Summer dreaming.

And so, she knows. She knows, deep down, in her heart. To stretch her arms out wide. To take a deep breath of air so pure it hurts. To stand and stare with no time to care. To feel the sun on her face, to see the freckles on her nose and the blond tips of an unruly mane. To skip and run with playful abandon in nature’s playground so big. The impatience grows with every day and every thought.

I wrote this about 3 months ago, and up until recently, had completely forgotten about it. I stumbled across it when tidying up my drafts folder and had to read it a few times before I realised it was me who’d written it. I should know though, because it’s the kind of stuff that’s in my head a lot of the time. The kind of stuff that makes people think I’m a flight risk, going to head off at any opportunity. The kind of stuff that some people can’t seem to get past so don’t even bother to try to get to know me or to try to understand.

I’ve spoken about this so much over the last year, it’s wearing thin, because not many people can understand. Or they say they understand but they don’t really. Or they do but don’t feel the same way. Or think I’m an idealist. Or try to make out like I’m the strange one. Or throw arguments at me.

In my head it’s simple really. I’m a bit of a hobo. I don’t like to committing to things too far ahead, I’d rather see how things pan out. I can’t see myself staying in the same place for a long time. I want to make and take opportunities and see where life takes me. I want to spend time outside, free like a bird. I want to make the most out of life, which for me is not doing the routine 9-5. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that at all, just that it’s not for me.

This doesn’t mean that BOOM, come a certain date, that’s it. This doesn’t mean that I think everyone else is boring. This doesn’t mean that I put that above everything else. This doesn’t mean I wouldn’t change my mind should I meet someone. If that happened, I wouldn’t just plough on regardless. My priorities would no doubt change. My interests might change. It just means that I think there’s more to life, and the world, and I want to go see it. I want to go have adventures, I want freedom, I want to explore, I want to learn about myself and go make mistakes. I want the ability to be able to change my life if I need to, not feel like I’m stuck. Whether that’s alone or with someone.

So here’s the thing that I get most grief about. How can I do it? Because I’m a big advocate of taking that chance and making the most of life. Doing the stuff you want. “But I can’t do that” people say. “Not everyone can do it”, followed by “you’re lucky”. Bollocks. All of this is guts to make a decision, making sacrifices and a bit of hard work and effort. Let’s separate a few things out here. Usually when people say this, it’s always about the monetary aspect and how to afford a ‘big trip’. And then there’s the ‘things’ keeping people from doing things that are slightly different (e.g. longer than the usual 2 week holiday allowance).

Money. Yes, I’m lucky I get paid a good salary. But I also live by myself and have to make choices about what I spend my money on once all the bills are paid. If you *really* want to do something, you can do it. Being strict with how much I save each month. Sacrifices. Like when I went travelling the first time. I moved out of my house and lived with Alex for a few months. Living by myself and having my own space is mega important to me, so it was a big wrench to do it. But I did; I needed the cash. I’d do it again if I needed to. I sold a load of my stuff. My car is not flash. I hardly ever go clothes shopping. I rough it when going away. Sometimes I don’t like the kind of jobs I do, but do it because it’s a means to an end to give me life choices. Some of my stuff is second hand but it does the job. And travel and stuff is, or can be, much cheaper than you think. You might have to rough it, or get creative with stuff. But, you work out how much it will cost. You save. You add a bit of contingency on. And also, don’t forget that when you haven’t got all your usual monthly outgoings/bills to pay for, then all of a sudden you don’t need your monthly salary. So don’t panic. Roll with it.

And there’s the things. Ah yes, The Things. The mortgage. The job. The pension. The furniture. Again, it’s all possible. You rent your house out. You quit your job or ask for extended leave, or a sabbatical. You save up more to cover your pension, or be OK with the time out because in the grand scheme of all those years it’s a tiny bit. You put your stuff into storage. It’s not difficult. Yes – it takes some effort. Yes – it takes some organising and balls. But it’s all doable. It’s just whether you want it or not, and how bad you want it.

“Will I ever get a job again?”

I don’t know, will you? That’s down to you. How lazy do you feel about applying for jobs? How flexible will you be? What do you want to do? Your destiny is in your hands, have faith in YOURSELF to go out and get what you deserve.Don’t forget the shedload of skills you will come back with. Increased confidence, life experience, communication and negotiation skills. Don’t forget you’ll learn a hell of a lot that will help you with getting a new job even more. Or you might keep your old job. ‘But they won’t give me the time off’. Have you actually asked? You might be surprised. If you never ask, you’ll never know. That applies to everything.

It’s about knowing what your dream is, and then figuring out how to do it. Everything is possible with hard work, effort and some creative thinking.

People say what about when I meet someone and ‘settle down’? But why does meeting someone mean settling down? What about going on adventures together? What about being in a relationship AND being adventurous and wild? It can happen you know. There is nothing in the marriage law the last time I looked. I don’t even know what people mean by settling down half the time. I’d just like to meet someone who’s into the same things, who wants the same things. Or at least has that same open mindset. And yes, I would actually like to meet someone. I’m not a total ice maiden.

You see, it’s not really about taking off for long term travel. It’s not just doing a big adventure like cycling around the world. It’s just about having a slightly different mindset about living life to the full. An open mind to opportunities, and not restricting life inadvertently. Being willing to try new things, and sacrifice other stuff. And living in the moment. Which is why I don’t know one way or the other what I might be doing next year. It’s a long way away and I’ll have to see how I feel. I like having the choice. See how the next few months pan out. Maybe I will meet that elusive other half who also doesn’t watch TV, wants to live in a van and go see what’s out there in the world.

It’s all about not being afraid to take the leap. Or being afraid and doing it anyway. Little adventures or big adventures, both are equally valid and can be as equally life changing. Leaping outside the comfort zone. Life can be short. The office and job will pretty much always be there. The health, fitness and opportunity for physical adventure like I want to do may not.

There are other ways to live life. Please stop asking me to justify why I might be interested in them or try to squash my dreams, even if I’m not sure what they are quite yet. Yes, I might be an idealist and a romantic, but perhaps indulge me for a while.

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Sliding door moments.

You know, those moments that could go either way, in a split second. And then the way moments do go define what happens next and shapes your life. Life is full of them really, and I’ve always thought that it’s better to regret things that you’ve done, rather than things you haven’t done. I hate ‘what if’s’, I find them harder to deal with than the ‘oh fuck, why did I do that’s’. And I’ve got a few of them, believe me. But, they’re all life lessons. Even if they don’t always stop me sometimes making the same ‘oh fuck’ mistakes. Sigh. Anyway, I digress.

So yes, the sliding door moments. The blink-and-you’d-miss them moments, or the make-a-decision moments, or the right-place-right-time moments.

I’ve had a few of those too. I don’t mainly think about what would have happened if things had gone a different way, but this weekend I did. Because I realised that what I was doing was partly down to a sliding door moment. Mainly because the person I was doing it with was met in one of those moments.

Back in 2013 I met Vicki in a dingy hostel dorm in India, which in itself is a one-in-a-few moments because there aren’t that many hostels in India, it’s more guest houses where you don’t always get to mingle with other guests. So there I was, sat on my £1.20 a night damp bed with a barely-there mattress and a pillow you’d never want to take the case off, when Vicki swept in with with a tiny backpack, a northern accent and a massive smile. Over the next couple of days we went hiking, climbing about in waterfalls and ate forgotten birthday curry, and she told me about her plans to cycle the Manali to Leh highway. On her own, with no real plans as such and no bike as yet. I was amazed, inspired and in total fucking awe. That was some serious shit. Part of me wanted to do it with her, and part of me was glad I didn’t have the time, and part of me didn’t think I could anyway. That was what other people did, not me.

