**Warning. This is another long one. You might want to get a cuppa and settle in for this one!**
When I decided to go home I also decided I would try to surprise my parents and not tell them I was coming back. My parents are my biggest supporters and I wanted to do something nice for them.
I have never been that long without seeing them and I missed them, but I am also the worlds worst secret keeper, especially when it comes to keeping secrets from my parents and it has been that way since I was little. – ‘Mum we made something for you at school today but I’m not supposed to tell you.’ – so I knew this was going to be the biggest challenge of my life. Literally.
When I’ve done something I am proud of, or when something has gone wrong I revert to my 5 year old self and the first person I want to speak to is my Mum, and then I know she will tell my Dad all about it. They have taken so many phone calls from me when I have been in tears, bailed me out when I lost my wallet and helped me buy stuff I have needed. They have encouraged me to keep going, they have never doubted me and always made it clear that I could come home whenever I wanted to.
When I made the decision to go home I had no money and no cards to pay for anything with so I had to call on a bit of help from friends and family. My amazing friend Caroline let me book a flight on her card which wasn’t straightforward but we managed it in the end. I spent so long stressing about whether I was doing the right thing by coming home but as soon as I booked the flight I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. Knowing there was an end meant I could relax a bit and enjoy it more. I made my way to Jakarta because it was significantly cheaper to fly from there than it was to go from Bali, plus there would likely be less disruption if Mt Agung decided to blow.
HOT TIP: Singapore Airlines are a great choice if you are flying with sports equipment because they include the bike in your luggage allowance, so as long as you are under 30kg the bike is free, plus you get 10kg of hand luggage.
My plan was to fly to the UK and then go to Lanzarote a few days later to surprise my Mum and Dad together, but of course things don’t always go to plan and my Mum buggered things up a bit by deciding to come back to the UK for an operation on her knee. So I had to hide out in the UK for 2 weeks while I pretended to be in Jakarta for a week and then Singapore for a week. That was tough and stressful! I dealt with it by basically going off the radar and ignoring their calls. Not the best strategy because it made them suspicious, but I didn’t know what else to do!
Finally the day came when Mum came home and I went with her friend Rachel to collect her from the airport. The surprise was a success, she was suspicious that I was going to come home for Christmas but she had no idea I would be at the airport then. I am sad that I didn’t get to surprise them both together, but we FaceTimed my Dad from the airport and he was even more surprised than my Mum was. He was just going to sleep so he thought he was dreaming!
I made a whole bunch of videos to document my journey home and if I can get around to editing them together one day I will share them with you!
What a funny old year it has been. I feel like it has gone so quickly and yet when I think back to this time last year, hiking through Auckland, it feels like it was a whole lifetime ago, so lets get the shit bits out of the way first…
JULIA / GROWLER
This is without doubt the worst moment of 2017. Growler – the friend I made in the PCT in 2015 and who I started out hiking the Te Araroa with – one day just walked off without an explanation or an apology. That was 9 months ago and I’ve not heard a thing from her since. Still no explanation, still no apology. I considered her a great friend, someone I could belly laugh with until I was in pain, and someone I could talk to about anything and everything. I guess that’s what hurt the most, the fact she couldn’t talk to me about whatever it was that caused her to leave.
One of the hardest things to mourn the loss of someone who is still alive. Grief is a funny thing. It sneaks up on you and smacks you in the face when you’re not even thinking about it. I try to put it out of my mind and it works a lot of the time, but not all the time.
Rory. He was a dick. He is still a dick. I presume he always will be, a dick.
My future husband Levison Wood never replied to my message(s). Crushed.
I am no longer involved with Love Her Wild. It was just a reminder that people can have two very different sides to them and you should be careful who you trust.
Some friends stay in touch, and some don’t. I feel like I have lost touch with a lot of my friends this time around, but that is just the way it goes, I guess.
Coming back to England was a gamble. I didn’t know how I was going to feel or how I was going to react. What I have come to realise is that it will be different every time. It is influenced by so many things. This time it was a lot easier that it has been in the past, this time I was ready to come home. But there are still moments when I feel myself teetering on the edge of despair.
