This is the 7th of 12 stories (ending with Homecoming) about my Life on the Ride transeuropean bicycle touring adventure, a journey of 4220km in 55 days from Finland to Portugal. You can watch the original summary video on YouTube of the entire journey here, as well as part 1 (of the full and 5 part in-depth documentary series) to which this and the following blog post are directly associated here.
As if suddenly snapped out of a long sleep, I found myself at the front of a ferry terminal marshalling lane at Turku Harbour waiting to board the overnight Viking Line service to Stockholm. It was as dark and dismal as a day could be at this time of year, with the incessant, bone-chilling rain depressively washing, in almost synchronous waves, over the 5 or so rows of cars, me and my bicycle, the only vehicle without a roof. Yet, I was hardly cognisant of the weather, as my mind was elsewhere, far away flying over the sunny, bone dry plains of Spain.
Some three weeks earlier, the scenes inside my head were rather different. Deep melancholy inducing images of the coming Nordic winter were beginning to exert their usual seasonal downward pressure, but this year, something was different. I was regularly starting to catch my consciousness seemingly floating outside my body, observing and evaluating my actions from constantly changing vantage points, in the same way that a person would be aware of the movements and behaviours of an avatar they were controlling in a role playing video game. This newly found detachment of mind and body also was providing some much needed temporary relief from the vice-like egoistic grip of my self-absorbed passive existence, which had come to border on depression. And it was during one of the those windows of opportunity, that I mustered up enough strength to pull myself out of the stagnant mud pool I’d been stuck waist deep in.
Then, on a Saturday morning in mid September, one which was otherwise no different or special to any other, I awoke to recognise the presence of a small yet clear and intense flame burning within me. I’d not noticed it before, but there it was. Whether it was a consequence of my unconscious efforts over time, or the undeserved grace of universal design, it had somehow been ignited and had now grown strong enough to reach my waking attention. I didn’t know exactly what it meant, but it had the power to provide some desperately needed emotional warmth. It also started to direct me in ways that only a few weeks earlier would have never come to mind. One was to trigger the seemingly random impulse to go and visit a bike shop and, without any preconceived thought or hesitation, to tell a salesperson that I wanted to ride a bicycle to Portugal, in response to their standard opening line of “How can I help you today?” Three weeks after that unplanned outburst, which shocked me just as much as it must have amused the salesman, there I was, soaking in the humidity of the cold and wet sea air, ready to push my fully laden touring bicycle up a ferry ramp to begin my life on the ride.
For many years I’d felt like I was living my life in a cold, sterile cell devoid of interesting and engaging sensory input and interactions. So, more accurately, I was just existing. Was this due to the tumultuous fallout period that often follows failed marriages, from an identity crisis forming on the back of pent up potential and unrealised goals, or had I just simply become disillusioned with doing the same things, which, in my heart, I knew would never bring me happiness, despite multiple repeated attempts? Regardless, I now felt the warmth of that flame steadily growing — and though it wasn’t yet strong enough to fully illuminate the route I was to take, I knew that it was at least pointing me in the right direction.
Was the main purpose of this journey all just about riding a bike to Portugal? Hardly, though heading southwards with the birds to escape a cold Nordic winter would certainly have already been a good enough reason as any. But deep down I knew why I had to do this, and it had been a long time coming. However, at this moment in time, I was simply happy to stand at this point of departure — and though I’d not yet take more than a few steps, or should I say revolutions towards my destination, I already felt free, as I was now, finally, homeward bound.
Watch Penance, part 1 of the 5 documentary journey video series on YouTube here.