What you should expect from a long bicycle journey
Bicycle touring for a sustained period of time is a…
Just thinking out loud about motivation and scribbling it down whilst sat on the ferry, back in the USA’s 49th state. At the moment I’m making my way up to a port near Anchorage (just below Denali National Park), on the Alaska Marine Highway. A journey north into the heart of the land of the midnight sun.
It’s a pretty indirect journey spread over two weeks of travel. I set off from Prince Rupert last week, the ferry then pulled into Wrangell, where I’ve spent the last four days battling the mosquitos. Now it’s a 3 hour journey to Petersburg, then Juneau, and finally Whittier in 10 days time, which marks the next section of the route – the longest one of all – from Alaska across Canada. It’s odd how such seemingly meaningless corners on an map can have such personal meanings.
Looking out from the railings is a thrilling sight. In between small towns, signs of human activity is non-existent, it’s just shimmering green water and dense forest as far as you can see. I’ve yet to see them, but there’s orcas in the drink and grizzlies amongst the trees. It’s an inspiring place to just look upon, reflect on the last several months, and look to the near-future knowing that this is the land that so many adventurous tales have been set in, and it’s clear to see why.
Motivation. When I was nearing the end of the East coast leg, and then again on the Southern states leg, on the hard days, knowing that I’d cycled the whole way meant it was easy to overcome any motivational struggles, because there was a rationale that went something like, ‘Well you’ve come this far, what’s another few days / miles / state lines?’. But on the West Coast leg, taking the bus ride from Northern California to Seattle was like an instant break, and I didn’t feel as attached to it.
I’m still totally focused on making this a project about the people along the way, and stopping in certain places when it seems right. Otherwise there’s little difference between rocking the exercise bike whilst typing ‘road sign’ into Google. Alaska is one of the places I’ve been most excited about all along, so I’m definitely going to spend time to soak it in, and have a few plans that if they come off will make for interesting and unusual experiences.
But, I know that everything will seem disconnected if the final stretch isn’t done by human power. That may seem a bit ridiculous, and that it really shouldn’t matter, even a contradiction when there’s been writing about constant movement being tough, but there’s a snowball effect attached to de-motivation and it’s something I’m keen to avoid on the biggest stretch of all. Just showing up, getting on with it, and creating a flow does a lot for your psyche, but when that synthesis breaks your motivation can soon follow.
People keep talking about the prairies in Canada, and how tough they are mentally, even when driving across them. There’s stories of people looking at a mountain in the distance and just driving for days without it getting any bigger. Driving, and being driven crazy by the endless and beautiful-at-first-but-soon-monotonous surroundings. Another cyclist I met in BC couldn’t hack it and jumped on a bus to ‘end the torture inside his head.’ Strong words that can drum up dread in anyone’s moments of insecurity or self-doubt.
There’ll surely be mind-games. You can take your ‘days in a car’ and convert it to ‘weeks on a bike’. But nothing with worth comes easily does it?