Having walked over 7000 miles and cycled a few thousand and having climbed a few mountains it would be reasonable to think I am a quite active person, but sometimes I really have to fight the overwhelming desire to stay in bed all day with my head under the covers in an attempt to block out the world, but getting outside and being active does help with the control of the post-adventure-blues.
One of the biggest things I have learnt about myself during these bad times is that I don’t deal with having my trust abused very well, but ultimately I just need to put it in the fuckit bucket and move on.
It is easy to let the shit bits of the year overwhelm the good bits, but writing this makes me realise that there have been so many more good bits than bad bits in 2017…
I didn’t tell my parents I was coming home, but I did tell a lot of other people. I needed help with getting home and places to stay etc. Seeing my friends was just perfect and it really filled that void in my heart. There are some friends that will always be there for you no matter what. That is something to be grateful for.
BEING AT HOME
The first thing I noticed about being back in the UK was the freshness of the air. After being in Jakarta I felt like I was breathing fresh mountain air when I was in central London! And we know London air is not like fresh mountain air. This continued for at least 2 weeks, every time I walked out the door I felt like I was drinking the air, I could feel the crisp freshness swirling around my lungs and nourishing my body.
The downside of crisp fresh air is that it really dries out your skin, in the humidity my skin feels amazing!
In my hometown of Salisbury we have a massive cathedral. It has the tallest spire in the UK and it dates back to the 12th century. I went to school in the cathedral grounds and I walked right past it every day to get there. I cartwheeled right down the middle of it when I was about 10 years old as part of a school service and I have vague memories of carrying a giant flag there to represent 80 years of the Brownies and Guides. Yet you forget just what an incredible building it is. After my experience at the Indonesian temples I felt like I was seeing the cathedral for the first time and I spent a while reflecting and reminiscing in the cathedral grounds. It is easy to forget what you have at home, but sometimes going away and coming back is the only way to realise it.
HOME FROM HOME
After being in the UK for a month it was time to go to Lanzarote and spend Christmas with my parents. I finally got to see my Dad and it was great to be able to spend some quality time with both of them and just be back in that safe environment where you feel loved unconditionally.
My cousin Hannah picked me up from the airport and her sister Laura made me the meal that I most wanted without knowing it was the meal I most wanted, a roast chicken dinner followed by apple crumble and custard. It couldn’t have been any better!
One of the first things I did at home was to go to Marks & Spencer and buy delicious biscuits. I was thrilled to discover my favourite biscuits have been made even better since I have been away by making a Dutch Shortcake into a Chocolate Dutch Shortcake. Yes! Although one thing I have noticed is that everything has gone up in price since I have been away.
As you know I struggled with the food in Indonesia so for the first month I was home I basically ate everything I could and I ate all the time! I definitely didn’t come back as skinny as I did last time, although I wasn’t eating that much in Indonesia, what I was eating was mostly fried. I have been staying with my aunt Lucinda who loves to cook as much as I hate cooking so I have been incredibly lucky to not have had to cook for myself hardly at all and I have been treated to delicious meals – I think I have made food for myself maybe twice in two months! As a result of eating everything in sight I put on a fair bit of weight since I have been at home and all my clothes are a bit tight, but I am also a different shape, all that cycling has changed the shape of my legs and bum – the Germans warned me about that!
When I went to Lanzarote my parents and I decided to try being vegan for 3 weeks. It was an interesting experiment and one I will try to write more in depth about soon…
JUST A DROP
Very few things make me happier than seeing a donation has been made to my chosen charity. To date I have raised £4,123.47 for Just A Drop which will provide over 4000 people with access to clean drinking water. This is something I am incredibly proud of.
I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who has taken the time to donate, especially all those people who have made multiple donations, your generosity is incredible and overwhelms me every time.
I have to give a special shout out to Jim. I met Jim on the PCT in July 2016 and he gave me a ride to Skykomish. Over a year later I received a message from him to say he had found my blog and he had binge read the entire thing, right from the beginning, in about 2 weeks. Given that he has so many amazing stories of his own, it is amazing that he wants to read mine! And after reading Jim made a very generous donation to Just A Drop. It amazes me that such brief, chance encounters can lead to something so wonderful.
