Our Christmas break was well needed, but before we knew it, it was time to move on again. Three days was the longest we'd stopped cycling for so far on the trip – but it still felt rushed. However, our bikes were clean and our pannier bags a little more organized, so off we went. A minute later and the tools were out, and the bags off my bicycle again – the gears weren't working properly - I couldn't get the chain onto the small cog ...which basically meant I wouldn't be able to cycle up anything resembling a hill. After an hour we thought we'd solved the problem. Five minutes later, after starting to climb what appeared to be a fair-sized hill, I had to stop again – this time while trying to fix it we managed to do the opposite to the bike – I now only had the small cog and not the big one – which meant going up hills would be fine, but on the flat and downhill I wouldn't be able to keep any sort of speed up. Our limited bicycle knowledge meant it would have to do for the time being. Due to our tight schedule to get to Istanbul in time for New Year's Eve - five days away, we planned to just sort it all out when we got there – no time to stop and mess about in case it still couldn't be fixed.
We had no idea quite how mountainous the next few days would be, but it was relentless. There was hardly a single flat piece of road. We would spend over an hour climbing, just for us to zoom down the other side in about 5 minutes and then have to do it all over again.
Our last night in Bulgaria offered us a nice little camping spot – a small track coming off the main road with a little grassy clearing. Next to where we set up camp, was a table and bench under an open roof, there was even a ring of stones where someone had previously made a fire – which saved a lot of time making one ourselves. The tent wasn't in the ideal position though - You know you don't care where you camp when you hear the words - “It'll be fine. If a car does come then i'm sure there's enough room for it to go around us”.
A couple hours of hell later and we were there. We checked into the hostel, dumped our bags, and headed straight to the nearest pub. If Christmas felt weird then New Year's Eve was on par. Fast-forward to 1 am and I'm asleep while stood up, leaning against a wall in the pub. Bicycle touring and drinking don't go well together. I was happy to get back to the hostel, where we were in a dorm-room with 22 other people! That's a big one by any standards. The beds were also three high, I was on the top, and my tower of beds was the only one which had been put the wrong way around, so the ladder was against the wall and useless...which made climbing (literally) into bed while very drunk, really fun.
Next-up is a change of dynamics in the trip. A few days ago - January 3rd, Dan Marshall flew out to join us. We met him at the airport and were both super excited to see him. However, rather than it now being the three of us, it will still be two of us...Jodie had made the decision about four weeks ago, while curled up in his sleeping bag in the tent wearing nearly all the clothes he had with him, that he would finish the trip in Istanbul. It was a very cold night and the winter through Europe has been pretty brutal, especially with the lack of preparation we'd done.
The flights were booked, and the date set - 7th January. It meant that it was a straight swap with the bikes and all the gear between Dan and Jodie. Dan didn't have to get his bicycle on the plane and Jodie didn't have to take his home. Dan just took everything that Jodie had been using – much easier for both of them. It has been a big secret though (hence why it hasn't been mentioned) so Jodie was able to surprise all his family back home.
We had some great times together, and i'm sad that he's now left. It's an immense achievement to have cycled all the way through Europe, in the middle of winter, with me for company – but he did, and not many people can say that!
He arrived back here today at 3pm and together we went to the Iranian Consulate as fast as we could. If we were late then we were afraid that the consulate may close for the weekend and we'd have to stay an extra two nights in Istanbul, til Monday. We arrived at 4pm – saw the sign with the opening times, and then wished we'd done a quick 'Google' before Dan had rushed back...It closes at 11.30am everyday?! And is also closed at weekends. So now we are here until Monday. Originally I booked five nights in the hostel, thinking that would be enough, I'll have been here two weeks by the time we leave now. We both aren't in a rush though, and the longer we take in the next month, then the warmer the rest of the trip will be.
Since travelling quite a bit in the last six years, the main thing I've come to understand about how I live at home and how all the people I know live, is how lucky we all are. Choices – we have lots of them. As soon as we leave school, we have an array of different options laid out in-front of us. Many people in many other countries don't have these options, but we do. We get to choose what we want to study (although like me if you failed most of your GCSE's the options are limited), we get to choose what we eat, what we drink, what car we buy, where we sleep – all of these things are limited by income and other things of course, but ultimately we always have some sort of a choice in the matter.
I'm going to just focus on one choice though – travelling. Travelling is by far the best education I have ever had. It has also given me true friends from all corners of the globe and I believe it's something everyone should experience. Unfortunately people seem to put obstacles in front of themselves when it comes to travelling. I've often been told by people that they wished they could go travelling but either; they cant afford it, can't because of work, or family or so on...
I'm going to try and dispel one of the biggest obstacles – money. I have none of it. when I say none, I mean i'm literally doing this trip on my bank overdraft. I'm living in a tent most of the time and eating cheaply. I sold as much random junk I've collected over the years as I could before I left, and I didn't go out getting drunk every weekend or spending money where I didn't need to. I've read many stories on the internet of people travelling much cheaper than I am too, it is easier than you imagine. Either way though, the overdraft may not be a viable option to many people, but i'm sure cutting back on needless things and living cheaply is an option for many.
A better example of how to knock down obstacles to go travelling is a friend of mine – Jodie Williamson (not the Jodie that was on this trip, but a female Jodie). I had it easy when planning to go travelling compared to Jodie. She was also trying to sell lots of old stuff to raise a bit of extra cash – like me. She also didn't have a big income – like me. But also, absolutely nothing like me, she is a single mum. Just like Jodie herself said to me – it's all about choices. This wasn't just an average trip either, this was to Tanzania, Africa! She cut back on everything, worked extra hard on her Avon round, and went to town on eBay and Facebook-selling pages. When her nine year old son Ollie (Ollie & Jodie...this is gonna confuse things) would ask for things or want to do something that would cost, Jodie would ask what he would prefer – that, or a trip to Africa, and his answer was always the same – wise choice!
My own Mum is another example of knocking down obstacles. You don't have to be a young whipper like me to go travelling. A few years ago, nobody would have blamed my Mum if she chose a simple life and just chilled out at home for the rest of her days. But during the years after my Dad died (cancer), she chose to do the opposite. Within a year of his death, she was backpacking around Australia on her own, meeting up with old friends and making new ones. Next, she contacted an Irish-based charity called Children In Crossfire, and signed up to a jungle trek through Cuba, helping to raise money for the charity. Then it was backpacking through Spain on her own, staying in hostels and following a route my dad had always dreamt of taking her on. Then she was off to climb Machu Pichu in Peru with the same charity again, followed by Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands on her own. Back to Spain to run the Barcelona half marathon, and the following year saw her flying around the world following all the Tennis Grand Slams, and to finish it all off a trip to Tanzania, Africa to visit the projects Children In Crossfire are involved in, followed by a week in Zanzibar on her own. Interspersed with walking the Camino Way through Northern Spain, trips to Brittany with a run-club, plus visits to Ireland & USA. Not too bad for a retired widow.
So then...life is great, travelling is great, 2014 will hopefully be great. So it's time to get all those wonderful little options laid out in front of you, write them down if you need to. Have a good long think about each of them, where each one may take you, then simply choose the one you wish to do most....and then make it happen!