Inspiration is all around you
There is an awful lot of inspiration out there if you want to find it; adventure sports videos; outdoor magazines; social media. These can, however, appear so extreme and unreal as to be unachievable, so I thought I would share some stories from people I have actually met. They have inspired me as much as the stunning scenery or amazing experiences. It is very easy to get lost amongst the pressures of modern society to conform and follow the expected and comfortable path. These people haven’t done that. They want no particular praise and their reward is the lifestyle that they have crafted for themselves or the memory of their achievements. They also make me realise how lucky I have been and that I must earn the right to succeed in life and fulfil my ambitions.
In 2014 travelling between the UK and Australia is a well-worn path; almost a rite of passage for many young people from either nation. 45 years ago this was somewhat different. It was either a long and expensive plane journey or more often, a five week trip by boat. This was the first difficulty faced by two notable couples that I have met, travelling in opposite directions at the time. For Bryan and Jean, leaving the UK for Australia was a chance to build a better life for their two young daughters. It also meant saying goodbye to the rest of their family and support network, for a country where they knew no one. At first they had to live in tough conditions in hostels, trying to raise a family whilst struggling for work. The strength of personality and conviction in their decision required in those early days must have been staggering. I have my parents on the other end of the phone and easy methods to regularly communicate with friends. The risk I have taken and the isolation I have felt just can’t compare to what they went through.
A few years earlier, and going in the opposite direction was Merv. He was a boilermaker with a secure job and was due to marry Norma. It would have been incredibly easy for him to settle at this stage for what would have been a very good life. Instead he was prepared to work extremely hard to win an apprenticeship to the UK and take a risk that would lead to a couple of years on the road that has me in awe! This adventure took in half of the world. Initially living in Barrow-in-Furness in Northern England, Merv would spend most weekends hiking the fells of the Lake District. Once settled, Norma joined him and they were married a year to the day after their initial date, in the snow, in a small village in County Durham. They moved to several other places throughout the UK and took a six week honeymoon through Europe. To make their money go further they drove across the continent with little more than a tent and a small stove. Merv was then transferred to Canada and shortly after was offered a more senior role back in Australia. As he made his way home he was asked to tour some of the factories in similar industries throughout North America. This next leg took in Ohio, Illinois, New York, a train across Canada calling at Banff and Lake Louise and a trip down the west coast of the USA to San Francisco. On their final flight they were even able to stop off in Hawaii. This is a dream adventure in 2014, let alone 1964. Some of the photos I have seen and the associated memories are beyond belief. This all came about because someone was willing to dream and more importantly, work incredibly hard, to make it a reality.
There is a small town in South Australia called Melrose. At first sight it seems no different from many of the small towns scattered throughout the south Flinders ranges. Several of them are struggling as they now depend on tourism but are surrounded by more renowned areas to visit and are bypassed by the main coast road. Melrose is different. It feels busy and thriving, in no large part due to the 100 kilometres of recently built mountain bike track and the excellent services of the Over The Edge cycle shop. The owners brought the brand over from the USA and are currently the only OTE store outside of the States. There is a sign outside the shop that says “If you risk nothing, then you risk everything”. The guy behind OTE certainly practices what he preaches. In a previous life he was living in London, working in a pub but in his own words, he was “existing instead of living”. He took a risk, bought a pub in Melrose and moved home to a better life. The bike shop improved on this further when he helped to establish the brand and give himself more family friendly working hours as a result.
In Cooma, New South Wales, I stayed with Adrian, I guy I had met through a cycling hospitality forum. He spends his days fixing pretty much anything electrical and teaching kids to rock climb. He has two daughters, one living nearby and one overseas. My initial impression was of someone humble and relaxed that loved the outdoors and as we chatted throughout the evening some incredible stories emerged. Amongst other things, he has competed in several long distance kayak races; next year he aims to train in Finland and then will be representing Australia at the cross-country skiing Masters World Championship; he has taken part in two ice core drilling expeditions to the Antarctic. His skills and ingenuity on the first meant that he was named trip leader for the second. These are achievements and experiences that would leave many “adventurers” open mouthed. I was fairly stunned at what this person in front of me had done and was still doing with their life. A remarkable side note; he has since told me that I have inspired him to give cycle touring a go. I feel extremely humble!
By far the most disheartening days on the trip so far have been due to the wind. Rain I can deal with. Hills are a fair test. But the wind. It just drains you. It can push you back all day, forcing you to pedal downhill and giving you no chance to freewheel. I hate it. By far the closest I have come to giving up for a day was due to the wind. On those tough days, there is always one story I think of. I met Elsa Hammond last year at an outdoors show. She was planning to row the Pacific, solo, from California to Hawaii as part of a race. In the build up to my trip I was following her progress as much as possible. She had hoped to break the record of 99 days for a solo crossing but the wind was so strongly against her from the very beginning, that it made even leaving port difficult. Many crews gave up and dropped out but she persisted, often rowing for hours only to be blown back whenever she rested. The mental strength to keep trying in the face of this was awesome. It made me feel rather stupid everytime I got frustrated by the wind which in turn helped me to keep pedalling. It was still rubbish but it could be so much worse. It also made my complaints about the monotony of the Nullarbor seem rather insignificant. Elsa had to head south in an attempt to get favourable winds and eventually it became clear that a solo crossing in these conditions would be impossible. Rather than give up, she changed her plans but even then the conditions were against her. She got caught in winds blowing south that meant she could not get to shore and the next land would be Antarctica. The only option was to be towed back by a support boat. She had been the last remaining solo rower by over a month. For conditions to be so bad that she had to abandon must have been heartbreaking.
These are just a handful of the inspirational people I have met. There have been many others. These include long distance walkers and other touring cyclists. One guy I met builds his life around being able to spend time surfing and another has lived in three continents working as a rafting guide. The point I’m trying to make is that these are all normal people. There is nothing especially superhuman about them except that they are willing to work hard and take a risk. So why not do the same. Start small but have the bravery to work towards something new. You never know where it might take you.