It’s been twelve days since I’m on the road.
I left Brussels on Monday last week, with a simple plan: go to Oostende (done), turn right (done), keep the sea to my right (ongoing).
After the first five-ish days of heavy headwinds and rain, we’re now riding into summer. I even started getting up earlier so as to avoid cycling in the midday sun.
The trip itself, it’s been twelve years in the making.
In some way, even more.
Longing for the Sea
First, it was my childhood fascination wth the sea and port cities. I’ll never forget the moment I first smelled that warm, salty tang of the Mediterranean – I was eight, and hadn’t even seen the waters yet, but that single moment keeps rippling through my life almost 30 years later.
Then, there was the wanderlust, of course. By now, I’ve moved abroad three times (and only moved back twice), and I’m reluctant to put down roots. I crave the freedom that comes with being a (digital) nomad, I want to see places and meet people and know ever more of this world I call home.
In short, I wanted to travel, but at a human pace, and with as small an ecological impact as possible.
There’s also the desire to stretch my concept of “enough”. One reason I’m no doing this tour on foot is that I know that what I can carry isn’t enough for me – for survival, maybe, but not for comfort and wellbeing.
I call myself a practical minimalist: I’m not someone who counts her possessions or who passionately declutters her home, only to get rid of things I might very well need to replace a few months later. I’m merely careful of what objects I let into my life, and try to limit my (over)consumption. As careful as I am, though, stuff tends to multiply at home in a way it cannot on the bike.
I’d very much like to see what I truly need, how much is enough.
The dream – and the plan
Between all this, and a series of rather mundane coincidences, finally, a dream coalesced: to spend a year cycling around the coasts of Europe, spending the winter in Andalucía.
So I started planning. And asking myself questions. Where exactly? How far a day? What to carry? Where to sleep? How about my chronic illness? Money? Time? Is it even safe to do alone, for a woman?
With these questions came the self-doubt, too.Aren’t I too fat or this? Shouldn’t I be fitter? Can I afford to not work? Would I be able to make money while on the road? Do I even dare try?
In the meantime, I graduated, did some more studies in another field, started working, got a Dream Job (TM) (not my dream job, mind you, but a Dream Job nonetheless), met my partner, had a burnout, moved in with my partner
– and somehow, it was never the right time to leave.
I would do it once I graduated. No, when I finished my other studies. I don’t know. After two years at the Dream Job. Once I turn 30. No, next year. Next year. Maybe.
Even now, I have a number of quite weighty reasons to not be here, writing from a lush campsite behind the cliffs of Normandie.
But there was a point when I knew it was time. That I was ready. Of course, I also knew that if I postponed doing this once more, I’d never believe myself when I set the next deadline.
Do it when it’s time
The people who tell us to “do the thing before we feel ready” have a point. You should never let your ever-present fear of the unknown keep you from shaping your life.
But they also miss a crucial point: that you construct your own certainty. That if you keep truly preparing, if you actually answer your own questions, you will know when it’s time, even if you don’t feel ready. Even if your legs are shaking as you walk out of the door, not knowing where the road will take you.
The fine line, of course, lies in knowing the difference between real preparation and the procrastination that looks almost exactly like it. You haven’t answered your doubt if you keep coming back to it; you’ve answered it when you decide to accept your own answer. You’ll never have all the information, but it is in your power to take what you have and declare it enough.
Do I wish I left on this trip a long time ago? Yes, except for having my partner’s company. A lot of my delay stemmed from fear and procrastination.
Have I also found answers to all my questions and doubts? Also yes. I’m not any less fat or chronically ill, but I have my certainty about these questions, and all others. I even managed to help my partner answer enough of his own questions to have him with me on the road, at least for the first seven months.
It’s been twelve days since I’m on the road.
I’ve cycled through worse headwinds and tougher uphill roads, and with more luggage to carry, than ever before. I’m seeing the land from up close, drinking in the beauty of it.I’m weighing my things, my habits and my ideas, trying to decide which ones I need and which ones I could do without, to have just enough.
And I’ve barely even started the journey.
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