I am part of a small but well-formed group of Adventurers who regularly blog for each other. This week’s guest blog is written by my good friend Sarah Outen, who is currently circumnavigating the world under her own steam by bicycle, kayak and rowboat. It’s tough to find someone more motivating than Sarah, and her blog below suggests that when there’s a dream to be chased, you gotta give it a Gao!
Iam currently in Beijing, 4.5 months into a 30 month expedition with 13,300km on the clock and most of the world to go. I have been on the road, cycling East for most of those 4.5 months, crossing sandy deserts, slogging up mountains or whizzing along river valleys. I have met all sorts of people between here and London – on the road and off it; wisened ancients, calm and content; excitable young things exploding with energy; tired travellers; bubbly truckers; interested folks; grinning hellos; bemused folks and a whole lot of other faces whom have disappeared as quickly and quietly as they arrived in my transient life on the road. This diverse cast list has shown me that we are all as different as peas from carrots in some respects, but as similar as similar things in others. Our lives may be different and our cultures colourfully so, but at the root of us all seems to be a similar set of values and genre of hopes.
One thing that I have heard many times from London to Lauterbach toCoburgh to Qyzylorda to Hami to Beijing is, ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing… ‘ or ‘I have a dream too…’This is often followed by a huge ‘But….’ And a reel of reasons (or excuses) as to why the dream lies unaccomplished and the sighs linger on. My language skills sometimes prevent me from saying exactly what I want to say but here is the crux of it, proffered from one weary, happy roadie to y’all. If you want it, then go and make it happen, whatever it may be. No one else is going to do it for you. If you have ‘buts’ then figure a way round them or readjust your priorities and make some sacrifice. Tomorrow is full of future and hope, but often it never comes and the opportunities will have passed before you know it. Have a think about it, make a little planas to when you will make those dreams happen – can now be the right time? If not, then why not? I think a lot of it comes down to people not committing, for whatever reason. Maybe they are tied with other obligations. Maybe they don’t know how. Maybe they are afraid. Maybe they cannot commit. Who knows, but what I do know is how satisfying and powerful an experience it can be when you jump straight in and start swimming for your goal. Madly, excitedly, eyes wide open, splashing and figuring out how to keep floating, and hooping and hollering with the joys of the journey.
4,000 km ago a young excitable Chinese guy bounded up to me and my bike Hercules and declared that he wanted to cycle to Beijing with me. He had met me 10 minutes beforehand, had never cycled further than 10km and didn’t even have a bike. Having tried to put him off to start with,I then thought I would give him a chance – the guy had energy in bucket loads and a whole lot of pluck for even suggesting this to me. 35 days later, after daily challenges and some of the toughest terrain I have ever cycled, Gao – my impromptu Chinese companion – wheeled into Beijing alongside me, mission complete. He had grown from nervous boyish floppy-haired youth into a confident and accomplished cyclist, eyes wide open and hooping and hollering with the joys of the journey, eager for more. It was a magic moment and I know he will go on to pedal some great journeys on his own now – he is in love with adventure.
Sarah and Gao on the road
So, if you’re reading this and are twitching uncomfortably about that dream of yours lying dormant at the back of your mind and To Do List, then why not dig it out and give it a little Gao. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t turn out the way you hoped – at least you will know you gave it a shot. And if now really is not and cannot be the right time for you, then get out the calendar and make a plan for when and how you will make it happen. Good luck and go well
As part of the Adventurer’s Blogging Chain, I’ve just had a guest post on Tim Moss’ The Next Challenge website entitled ‘New Year’s Message. If you fancy a glimse at my brain at the age of 8, read on:
I’ve always had an unflappable curiosity for life and quite often it would get me into trouble. Shortly before the storms of 1987 which would prompt trees to fall on the neighbour’s house, my Dad held up some putty in his garage and told me he was going to make a seal. At eight years old I was still becoming accustomed to mysteries of life revealing themselves unannounced, and I was nothing less than excited by the potential of Dad’s upcoming creation – indeed, I hoped that I would learn from him and develop a skill that might get me a girlfriend. For some reason the job didn’t get done that day, but for a fortnight I pestered my Father until he relented and took me out the front. He seemed ever so blasé with what was about to happen and I remember feeling a hint of irritation because he obviously didn’t care much for his art and frankly to me that was unforgivable, because it’s not many men who can shape a water-going mammal out of putty.
