– by Douglas Dewey –
My eyes snap open to golden dappled rays silhouetting pine branches above – beneath me a pillow of twigs and earth, nearby a lake nestled between snowy peaks shimmers enticingly.
My legs are in a tent, my body protruding out. I think I’m naked.
A squirrel scales a trunk and scrabbles across neighbouring branches noisily, taunting my laziness. My girlfriend is already up and awake, standing by the shore of the lake with eyes to the giant glacier, glowing in sunlight. This is Canada.
Not long ago I was in America and before that Trinidad, Granada, The Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Haiti.
I used to be a cyclist but you’d be forgiven for not knowing it. Six months ago I was living in a room in France, riding for a Division One team – U.C. Nantes Atlantique – and racing some of the highest level amateur events in the country.
I dreamt of being Bradley Wiggins or Fabian Cancellara; now I only dream of being myself. How did I go from aspiring to the World Tour to touring the world?
Well, that’s a good question.
At the beginning of 2014 I was in the form of my life and the results showed that.
I won a Plages Vendée race, one of the early season series races with all the big teams present, off the front solo after a late attack.
Riding strongly for the team the following fortnight our sprinter took out some big wins in bunch gallops and then in March I won the Fleche Locminé classic. Division One demands a large quantity of racing though and as a strong squad of potential winners we had a lot of responsibility and a high workload in the bunch.
True to my form in previous seasons I struggled to recover over time and essentially ran myself ragged.
This, coupled with an increasingly disenchanted view on the narrow minded psyche employed by some people involved in the cycling world I began seeking adventure in other areas.
The magical freedom and creativity that racing had always given me was being soured by a feeling of being trapped and neutered by a system.
I was a mere drop in the oily cycling ocean and needed to conform to progress, apparently; a concept which clashed drastically with my pursuit of perfection and aims to be exceptional.
It probably also clashed with my ego.
Chronic fatigue was the nail in my season’s coffin and after weeks of inability to train I left France and all it entailed with a few days notice.
I didn’t know what I was searching for but I knew I wasn’t going to find it there, or within any system, so I bought a one way ticket to the Dominican Republic and set off.
Without responsibility, without baggage, without a bike for the first time in years I set off to gain what I could as a ‘chancer’ again, just as I’d always been as a road rider trying my luck with late escapes.
I only realise now, months later, how my skills from cycling guided me throughout my unorthodox trip from Haiti, through the Caribbean, into and then across America and ending up in Canada.
Arriving in the Dominican Republic with no Spanish wasn’t half as daunting as I’d experienced it twice before, in Belgium and France.
When I ran out of money and water walking along the south coast of Haiti it wasn’t so bad because I didn’t have a wheel to follow and I could go at my own pace. After travelling long distances to races and sleeping in all manner of difference digs every night, sleeping under the stars in Key West and New Orleans was really rather pleasant.
Despite the seemingly huge differences between a cycling career and travelling on the cheap for nine months the skills are actually very transferable!
It is a rare person who has ridden through sun and hail and over mountains and crashed and carried on, always carried on, with head held high, and these are qualities that make great people.
I have loved cycling and I still do. I also love travelling and what it teaches me.
Whatever you do it is vital to do it for the right reason and I say ‘reason’ – singular – because the only true reason is love.
For now my ‘world tour’ has bought me back to home shores but I don’t doubt that the call of adventure will lure me away again in no time and what the bike taught me will serve me well once again …