Not having showered for two weeks, hurtling down a mountain pass in Turkey at 65km an hour, on a 35kg loaded bicycle, screaming and swearing with delight, I knew why this journey was the best thing I had ever done. I was feeling something I had not been taught necessary as a girl or a woman. I felt recklessly brave.
I realise that few people can straddle a bicycle; pack up their entire lives and carry it with them around the world. However, anyone can set themselves a challenge that pushes them beyond their known limits of courage and perseverance. That’s not to say that this goal will be achieved, but it is the journey towards that goal in which I am most interested. That journey has transformed my life, my view of the world and my place within it.
I had spent most of my young life fighting and failing to acquire a type of ‘toughness’ that felt unreachable. I felt like I didn’t belong to the world and was too fragile to be a part of it. So I crafted myself a clever mask. It was a mask of constant capability, which so many girls learn to construct for themselves. Girls are still taught from birth that others are stronger. Others take risks. That to be loved we need to be kind and compliant. We are taught not to ask for too much, or take up too much space. Not to be too loud or opinionated. To endlessly smother our rage. We are taught to be infinitely good but never to be great. By the time I was 22, after graduating from university, I was suffering my second serious mental breakdown. Symptoms of acute anxiety and overwhelming depression were swallowing my life, caused by undiagnosed Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I thought I was going mad. I wanted to disappear. I wanted to die.
The qualities I would need for cycling around the world were invisible to me at this point, nowhere to be found inside my mind or body. But they were there. Buried deep inside me like dormant acorns, waiting for the first cold rains of spring to burst into magnificent life.
It took me a long year to haul myself out from that deep well in which I had fallen. I was finally persuaded to try medication; had many hours of talking therapy and made myself meditate and exercise daily. I had to learn what lifted me toward happiness and what triggered a downward spiral. I had to learn to accept my tonality, with parts I liked and parts I didn’t because that is the reality of a whole human being. I had to unlearn what my society had taught me and stop being a “good girl”.
Without my family, closest friends and wonderful boyfriend Haydn, who planted the idea-seed of ‘Cycle for Love’, I may not have survived that crippling period of anxiety and depression. A fragment of me wanted to see the world and know what I could be capable of in it. I needed to prove myself wrong about being weak and damaged. I craved the realisation that life as a woman is not about striving for a concept of perfection but about being courageous enough to know oneself.
I am a very different person now to the one that left on her over-loaded bicycle, from her parents’ house in Dorset, April 2017. I did a lot of crying on curbs at the beginning of the trip. The sheer discomfort of the lifestyle, constant vulnerability and overwhelming exhaustion were all mental and physical hurdles that I had to overcome. During the endless days of pouring rain in France, melting on Italian main roads in 45 degrees, passing out from hypothermia descending a mountain pass in Montenegro and being responsible for Haydn’s emergency treatment for cyanide poisoning in Turkey, I asked myself why the hell we were doing this ridiculous thing. Yet, as long as it makes for a good story and giving up feels like bitter disappointment, accepting the situation, laughing and knowing it won’t last forever is the only way to manage the small, daily challenges. After one year on the road, cycling almost 8,000km to Tbilisi, Georgia, the bigger fight is to stay motivated long-term to reach our goal of New Zealand.
I have wanted to give up many times. But I could always glimpse that glint of hidden treasures ahead. The breath-taking beauty of the natural world and the staggering kindness of people we have met along the way, keep the pedals turning. Another huge motivator is the grass-roots charity, Help Refugees, for which we are fundraising. We volunteered in Calais and Athens and got to know the organisers and the long-term volunteers who devote their lives to providing support and essential services for displaced people. These incredible individuals inspire me and give me purpose. And purpose is key to mental wellbeing. Often, I return to the memory of who I had been; curled in a ball in my darkened bedroom at home, sobbing, terrified, wanting to vanish. This reminds me of why I am doing this. I am proving to myself that I can belong to this planet and more importantly to myself. I am finally learning to like myself by doing what makes me feel truly alive and wild; getting out into the world and being BRAVE. To support our journey, visit our website and donate whatever you can to the incredible charity that we are cycling for, subscribe for free to my blog, follow us on Instagram and Choose Love!