I am part of The Adventurers Blogging Chain – where a group of like minded adventurers and expeditionists write and host blogs for each other in turn. This week I host a piece by Dan Martin, writing an interesting piece about the kindness of strangers
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Is community dead as all the doom sayers say or is it hiding under the guise of the kindness of strangers?
I remember seeing a news piece on the BBC about this scooter crash in Tel Aviv and the outrage that ensued after noone stopped to help:
It’s incredibly saddening and I’d like to think that I’d stop and help, in fact I’m sure I would but then again, I wasn’t there. I know things happen ever so quickly on roads but you’d think the first car who saw what happened would have stopped.
I posted a question up about community in todays society and got hit back with a huge array of stories and ideas. My friend Justin said that “people at my university would rarely converse with others in the (cafeteria). I used to frequent a diner in my last two years and the people that came in tended to be retirees, older farmers, and they’d always shoot the shit with you as you ate your meal, inquire about family, remember you if they saw you again etc. It was nice.”
Our generation has gone a long way to rid ourselves of community, gone are the days of the blitz, keeping calm and carrying on and doing things for King (Queen) and Country. Village fetes are dying out, local shops are being eaten by huge supermarkets, ticket inspectors and now ticket machines and scanners-maybe we’re just loosing the opportunity to interact with each other.
My friend Charlie syas this: “It’s all about people being scared of interacting. Our uber multicultural environment has brought inner racism and most people don’t want to talk to anyone they don’t know for fear of having nothing in common (especially if you are in London or out of the countryside.) No one wants to be stuck talking to a loser or have a loner follow them around cos they started a little small talk - the fear of having to tell someone to f’off.
This is why it is possible to talk to strangers when abroad. You have a REASON to ask questions and the stranger knows that. You are on your own because you are in a different country, not because you don’t have any friends and are going to be a pain.”
So maybe community is not lost it’s just being lost. I remember countless times on both my last bikes rides being embarassed by how much hospitality was being showered on me, a complete stranger from a foreign land. I cycled through the Axis of Evil and was welcomed as if I were family despite my nationality. I found that the poorer the area the more open, friendly and willing to share the people were. In my 15days in Sudan I spent 23dollars most of which was in Khartoum, out in the desert shopkeepers would refuse to take my money and gift me whatever it was that I needed (usually coke or water). In Pakistan I was put up by a the father of a teaching assistant of a coworker of a friend of a friend-for seven weeks! I’d like to think that if a guy in traditional dress from parts of Africa or Asia rode a raggedy old bike into a village in England that he’d get the same hospitality but I think I’m kidding myself.
I haven’t lost faith in our communities though, we’ve worked to isolate ourselves behind picket fences and commuter journeys but I still believe what my friend Alex say here:
“Most people are fundamentally good, but it’s only when they’re out of their bubble and in need of help that they remember this, or when they encounter a stranger who needs help etc. Not to mention the media whipping up a storm about how dangerous everywhere and everyone is and it’s largely rubbish, as your trips proved almost every day.”
I think people are looking for the opportunity to be nice, to help others to come together for the greater good. Justin told me: “You want a community, be poor. The rich seclude themselves in their money“. I live in a small village with 22houses in it and would know the people in maybe ten of them? I met a few more the other day but that was only because the water pressure had dropped and I’d been forced (by quite a pushy water company customer services lady) to check if my neighbours were without water too!
Have we worked ourselves into a state of complete self reliance, where each (English)mans home is a castle? Where the only way to find love is on internet dating sites? Where we’ll only do a good deed if there’s some return for us?
I hope not.
I know there are groups of people out there acticely working against this. From a cycle touring/travelling perspective I love the ethos behind www.warmshowers.org and www.couchsurfing.com where cyclists and travellers can register their house with the site as somewhere where fellow cyclists/travellers can come and stay, where they can pitch a tent, have their laundry done or merely have a friendly face to talk to in a foreign place! I use them regularly both in England and when abroad. We’ve had four or five cyclists over from Warm Showers and they’ve all been a great laugh and really interesting.
