2017 has been a very interesting year to say the least for me and there was no better way to send out the year than a last minute impromptu camp with friends on New Year’s Eve Eve. Some friends of ours had to unexpectedly return home after travelling around Australia for a year and managing to stay in New Zealand for just one day. To celebrate, a few of us called for a last minute camp in our favourite home location, Freshfield Pinewoods.
It’s been a little over one year since I started the Saddle Life blog which was a turning point in my life helping me to elevate the importance of cycle touring, world travel and camping. I wanted to start recording my motivations, experiences and development as I attempt to spend more time doing the things I love. I certainly have had a great year for achieving much of what I wanted. I don’t think starting the blog was a catalyst for me travelling and camping more but it’s no coincidence the blog started around the same time these activities increased. One isn’t the cause of the other, but they are both indicators of how important these things have become in my life and the main driving force to the decisions I make.
So what have I done? Why was 2017 so darn good!? Well, in 2017 I went on both more cycle tours and travelled to more countries by bike more than any other year as well as achieving many of my goals around spending more time outdoors and with my photography.
I have camped outside more than ever before, making a total of 85 days outside. Which is almost a quarter of the year! This was helped by the virtue of having completed more cycle tours than usual, but also camping more often in my local area. I did this especially during March and May when I camped for a total of 32 days exclusive of any cycle touring.
I was fortunate enough in May to have a heat wave. The weather was outstanding, each night was warm and dry. I was comfortable enough to feel like I was indoors with all the benefits of outdoor life. I love camping all year round, but I can’t pretend I didn’t lavishly enjoy those comfortable and easy nights camping.
My annual trips have quickly become routine in recent years. That is; one tour in the summer with the lids, and another solo trip somewhere. 2017 started out expecting to be exactly that. A trip to Kenya to visit my cousin and the regular trip with the lids somewhere yet undecided.
While travelling through Kenya I began to reflect on the sheer scale of difference that trip had provided for me and I began to ask myself, “where can I explore on my bike that is the ‘opposite’ to here?” My answer, based probably on very narrow judgements and stereotypical perceptions of both locations, was Scandinavia.
Aside a few initial hiccups and cancelling an alternative trip to Scotland at the very last second, Deac and Gal decided to join me in Scandinavia. This made it out first trip together travelling by plane and their first time ever flying with bikes.
These were both incredible but this was my first year with three excursions after I decided at the very last minute to fly to Europe and have dual purpose holiday for my birthday. This combination was a mini cycle tour through four countries then finishing the week watching my favourite band ever -Gogol Bordello- at a Southside Festival in the South of Germany.
I almost completely forgot to mention my photography. I had to come back to add this section after completing the blog and was almost ready to post.
I have been interested in photography to some degree for about ten years. This has been on and off; picking up the camera and having a little fun before it finds itself on a shelf gathering dust again. But this year a series of events happened that has changed photography for me profoundly. These changes happened very recently and very quickly so it certainly has been a miniature whirlwind adventure. It has changed my enthusiasm for photography to a more professional level. What started off as a bit of banter with band Tankus the Henge, very quickly escalated to offers of being their photographer on tour next year as well as paid work photographing club nights, ran by a friend of a friend, in Manchester.
Here are some photos taken before things seemed to step up a gear.
Looking back to the start of the year, I decided to pick up my photography again. This included both digital and analogue. I said I would try each of the challenges set out in a book called “Photocrafty,” carry my DSLR around more often and buy more film for my two analogue cameras. I was already achieving most of this, despite losing the DSLR I had for eight years (see below), but then all this talk of doing various bits of work and I started to look into stepping things up a bit.
As quickly as the interest grew, so too did the cost. In the search to take better images in the low light / high motion setting that is live music, I began improve my ability and learning new skills. This rapidly expanded to “investing in glass” -as they say- which basically means buying better lenses. I started with a new lense that I thought was expensive, before realising that it was on the much cheaper end of the scale, but I found I was still struggling. Usually I am an avid online shopper, but I decided this was an occasion to visit a real shop to seek professional advice. I didn’t regret this. I found being able to discuss my specific experiences and problems and in context of the equipment I owned invaluable. The assistant didn’t come up with one golden answer, but he proposed a handful of suggestions essentially tailored for me. The bad news was that maybe rather than (or in addition to) looking at new lenses, I should be looking at a higher spec of camera. I haven’t taken this any further, but I will be looking at renting equipment and putting in the effort to find the best solution that works for me and where I want to go with my photography. Which is something exciting to look forward to this year.
The Great Losses
I suppose I can’t discuss this past year without mentioning two great losses that happened. They both happened on the same trip at different times and both are missed greatly. The first was the loss of Meg the Leg “the first”. Although I like to point out she was actually stolen, it was right under my nose and while she was in my care, so I feel fully responsible. As with many things, when one door closes another one opens. Her loss has brought with it new roads and new opportunities, and I like to think that wherever she is, she has brought strange and wonderful people together. But despite all this, I still miss her dearly.
The second was the loss of my entire touring setup. This includes bike, panniers, gadgets, tools, camping equipment, electronics, clothes, toiletries, the lot, and even a few irreplaceable sentimental items. Fortunately this occurred on the very last night of the trip, and secondly, I still had in my possession, my phone, passport, wallet and house keys, all in my short’s pockets. These two positive facts however can’t really be seen as any kind of silver lining. This was a horrible moment for me, not only on the trip, but in my entire life. I made what little effort I could to find it before having to take my flight home. I cried a lot at the airport and did a lot of soul searching during the months that followed.
This didn’t put me off however. This wasn’t the end. With my next trip already planned to Scandinavia, the only thing I could do was climb back up on the horse.. of course, after spending a lot of money rebuilding that horse!
I’m sorry Meg the leg and I’m sorry Julian the bike. I wish I could say I’ve learned from my mistakes, but I haven’t. At least I’m still out there and continue to pursue my passion and seek out the things I love.