Here are just a few of the collected lists and ramblings that have spilled from my brain over the last few weeks...
Music. Travel broadens the mind, so they say. That may be true but, unless you're travelling with an iPod stuffed with all your favourite music, it plays havoc with your mental jukebox. For example, where on earth else would you be subjected to such a selection of cringe-worthy greats (and I use the term inadvisedly) as Joe Jackson's "Stepping Out", Heart's "Alone", and Shakin' Stevens' "Green Door", alongside more acceptable miscellanea like The Pogues "Fairytale of New York", Foo Fighters "No Surrender" and well, just about anything from Radiohead, Simon and Garfunkel and, as a wildcard, Abba. Let's face it, if it was a party, you'd tuck a bottle into your coat, make some feeble excuse and leave. No radio station (in this country) would survive for five minutes.
Yep, travel may broaden your mind, but that doesn't mean that it doesn't mess it up. In space, no one can hear you hum... and I like it!
Lists Lists are sloppy. Lists are lazy. Lists are bad journalism, filler between content segments. Lists make cheap telly and fill newspaper supplements while talented people are on holiday. Here are some lists, then, as I'm on holiday, make no pretence to talent and I'm lazy.
Best campsites: * Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland (bathrooms with baths in them, @ 50p per fill) * Applecross, Wester Ross, Scotland (cafe bar with good food and Leffe in bottles, friendly staff and an amazing view) * The Old Station, Tintern, Gloucestershire (£3 for your own unmowed Monmouthshire flower meadow. No showers, but you won't have any neighbours either)
Worst campsites: * Port Ban, Knapdale, Scotland (tent pitches half a mile downhill from the facilities; thistles, barely an inch of soil) * Pant Farm, Carmarthen, Wales (pants. Big, saggy elasticated pants. No soil, 1940s facilities and no atmosphere. The worst day of my journey by a long way) * Sands of Luce (tried to charge me £15 for a night in a one man tent. Dropped it to a tenner, but still... )
Stats, as of day 52 Rain days: 32 Sun days: 20
Components and kit broken/swapped/replaced * New tent * New cycling shoes * New shoe cleat bolts (can't ride without them) * New chain, cassette, chainrings, gear cables, rear tyre * Broken rack mounting bolts (rack and all luggage swaying and clunking about like a drunk horse on a skateboard. Probably. I've never seen one.)
Crying There have been many tears in the last 50-odd days. Tears of sadness at leaving my friends and loved ones for so long. Tears of frustration at the four-day, forty knot headwinds, or the soaking wet tent in a field with no shelter and no soil. Tears of joy at climbing mountains, at the revelation of breathtaking vistas and sublime sunsets, at wildlife so wild it hasn't realised I'm a threat, and on realising that, at 37, my father could no more have done this than flown to the moon, so grave was his illness. Tears of sadness for him, and for the people I've lost, friends I will always miss.
Travel frees your mind, but freedom is unconditional, and my mind has trespassed into all the dark corners and trampled on all the sore spots I have. I have cried tears of self-pity, alone in a faceless, joyless field, with only packet pasta for company and the sound of bickering caravanners to lull me to sleep. I've cried angry tears too; overhearing other people's stories of absent friends who can no longer make it to their favourite cafe as their chemotherapy has robbed them of the strength to lift the teacups, and realising that I can do all of that, and more, and that I've been a selfish, self-pitying and spoilt child. There is more to life than ease, convenience and comfort. It's a hard lesson to learn, but (I hope) one I won't forget in a hurry. Mostly though, I've cried because I realise that I'm free, and that I always was.