I stood underneath the John O'Groats sign in September 2015 not quite comprehending what I'd just achieved. Solo. Unsupported. 1000 miles. Two weeks. A random, kind gentleman asked me what I was going to do next.
"Uh... I've never been to Ireland, so maybe a tour of over there. Or maybe across America".
I had no real idea how even more cycling would fit into my life plan; I would try and shoehorn it in somehow. Life, as it often does though, chose to ignore what I had in mind. Three months later I was lying in bed unable to get up, let alone have a shower. Depression held me down, and my grand plan for life and riding seemed like a ridiculous fantasy I should feel stupid for having.
I met Mike, funnily enough, on Tinder. After cycling the west coast of America the previous year, he'd had similar thoughts about future challenges. He trained as a lawyer but knew very well that he'd been living a life that he didn't really want. The ultimate cycling challenge, around the world, felt like delusions of grandeur. But once we met, and were honest about ourselves we both recognised that we had total faith in the other's ability to take this on; just self-doubt stopped us.
But how do you go about having that much free time or even begin to plan that sort of adventure? Starting an adventure is quite easy; set a date and tell people. Now, many of those people won't take it seriously at first, but persevere. And then the real work begins, actual planning: make a list of essentials, source it, worry about funding, take a second job then a third, try and find sponsors, if you can, pack up your lives, and (importantly for us anyway) try and make it more than about just you.
So, there were nights when I cried from the tiredness of working more than full time and training as hard as I could, yet our leaving day felt like it never got closer. Then after Mike qualified, and because we are leaving, he struggled to find work and things looked in jeopardy. Since we know we can both cycle for days on end, there's an argument for saying the preparation has been one of the hardest parts of adventure. That said, ask me what was the hardest part after we've ridden at 4,655 metres above sea level in the Pamir Mountains, or crossed the fierce Nullarbor Plain in summer and I may give you a different answer. Though, in all of those low points in the preparation I never felt like this wasn't what I should be doing. It finally feels right, I feel like I'm finding my way and the more I feel that way, the more I find myself listening to Baz Luhrmann's Wear Sunscreen musical adaptation of the 1997 Chicago Tribune article by Mary Schmich.
"Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own."
I mentioned earlier that we want this to be more than about us. We're raising money for MIND, the mental health charity. We've both dealt with depression in the past and found that the first step to getting better was simply to be open about it and then to be honest about what we really want from life. And it took a long time, dark days, counseling and anti-depressants to realise that. We also both find exercise therapeutic too, so in a sense this, for us, is the ultimate therapy. Every day I appreciate that I can get out of bed and get in the shower. I liken it to breaking a bone; you don't realise how much you need it or how easy it is to use until you can't use it anymore.
So in four weeks, 27,000 miles of road will spread out before us and finally, after over a year in the making, we will only have to pedal. We really don't know how this will go or end. We've planned it as best we can, saved as much as possible, built bikes to withstand the journey and even organised a super budget wedding in Yosemite ($200, that's how budget). And although we are still recovering we are really happy with that.
Ultimately, we hope that at least in a small way our journey will show other people who are dealing with darkness that it will pass.