad or online – they are outside, in the Real World.
About Creating Memories
I used to be annoyed that people laughed at my idea to cycle tour Africa but really I shouldn‘t have been surprised – I too laugh about that same idea on downhills everyday now. It‘s a singularly unforgettable feeling and the very same laughter I envisage in my old age – anytime I see a bicycle go past from my rocking chair. This experience cycling Zambia already seems magical to me now and I smile to think about a time far off in the future when it truly will seem that way, to someone else:
“Grandad, whats the best thing you‘ve ever done?“
Bad memories can exist as a reminder, a lesson of what to avoid in future but sometimes it seems they truly serve no purpose other than to torment. There is no way of changing these memories, changing what has already happened, I sometimes find myself lingering with such thoughts in dark corridors until a realistic voice breaks us up:
“Will it really matter in the long run?“
No matter how bad it seems, no matter how difficult the past – it‘s how someone reacts, that decides what will happen in future.
Always Look on The Bright side
I don‘t need to write about the beauty of memories – the happy places something as simple as a photograph can bring. Memories are responsible for more than just a smile, they make learning possible, light the way for the future, they are a reminder of who we are and where we came from.
I‘ve learnt how to live with memories while cycling Zambia, it‘s not always possible to choose what we think about but it is possible to decide how we react to it. Memories teach never to give up, to cherish the past but just as importantly, how to move on. It‘s okay to long for times gone by but not to stay there – it‘s about living right now and no matter how bad it seems – being positive about the future.
I think of all the people, the many wonders my bicycle is witnessing – they‘ll never really be gone or forgotten. Like all my important memories, they have been worthwhile, like the screams I can still hear from the sidelines “C‘mon,You‘re better than that“.
Happy Birthday Dad.
2nd March 2014