At the outset of this trip, coronavirus was some far-off problem, in a far-off land, albeit the country where I hoped to end up. The situation has changed with lightning speed in Europe, and globally, over the last couple of weeks, forcing many changes upon Bristol2Beijing: joiners unable or unwilling to fly out; altering the route to avoid hotspots; camping with increasing regularity as hosting websites became spooked and hotels closed.
The lack of showers has not been a problem (a minor personal victory – after 5 nights of wild camping I can truly say I have conquered my phobia of showerless camping!).
No. The problem I am facing is more profound, more intractable, than any of these surface symptoms. Since the expedition began, I have told anyone who would listen that getting to the destination, Beijing, was in fact the least important part of the trip. What mattered was what happened along the way: the people I met, cultures I was exposed to, the experiences and conversations that I had. These things have now become nigh-on impossible: cafés, restaurants, events are shut or called off. Worse, it has become very difficult to meet, even interact, with people in the areas that I cycle through. Thus the experiential part of travelling – the journey itself – has become impoverished.
Just as importantly, this was an expedition that was supposed to be shared: remember Chris, the tandem for two. As it became increasingly difficult for joiners to come out from the UK I was optimistic that I would be able to attract, or cajole, those in the countries I was passing through to hop on. Perhaps I was naïve; I certainly could have been more proactive. But by the time you cycle through a medium-sized town and see just a single handful of people walking around, you know it’ll be an uphill struggle. And so, the second part of the trip – to share the experience with others – has also become increasingly difficult to achieve.
I have enjoyed the last week, at times immensely. Wild camping by pristine lakes, surrounded by mountains and stirred from sleep by bird song has been very special. Time alone in my own thoughts has been much needed and peaceful. Chance encounters with other people have been uplifting, unexpected and thought-provoking, in equal measure. I could continue cycling east, but I recognise these events are likely to become rarer, that the enjoyment of one’s own company lasts only a little way (I speak for myself here!) and that ultimately the situation is likely to worsen, and remain tough, over perhaps the next month or two. Though honestly, no one knows.
If you’ve managed to read between the lines – yes, I’m pausing my ride with Chris, and many others, to Beijing.
Is it over? Absolutely not.
Do I know when I will continue? Not yet.
Am I disappointed? No, not exactly.
Because in the face of this challenge, I know that I will find new opportunities. Not the opportunities I had been intending to find, but others, that with enough thought, energy and determination, will continue to take my life down an exciting, intriguing and rewarding path. Right now, I don’t know exactly what this will look like, but I challenge you to do the same.
Covid-19 has brought many uncertainties and challenges, yet it also brings opportunities: more time to get outside in nature; read those books that are always near – but not quite at – the top of the pile; learning a new skill; trying a new recipe; catching up with far-flung, or almost-forgotten friends. Or maybe it’s the time to reflect on the past year, or five: the direction your life has been going in; the direction you want to travel. This could be an opportunity to explore other routes.
You will know best what the opportunities are for you, I’m just guessing. But you only have one life and limited time, regardless of covid-19, so don’t let anything get in your way. Go on and live it.
Luke (from somewhere in Central Europe)