We have one more month left on the road and it's been a year since we landed in Beijing where the most joyous part of our trip began. Beside the sore bums and muscular legs, how has the past 15 months come to affect us?
This adventure began partly because we weren't happy with our lives at the start of 2016 (except the fact that we'd met each other) and we both deeply wanted to do something for ourselves and it was just so lucky that we were able to do it together. Not many people get that opportunity at all and we remind ourselves every day of that. We were both quite severely depressed and on antidepressants to help keep us level which was the only way we could begin to make things better.
There's been a lot of negativity towards antidepressants recently, including from other outdoor enthusiasts on social media, saying you don't need them, you just need to get outside. The last thing we'd want to see is those who do need to use antidepressants feeling even worse about their situation and their mental health for having to use them. Yes, the outdoors is fantastic for improving your mental health and exercising is proven to help even more, but if you literally cannot get out of bed to get in the shower then antidepressants are there to get your head above water and you should not be ashamed of needing them.
Mike and I have both been there. It does get better. The wrong way of using them is to not address the underlying cause (assuming it's not solely a chemical imbalance) and to rely on them for the rest of your life. We used them to be able to function, to be able to face counselling, to be able to face our anxieties about the world and to run at them full tilt, and if we need to use antidepressants again, we will.
This is a great point to say that both Mike and I are off our antidepressants altogether. The cycling has helped us balance ourselves and the distraction of travelling through changing cultures has busied our minds to reevaluate our world view. Of course, we still get our down moments but I'd not call it depression, they are moments of self doubt and a drop in confidence and we are both learning to readjust to the world without an outside chemical input (i.e. the medication).
Coming off antidepressants has not come at an easy time. With one month to go we've already been applying for a couple of jobs whilst on the road. It takes a lot of time to figure out the kind of jobs we want to be doing, rewrite our CVs and to sit down and write various applications and cover letters. It's harder still to do it when we're exhausted. The last thing we want to do is to go back to how miserable we were before we left, and that's not easy in a world faced with Brexit and the uncertain future it promises, whichever side of the vote you're on.
That brings us to the zen factor. Sometimes we get extremely bored on the bikes. Sometimes the world just isn't that interesting. There is utter beauty in most places; even in the flat landscapes of Australia or of the American midwest, and I'm sure that passing through it for a day or two would be exciting. But the pace that you can go on the bikes can sometimes make an unchanging landscape feel like hell (and YES I'm sure that's blasphemy to the some puritanical cycle tourers out there but I've got to be honest, right?). But that's not to say that we didn't appreciate and see the outstanding beauty of the world, because we did, but sometimes it got mentally really tough to get through it. But THAT'S what part of this tour was about. Persevering through something which doesn't have an immediate payoff, no immediate glory in doing it, is character shaping and an essential life lesson in adversity and the art of zen.
How has it affected us physically? Apart from the short term problems like heat stroke and hypothermia, we've lost a lot of weight, and we're a lot stronger. We also have a few aches and pains and stiffer joints than we did when we started. Fully loaded, Mike's bike weighs about 10 stone and mine isn't much lighter. Not all tourers lose weight when they ride merrily off into the sunrise but China really did it for us. We left sugar behind (except for in our Nescafe coffee sachets) and ate the most nutritious diet we've ever eaten, we rode up some serious mountains and sweated off our extra flab. We had never felt so well in our lives... until we got to the USA and put back on a bit of weight as a result of eating low price processed food. But hey, that's coming off again with the fresh fruit and vegetable diet we're back on in Europe and we'll be able to mix in other adventuresome activities once we're home.
Sometimes we think of emigrating, to keep the spirit of adventure still flowing. But where would we go? No place is perfect. I'm approaching 30 and Mike is 31 so there's no chance of us getting a working holiday visa is Canada or Australia and (no offence) but we'd not move to the USA in a hurry, so the only other real options are to European countries. The problem being that Mike is a Scottish lawyer without a second language so that's not so easy. So for the time being, we're going to be in Scotland and see how the next few years pan out whilst getting our bank balances looking healthy. We just both need to get that first job when we're home to get back on track. One of the best things the trip has taught us is how to be happy with what we have, who we are and what is around us right in the moment. We aren't always able to do that, but the lesson never leaves us and soon, once we remember it, we're better able to deal with the problems life gives us.
We're actually also raising money for Mind, the mental health charity. We'd love you to donate to help us get towards our goal of £10,000. You can donate here.