We kept in touch, and when I had moved onto China I was pleased to hear she had made it OK and had a sweet little adventure. I was blown away by her pictures and the stories of the ride. And so, a seed was sown. That was the moment that gave me the inspiration to bike round Tasmania. And after doing that, that’s when I knew I could do something like London to Paris earlier this year. And then, that’s when I knew I could cycle to Brighton with Vicki last weekend (we don’t just go to the pub for a catch up like most people, we go climb mountains or ride miles before hitting the pub).

If I had gone out for dinner back in Mcleodganj 10 minutes earlier, would we have met in the same way? Would we have hiked to the waterfall, or laughed at Richard Gere’s picture? If I hadn’t have met Vicki, would I have biked round Tasmania? I don’t know. Maybe, maybe not. But she helped showed me that adventure was out there, if you just get out there and do it. And ordinary people can do the stuff that I used to think only explorers and adventurers did. Well after all, they are just normal people too.

So I’m 100% glad this sliding door moment went this way. And I’m glad I can call Vicki a mate, glad I have a fellow adventure seeker to do crazy shit with and be inspired. She’s moving to NZ for a while at the end of the year, so maybe I’ll just have to head out there next year so we can go climb a mountain or two.

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How to bike from London to Paris in two easy steps.

1. Buy a bike.

2. Pedal.

Yep, it’s as easy as that.

Kind of.

When I signed up to cycle London to Paris in 24 hours, I didn’t really read all the details. So I didn’t really appreciate how far it was or how much training I’d have to put in. Or how many times I’d fall off before getting the hang of clippy pedals. Or how much nutrition plays a part. And how hard training can be if you want to try and have some kind of social life. Especially when you’ve just moved to a new place and are making new friends. Or how much kit I’d need. And how much it would cost in all. Or how much of a headache the logistics would be.

But, I’d signed up. I’d paid the cash and committed. No going back. I wanted to do it.

So I did what I needed to do. I tried to get out on Bob the Bike as much as I could. Which, when you work away most of the week, is not that much. I got bored with the training. The weather hasn’t been that great and I hate to admit that I’m a bit of a fair-weather biker. Not a fair-weather runner, but biking in the rain isn’t that appealing.

I tried to eat well but that didn’t always work out. I tried not to drink too much. I tried to get enough sleep.

D-day came around pretty quickly. I’d managed to get everything sorted for it, like all the practicalities of getting to London, staying in Paris and getting back again, but did I feel prepared? Did I fuck. I’d felt positive a couple of weeks before after a pretty intensive training weekend back in Lincs. I’d cycled a decent amount, in all weather too and my legs felt good. I’d been going to BMF and still running a bit so felt my overall fitness was alright. But the weekend before the event I didn’t get out on the bike at all. In fact I spent it out socialising, drinking and eating shit food. Not the best way and when the Saturday came around the positivity I’d felt the week before had definitely slipped down the scale somewhat. But, being the eternal optimist I am, it was still there. Because it never really crossed my mind that I wouldn’t be able to do it. I knew I would, somehow. Even if it took me ages and I limped towards the Eiffel Tower, I always pictured myself doing it. Not doing it just wasn’t an option, because I’m stubborn and it was in my power. No one else was going to do it for me so I sure as hell would give it my best shot.

So off I trotted with Bob, my gear for a couple of days in Paris, a comforting sense of mild apprehension and some lovely messages of support. Also walking like I was wearing a nappy, courtesy of some beautiful new padded GORE cycling shorts I’d been given (later to be worth their weight in gold, frankincense AND myrrh).

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Thank you, First Great Western for making it so easy to travel to London with my bike. Not so easy on the underground, although I can’t blame TFL for that. It’s just not easy taking a full size bike onto a crammed circle line train at lunchtime on a Saturday (although before you say anything, it’s allowed, it’s off peak and one of the few lines you CAN take a bike onto. I checked. Obvs.). As I would have loved to have pointed out to a chap on the tube. I would have actually acknowledged that I know I was a fucking pain in that car if he been man enough to say something to me about it rather than ranting under his breath to his girlfriend thinking I couldn’t hear.

Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a blow-by-blow account of the whole 200 miles. You wouldn’t want to read that just as much as I wouldn’t want to write it. But, just while we’re on the subject, 200 miles is quite a long way I think. I still can’t really picture it in my head. But it’s a fairly long way to drive in the car, so even longer to bike. I just never really thought of it as 200 miles. Think that’s the key. Just think of the stints between rest stops. Between 20-30 miles each one. Pedal, stop, EAT, pedal, stop, EAT, pedal, stop EAT.

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Yes, yes, you have to EAT. And eat LOTS. This is good for me. I like EATING. The rest stops on this challenge were immense. So much food to choose from. It’s actually amazing how much of a difference this makes. If you don’t eat enough there’s just no energy. Keep fuelling and you can keep going. The human body is an amazing thing. Food is fuel really, that’s all.

So the English leg was a bit time pressured. We had to make the ferry or that was it, adventure over before it began. So, pedal to the metal. Or, foot to the pedal. Or pedal to the floor. Whichever, the legs had to spin round fairly fast. And there were a lot of hills. Good job I’d done most of my training in the Cotswolds. A mixture of riding with new friend Roger, who kept me entertained up and down the hills of the South Downs, and riding alone day dreaming and admiring the view and thanking my nappy shorts for meaning my arse wasn’t hurting yet. About 10 miles to go and the rain started. We’d actually been really lucky up to then and it was only cold and windy. It was supposed to rain all afternoon so an hour in the rain wasn’t too bad. So, it got wet. And dark. Luckily I’d caught up with some riders and there were some behind me too, so we rode into Newhaven in a small peloton of flashing red lights, dripping helmets, big smiles of relief and confusion over the entrance to the Premier Inn. Note: riding a bike in the dark in rain with glasses means you can’t actually see much apart from huge flashing fuzzy red circles. Solution: Stick to the wheel of the guy in front of you and hope he doesn’t brake suddenly. 

Getting to the Newhaven Premier Inn in really good time was a huge boom. I was well chuffed with myself and my legs. It was the most I’d cycled in one go (60 miles) and my legs felt strong and my arse was absolutely fine. Things were looking sweeeeet. Being soaked wet and going inside, eating and then having to layer back up in wet stuff to get back on a wet bike to cycle the 5 mins to the ferry port wasn’t so sweet though, but it was one milestone down and I knew I had a few hours in a [hopefully] warm ferry to dry out. Oh, and of course it wouldn’t be raining in France because that’s abroad and every knows it’s warm abroad, right?

11059718_10153271100251341_9194213874000144991_nI didn’t really think about what was to come. Whether it would be raining or not. What’s the point? It would be what it would be. What I tried to do was go to sleep. Didn’t quite manage it. Think I got about an hour. Dried out though. By the time we’d got through all the passport shizzle and eaten a banana or two, we were all off at 5am french time, riding in the dark on the wrong side of the road, flashing red lights as far as the eye could see.

I’ve only been to France once before, to Nice, so riding through little quaint countryside villages at dawn with silence apart from cockerels crowing (reminded me of Laos, seemingly the SE Asian land of cocks) and no one around was pretty special, but having to keep up the speed, concentrate on where you’re going and try to hug someone’s back wheel as close as possible to get in their slipstream meant that I didn’t really get a lot of time to look around and take it in. I do remember being pleased it was flat though. And smooth tarmac. Lovely.

And the route was fairly flat. Only a couple of hills (one only about 20 miles from Paris when most people had tired legs, but that earnt me the title Hill Monster. YES.). This is a fact to rejoice, although I do like the other side of a hill. You know, the coming down bit. That’s fun. Unless there are potholes. Then it’s not. My top speed on the english bit was 63km/hr. That’s over 40 mph I think (can’t be arsed to look for the conversion). You don’t want to be hitting a pothole at that speed, trust me.

