Thursday, 10 January 2013

What Life is, and what Life is for.

"The first question which you will ask and which I must try to answer is this, 'What is the use of climbing Mount Everest ?' and my answer must at once be, 'It is no use'. There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behavior of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron. We shall not find a single foot of earth that can be planted with crops to raise food. It's no use. So, if you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won't see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to enjoy life. That is what life means and what life is for."   
George Mallory , 1922.

"One day like this a year would see me right." sang Guy Garvey. Weeks and months of auditions in my head had resulted in Elbow winning the accolade of overscoring my final ride along Belfast Lough. I couldn't have asked for a better day. A blindingly blue sky and a gentle wind just pushing me along like a father teaching his son how to ride. I tried my hardest to reflect on the past three months as I cruised along the dual carriageway- passing Carrickfergus Castle and on toward the just visible landmarks of "Samson and Goliath", the Harland and Wolff cranes that dominate the Belfast skyline.

I had thought so much about what lay ahead every day for so long, that looking back was just bizarre. The thought of those days spent sweating myself into dizziness, being eaten by mosquitoes, climbing hills in temperatures that melted tyres to the road; was it real? did I do it? I found it hard to think of. Freezing water bottles, ice cracked mudguards, frost nipped knuckles- where did that fit in to this perfect Sunday morning jaunt? I was beginning to get emotional. Other lycra clad MAMIL's (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) sped past, casting a glance at this beardy, dirty person with a fully laden tour bicycle; I wonder what they thought? Did they even entertain the thought that I'd just ridden all the way across the European Continent? They were gone in the blink of an eye.

As I crested the little hill at Greenisland, I saw a cyclist up ahead. He stopped. He turned his bike around. He swooped over beside me. It was Roly Jamison! My old Biology teacher, friend's father, director extraordinaire, and now, a friend in his own right.

"Thought you could do with an outrider!" He said, patting me on the back and getting into position to draft me into the arms of my family and friends. 

It was almost too much. I was shaking with excitement.

Just as we reached the beginnings of Loughshore Park, Roly tailed off and left me to ride in. I turned the corner. There was no marquee. No open car boots with people perched waiting. Instead, there was a crowd of almost 40 people, that had taken over the entire bandstand!

A cheer went up, my feet went down, and I hugged my Mum and Dad. 

"Look at that bloody beard!" said my Grandmother. Yep, I was home.

The folks had done well- a spread of soup, flapjacks, tea, coffee, hot toddys, bread, cake and chocolate. We spent an hour hugging, laughing and taking photographs. It was surreal. How could I have arrived here from Turkey? I still don't know to be honest.

There was only one thing left to do, and that was ride to City Hall. Belfast proper. We'd mustered about 15 bicycles of all shapes and sizes, and so our motley peleton shot off along the cycle path. Amazed to be chatting whilst cycling I forgot that not every one was on a racer, and we quickly lost some of the group, so at Duncrue we reformed and took on the industrial estate. From there we crossed onto the cobbles of the Cathedral Quarter, and arrived on Bridge St. the street that covers the river Farset; the channel that gives Belfast it's name. ONE CORNER TO GO. Ever since I'd read Eddy Merkcx' biography, and seen the photograph of his FIAT team winning the Giro D'Italia, spread across the whole street riding side by side, I knew that's how I was going to arrive onto Royal Avenue. With my hands on my head, I turned onto the last stretch. I looked left and right. I saw uncles, cousins, siblings, friends and parents. They looked at me. I looked at them. I had cycled home from Istanbul.

I had cycled home from Istanbul, thanks to them. 

The quote at the top of this page; George Mallory's answer as to the use of climbing Mount Everest, I think translates very well to a lot of adventures.

 To life.

 In our society today, the common view is that if there's no qualification, money, product or physical object at the end of a task, then what's the point? 

Joy. Joy is the point. Happiness and pride is the point. The laughter on the road is the point. Exploring the limits of your body and mind is the point. Feeling as light as air when you succeed is the point. Falling in love, even for a split second, with a person, place, vista or thought is the point.

I often hear people say, "Everything's been done. There's nothing new any more. There's no use in ME doing that." George (If I can be so bold as to call him by his first name) talked of this same false theory in 1922, and look what's been "done" since then!

His theory was to achieve Joy. Not to do anything new- BUT HE WAS ABOUT TO ATTEMPT TO SUMMIT EVEREST- THAT HADN'T BEEN DONE BEFORE!

Who knows what we can do? If George Mallory was setting out to be the first man to climb the highest mountain in the world, with no other objective than achieving joy and self fulfilment, then why cant we?

I found Joy and self fulfilment. The sweet thing about those two "discoveries" is that you can never get enough of a good thing. There is an unlimited pot of Joy out there to drink from. It's not the Leprechaun's gold- forever in the distance at the end of a rainbow; it is at our front door, calling us to get in and swim around for as long as we want. All you have to do is want to climb in.

Thank you to every one who made the journey possible. I don't mean major sponsors, logistics teams, or diet specialists. I mean the hosts on the road and the strangers who shared food and drinks, I mean the friends who never failed to check in with me every week, and also the people that I hadn't spoken to in years, yet sent me messages of inspiration and support when I needed it. Thanks for the "likes", thanks for the laughs, thanks for the love.

 "What's next?" I hear you say? You tell me. Lets do it together.


  1. gah!! you're phenomenal. February 1st-- my much less triumphant return to Belfast :)

  2. Big, huge, ear-to-ear face spiltting smile! God bless, Aaron.