Enjoying a nice sunny fish off my bike at Lake Wendouree. Hunting trout with a mudeye under a float. 🚲🎣

Finished reading: Signs of Life: A doctor drops everything to ride around the world for six years 🚲📚🗺

I was down at my local library filling some hours in research of my sometime-in-the-future Europe trip when I happened across Stephen Fabes’ new cycle touring memoir Signs of Life: To the Ends of the Earth with a Doctor. What an awesome book and a happy chance I came across it.

Released in 2020 about a journey from 2010–2016, and filled from cover to cover with amusing anecdotes and frank observations of the different cultures and places Fabes found himself, it’s easy to assume this book is like every other travel book ever written. However, I found his self-aware and down-to-earth manner quite refreshing. He doesn’t ‘tackle’ the world like a cocksure adventurer with a sense of ‘conquest’ or other adversarial, heroic language: he slips by, humbly sneaking in and out of peoples’ lives, and manages to stay true to himself to the end.

His intelligence, education and worldview as an English emergency room doctor are plainly influential of his outlook and greatly influence his judgement of the various challenges he witnessed. It was very refreshing to read a well-written, thoughtful summation of an extraordinary journey.

Near the completion of six continents, end to end, and tallying some serious statistics — over 50,000 miles (85,000 kilometres) in 6 years; 75 countries; from -39°C in Mongolia to 46°C in Ethiopia; 221 punctures, etc. — he recoils at the idea he has done anything heroic. Quite the opposite: he admonishes himself for spending six years not “participating” in the world.

Throughout the book he displays a dislike, bordering on disdain, for what he terms “social media blowhards”. He visits a personal hero, Heinz Stücke in Hövelhof, Germany in the closing weeks of his journey. Heinz is famous for being the world’s most prolific cycle tourist, spending over fifty years on the road before returning home to meticulously catalogue every moment of those five decades. Stücke’s own journey made him misanthropic, untrusting and seemingly reinforced strong right-wing political views. Fabes, in contrast, comes home even more compassionate and hopeful about humanity than he left.

Fabes judges Stücke to be simply obsessed about clocking up miles and passport stamps, without truly appreciating the beauty and diversity of the world. The reader gets the impression (through Fabes’ disappointed perspective) that Stücke’s odyssey would have been vastly improved if there were no people at all on the way.

I think it was this aspect of the book: Fabes’ struggle to find a deeper meaning to what he was doing, to understanding other people despite his own biases, and to the human condition in general that makes this book worth the read. Yes it’s interesting from a cycle touring perspective but that’s not really what the book is all about. Some reviewers found the random jumps forward in time and skipping of places and events disappointing. For example, Australia warrants only four pages, scant on detail.

For a bloke on the mission of traversing every continent but Antarctica, effectively skipping over one of them in the narrative entirely seems antithetical. But the last section of the book gives one the answer why: Fabes isn’t interested in listing places and statistics as personal trophies in this book. He has a blog for people interested in those aspects. He keeps the book focused on the people he met and the things he learnt. He had to compress six years into a few hundred pages.

His bike was just a means to a greater end: seeing the world. Understanding the world. Doing it for himself, not to crow about it later. He doesn’t fill pages with lists of gear or recommended brands of bike. Again, he leaves that kind of thing to his blog.

I loved this book for many reasons and highly recommend it. A great read, a great trip well described, a good way to spend your COVID lockdowns and other free time wherever you are.

On the road again, pure joy! 🚲

Finally got back on my bike today for the first time in 2021, after seven months recovering from spinal surgery. The shitty weather and blowing cold Ballarat wind couldn’t take away from my sheer joy in being back on the road, with the wind in my face, fighting back tears of relief. When I hurt myself again last year, I didn’t know whether or not I’d get back to riding again, as my last tour exacerbated my back problems and I spent quite a few months worried about ever getting back.

The original plan was to wait until September, but a combination of watching the Olympics, eating copious amounts of food for my birthday yesterday, stacking on nearly ten kilos, and overwhelming boredom has gotten me back out there sooner, and I’m very glad I did so. I only did one lap of the lake, 8km and nice and easy (which isn’t to say I wasn’t exhausted!) but a good first ride.