I have applied for a few things. I applied to be part of a team rowing across the Pacific Ocean. I got the place but I ended up turning it down. It is a lot of money to row across an ocean, and you mostly try to raise it through sponsorship, but I had to be prepared to put up £20k myself if that money couldn’t be raised. I have never been in debt and it is one thing in life that really terrifies me, I may have lost out on opportunities because of that but that’s the way it is.
I applied to be part of a volunteering project in Nepal and I got accepted for that too. I only applied speculatively to see if I would be the right person, but it seems they just ignored that because they replied by telling me I had a place and to send them my flight details. Whoah. I wasn’t sure of my plans so I didn’t commit to it and let my place go, but it is still something I may return to.
My Crazy cycle touring German friends, Simon and Dominik, have finished with New Zealand and they are making their way back to Asia, they have invited me to travel with them
I also got in touch with the Indian Ocean rowing guys again and I haven’t really looked back. I’m not part of the team really, I am still just the reserve rower, but I have made myself a part of the group! After being in the UK for less than 12 hours I found myself at Canary Wharf in London where I got to meet the crew and see the boat for the first time.
It is thanks to the Indian Ocean guys that I have managed to – for the most part – fend off the post-adventure-blues. They asked me to redesign their website and that kept me busy for about three weeks. I was really enjoying doing something different and I was pleased to find that I hadn’t forgotten how to do it after being away for so long, it was also nice to discover that I still enjoy doing it.
Check out the website here: www.rowtheindianocean.com
Now I am still keeping myself busy with their social media channels and events. In return I get to row with them from Guernsey to Southampton at the end of March 2018. The row will take about 36 hours if all goes to plan and it will be cold and choppy I expect! But I am really looking forward to it and we think it is the first time anyone has attempted to row that route.
It will give me a great insight to life at sea in a tiny ocean rowing boat, which will either be helpful or it will put me off ocean rowing for life! I fully expect to suffer with seasickness but I think I will get away without having to poo in the bucket!
Like I said earlier, coming back from a big adventure (imagine that feeling when you come back from a 2 week holiday and multiply it by 100), although different every time, will always be tough. I am discovering ways of managing it and something that works for me is throwing myself into a project and being outside and active – if I can manage to drag myself out of bed.
PAYING IT FORWARD
Since being more involved with the ocean rowing scene I have started following a lot more ocean rowers in Instagram. I saw that a team had pulled into the marina in Lanzarote after a variety of problems affected their boat so I decided to go down and say hi. They were a great bunch of guys and we ended up hosting them for a couple of nights while they fixed the rudder and got new batteries installed on their boat.
They were a really nice group of guys and it was an absolute please to be able to start to repay a tiny bit of the kindness and generosity that people have shown me over the last few years.
You can read about and follow their journey here: www.rowingforrubicon.com
“Sometimes friends become strangers and sometimes strangers become friends.”
There may have been 3 people who really put a downer on 2017, but I can’t overlook all the incredible people I have met this year. My wonderful little Quebecois to whom I am eternally grateful for letting me tag along with them and being so wonderfully positive and a pleasure to travel with. Getting to see my little Crusher again and getting to know her a bit more. – that’s the thing when you make friends with people who are from different countries – you never know if you will get to see them again. My little (big) Germans who slowed down to travel with me right across the middle of Australia. Something I will remember for the rest of my life.
And to all the incredible people who took me in to their homes and gave me somewhere safe to stay for a night – or multiple nights – washed me and fed me, picked me up off the side of the road when I hitchhiked through New Zealand, stopped to make sure I have enough water as I was cycling through Australia, helped me when I was crying on the side of the road when I lost my wallet in Indonesia…there are too many of you to even contemplate listing for fear of missing someone out, but many of you started out as strangers and are now friends.
And there are some people I have never met, and maybe never will, but who have taken the time out to write to me through social media and my blog. I had an incredible response to my last post about deciding to come home, there were lots of people who sent nice supportive messages but I just wanted to share this one from a long term follower Katee, I have read this one multiple times (I might of shed a little tear the first time I read it) and I think others may benefit from it too:
“I have been following your adventures since your NOBO hike and have found you engaging, honest, funny, fearless ande bright. Never have I found you to be in the realm of failure no matter your decision or path. It’s all a continuous journey linked by starts, stops and holdovers. We are human, we need love, compassion, and human contact, we need and strive for that connection. Every explorer from the beginning of time had to go home to regroup, reconnect, and refuel.