It rained though. Pretty much all the way. Mostly drizzle that you kind of forgot about, but sometimes really heavy. We were all soaked for the whole 12 hours or so we were biking in France. Didn’t notice it after a while. And my kit served me well. Very well.

I rode with a small peloton all the way. We swapped stories, laughs, interesting facts and Bon Jovi songs. There were wild boar, bike pile ups and accidents involving sunglasses and commando rolls. We got stopped by the Police, who couldn’t really speak English and so ended up just telling us to ‘bike faster’. Pretty sure we were ALL GOING AS FAST AS WE COULD RIGHT THEN. I learnt more weird cycling hand signals used when biking in a group. It’s like another language.

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I learnt about nutrition, or mainly what not to eat. I’d not had chance to practice any kind of strategy (in fact most of my training rides were done without any nutrition – not recommended), In my case on this ride it was protein bar type things. Easy to put in a jersey pocket but my stomach did not like them. Not one bit. I spent the last 50 miles (believe me, this is a Long Way) with stomach ache trying not to think about needing a shit. I had to stop twice to be a bear in the woods. I’m sorry to all the people in the bar who got this story first hand that night. But, in the interests of education to all you people who may want to know what it’s like to do something like this, it’s important you know the actual Truth. It is not glamorous. I don’t normally have protein bars or any kind of of protein shakes etc. And I definitely wouldn’t again. Natural stuff all the way. Next time I’d make sure I had time beforehand to prepare some stuff to take with me.

Next time?

Yes, I said next time. As much as I am pleased it’s over and feel like I’ve got my weekends back, it was an incredible experience that I am one million percent pleased that I did. That I signed up on a whim and gave it a go. Because this used to be the kind of thing that other people did. That I read about but never thought I’d be able to do. But now, now it’s the kind of stuff do. I achieved it. ME. I DID IT. I tell you, that feeling of seeing and riding up to the Eiffel Tower for the first time was pretty damn special. And I got there without feeling completely broken! I actually did a little jog once I was off my bike to show my legs still worked. Probably completely high on endorphins and adrenaline at that point but hey, I could still walk. And surprisingly, my arse was not in bits. The ibuprofen I’d been popping religiously probably helped, but also my new shorts. Super nappy strength padding. I could sit down perfectly well. OK, so the whole area was a bit, shall we say, delicate, but this is hardly surprising after riding a bike for 18 hours in wet gear. A bit of savlon and a nights sleep sorted that out.

That smile, that’s for fucking real, that is.

11128625_10153271100871341_3010373041973151811_nThat and for my grandad, who died a week before I did this and so never got to know that I made it. And for all the people that want to but can’t do something like this, for whatever reason. I didn’t do this for charity, although I know a lot of people did. Do feel free to donate to your favourite charity though if you’ve been inspired. Or stick a few pence in the charity tin at the next shop checkout you go to.

I met so many awesome people; all doing the same thing but for so many different reasons. Everyone has their own story, struggles and motivations. All brought together by a common interest and a beer afterwards. The sweetest beer.

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So yes, there will probably be a next time. There will be something else. Right now the only things I have signed up for are a few running things over the summer. A half marathon, a 24 hour team relay endurance run and an obstacle course. There will be some summer cycling though, trust me. Me and Bob are not ready to part company just yet.

I’ve realised that the human body is an amazing thing. My body amazes me. I think I’m maybe fitter than I thought. I know I can do stuff, and I’m still figuring out what that is. If I don’t give things a go then I’ll never find out.

Life is for living, and for me, this is how I choose to live.

If anyone is thinking of doing anything similar, I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. You CAN do it, it WILL be amazing and you should totally do it. Give it a go. If you don’t try you’ll never know. What have you got to lose?

You can do anything you bloody want to, you just have to believe.

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Challenge number 1.

London to Paris in 24 hours. On a bike. Yep, that’s what I’ve signed up for in May. What’s that all about then, I hear you cry. Erm, well, I’m not actually too sure myself. It sounded like fun so I signed up. I’ll deal with the details later. And yes, this is actually true, I don’t know too much right now. I know it’s about 320km, I will get about 4 hours sleep if I’m lucky and I have to have a road bike, but that’s about it. My ex-husband always used to say I was a bit of an idealist and a bit of a dreamer, I guess he was kind of right. But, I know it will all be OK. I know I’ll be able to do it, because I’ll give it my bloody best shot. I figure I managed to cycle 600km around Tasmania without any training, minimal preparation and a heavy backpack and tent; so this should be a bit of a doddle (ha!). I didn’t have a road bike until last weekend, and haven’t had chance to get out and about on it yet but I will be starting a bit of training soon. I’ve still got a few months until May, right? It might take me that long to get used to the weird shoe-pedal clip things that came with my bike.

It’s the first thing I’ve signed up for this year so far. There’s other stuff, but that’s all probably a bit later. This just sounded like fun. Loads of fun. Something a bit different, a bit of a challenge and a way to see a bit of France. Not seen much of it yet so cycling through some of it should mean I get a good look. Anyone who’s done any cycle touring will know that it’s one of the absolute best ways to travel and see a country. There’s 200 places in the sportive so I’ll also get to meet some new people and hopefully have a laugh while doing it. Plus it’s May, it should be decent weather. Might get a tan. Also will get outside; which, as I hate sitting inside on the sofa for too long, will be wonderful. I get fidgety, as people who have ever tried to watch a film with me can testify.

And now I’ve got a road bike, I could possibly look at doing some triathalons later in the year. Just need to have a go at open water swimming first to see how I feel about it. Not really done much of that, barring the lake swim in The Wolf Run, but not sure that counts. We’ll see.

This year, now I’m back in the UK and in one place for a bit, is all about seeing what I can do. Trying a few challenges and carrying on saying yes to stuff. Getting back to being fit and seeing just how far I can push myself. Why? Why not? Life is for living, and it’s how I want to live it. This kind of stuff, this kind of mini adventure, is what puts a smile on my face and makes my heart happy. I don’t want to stand on the sideline of life.

If anyone fancies it, join in here: http://www.londontoparissportive.com/.

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Jobs, houses and all that jazz.

I think this might be the last post I write on this blog. I started it back in January 2013 after my year in photos finished at the end of 2012. I missed having somewhere to write things down and share my photos. And then shortly after I started it, I decided to go travelling and then figured it was the ideal place to write about my travels, both for me and people at home following me around the world. And it served it’s purpose. But now, now I’m not sure what purpose it has. I’m not sure I feel the need to share things in the same way. Travel’s changed me, I’ve already said that. And I think one of the things that’s changed is that I don’t feel the need to (or don’t want to) live my life so openly any more. Or maybe just not right now. If you want to know what’s going on with me, you can always ask. You can always get in touch with me. You can meet up with me and I’ll tell you what’s new. I’ve spent quite a bit of time catching up with lots of different people over the last few months since I’ve been back (it’s been over 4 months now, yep, can you believe it?). And I’ve loved it. Meeting up with all of you to speak in person. To do stuff in person. So I’d like to carry on with that thank you very much. And if you don’t, well, I guess you’re not that bothered about what I’m up to, which is also always perfectly groovy.

But, right now, I’ll write one last blog post. After my last slightly rambly post, I thought it might be good to do an update. There’s lots of you that were waiting to see what kind of job I would get, or what kind of life I’d settle back into. I’m pleased to report I feel a bit less fluffy and indecisive now. Things are falling into place day by day and it’s all a bit clearer.

