Wanderlust – definition
The strong desire to travel far away and to many different places
For as long as I can remember I have loved to travel. As a child, I would explore the local countryside, often travelling much further than my parents would have approved of. No matter what was going on in my life, my bike gave me the freedom to either escape or explore.
Whilst I do love having a base, a home that is my hub, I am never comfortable staying in one place for too long. The urge to get out and see the world is very strong in me.
I had my children early in life, and with that came responsibility. It meant that while my friends were taking gap years, traveling the world, going on 18-30 holidays and generally having a lot of adventures, I was cooking, cleaning, doing the school run, and working. Don’t get me wrong though, I wouldn’t change it for the world. Being a young mum meant I had the energy for my kids, and now they are older, I am still a young nan to my grandchildren. But I’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Here I am now in my 50’s and I’m still to take a ‘gap’ year. I’ve had adventures, both on and off the bike, but these are always restricted by time, the time to fit into a couple of weeks’ leave from work.
After my life-changing ride across Vietnam in 2008, I knew that was the kind of riding I wanted to do more of. I adored the adventure of tackling remote, unmade roads that wound up the sides of mountains, clad with their terraced, lush, green paddy fields. We shared the road with water buffalo, and local tribesmen and women, carrying their crops on their backs. There was absolute joy crossing the country at our touring pace, and seeing snippets of the lives of people whose world was so far removed from my own. Children ran after the brightly dressed westerners on their mountain bikes, high fiving us as we rode through their villages. After conquering the mountains, I was changed forever. Yes, I was slow (in the last pair to finish), but I had done something that I didn’t realise I was capable of and I was ready for more.
The following year I decided I wanted to do another foreign charity challenge, but how do you beat riding across Vietnam so that people will still sponsor you. I went to the mountains again. This time the ride was called The Legend of the Alps. For each of 3 days, you ride 2 ever-challenging Col’s in the French Alps. The last day was to ride both the Col De Galibier and Alp D’uez. But 3 days wasn’t really going to excite me, so instead of flying to Zurich with my bike like my fellow adventurers, I decided that the best way to travel would be to ride there. I gave myself 7 days to tour from Caen to Lyons where I would then catch a train to the first hotel. I adored the ride through France. I camped each night, and didn’t have a set plan other to head towards the Loire Valley at Orleans, and follow rivers across the country. While riding I would talk to myself, in French. My French was very rusty, so I would have imaginary conversations with myself, whipping out my French Phrasebook when I got stuck. After the Alps part of the ride, I also gave myself a few days to travel back, making use of both trains and bikes to get back across France. My French improved, and I even spent a very pleasant evening sitting in a bar just outside Sancerre conversing in Franglais with another traveller who was keen on trying out his English.
I was hooked. Cycling across countries was how I wanted to live. I found that although I wasn’t happy with my speed, I knew that going long was my thing. Racing didn’t interest me, but I wanted to just get on my bike, ride and keep on going.
The next country I tackled was Spain. I was no longer single by this point having met Del, who would later become my husband. We packed my bike up in a large TV box, nervously put in on a plane, and flew to Barcelona for a few days. We had a lovely few days in the city riding around in tourist mode, but after the long weekend, Del flew home, and I set off to ride across to Santander via the Pyrenean foothills armed only with a small tent, gas stove, lightweight clothes and loads of maps. It was certainly an adventure, and also cold! I expected June in Spain to be hot and balmy, but on 17th June (my birthday) I was sitting alone, in a very rainy town, that happened to be the coldest place in Europe at the time – whilst England had a heatwave. I just cried, there was nothing more I could do. And then I caught a train to move me a little further along until the sun came out again. More by luck than anything I made it to Santander in time to both explore the city a little and then catch the overnight ferry home. In that trip, I conquered a few more fears. One, in particular, was around camping out. In mid-June it turned out that many campsites are yet to open for the summer, and this made finding camping spots challenging. So on one night I finally hid myself in the woods and wild camped. I’d be lying if I said I slept soundly. Every single noise made me nervous, but I was hidden from the road, and woke up shortly after sunrise anyway.
Marcia’s Grand Tour of Britain
Now that I lived in wedded bliss, it seemed a little unfair to keep disappearing abroad, and so I started to look for rides closer to home. The idea of riding around Britain entered my head. I had seen that it had been done as a long tour, by a few people, who had written about their adventures. However, I discovered that finding a route around the country that followed my rules was not going to be easy to find. In fact, to this day I’m still not sure it exists. My rules for the ride were simple, ride the continuous road closest to the coast, keeping the sea on the right at all times. It seemed straightforward enough. Now the British mainland coast is over 4,400 miles long, and I worked full time, so it was clear that I would not be able to do this in one go. I opted to split it into 4 stages, South, East, North and West, and do it over 4 sets of holidays over 3 or 4 years.
I adored these trips, and whilst the first trip I tackled terribly, I learned a lot very quickly about the need to travel light. These tours set me up for learning what I really needed. All my camping equipment became lighter and lighter. Home comforts were traded for absolute necessities, plus a Kindle to keep me sane. Maps gave way to Sat Nav (Garmin), and smartphones meant that information could be looked up rather than carried. I learned to wash my clothes each night, reducing the amount of clothing I needed to carry.
My wanderlust is getting stronger though with the advent of social media and YouTube. Initially, it was books that stirred the travel bug within me. Alistair Humphreys inspires me, but so too did Anne Mustoe, when she decided to retire from teaching and travel around the world on a bike – despite not actually being a cyclist.
The desire to leave the world behind for a few months, with nothing to think about other than eat, sleep, ride appeals. My bucket list is long, but until I resolve my availability (or give up work), much of it will remain just that, a bucket list.
I will look forward to next year’s Race Around the Netherlands, and I have unfinished business with my Tour Around Britain, wanting to tackle it again, but this time in one go.
Grand adventures currently on my bucket list are
- Ride North & South America from Alaska down to Argentina.
- Ride to every country in Europe
- Ride the Silk Road (new one added today)
- Maybe take on an offroad adventure, such as Tour Divide (but not race it)
- Ride from the Northernmost point of Europe to the Southernmost point.
I think for now though, I need to step away from YouTube, and put the books away – there are just too many adventures out there that I just want to jump into.
But, here’s the link to a ride that I will probably never do, I am in awe of those amazing men, and particularly women that do. Grab a coffee, and settle down to watch this amazing film about Lael Wilcox and the Tour Divide 2019.