Home is where you feel most loved, protected, and connected. There is no shame in being human. There is no shame in missing those you love, no shame in being afraid, and no shame in not enjoying something you thought you would. You wouldn’t have known that had you not tried. There is no shame in being able to afford to do something others only dream of. We all have a different path in life, this is yours and yours alone. No one can take that from you and no one should judge that path for they are not on it. You have allowed us all to follow along by your generous nature with blogging about your adventures. I thank you for that. You have opened up your life to the scrutiny of the world and that is an enormously brave thing. You open yourself up to others expectations, ideals and opinions. You have handled all of that beautifully, so please, please don’t let others taint your journey or make you feel obligated to feel a certain way based on others expectations.
Take your experiences, your lessons learned, the loves lost and take the time to reflect and process what it all means to you. You are in control of you, others can only affect you in a manner you allow. Don’t allow others to minimize what you have done, how you have felt, or the adventures you have had based on their envy or their inexplicable need to belittle those that can do what they cannot. You can feel any way you want about your choices and decisions, they are yours and how you truly feel in the quiet of your mind when you are honest with yourself is yours to know. I sincerely hope you are proud and feel happiness.
You have been brave, you have been adventurous, you have experienced other people and other cultures and have had hardship, fun, and have met people from all walks of life and have had experiences that will shape your life. Those of us that are following along will never really know the depth and breadth of your journey because at the end of the day it is your experience and even though you have shared it with us we did not touch it, smell it, or been emotionally impacted by it. The pain, the fear, the elation, the uncertainty, the exhilaration, those emotions are yours. No one can really know what you felt or how your life was impacted. That is what makes it yours. So in the quiet of the night, when you think back and reflect on your journey, try to not let others expectations and opinions cloud your experiences. It’s hard to block out the noise of everyday life, especially with all the technology, and it is hard to own your own happiness when you see, hear, or read others opinions of your life that you have so generously shared.
Be you Alex and feel what you feel. There is no right or wrong, there is just the truth of what you feel, and there is no shame in our emotions for we are all only human. Congratulations on your adventures this far and thank you for bringing us along. I hope the New Year brings you peace, prosperity, love and happiness. Hats off to all you have done and cheers to your future adventures wherever they take you.”
Now I have been back to ‘normality’ for the last 2 months of 2017 (yeah I got really behind on the blog) I sometimes wonder whether I did the right thing, because it is easy to do that looking backwards. I sometimes think I could have just carried on and wonder why I didn’t. But then I have to think back to how I was feeling when I made the decision to come home and I know it was the right thing to do.
The human mind has an incredible ability to compartmentalise those bad feelings which is where the term type 2 fun comes from. Even if you hated it at the time you will look back and think it was fun because you brain remembers the euphoria when you reached to top of the mountain and blocks out the pain and misery of getting there. Often when you read accounts of other peoples adventures they focus on the physical challenges and the physical pain and they forget to describe the mental challenges. The times when they missed home or the overwhelming sense of loneliness. The times when they felt like their heart was going to shatter or they cried for no reason.
I’m glad I kept a daily blog (even though it was harder than the adventure!) because when I am old and grey with double hip and knee replacements I can read it again. I have not re-read any of my posts yet, not even to correct all the spelling mistakes.
5 different countries, about half the year in my tent, too many awesome people to count, a proper crazy adventure – 2017 was pretty awesome really.
So as we head into 2018 it is time to draw a solid line under those shit bits, remember the good bits and leap headfirst into doing it all again!
I’m unsure exactly what 2018 will hold for me yet, but opportunities will arise, friendships will ebb and flow, there will be ups and downs and hopefully there will be a hefty dose of adventure!
LET’S GET SOCIAL
JUST A DROP
I continue to raise money for Just A Drop – they bring sustainable clean water, sanitation and hygiene projects to communities around the world.
663 million people across the globe are living without access to clean, safe water. That’s 1 in 10 people. A child dies every 90 seconds from a water related disease. One third of the worlds population – 2.4 billion people – don’t have access to adequate sanitation.
If you have enjoyed this blog, please consider donating a few…pounds / dollars / euros / yen… and together we can change lives.