I have always loved a good adventure; however, finding one that meets my requirements has often been difficult. There are lots of adventure packages to choose from such as those wrapped up in Red Letter Days or charity mountain climbs.
The problem I always have, however, is in the back of my mind I feel like a fraud. As I stand in anticipation with a bunch of other wannabee Sir Randolph Fiennes in their sparkling new kit I can’t help but think that I am here with expertly trained guides who have done this adventure 200 times before. They have more health and safety rules in place than an average nuclear power station and have so much insurance cover that a rescue helicopter is practically hovering overhead.
As I wait for my adventure to begin superficial fear is created as the group works itself into frenzy about the unknown. Staff trained in the art of increasing the fear stakes work hard to delude the paying customer. It’s like the fake roar and smoke screens created by dry ice machines on the big ride at the local amusement park.
I have done this too many times before feeling the vacuous void of a deluded achievement.
On this trip I am always interested in how far I can push myself. The knowledge of being unprepared, imperfect knowledge, limited experience, nobody to show me or fall back on in an attempt to know my true limitations interests me. This is not to say that I am reckless, but I am acutely conscious that enabling an element of suffering has the ability to heighten and toughen the senses.
Of course one man’s adventure is another man’s day job and there is always someone willing to push harder and longer. I am amazed how quickly my perception can change. It took me some time to find the confidence to do this trip and even now people have said I am brave. I very quickly realise, however, that this is a breeze and the true adventurers to admire are people such as:
This point aside but setting a relevant context, today I took the opportunity to create my own mini adventure.
It is not supposed to snow or reach minus temperatures in the Czech Republic in October, but some abnormal conditions have floated around in Central Europe for a few days.
On waking from my slumber, for one hour there was no way in a million years I was going to attempt another cycle today. I was frozen under the covers and I could see the snowfall from my bed in the changing room of a football club. But I was feeling confident and inquisitive. Unsure of my full thought processes I find myself starting to put on every single item of warm weather clothing I have. I complement my fingerless gloves with the ingenious idea of taping my fingers up with black shiny electrical tape in an attempt to keep the cold at bay.
Before leaving the town of Sedclany I called into the local supermarket to pick up some food provisions. The looks I get confirming that I must look like a complete ‘nutter’. My top half was Michelin man with rolls of layered summer clothing, my bottom half adorning cycling shorts over combat trousers with my right trouser leg tucked firmly into my white cycling sock. My head looking like root vegetable with a poke of hair popping up out of the top my tightly wrapped chilli bean bandana. Oh and of course I look like I’ve got Darth Vader fingers wrapped in black tape. Yes, I looked like the village idiot but bizarrely quite liked the attention.
Of course just to give myself an added complication to the frankly stupid weather my bike gears are technically ‘fcuked’ (Note: first use of swear word but severity of expression is required) and none of them will engage. Riding around the car park manually fiddling with the rear derailleur I find a couple that work and also simultaneously realise that taping my fingers has meant my fingers have gone numb since I have no warm blood circulation.
The tape comes off the fingers and my adventure starts.
The sky is grey, there is a light settling of snow, the freezing cold wind is horrendous and I know I have 50 km to cover since there are not too many places in-between in the hilly region that I can stay. I am encouraged, however, by the fact that:
- I have the luxury of money that can generally buy you out of any predicament.
- I have a map.
- I have a phone.
- I can wave my hands like a lunatic at somebody if I really can’t deal with it. (In my mind I am reassuringly reminded by the picture of a car that the man who ran the football club I stayed in drew on my receipt just before I left)
Of course as I climb the hills much more quickly than I thought possible things start to go wrong, the light snow starts to blizzard, snow starts to settle, visibility decreases, I’m soaking and frozen and of course I can’t find a single gear on the bike. I am about 20km in and I know I can simply go back but unfortunately I know once I have my mind set on a target destination I will make it even if I have to walk.
At the time I just shouted “idiot” at myself repeatedly. Retrospectively, however, I am interested in where the mind can wander when the going gets a bit touch. Initially erratic thoughts bouncing from positive to negative, rational to irrational, focused to sporadic.
“Just give in you don’t have to do this”
“ I’m am going to cycle this whole trip if it kills me”
“It’s only about 30 kms more”
“I can’t feel my hands”
“Remember that guy cycling across Siberia that is true adventure this is nothing”
“I’m shivering, is it hypothermia?”
“It’s not Everest, it 500m above sea level in the middle of Europe”
“Stop being so melodramatic”
“My mum would kill me”
“Did you never see the film where the world froze over”
“I’m supposed to be enjoying this trip”
“Adventure is exactly what you are looking for”
“How long is it before limbs start dropping of in extreme cold”
“I never heard of anyone loosing limbs to frost bite outside the Himalayas”….. And the list goes on.
Since I can’t use my hands anymore to try and attempt to fix the gear problem I decide to on the walking option of 29km to my destination town of Tabor. The only saving grace that in walking I was able to feel my feet again. My overactive mind finally finding some quiet in the song “she’ll be coming round the mountain when she comes” as I push on.
7km outside my goal of the town of Tabor I can take it no more. I see a car parked outside a wooden roadside shack and a small hanging beer sign. I stumble in to a man drinking beer, smoking a pipe and large motherly woman sat by the red glow of a wood heater. I felt like shouting “I am a hero” but instead mumble “Cafe” and was handed a warm mug. Getting money out was impossible so I pathetically dropped my wallet to the table its contents pouring out. I did not care what the woman took. I proceed to slowly peel off my layers and hang them up around the room the woman bringing me a bowl of warm soup out of a pan on top of the wood burner. I sat there for 2 hours slowly regaining the life to continue the last few kilometres. The odd person came in and drank beer, they talked and laughed in a smoky room full of darts trophies along the wall, a play boy calendar by the door and sleeping cat sat by the stove.
Walking away up the hill out of the shack it did not take long to get cold again but I knew I was at the end and although knowing I had been a fool felt a great sense of achievement.
Looking out of the window of a pension in Tabor I said to myself there is no way I am doing that again but I knew in the back of my mind that I would. Perhaps just changing a couple of things like functioning gears and winter clothes for the next adventure I create.