On and off somebody asks me which of my Expeditions have been the most difficult, the hardest and the most dangerous. Almost all expect an answer containing freezing temperatures in Siberia or under the kidnapping threat of Al Qaeda in the hottest of deserts. But the true answer is my 7.5 years on a pushbike, where by far Africa was the most demanding. Unfortunately cycle touring isn´t very high on the lists of what thrills people. Or what is considered a fancy Expedition. It was after my Siberian journey things started to move for me. Cycle touring isn´t sexy. Not like skiing to the Poles, climbing Everest or rowing across an ocean. It amazes me, because the most demanding of all, in my eyes, isn´t the physical challenge, it is threading through different cultures, meeting people. For this reason I keep an extra eye on these interesting individuals who choose this extremely demanding life. One of my favorites is Helen Lloyd. A lady which deserves much more attention for her Expeditions. Read her thoughts below.
The Things We Take Away
“We can only speak of the things we carried with us, and the things we took away.” ~ Barbara Kingsolver, Poisonwood Bible
Cycle-touring; spending hours in the saddle on the endless road, slowing gnawing away at the tarmac miles; carrying only what will fit in the panniers of your bike. But we carry much more than what you can see. We carry our troubles with us; for however much we wish to leave our baggage at home, we cannot escape our past. We can only shape our future.
At home we busy ourselves with work and friends, having a good time and being in love. We do it, because if we didn’t we would have to stop and look; and when there are no distractions you have only yourself to look at, and we don’t want to do that because we are scared of what we may find if we look too hard.
Cycle-touring distances us from domestic distractions; so instead we busy ourselves with the trivialities of life on the road. Concerning ourselves with where we shall get food and clean water and where we might sleep that night. I prefer the roads unknown; foot-trodden, hardened-earth tracks where few vehicles go. Partly I want the simple road, as far from modernity and as close to nature as I can. But really, the tarmac is too easy and then you have only yourself to face, and that is perhaps what I fear. (Although, when people ask me, ‘But aren’t you scared?’ I always say no, because they think I should be scared of animals or people or the dark, of real things. But I think a little part of me is scared of what I might find if I look at myself closely, but I’m not sure anyone would understand that). I would rather face the demons of the unknown road ahead; they are easier to overcome.
There is no time to think when you are focussed wholly on weaving along the pot-holed path or choosing the fork in the road that’s not on your map. If it becomes easy, then all you need to do is set yourself a challenge. A distant target to aim for. Pedal harder; pedal faster.
This is not just true of cycle-touring. It was the same for me paddling down the Niger river in Guinea, which was a challenge every day of the two weeks it took. There was little time to think beyond my needs at any moment. And when there was time to stop, it was not to search inwardly but to savour the sight of the untamed river; and the birds and all of nature’s beauty.
And it is of these things that I write about. I do not write of the things I carried with me. I’m still building the courage to do that. We each carry the weight of the world on our shoulders and that cannot be shed lightly.
So for now, I can only write of the things that I took away — my memories — of what I saw and who I met, and that is my way of giving something back. I write for those who want to see the world without leaving home and for those who do, so that they may be encouraged to leave carrying only what they have, because if I can, quite frankly anyone can.
Helen LLoyd has cycled some 36,000km in Africa, North and Central America as well as paddling a pirogue 350km down the Niger River and packrafting 250km in Nicaragua’s Moskitia region. Her next journey will be across Asia, beginning by cycling across Lake Baikal in Siberia this coming March. She is currently writing a book about her cycle through Africa. Her homepage is at http://helenstakeon.com/
Photos by Helen Lloyd and Lars Bengtsson