On the 20th August 2015, Ruth and I put our bikes in bags, taped our panniers together and headed for the airport. It was not, however, to head for the next leg of our trip in Vietnam but, rather, back to Ireland.
Though we have only been on the road for two months out of a planned ten/eleven month tour, our trip has for the moment been put on hold. There were no broken bones, no drug related chases for the border and no horrific break up that was the reason for the decision to return home.
The reason was something that is never talked about in the travel and adventure world. That is just the simple fact of not enjoying the travel itself. This is especially never discussed (and we googled the hell out of it) in relation to traveling as a couple and how to deal with it. I remember reading somewhere before about people who travel reaching their 'saturation point'. This is the point in a journey where a mountain is just another mountain and a village just another village. Ruth reached her saturation point.
We were meant to be entering the Asian leg of the trip, the part I was both most nervous and excited about. Ruth has been obsessed with Vietnam’s history for years and it has been at the top of her travel bucket-list for years, but her heart just wasn’t in it. She had been steadily unwell since the first week of the trip, feeling pretty crap and a few weeks in she expressed her concerns about continuing into the trip. We chatted it out and agreed that her concerns were probably just a settling in stage and would pass. They didn't.
About a week after this, Ruth sat me down over coffee for to talk. I knew before she even said anything what it was about. I could tell over the last few days that she wasn't herself and I knew something was up. She explained that, despite loving bicycle touring and the nomadic lifestyle, the heat we were experiencing (due to the freak heatwave all over Europe) was a little more than she was mentally prepared for right now. I won’t lie – I was pretty angry and extremely disappointed at first. We had been looking forward to the trip for years and I was fully prepared to continue on, but I understood what she meant.
Something I have learned from doing long distance cycling is that it is much more of a mental game than a physical one. Like Paul Kimmage once said, "With weak legs and a good head you can go a long way. With good legs and a weak head you go nowhere". Now, Ruth has great legs! But her head just wasn’t in it. No matter how physically capable you are of continuing on with the journey, if your head isn't in it, there's nothing you can do.
We could have easily decided to fly out to Vietnam (the next leg of the trip) there and then, avoiding the 40-45 degree heat we were experiencing in Europe. But we felt that this would result in us half-arsing the trip and we’d end up not getting to do what we really wanted to do. Plus, it would mean missing out of the majority of our European leg. So, it was a toss-up – a shorter trip with more fun or a longer trip with one of us miserable. Not exactly a tough decision! We decided to shorten our tour to just doing the Mainland Europe and Iceland legs, getting to see everything we’d planned to see there.
We increased our daily budget to compensate for the extreme heat. This meant we could stay in an air-conditioned room every now and again so we didn't have to deal with sweating like a turkey at Christmas every night in our tent. We also made a crucial decision to increase our budget for fresh, healthy food. Diet, we’re convinced, had the single greatest impact on Ruth’s head in the first few weeks. Going from eating a well-rounded, nutritious diet before leaving to surviving on bread, porridge and pasta was, in hind-sight, destined for disaster! Great for energy, crap for nutrition. Upping the budget allowed us to eat well and really enjoy every minute of the rest of the tour.
Of course, this all took some serious consideration but we were happy with our final decision. Despite this, though, we were filled with dread - the dread that we now had to tell people that we would be home so soon after the big goodbye parties. I would be lying if I said that this didn't worry me more than the actual decision to end early itself.
At home we always do what makes us happy, not what we think we should do. This lack of giving a shit about what people think attitude was only enhanced then when we were touring. (When you know you always smell from cycling so much and have a general look of a hobo, you need to not care). But that is one of the beauties of bicycle touring – you realise it doesn’t matter. It took me by surprise then that we were caring so much about what people would think of us coming home after the European leg.
The more we thought about it though, the more we realised that we had nothing to be embarrassed about. We had cycled around 2,000km in 6 weeks, in temperatures reaching 45 degrees Celsius and completing up to 130km some days. We had shit in the woods, drank straight from rivers and cycled over 1200m passes in the Alps with gradients up to 18%. We had just got our asses out of our comfortable beds, turned off the TV and cycled from Ireland to Dubrovnik. If that wasn't something to be proud of then I don't know what is.
So does this mean the end of Ar An Rothar? It most certainly does not. In the coming days I will be continuing on to Iceland for a three week expedition style bicycle tour through the country’s highlands. We will complete our Vietnam leg in 2017 and will continue on with the rest of the planned route over the next few years but in smaller intervals.
There might even be a multi-day endurance bicycle race thrown in there also…. What can I say-I’m a glutton for punishment!
So, we just want to thank everyone for their support before we departed on our trip and for just showing an interest! We had a truly unforgettable experience. We met some brilliant people (some of which we hope to meet again) and saw some of the most amazing places. Hopefully you’ll continue to follow us as we follow our dream of cycling the world … one little bit at a time. Thank you.
ar an rothar
endurance cyclist, adventurer and usually hungry