So, I’ve been employed for nearly two months now. Yes, two months. Blink and you’d miss it. When I went travelling I said I wanted to do something different. Not in an office, or not in front of a computer screen. I didn’t know what, and had hoped I would figure it out by the time I got back. I didn’t. I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do, although, I have a better idea. And I do kind of know what I want to do in about 10 years time, just not right now. And the couple of things I do want to do, I don’t have the experience for. Even the entry level jobs, because I tried. Quite a few times, with quite a few companies. So, I need to get that experience, which I aim to do over the next year or so through volunteering in a few different forms.

But that doesn’t help me right now.

Right now, I had to get a job. To get some cash, but also to do something. To get my brain working again, and to give me some kind of purpose. Because you see, as much as it sounds wonderful to now have to work, it’s not all that. Especially without much cash. Because you can’t do that much. And all your mates are at work. I felt a bit purposeless, and like I wasn’t really contributing to anything or anyone. To live here, in my world, there isn’t an option of ‘not getting a job’. I can’t really live without one. So, I figured that if I couldn’t get into the area that I wanted to, because I didn’t have that experience, I’d get a job and work on the experience bit. So, what job to get? I could have just gone and got any old job, but I decided to look along the same kind of lines as what I did before. Yes, it went against what I had been thinking before. But, I have to also be realistic. I need cash, and what I used to do pays a decent wage. I’m on my own, so need to be able to support myself with everything. For that, I need to be earning a fair amount. And, it’s maybe not forever, it’s part of a plan and I’m always in control of what I do. Even if I am a bit of a corporate slave again. That’s cool, I’m OK with that right now.

You see, no matter what you do in life, you’ve always got the power to change it whenever you want. So, if I want to change jobs, then I can change it. If I’m unhappy, then I’ll change it. You don’t have to get stuck in a job and feel there’s no alternative. There’s always an alternative. Or a future plan. You’re in charge.

But, I have chosen a bit of a different job. I’ve chosen a good compromise. I’m now a HR consultant for a computer software company. It’s an office job but not based in one office. It’s in front of a computer screen, but a different one every day. I’m not a project manager any more, I’m a resource that reports to a project manager. I’m back to my ‘home’ of HR systems work. I’ll be travelling around the country. It fits in so many ways with where I am right now. Keeps my itchy feet in check with a bit of travel in the UK. OK, so it’s not the same kind of travel, but it gets me out and about to explore places and make the most of it. Releases me from the office politics and never ending issues management that is the life of a PM. And gives me a bit of stability and cash to be able to start working towards whatever I want to do next. And in the meantime, gives me something new to get my teeth stuck into and enjoy the next adventure of finding somewhere to live again and building my new life.

Because that’s the next bit. I’ve got (and will hopefully keep!) the job, so next is somewhere to live. Basic stuff, but basic stuff is exciting when you’ve not had it for a while. It’s been over 18 months since I lived in my own house. And boy do I miss it. Right now I’m staying with my parents, which I never thought I’d be doing, let alone for this long (they’re probably thinking exactly the same thing). But it’s not too bad, because it’s not indefinite, I know I’ll be moving sometime soon, and can’t wait (no offence Mum/Dad, but you know what I mean).

I’m pretty much decided that I’m not going to settle back in Lincoln (To be fair, I’d already decided that before I got back, and I’ve not changed my mind), the question is just when I go. I haven’t moved yet as I’m using my first few pay packets to pay for the car I bought, and right now I’m just pondering whether to move before or after Christmas. The sensible part of me says move after Christmas and use the pay packets in between to just build up the pot a bit again. But if I do that, ideally I’d want to stay in or nearer to Lincoln for the next few months, to be closer to a bit of action and easier to get about if I’m travelling around. So, if anyone has a spare bedroom that they have going for reasonable rates I’d be interested 😉

You’re probably wondering where I’m going? The good thing about my new job is that because it is based all over the UK I’m fairly free to live where I want (within reason). Another reason I went for it. But when there’s that much choice, where do you go? Tricky one really. Well, it was pretty easy to know to head South, as I seem to have more friends and people I know down there than up North. So, that made it a bit easier. London is just too ridiculously expensive and I really, really want to live alone again. And I also realised that I didn’t really fancy living in a massive city. I absolutely love Lincoln, it’s just the right size and love the different areas and all the history stuff. It’s pretty. So somewhere a bit like that, just somewhere else.

So I’ve decided on Cheltenham. Why? Well, why not? I’ve been a couple of times, know someone there and it seems a nice place. Pretty, surrounded by the Cotswolds and hills, about the same size population as Lincoln, nice bars, restaurants and parks. Plenty to do, it has crossfit and a few running clubs. I don’t need much more really.

Very exciting, and I swing between being impatient and wanting to get on with it and being lazy and not being bothered because it means having to do stuff. At the minute, I’m enjoying what I’m doing, getting stuck into a new job without any other stuff to think about. But I also know I want to crack on and get started, as I still feel in limbo, like I don’t belong anywhere and like I can’t get involved in anything because things will all change in a few months. Either way, I’d like to have made some decisions in the next few weeks so I know what I’m doing, I’ve been floating around for a bit too long I think.

And in the meantime I’ve been upping the running and cycling. It’s been wonderful. Enjoying the countryside and feeling like me again. I’m running Nottingham half marathon in a couple of weeks and really looking forward to it. Enjoying those long runs with nothing but fresh air and Spotify. Good for the soul, although I have to say (as much as I hate running up them) it would be nice if there were a few hills. That’s what Cheltenham’s for though, right? And if you’ve never been there, then there’s the perfect excuse to come visit me. Not that you need one, right?

So there you have it. From deciding to go travelling to getting back into ‘normal’ life and everything in between, that’s my life over the last 18 months. It’s been an absolute blast, and I only know that whatever happens next will be even better. What will happen, I’ve got no idea. That’s the fun part.

And don’t forget, your life is YOUR life. Live it how you want to. If you’re not happy, then change it. If you want to do something, do it. It really is that simple, even if you think it’s not. There are always excuses, reasons or barriers to doing something, but they’re not really solid. Nothing is impossible. So you have a mortgage and a job and can’t go travelling? Bollocks. I had both and I did it. And have come back to a better/different job and my mortgage is still getting paid. Scared of doing something? Doing it and getting out of your comfort zone will only develop you in ways you might not even realise. There’s no success or failure, just different ways of dealing with things. That’s the important thing – not the outcome, but how you deal with it. I’m actually only just realising the things I’ve learnt while I’ve been away and how it’s changed me. In the little every day things I do or the situations I face. And do you know what? There’s been so many things, I can’t keep up. Sticking with the familiar may be great. it might be easy, but damn me I wouldn’t be the person I am now without the things I’ve done over the last year. And for that, I wouldn’t trade all the tea in China. I can’t put a price on it. For me, I’m just realising it’s been probably the single most important thing I’ve done in my life. Travelling isn’t for everyone, but this isn’t really about travelling, it’s about living your dreams, whatever they are. It’s about taking chances and risks and seeing what happens. It’s about challenging yourself and living for the moment. It’s about cherishing life and exploring and making the most of it. It’s about finding out who you are and what you’re made of. It’s about life beyond boundaries. Life outside those four walls.

So what are you waiting for? Every day is an adventure. Go explore.

Thanks for following. Adios.

End of travels and back to normality.

It’s taken me ages to get round to writing this post. Partly because I’ve been so busy, partly because I wasn’t quite sure what to write, and partly because I couldn’t be arsed.

I’ve been back over 8 weeks I think. In my head it feels a bit longer and a bit shorter all at once. Rollercoaster with loads going on. Catching up with lots of friends and family, trips daaaaan South interspersed with job applications and sorting out paperwork and shit.