Finished reading: Nala’s World by Dean Nicholson. 📚

A nice travel story with a heartwarming twist, as Dean picks up a stray kitten abandoned in the wilderness and nurses her back to health. Reasonably well-written (with help from Garry Jenkins) there is something interesting for both cycle tourists — or any type of traveller, really — and animal lovers.

I’ve been following Dean and Nala on Instagram for a while now, so it was nice to read a bit deeper into his trip, his mindset and his story than merely following his social media feed.

Finally got my copy of Dean Nicholson’s Nala’s World, setting down to a nice quiet coffee, croissant and fruit tart at Le-Petit Patissier, a French café in my town; a shitty day is slowly turning around for me. 📚🚲🥐☕️

Sometimes when learning French I come across a sentence that says something much better than in English. 🇫🇷 «J’ai envie de faire du vélo» just captures exactly my sentiment so much more than 🇬🇧 ”I want to ride my bike”. 🚲 Maybe it’s just the use of ‘envie’ and association with envy. I dunno. I just know I can’t ride and it sucks and I want to and the French phrase feels like it communicates that better.

Listening to and thinking about Kris Kristofferson, and other country legends I hope to see live one day, before it’s too late 🎸🎵💬🎨

Casey leaves the under-ground and stops inside the Golden Crown

For something wet to wipe away the chill that’s on his bones

Seeing his reflection in the lives of all the lonely men

Who reach for anything they can to keep from goin’ home

Standin’ in the corner Casey drinks his pint of bitter

Never glancing in the mirror at the people passing by

Then he stumbles as he’s leaving, and he wonders if the reason

Is the beer that’s in his belly, or the tear that’s in his eye?

Casey’s Last Ride by Kris Kristofferson.

No matter what mood I’m in on a particular day, or in a particular period of my life — happiness, sadness, anxiety, contentment, fury, passion, indifference, love, hate, quiet reflection or a need for a pick-me-up — Kris Kristofferson has written something for me. The master songwriter is my all-time favourite, and I love his music, I love the poetry of his lyrics and how he takes the most profound of life’s loves, challenges and turmoils and makes them simple; he takes simple motifs and makes them profound. You can listen to his songs and hear a simple story and a simple tune. Or you can hear something deep, something perhaps not even intended but you see it there anyway and that’s why his work is true art. For he is that: a true artist. A Kristofferson song can mean whatever you want it to mean to you; a slow, hung-over retelling of a drunken Sunday morning for an addict can reflect your own struggles with depression (sans the addiction), the monotony of life and the world itself — its funny little ways that make it both wonderful and irritating at the same time. Or, again, just a bloke bemoaning a hang-over and the life he lost to addiction. We’ve all felt that same loss of something, whatever the cause. I appreciated Merle in the same way.

I was lucky enough to see Kristofferson perform in Ballarat one night in September 2019. Coincidentally, it was a one-night-only kinda gig and I was on my first day of a solo long distance charity bike ride from Melbourne to Adelaide. I had just ridden 120 gruelling kilometres, only to quickly throw off the school dress — read the story to answer your sudden “WTF?” — to change into my western shirt, jeans and cowboy boots and head down to the Ballarat Civic Hall.

I was enraptured. Some in the audience bemoaned his diminishing performance compared to shows of yesteryear: his vocals struggled and he lost the words to a song at one point (he has Lyme disease which causes memory loss). But not me. I quietly raged inside at their judgment: “He’s in his 80s you bastards,” and just revelled in seeing him live, in listening to him sing his beautiful lyrics and marvel in the true artistry of his work. (He did ultimately retire later that year.) It was one of those days I’ll remember forever, and it ticked off one of my Bucket List Artists, those I want to see live before I, or they, leave this world. I was lucky enough to see Bowie in 2003. Alice Cooper not long after. Pat Benatar in 2010, opened by The Bangles, a nice little two-for-one.

I guess the reason I’m thinking of all this now, tonight, it has struck me that with COVID-19 still raging and international travel still a long way off, especially for us Australians, I stand in great danger of missing my other Bucket List Country Legend.

You hang in there Willie!