I really like the way that the internet has allowed users to help strangers through forums, my favourite is the Lonely Planet Thorn Tree site. The cycling board there is a huge source of information and comfort! I always try and answer or give my opinion on two other questions for every one that I ask.
Even back in real life there are plenty of small ways you can make an impact every day. I love that my friend Flic tries to high five everyone she runs past when she runs round the park near her house. An innocent high five that might just break down a little barrier and could turn into a proper Top Gun high five or even, heaven forbid, a conversation.
So here is my top fourteen maybe slightly tongue in cheek ways of improving our own little worlds:
1) The High Five-offer a high five to everyone you run by on your run tomorrow.
2) Swimming Etiquette-not only should you refrain from bombing and heavy petting but follow these too.
3) Cycling-if you’re not completely out of breath, ask another cyclist how far they’re going or even push it find out what they’re training for!
4) Stand Up-come on this is common sense, stand up on the bus or train for anyone older than you, anyone who’s got kids or is pregnant. Be careful with the last one as I’ve almost got to the stage now where I’d rather see a pregnant woman standing up than a fat lady sitting down crying. Another note on this-if you’re old (pregnant or travelling with kids) then sit down, yes you survived the blitz and are strong and independant but make me feel good by accepting my gesture! If I get turned down I normally just say that I’m off at the next stop anyway.
5) Give Way-go on let that person in and if you’ve been let in repay them with a wave of a thumbs up.
6) Hitch Hikers-this is a bit more contreversial and easy for me to say as a massive and usually bearded bloke but picking up hitch hikers is okay, most of them aren’t serial killers and some of them are quite interesting. I picked up a hitch hiker in Scotland who was on his way to a conspiracy theory convention and he told me no end of codds wollop about the end of the world!
On the Street:
7) Hold It-hold the door open for the person behind you. It takes a few seconds and people love it.
8 ) Luggage (and umbrellas)-if you absolutely have to carry huge bits of luggage round then don’t stop at the top/bottom of the stairs to pull out/push in the handle-carry it a few metres more and undo/do it up at the side out of the way. I have a pet hate about umbrellas as they’re normally far to large fr the one person using them and are universally carried at jabby in my eye height-we don’t get monsoons here, wear a coat.
9) Compliments-this got recommended to me and I still feel weird giving compliments out to mates let alone strangers but apparently it’s acceptable to tell women that you like their shoes or bag without being chastised as a pervert and telling men you are enjoying their tie. Give it a go and tell me how it works out.
10) Shopping-this is another one that was suggested. If you’re in a shop and someone is looking to buy something you own and like/dislike then tell them it’s great/rubbish. I’m not keen on this but I do like recycling books and DVDs to friends I think will like them. At uni we used to prowl round supermarkets and put slim fast in fat peoples trolleys-don’t do this, it’s really mean.
11) Invite the neighbours…-Summer’s a good time for this. You’re having a World Cup/Summer barbeque, invite your neighbours. Maybe even try this. They might hate it/you and leave instantly but you gave it a go and when your cat eats their rabbit you’ve met before and will probably get off lighter!
12) Support the neighbours…-Try to go to some local event every three months. Something like a local sports event, gig, theatre. It’ll only be for two hours or so and wont kill you.
13) Friend Management-Facebook, twitter and group e-mails means you can be 100%up to date with all your mates with out talking to any of them. Facebook isn’t the devil though. I always try and wish my friends happy birthday when the reminder pops up on the top right (I also use this reminder to cull off anyone who I’m not willing to say happy birthday to).
14) Show Interest-When I was on my last trip I’d have been off cycling for days and finally got to an internet cafe somewhere in the middle of nowhere to find I had three spam mails and a mail from my Mum-gutted. Probably because I’m hugely unpopular but partly because people can check how I am without asking. If you’re checking someone’s okay-then drop them a message. If you’ve got any friends in the forces who are currently serving in conflict zones then I massively urge you to write to them or send them stuff. In England it’s free to post packages to serving military personnel from the post office and I’d imagine it’s the same elsewhere.
This post is part of the Adventurer’s Blogging Chain, found on Twitter using #advbc