It’s been really strange. Right now, it seems like all those experiences and all my travel was a long, long time ago. A bit of a distant memory. And yet I’m not ‘back to normality’. Whatever that is. You see, my normality now is a bit different I guess. I’ve learnt lots, seen lots that can’t be undone. I don’t want to live the same life I did before, as easy as that would be. My normality right now is flitting from one place and having lots of free time, although I know that will change. Which I’m looking forward to. Having my own base, even though the new job I’ve got (oh yes, I’ve got a job but that’s maybe another post) is going to mean I’m all over the place during the week.

I wanted to write about how I felt about finishing travelling and coming home. And it’s weird, because it’s pretty much changed every day so I’ve never been sure when or what to write. I didn’t know how I would feel, so I’ve just been rolling with it. I’ve had to adjust a bit, and get used to living in limbo for a while. At the moment I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I’m just a hobo that’s still a hobo, even when in familiar places surrounded by familiar people. It’s quite unsettling.

I’ve come back from travelling even less sure about stuff than before. Everything seems to have been tilted and flipped upside down. More options have been opened. It just kind of feels like I have even more choices than before now, because I know what’s out there and I know it’s all possible. And I seem to have become indecisive and fluffy.

I had an absolute ball travelling. I really did. Having some time out of life and to be able to spend my time doing what I wanted to do, when I wanted to do it was brilliant. Exploring all those countries and meeting all those people; it was incredible. My life feels so much richer for having done it. My life has been changed and will never be the same again, but yet I feel here I am back in Lincolnshire feeling like actually nothing has changed. I guess I’m waiting for the next bit of my life to start, which I feel will happen once I start my new job and find somewhere to live again. My job starts in a couple of weeks but I’ll have to wait a couple of months before I get my own place. So, I’m determined to still enjoy each moment, and not sit waiting for something to happen.

I suspect this post is a bit waffly; but that’s kind of how my brain feels right now. A bit jumbled, a bit fluffy and not quite with it. I wonder whether that’s a result of being back in a comfort zone that I’ve not been in for over a year? It’s confused me. I kind of feel like I need a bit of time to myself, to reflect and think about what I want, but yet being back around people I know has meant I also crave that company. Maybe because subconsciously this all still feels temporary and I know sometime soon I’m going to be moving on again. Not travelling, but I’m going to be busy, less available and more than likely living alone in a new city, where I know that although it’s not a million miles away, after a few novelty visits I’ll probably not see a lot of people that often. Real life will get in the way, people have other commitments, families etc. and I’ll just become that old friend who doesn’t live close by any more. Oh I know I’ll make new friends, and have things to keep me occupied, and I’m looking forward to a new challenge and again it will probably end up being one of the best things I’ll ever have done, but right now it’s these kind of things that make me feel like I don’t quite fit or belong anywhere right now.

I was going to write a travel round up post, but it’s not really happened. I suppose I’ve told a lot of you in person some of my travel tales by now, so it seems a bit late in the day. And also I’ve written about my travels as I’ve gone along, so I’d hate to repeat myself. But, here’s a little round up, based on the questions I’ve tended to have been asked since I’ve been back. Oh, and if you want to know anything specific about any part of my trip, just ask me 🙂

  • Favourite country: Australia – mainly Tasmania just because of my biking adventure. I had the most amazing time, challenged myself and met some wonderful people. I’d never done anything like it before and didn’t even know if I could. Well, I know now.
  • Favourite sight: Taj Mahal – it’s really is a sight that took my breath away. It’s the most beautiful building I have ever seen.
  • Saddest moment: Saying goodbye to my little Irish pal after our wonderful week together in New Zealand. I think this was probably the only time I cried while I was away. I do wonder what he’s up to now, I really wish I had his contact details.
  • Weirdest food eaten – fried bugs/insects in SE Asia. They didn’t really taste of a lot but it took me a while to eat one. Probably wouldn’t do it again.
  • Worst moment: Gravel hell day cycling over 40 km of gravel road in Tasmania in 35+ heat, no shade and hills after taking a wrong turning.
  • Best thing about travelling: The people. I heard it so many times before I went away from other travellers but it really is true. I met loads and loads of people, all of them wonderful in their own way. Some of which will be friends for a long time, some of which I will never see or speak to again because it was just a fleeting encounter. All will have changed me or my perceptions in some way, no matter how small the meeting.
  • Item I wouldn’t have been without: my iPhone. I could do (and did) everything on there. From making phone calls, checking my emails, taking photos, my banking, confirming flight details, accessing my travel documents, using the compass and maps and everything in between. I’d have been lost without it (literally, in some cases).
  • Best item: my travel tap bottle from Drinksafe systems. It’s a drinks bottle with a water filter that makes any kind of water safe – really handy in those countries where it’s not advised to drink the water, especially as a lot of those countries also then have environmental issues due to plastic bottles.
  • Best ‘bottle-that’ moment: there’s so many really. Too many to list, each that little bit different. Like in SE Asia with Nick, getting to a new place and finding somewhere to have a beer and watching the sun set while putting the world to rights. With that on-holiday relaxed feeling, nowhere to be or nothing to do but just enjoy the moment. Or the view from the top of Mt John at Lake Tekapo. It was a steep climb, made harder by my broken rib but the view at the top was one of the first glimpses for me at the South Island scenery. I was transfixed and just sat there for about an hour, just staring and thinking. Or the nights spent star gazing in Zambia, Laos and New Zealand. Each one of these was with different people and there’s just something special about laying on the ground looking up at the stars and chatting about everything and anything. There’s also the moment I walked (well ran) through arrivals at Heathrow and saw my parents waiting for me.
  • Best item of clothing: my Salomon walking shoes/trainers. They were so bloody comfy, I wore them everywhere. They’re a completely different colour now than when I started but not really worn at all, still in good shape and keep my feet toasty and dry. I’ll be keeping ’em until they fall apart.
  • Most painful moment: Breaking my rib. Or rather, the days after I broke my rib. The actual break didn’t hurt at all, probably due to the large amount of beer I’d imbibed. I didn’t go to the hospital or take any painkillers until 5 days later. Why the hell not I have no idea, I think I only realised how much it hurt after I’d taken the super-strong painkillers from the hospital and noticed the change.

I was going to write about what I learnt, but I suspect there’s so much it would take me ages. There’s the stuff I know I’ve learnt and the stuff I don’t know but have still learnt (if you know what I mean?). I know I’ve changed, even if you don’t think I have. I had to do loads of things out of my comfort zone. Things I just did, because you have to do. Just getting on with it, because things needed doing. There was no one else to do it for me. Patience, practicality, difficult conversations or situations. Figuring stuff out, making things, teaching people, budgeting, planning. All that shizzle. Loving and liking your own company. Making decisions, choosing stuff.

Travel HAS made me a better person I think, a better version of me. I’m a bit more focused in some ways about what I missed when I was away and what’s important to me. I’ve always been up for trying new things, but even more so now. I know things aren’t that scary, and feel a lot more laid back and chilled about things.

I’m pretty sure there will be some more travel for me in time, but right now I’m looking forward to the future, whatever it looks like. At the moment I don’t know, and in some ways it’s nice to just let it unfold before me. That’s part of the adventure right? And my adventure right now is what most people would call life or normality. Whatever you do in life, it’s all an adventure. After all, it’s what you make of it, so I’m going to make sure I spend mine filled with things and people that make me happy. After all, you only get one, right?

And right now, I am mainly spending time running and biking in the summer sunshine, making the most of all my free time before I become a corporate slave again. And I am absolutely LOVING it. I realise now how much running (and other exercise) is a part of me now. Because it’s what I love doing. I don’t do it because I HAVE to, I do it because I WANT to. I don’t do it because I want to look a certain way, I do it because I ENJOY it.

