Be Seen Not Hurt – Day 4

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  • 4 - Alastair Humphreys

A bicycle is the greatest thing

Adventurer & Author Alastair Humphreys shares stories from a life on the road.

A bicycle is the greatest thing I have ever owned. As a young child it gave me my first sensation of speed and excitement.

In my teens I discovered mountain biking. It was fun, thrilling and cool. It got me fit without having to do boring stuff like “exercise”. It showed me wild and beautiful places. And it taught me skills – balance and coordination and perception – with the heady, terrifying, thrilling undercurrent that if I screwed up – when I screwed up – I was going to crash. And it was going to hurt.

The nervous anticipation of this, like wiggling on a loose tooth, is masochistic, fun, and addictive. If you don’t crash occasionally on a mountain bike then you ain’t doin’ it hard enough. Or something like that.

After university a bicycle showed me the world. I graduated with a Biological Sciences degree, spent an extra year qualifying as a science teacher, and then I hit the road. Tramps like us, baby, we were born to ride.

To climb onto a bicycle, a machine that cost just a few hundred pounds, and be able to be magically transported around the entire planet, is extraordinary. Those were the best days of my life. I rose with the sun, cycled all day, and in the evening as the sun was about to set I would pull off the road into a quiet field and camp for the night. I repeated this cycle of simple freedom for over four years.

My bike ride took me from my front door to Cape Town, from southern Patagonia to the Arctic Ocean in northern Alaska, a land of grizzly bears and enormous skies. And it took me home across Asia, via a Siberian winter and the golden road to Samarkand. Along the way was such variety – from those brutal days and nights at -40 on Siberia’s Road of Bones to the oppressive heat of Sudan’s Nubian Desert.

The only thing that did not vary much were the humans. Meandering through 60 countries I met a fabulous, totally random cross section of humanity. And virtually everyone I met was good. The world is a good place, filled with many, many good people. So I quickly stopped worrying about murderers and terrorists and all the bad, crazy, terrible stuff everyone forecast would happen to me. Sure, you have to be careful and a little lucky, but by and large I felt safe on that ride.

The only danger then, the only thing really likely to end my trip, was the traffic on the roads. Good though the people of the world may be, they are not generally good drivers! But I successfully and safely cycled 46,000 miles round the world.

I ride a road bike today and love it. I cycle around London on Bromptons and Boris bikes. So I am not scare-mongering about cycling on the roads. Nor do I believe that wearing a helmet should be made legally compulsory. But I choose to wear a helmet when I ride. It’s light, it’s no longer un-cool and it may one day save my life. I hope not to have to rely on it.

Far better to be a competent rider and aware of your surroundings, whether in Kenya or Croydon, or hurtling as fast as you dare down a twisted path through a forest.

A bicycle is the greatest thing I have ever owned. It has given me so much. The small hassle and expense of getting a helmet is a tiny price to pay for all those good days, and all the good days still to come.

Alastair

www.alastairhumphreys.com
@al_humphreys Adventurer | Author | Motivational Speaker

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October 24th, 2013|Tags: , |