Once bitten. . .

It has been, without doubt, the most astonishing cycling I have done on this journey. Although all I seemed to be doing on some days was climbing ever higher upwards, the views were completely spectacular and the descents were simply delicious.

That was the Andes in Peru! That was one year ago!

I headed out from Cusco early in 2018 and spent the following 10 days cycling to Ayacucho. I ascended five passes of around 4,000 metres each time descending back down to some 2,000 metres. At the time I was just 3 months into my journey, and because of the terrain and all the high altitude riding I’d been doing I was at that point probably at my fittest. I was very happy too, and very confident. captureOne year on I’ve been thinking of that stretch of mountains in Peru as I’ve been cycling in the mountains of Laos, a country on the other side of the world. Not only because of the timing, but also the landscape, though the mountains of Laos are not on the scale of the Andes, and the striking similarities in the simplicity as to how people live here and how they have welcomed me.

Who knows what is ahead and what that may then lead to?

What, however, has been particularly present with me is that it was up in the Peruvian mountains, only a few days after this stretch of mountains when I was perhaps at my most glorious, that I got bitten by a street dog. It was a traumatic time and it took quite a while to fully recover emotionally. Fortunately, dogs in the places I’ve cycled in Asia, are hardly very aggressive and so I’m not really worried about dogs.

As I think back somewhat disbelievingly to my existence in that time and space, I have been wondering not only how different my journey would have been had the dog bite incident not happened, but also about how the happiness and confidence I felt then disintegrated so suddenly.

Lessons on acceptance, gratitude, presence

When I got bitten by that dog everything changed. It was not an easy time and I wanted to return home. There were major changes to my route, changes to my pace, and inevitably this all meant I crossed the paths of different people than had it not happened and I had possibly completely different experiences right up until now and forever more. I accepted the situation and did eventually work through the issues that arose.

You might even say that me being bitten by that dog was a beneficial experience. Not only did I have some important insights as to how trauma might manifest within people generally, but that it is only in having enough support and time to process the trauma that deeper learnings can come. That is not to say that I’m glad it happened. Yet I am grateful for all that came to pass once it did happen – the people I met, the support I found, all the experiences, and the learnings.

Dog bites man
Negative news bias. When The Times reported on my journey they led with the dog bite incident. If the dog bite incident had not happened what would they have otherwise led with? Would they have not run the story at all? I think they would have as they came across my journey when it appeared elsewhere. However, when the reporter interviewed me for this he was digging around for difficulties I had overcome on the journey and I had to keep steering him back to all the wonderful stuff that had happened, which outweighed the difficulty.

As for the confidence I felt before it happened, well, it was probably something a little bit like invincibility. Those first few months were nowhere near as difficult as I had worried they might be before I set out. Yet difficult things do happen, and with a long enough time horizon difficulty is inevitable. With everything that has come to pass since and including the dog bite of Peru the confidence I now feel is not one of invincibility. Rather it is one of being confident that I can and will deal with things as and when they arise. I know I am able to remain present and work through situations. Again one might even say that the experience actually strengthened me and gave me a deeper confidence to deal with the other challenges that have since come on this journey, and of course will keep coming.

Everything changes everything

I suppose a bigger learning from all of this is just how precious and precarious each moment can be. On a bicycle travelling vast distances one can’t help but realises how even starting just a few seconds later one day may make the difference between encountering someone or something that completely takes the day in one direction over another, and may even have the power to alter the course of one’s life completely. Each moment is precious and precarious – much as it is off the bicycle – and whilst there may not be much control as to what comes to pass as each moment unfolds into the next it is possible to work toward meeting each moment with acceptance and presence as fully as one is able.

a year on.jpg
In another universe had this not happened perhaps I would have been at home by now. Perhaps from having made it to Bhutan already. Or maybe from something more catastrophic taking place.

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