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Back in the UK.

I’ve been back for nearly 4 weeks now. I’ve no idea where that’s gone, it’s just been one massive whirlwind. I’ve been meaning to blog before now, but I’ve just not really had the chance, or known what to write. I still don’t, so until I do, this is just a little post to say hello, yes, I’m back, it’s weird but not weird, normal but totally different and if I’m honest, I’ve found it all a little bit overwhelming. I’m not quite sure I’ve processed much in the last few weeks (although, my liver has processed quite a bit of alcohol), and it’s probably going to catch up with me soon. At the minute I’m sat in Southampton having a little bit of a holiday, and am heading to London next week to spend some time with Alex. I’m looking forward to just having a bit of downtime. You maybe can’t understand that, or think I’ve just had a year off, or four weeks of not working but, well, trust me, I need a break. I’ll try and explain it more in another post, once I get it all straight in my head.

And in the meantime, here’s a few things that I’ve noticed since I’ve been back:

  • I’ve had cold feet for the first time in a year. Even in Zambia, New Zealand and San Francisco, where it got cold at night, I never remember having cold feet like I do here. It must be that damp UK cold. Don’t particularly like it.
  • I miss plugs in bathrooms. Why don’t we have them here? Other countries manage perfectly fine and don’t seem to electrocute themselves.
  • I’m still finding it a bit weird, 4 weeks on, using plugs without an adaptor. Every plug seems tiny. I miss adaptors that hang out the wall and I had to balance on something to get to work, and that used to spark when I plugged something in.
  • The smell of oilseed rape is just so Lincolnshire. The first time I got back to my parents and got out the car I smelt it. And so, I was home.

And yep, as I (and maybe some of you) suspected, I’ve now got itchy feet. Not necessarily to go travelling again, but just to DO something. To start my life. And yep, this means getting a job (I’ve not got a bottomless bank account) and finding somewhere to live. And itchy feet means it’s probably not going to be Lincolnshire. But, I have no idea where I want it to be. And there is also a small part of me that misses travelling. That feeling of getting up and being able to do what you want. To go wherever you want, and wake up somewhere new every few days or weeks. But, I know I don’t really want to travel again. Not yet. And I don’t really know what I want to do. Not yet. So, I’ve got a few ideas in the meantime. But, at the minute, I’m going to enjoy this little holiday. And try to relax.

San Fun-cisco.

Thanks Ross Allen, TV creative extraordinaire, for inspiring the blog post title 😉

SF or San Francisco. People round here don’t tend to call it San Fran. Which is what most tourists seem to call it. I spent a week here. It was only ever just a stop off on the way back (because my flight tickets is a round the world I had to land somewhere in North/South America, and I’d always wanted to go to SF), I never really had any intention of travelling elsewhere. And, to be honest, by the time I got there I was just about ready to come home, so any longer than a week would have felt a bit of a drag I reckon.

No hostels this time, I stayed with a guy I met in New Zealand. Another brief meeting, I met this guy for all of 5 minutes at the hostel I stayed at in Queenstown. I was quite hungover and pretty tired; everyone else was drinking his Jack Daniels but I felt shit and went to bed early. But, in true traveller style, we swapped contact details and a month or so later he gave me his sofa for a week while I stayed here. That cool traveller hospitality. I also got to meet his very cute dog Tango.

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San Francisco is awesome. It was a bit of a culture shock from New Zealand. There’s a lot of homeless people here. And a lot of ‘interesting’ people. The area I stayed near is quite a hippy hangout so there’s a whiff of weed pretty much everywhere you go, and a lot of people talking to themselves (or people that don’t seem to be there) and just chilling/flaking out. On my first day I had someone tell me that they loved me and that I had pretty feet. Now, as soon as he said the latter I knew he was not quite with it. Pretty feet? I don’t think so. NZ is so laid back, so friendly and there’s not a lot of people that SF was a bit of a slap in the face. That’s not to say people aren’t friendly here; they most definitely are, but there’s also a lot of people that aren’t so much. Like the woman on a bus who was talking about if someone makes eye contact with her she finds it really rude and was quite specific about what she’d do to someone if they dared to look at her. I didn’t look at her. Or the man who was calling the bus driver a ‘motherf*cking b*tch’. Not sure what the driver had done to piss him off. Or the woman who was shouting obscenities at someone she was pretending to be on the phone to “f*ck you asshole, you’re not my boyfriend” before jumping off the bus and running down the street with the guy who was shouting at the bus driver. I liked going on the buses. They were interesting. Because it’s real life at it’s best. This is what it’s like people. This is real life. These people are real. They exist, they live, they travel. It’s not like my life, but that’s the thing about travel; you get your eyes opened to the world. I like being immersed and surrounded by all kinds of different people; to other people and their lives.

When I landed a heatwave started. Typical, of course. Usual temperature should have been around 18 ish degrees. For the first few days I was there it was around 30. It was hot, but not unbearable though. What did surprise me was everyone around commenting on how hot and how awful it was. I didn’t think it was too bad, but I remembered that this is an oddity for SF. Their temperatures rarely get that high, especially for days at a time. It also made me realise that I had kind of become accustomed to higher temperatures. This hopefully will bode me well should we have a hot summer in the UK this year.

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It also meant that there was none of the famous San Francisco fog for most of the week. So wherever I went I got great views. The place I stayed in had a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, which I could see most mornings. The city is really pretty, I loved all the coloured houses on the hills and the steps up to some of the most amazing doorways I’ve seen. The place I was staying in felt very American. It had a laundry in the basement, a trash chute and the kitchen just looked like ones I’d seen on the TV in films, with a window out that faced the neighbour’s window which was in exactly the same place. For some reason I loved how American it was, I loved the little corner shop a few doors down, and the lovely little cafes and grocery store at the end of the road. The brunch of omelette and potatoes I had at one place was to die for. It also had outlets (plug sockets) that constantly looked frightened. They made me smile every time I charged my phone.

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I had quite a busy week. A mixture of sightseeing, normal stuff, a cheeky run, a fair bit of socialising and some lazing about. Here’s a brief run down.

  • Haight Street. A road full of vintage shops, cafes, smoke shops, tattoo and piercing places and a few things in between, with all kinds of different characters milling about. A great place to just wander down and absorb the atmosphere.

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  • I went downtown (they don’t call it a CDB here) to have a wander round a couple of times. I sat in Union Square and ate my lunch, went to the Cheesecake Factory in Macy’s and walked all the way up Market.
  • I walked all the way along the Embarcadero from Market to Fisherman’s wharf, stopping at Pier 39 to marvel at the tourist tat and sea lions, and gaze out over Alcatraz (didn’t manage to get round to have a tour as it was all booked up too far in advance).

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  • I went on a tour on the back of a motorbike with a guy I’d never met before. Thank you couchsurfing for the intro, and thank you Brando for an awesome couple of hours. Great way to see the city and so cool to go down the famously crooked Lombard Street on the back of a Suzuki gszr 600.

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  • The Golden Gate Park was just a few blocks from where I was staying, so I hung out there a bit, and also managed to fit a little 4 miler in one morning too. Huge park. Well, this is America. Everything is BIG over here.
  • I treated myself to an end-of-travelling tattoo, a proper haircut and a new nose stud. I’d had my eye on a tattoo design for a while, although when I first went to the studio I left with a booking for a completely different design and size. However, when I went back we realised it might not work exactly how I wanted it so I went back to plan A. And the haircut was just fab. I went from straggly-haired-hadn’t-been-cut-in-a-year-and-a-half-traveller to nice-and-tidy-with-a-few-layers. It felt nice to do something normal and something that was a standard thing in my old life was turned into a bit of a treat and a luxury. Travelling makes you appreciate the little things.

