Saturday, 18 January 2014

A Constant Craving

A Childhood Obsession
As I have said in a previous blog post, I caught the cycling bug early. At around three years old I managed to persuade my grandmother to buy me a clattering contraption called a 'Mobo-bike'. It was covered in metal panels to make it look like a motorbike / Lambretta. The fact that it used to rattle like hell drove my parents to distraction, but not as much as the fact that I saw it as a means of escape from Fort Swain. It really was a case of 'the wind in my hair' (I had some back then). Once I had managed to drag the bike under the garden hedge (circumventing the tall, locked gate) I would hurtle down the pavement towards who knows where - my destiny I think I thought. All through childhood it was the same. So long as I had access to a working bicycle I knew I could up and go if things got too much for me. I found the rule-bound confines of an English childhood intolerable (much of it spent in Malaysia, Singapore and Germany, but the uptight system was pure expat English).

The Mobo-bike. I think it was a blue version of the top one.

Proof that my constant yearning for travel was my father's fault

Adult Escapism
I think, like many adult cyclists, I rediscovered cycling when I had children. As a teenager a motorcycle had seemed infinitely preferable. Inevitably a car appeared on the scene along with our first child, although I have never given up motorcycling. But it was the traffic congestion that first made me take to a bicycle again. My daughter needed dropping at playschool each morning and collecting in the afternoon. It was about three miles away. A little too far to walk and the roads were always busy, so I bought a new bike and put a child seat on the back. It was a revelation. Not only was it far quicker and cheaper, but both my daughter and I looked forward to those daily journeys. And it kept me fit. It was only a matter of a week or two before I began going off on short tours along the coast and around nearby Kent villages. Kent is known as The Garden Of England, and I discovered how much more pleasurable it was to experience it from the saddle of a bicycle.

Small children love cycling with their parents. 
Image courtesy of

Family Excursions On Wheels
My wife never much enjoyed cycling, although thankfully this has changed in recent times since a short holiday with friends, cycling along the superb Danube Cycle Path (Donauradweg). My son was the one who shared my love of cycling and still does, although my eldest daughter has become a recent convert - initially for ecological reasons. So family cycle outings have become an infrequent possibility. If you have read other posts on this blog, you will know that it became something more than that for my teenage son when we rode 10,000 miles from Ireland to Japan in 2008. My youngest daughter stubbornly still claims to loathe cycling after being forced to accompany us on a camping holiday along the Danube. I say it will be different when she has a boyfriend who cycles.

A reluctant cyclist following The Danube - now a convert (It's a Giant Halfway)

The delights of the Danube Cycle Path

The Power Of Nostalgia – A Constant Craving
So powerful is the memory of my 9 month cycle trip with my son in 2008-9 that the sight of a touring cyclist passing by still has my heart racing. For the last ten days I have been back in Tokyo – the destination of my 10,000 mile journey with my then teenage son. I have enjoyed my stay immensely. As the end approaches, I find myself regretting the fact that I have a plane ticket home. Planes are no way to enjoy a journey. You're lucky if you see anything. Your experience along the way is limited to a predictable menu of mainstream movies. I keep passing Tokyo cycle shops and I find myself examining bicycles, asking myself which one I would choose if I had to buy a bike to ride home to England. It may sound a crazy idea but of course I know it can be done without too much fuss or luggage. I have been lying awake at night, fantasising about a phone call to my wife and another to my business partner, telling them I will be delayed about six-months or so getting back. I in no way see this as any kind of sickness – far from it. This is how I know I am still healthy.

You can read about the 10,000mile cycle trip with my son Sam in our book, Long Road, Hard Lessons. See other links in right margin.

 Munar, Kerala, India - Yellapatty Tea Plantations. Very hilly.

Capadocia, Turkey. Sam, lovin' it.

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