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  • I drank mint juleps on a roof somewhere downtown with Rodin and some of his workmates, in honour of the Kentucky Derby, a bit like an American Grand National. A mint julep is a bit like a mojito but made with bourbon. Basically bourbon, mint, sugar and lime. Surprisingly tasty, especially given that I’m not a huge fan of bourbon after drinking far too much of it when I was younger. I also got to check out a SF office where their conference room was called The Batcave, their kitchen was stocked with food, including nutella and cookie dough spread and they had a fatboy hammock in their meeting area. The whole place was pretty groovy, although it was still an office, and still reminded me that I have to get a job at some point.
  • I had meatloaf for the very first time. I figured that as I was in America, I’d try something that I see mentioned on the TV all the time. It was in a trendy restaurant in the Castro area, so I’m guessing it’s maybe not like the one that everyone’s Mom cooks that isn’t that great. This was was bloody amazing!

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  • I rode a cable car. San Francisco is famous for it’s little cable cars that trundle up and down some of the hills because they are so steep. They’re pretty cute and although they’re not that fast and there are cheaper public transport options, they’re really quite handy to get from Fisherman’s Wharf to Market and are a must do for tourists.
  • I went to the How Weird Street Faire on the afternoon before I flew home. It’s a festival where anything goes. And I mean, anything goes. I saw all kinds of weird and wonderful things, costumes and people, danced in the street to some wicked DJ’s, soaked up the great friendly vibe and just marvelled at some of the amazing costumes. I loved how expressive and accepting everyone was, and amused myself by trying to picture something like this being held in Lincoln. Maybe, hey? Who’d be up for it?

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  • And of course, no one can go to San Francisco without going to the Golden Gate bridge. The iconic piece of orange engineering separating San Francisco and Marin County. The Bay Bridge on the other side of the city is actually bigger and longer, but it’s not orange. It doesn’t have the same impact. I walked across the GG bridge and back again (about 3.5 miles in total) and it was beautiful. The views up at the towers as you pass them are just fab, and the views back to the city and across to Marin County are stunning. I was lucky it was such a clear and sunny day (although epically windy) and we got great shots in every direction.

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All in all, a fun filled week, filled with new stuff, new friends, new experiences and the excitement that I’d be going home at the end of it.  It was hard not to try to wish it away the nearer my flight got, but SF is such a great city it was easy to keep myself busy and out of mischief. I could have stayed longer, but a week was about enough. I did everything I wanted to (and a bit more). Well, apart from Alcatraz, but I couldn’t help that. And besides, it’s always good to keep something back for next time.

Auckland and out.

Last stop in New Zealand was Auckland in the North Island, which is the biggest city, but <boring fact alert> is NOT the capital (that’s Wellington).

I’d decided not to travel the North Island. Mainly because I found I couldn’t push my flights back (well, I could have, but it would have cost me a few hundred quid instead of being free) but also I’m not sure I really wanted to. I’m getting towards the end of my trip now, with only a few weeks to go and I’d done so much on the South Island I kind of felt done. So I decided to keep the North Island to do at another time, perhaps with someone else one day, maybe in a campervan and with more money.

So, I flew from Christchurch to spend a few days in Auckland before heading to San Francisco. Luckily I had somewhere to stay; with my friends Ross and Emma who I met in South East Asia. We all met in Laos at the start of the 2 day slow boat journey down the Mekong river. Unluckily for Emma (but luckily for us) she had been ill and they’d delayed their journey by a couple of days, meaning that we got to meet! Me and Nick then bumped into them (literally, while walking down the street) another 4 or 5 times after that throughout Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. I then tried to arrange to meet up with them in Australia and the South Island but every time we tried to plan it we were always a few days out of being in the same place at the same time!

So what do you want to know about Auckland? It’s nice. Hmm, that’s one of those words that’s just a bit, well, shit isn’t it? But, it sums up Auckland perfectly for me. It’s a nice city. It’s got a good feel, there are some pretty areas, there’s beaches nearby and hills to climb up to get a good view. There’s a decent amount of shops and loads of places to eat. I could live there. But, I don’t feel strongly about it. I don’t feel passionate about it. There was nothing that really stood out as it being different or totally amazing. But, there’s nothing really bad about it either. I suppose I’d maybe say it’s a bit indifferent, I don’t really feel one was or another about it. Well, I’m more positive for sure. And, I did find that the longer I stayed there the more I liked it. So maybe I would love it, were I to stay a while.

I didn’t do the whole tourist thing. I wasn’t out and about every day, filling each second with something (I’ve been there, done that, and frankly after 11 months of it, it’s exhausting and quite often unnecessary). It was nice to stay with friends in their apartment and just hang out. It was like being back with my friends in the UK. Get up, chill out, watch TV (especially the Come Dine With Me omnibus – YES, just like a lazy weekend at my brother and sister-in-laws), surf the net, eat, chat and repeat. Interspersed with little trips out for a few hours. Oh, it was bliss, and a nice little chill out before my last leg of my travels in the USA.

But, I did go to Devonport and Takapuna, Mission Bay and Mount Eden. I did go and watch a rugby game at Eden Park (Auckland Blues vs Sydney Waratahs), I did go up the Skytower for cocktails. I did go for a stroll round the Viaduct and CBD. Oh, I actually did quite a bit really. The best of both worlds.

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And so Auckland marked the end of my New Zealand trip. Just under 2 months here, which has probably gone the quickest out of all of my travels. A magical wonderland with scenery that is so stunning it doesn’t look real, and skies and clouds so colourful, vivid and clear they could be a painting. A wonderland filled with lovely, kind people and hardly any traffic. A land where driving is a pleasure; something to be enjoyed. A land where the pace of life is slow and relaxed, not rushed. A land where life is lived, not viewed through a window because you’re too busy.

Thanks to everyone that I’ve met along the way who’s made it a trip to remember.

Now Dad, when do you want to go?

New Zealand road trip: part four.

Queenstown back to Christchurch, via the West Coast and North.

Another couple of nights in Christchurch where I had a “welcome back and cheer up” Thursday night with Marsha and a few Friday night drinks with Steffi. Leaving Queenstown for the very last time, I set off on the last leg of my road trip. I was sad to leave; it’s a beautiful place and I have many happy memories there (yes, the ones I can remember when alcohol wasn’t involved) and made a brilliant friend in Marsha. The last morning I was there she sat up in bed and said “don’t go, stay here and we’ll get a house and live in Queenstown”. Haha. I suspect she was still drunk from the night before but well, if I could have, I’d have been tempted. She’s a good friend and I miss her already 😦

I set off to drive up the West Coast, the first real stop to be the Fox and Franz Josef glaciers. The drive through the Haast Pass was stunning, again all windy roads with mountains and lakes as the backdrop. This one was a little bit different though, and gave an idea how the landscape was going to be changing as I moved north. Lots of trees and green (and a bit of cloud and drizzle). The road was also full of Ferraris coming the other way, but I suspect this wasn’t an every day occurrence though. Looked like some kind of weekend cruise for an owners club. Reminded me of when I was part of the Lincs Mini Owners Club and we’d go out in convoy. A bunch of minis pootling along Lincolnshire country roads isn’t quite the same as a bunch of red (and the odd yellow) Ferraris racing (this is not an inaccurate description) around the winding roads of New Zealand, but, well, I know which car I’d rather be in (and it doesn’t begin with F).

After a day of stopping at waterfalls, beaches (with the most amazing driftwood), swamps and lagoons along the way I ended up at a DOC campsite somewhere on the West Coast (they all started to merge into one after a while, and just became somewhere to stop). Daylight savings had kicked in so it started getting dark at about 6:30pm. When you’re on your own in a tent with a torch that I don’t know how much battery was left, there’s not a lot to do at night so night’s were pretty uneventful after the previous week’s camping. I’d set my tent up, eat something then read for an hour or two before falling asleep. I’m pretty sure I was asleep by 8pm one night. Not a problem per se, until I kept waking up at about 10:30/11pm and thinking I’d had a full nights sleep. It was quite confusing. At least I wasn’t also waking up wondering where the hell I was, it’s quite clear when you’re in a tent.

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One slightly rainy night with loads of sand-flies later, I hit the road again to get to the glaciers. Just a word on sand-flies, in case I’ve not mentioned them before (can’t remember whether I have or not). I thought I didn’t like mosquitoes until I got here. Sand-flies are the only bad thing about New Zealand. They’re relentless and EVIL. Well, the female ones are, because they’re the ones that bite. If only they were different colours, you’d know which ones to swat away when a MILLION land on you and start chomping. The tiger balm I got in SE Asia that’s amazing for insect bites came out again. Because sand-fly bites itch. LIKE HELL. Camping is tricky, because they get into your tent and it’s hard to stop them. At least it gave me something to do that night after dark; find and get rid of the little bastards. I didn’t fancy them thinking they’d got a all-you-can-eat buffet for the next 8 hours or so I was in there.

The glaciers are pretty. They’re not quite as I pictured though. I expected nice shiny blue/white ice, all glistening and pretty. In reality, they’re covered in soil and rocks that have fallen on it from all the movement of the ice and mountains and you can’t get too close because they’re pretty darn dangerous. You can go ice climbing and walking on there and stuff, but it’s mega expensive and relies on the weather. The day I got there started well when I walked to Fox glacier but gradually turned cloudy and rainy. I walked to the Franz Josef glacier in pouring rain and got soaked, but there was no way that I wasn’t going to walk all the way to see it. Was it worth it? Yes, because I would have regretted it if I didn’t, but I did think that Fox was better. Both beautiful walks though, through the valleys where the glaciers used to be (not sure valleys is the right word but not sure what they’re actually called) with different coloured rock, waterfalls and a bit of a barren, stark beauty.

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Glaciers down and a cheeky drizzly walk around Lake Matheson. Then, another night, another pretty DOC campsite.

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The next morning I drove the short distance to a small town on the coast called Hokitika, where I spent the morning carving my own bone and shell pendant with Don King. Well, not actually Don King, but Steve, the shop owner, sure did look like him. A great way to spend a rainy morning, much fun and I’m pretty stoked with my piece of jewellery, which is actually supposed to be two bird wings in the shape of a heart. Whether you think that’s what it is is up for debate, but that’s what it started out as from a sketch by the lovely Dan.

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Unfortunately the rain didn’t really stop much, so I had a drizzly cloudy drive through Arthurs Pass, but it was still pretty amazing, even in the mist. The only thing not amazing was the crisps I bought in Arthurs Pass village for $5.50. Daylight robbery, they are $1.50 in the shops anywhere else! That’s what you get from a shop in the middle of a mountain pass I guess. And, I could have just not bought them, but I had a serious craving for salt and vinegar crisps and I just HAD to have them.

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Another night, another DOC site and a drive through Springfield (complete with pink doughnut) and I got to the seaside, whoop whoop! This time on the east coast in Kaikoura where I had an hour or two strolling along the top of the cliffs watching the sea, marvelling at the sky and the flocks of birds flying in the shape of a dolphin (yes, REALLY). Incredible. Followed by watching seal pups play in a waterfall and stream. Mum, again, you would have LOVED this.

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Another night, at a beachside DOC site this time. After a beautiful sunrise and being given breakfast from a lovely couple from the North Island in their campervan (which doesn’t sound like a lot but when your normal breakfast is a banana, or sometimes a banana and a cereal bar, a bowl of cereal and bit of warm toast with jaaaaaaam is like a veritable banquet fit for a king), I drove up to Picton and across along Queen Charlotte Drive towards Nelson through the Marlborough Sounds.

A beautiful drive but, like Arthurs Pass, a bit obscured by low cloud and drizzle. Still, it’s fun to drive round incredibly twisty blind roads in the mountains near the water (hmm, no wonder my injured arm is hurting). I was also kept amused by all the post boxes. As they’re all little boxes on the side of the road rather than letter boxes in doors, some people decide to go to town and have all sorts of stuff. Little houses, animals, stick men on horses, vehicles, fish, you name it, they had it. My favourite was the mini campervan. An exact replica, in mini size. Wasn’t able to stop and get a picture though unfortunately, you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

I stayed in Nelson for two nights, but didn’t really see anything. Two reasons. One, I had a load of admin to do, having not had internet for ages and two, it got stormy. Proper gale force winds, heavy rain and flooding. Luckily, I wasn’t camping, I’d treated myself to a hostel for a couple of nights. I couldn’t have timed it better, although looking back, I should have stayed another night, but I was getting cabin fever and needed to get back out on the road. It carried on raining and flooding on Good Friday and my plan was to drive up to Golden Bay and Farewell Spit (and Abel Tasman National Park), right at the north west corner of the North Island, but I didn’t manage it. It was raining and flooding so bad the roads were being washed away. And yes I had a ute, but I’m pretty sure Mike wouldn’t have appreciated me trying to go all Indiana Jones in his car. So, after about an hour and a half of driving and it getting worse and worse, I turned round and headed back, and ended up in a DOC campsite in Nelson Lakes National Park. It was still raining when I pitched up, so I spent the night in the back of the truck. There was no way I was pitching a tent in that. When I went to sleep I was the only vehicle in the whole campsite, but when I woke up there was a campervan right next to me. Like, about 2 feet away. The rest of the site was empty. Why? Strange people. That’s like blokes taking the next urinal when there’s other empty ones, or someone sitting right next to you on a bench when the other end is free. We Brits just don’t do that.

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The weather got better the next day. The rivers were still high but the rain had stopped and rainbows were out. The clouds started to lift and by the time I got to Hanmer Springs the sun was out and it was a beautiful Autumn day, perfect for scrunching all the leaves and climbing to the top of Conical Hill.

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And then, just as quick as it started, I was back in Christchurch and my road trip was over. Safely back in one piece, nearly 4000km later, I’d had the most amazing 6 weeks.

Incredible scenery and time out to spend by myself. To be at one with nature and the outdoors. Yes, I know it sounds wanky but it’s true. When I was at the top of Mount John or the Sealy Tarns with no one else around, it was so peaceful and so good for the soul. You should try it sometime. I’ve always liked and needed my own space, and loved the outdoors, but this was just something else. I’ve decided mountains are good for me, it’s just a shame we don’t have that many in the UK.

I met some truly brilliant people along the way, and had so much fun. I don’t think I’ve laughed so much in a while, and I’ve learnt so many things (mainly being that I just can’t drink on consecutive nights, or that if I’m going to drink shots I need to prepare myself for a hangover the next day, REGARDLESS of how much water I drink and how many burgers I eat at 3am).

I’ve experienced that kindness and generosity of strangers yet again, and been surrounded by people who are open, friendly, positive and enthusiastic. Whether I’m in a travellers bubble, or that’s just New Zealand, I’m not sure. Maybe a bit of both, Either way, I’m not complaining.

I can’t end of course without saying one last thank you to Mike, for the loan of his truck and Jennie, for her amazing hospitality. They’ve been the backbone and launching pad for my adventure and I’ll not forget it.

South Island, it’s been a total pleasure.