#1: Beginnings

My head hits a pillow, 27 hours and 4700 miles after waking up.

I rummage in the dark through my day bag, and my mind generates questions: will this bag be safe next to my pillow? Where should valuables be kept overnight? How fucked am I if it gets stolen? Isn’t it ironic that earplug packaging is so loud to open?

A hostel dorm in Vancouver is a good place to ask these questions. It’s safe and quiet enough that they probably won’t be relevant, but it’s a scratty enough part of town that I don’t feel paranoid asking them. (Scratty is fair: people were being arrested just outside the hostel a few minutes before writing this).

There were more questions while waiting for the connecting flight in Toronto earlier: will the baggage handlers respect the word ‘FRAGILE‘ emblazoned all over the thing plastic bags covering our bikes? Will the stickers stay on our weird luggage? (Kristian and I brought an ancient strapless scouting duffel bag and a thin linen sack, respectively, to put our pannier bags in during the flight). How many of our possessions are in the same continent as us currently, and how many are stranded on some tarmac or being detonated by security forces back in Gatwick?

But, as usual, it all turned out fine.

Luggage arrived, bikes were delivered unbent and unbroken to the oversized luggage section. We reassembled them under the curious and suspicious eye of other luggage-waiters, then rode them 10 miles through Vancouver suburbs to the hostel.

Already the trip has brought conversations, connections, comparisons.

Comparisons from the lads on our flight who will cycle from Vancouver to Mexico, and who immediately discounted the credibility of their trip in relation to ours (“it’s nothing like yours, it’s only 2000 miles!” . Rubbish of course, it’s every bit as credible as any other bike ride).

Conversations with the bum in the street who approached us for money “for beer or ganja”, and who proclaimed “holy mackerel, you boys will have fun!”; conversations with the family in the connections queue who run a safari reserve in Uganda, and lead mountain bike tours accompanied by a gun-wielding bike-riding ranger to pacify rowdy bison; conversations with the excellent fellow on the plane who used our ride as a springboard from which to reminisce about adventures he’d had in his youth, and from which to recommend Canadian highlights to us that we might enjoy.

A quote from Ted Simon sits in my mind:

“Essentially we all live two lives simultaneously. One of them is made up of all the plans, hopes, ambitions and expectations we have woven around ourselves. The other consists in just being alive. Sometimes it is extremely hard to switch from one to the other, from expectations to reality.”

The honest and open interactions with complete strangers already make the gradual un-weaving of plans, hopes, ambitions and expectations that characterise the last few months of my life seem less reckless, and point to the new reality being woven being a fun and rewarding one.

And this is before I’ve even seen anything of Canada beyond night-time suburbs and rainy views from the hostel window this morning.

Bring it on!

The Road to Little Dribbling, by Bill Bryson

I’ve sung praise for Bill Bryson before, and his new(est) book earns more.

Road to Little Dribbling Bill Bryson

It suffers slightly relative to his other travel books by being  more formulaic – arrive at a destination, describe the high street, drop a quip, move onto local history – but it’s at least a formula that works.

For me, reading Bill is a reminder that seeing new places is an opportunity to expose yourself to things that will provoke new insightful and interesting thoughts, and then give you room to think them. In Dribbling this element remains the same.

Bill’s underlying route this time is ‘The Bryson Line’, a line he defines as the longest possible straight line through Britain, from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath.

However the route is quickly sidelined / abandoned completely and replaced with his traditional wandering, writing and wondering along the way.

I think that part of the talent of travel writing is a knack for finding convincing routes and destinations, but a bigger part is having the means and desire to describe these in a way that generates interest, whether with written words or raconteured tales. The final part is having the mind that processes the novel locations in a way that generates insights.

I think any two of these three things is required to be compelling. Ted Simon has his most insightful passages on a dilapidated tanker ship crossing the Pacific (this doesn’t fulfil point one). Countless people around the world have interesting insights in novel locations, but they don’t tell anyone else about them (this doesn’t fulfil point two). Recounting a casual story ticks boxes one and two.

The real compelling travel author manages all 3.

Reading Bill – here or elsewhere – you get his accounts of cool, deliberately sought out places. You get poetic descriptions of places he chanced upon and you get honest descriptions of shitty places. You also get nuggets of wisdom: a quote that perfectly sums up a place (London ~”centuries of happy mistakes”) and, less frequently but in my opinion most importantly, are the profound insights like the one below, which are the reason I read his new books:

“Large parts of my life are the result of decisive actions taken by others”.

This insight taps into a realisation of Alex’s from earlier this year: “we’re adults now, we can do whatever the fuck we like”. The Road to Little Dribbling was another vicarious reminder from Bill to have the courage to do what the fuck you like in life, but this time with the caveat of remembering that your life is ultimately the result of infinite random decisions of nature and of actions (both random and decisive) taken by others.

 The tangent…

Instead of this being a prompt to feel like you’re unimportant, it is instead hugely liberating: there are no expectations, no obligations, no benchmarks except, ultimately, the ones you assign to yourself.

You can literally do whatever the fuck you like.

Although to clarify: you probably can’t be the next Michael Jackson, no matter how much the fuck you would like to be. What you can do, however, is prioritise actions that would lead you on that trajectory.and decline to do things that would distract you from it.

These are your prerogatives.

I think we’re tricked into believing (either intentionally or otherwise) that we can’t achieve our dreams because they’re too specific. So don’t try to be a millionaire or be famous: try to be smarter with how you spend your money, change the things you value, do what you enjoy, and seek wealth and recognition that way.

If your goals and desires are built on solid and examined bedrocks you won’t encounter cruel phenomena like becoming a millionaire but remaining unfulfilled and unhappy.

That whole tangent also taps into Bill’s insight above: in that it arose because a German pilot bombed a cottage in WW2, which led to Bill Bryson’s wife’s dad being relocated, leading to his meeting Bill Brysons’ wife’s mum, them having a child who became Bill Bryson’s wife who then met a young Bill Bryson and changed the trajectory of his life in a way that saw him visit Runnymede, experience a particularly interesting synapse firing, write about it, and inspire me and countless others in turn.

Overall, a good read.

Our position in history

Right now you are at the absolute forefront of history, and that’s pretty cool.

It’s cool because you have the entirety of recorded human experience until this moment to refer to when deciding how to approach and behave in the ever-unfolding future, which is incredibly empowering.

Think about what people have achieved in the past when the combined pool of human knowledge and experience was smaller.

Then think that the further back you look, the smaller this pool was and the harder it was to access.

Looking back into history lets you see circumstances which led to paradigm shifts. Or to learn directly from thinkers who died hundreds of years ago. Or to study the common traits and trajectories of people and peoples who achieved greatness, in whatever form.

This is slightly hyperbolic, but allow me it: 

You have access to this knowledge and to the possibility to incorporate it into your moral code and actions. You have the power to ensure its preservation for future generations and, most excitingly, you have the power to ensure it continues to expand.

Don’t waste that opportunity.

Especially don’t deny to yourself that the opportunity even exists.

Salvaged from some old notes from around December 2013, then tweaked slightly.

All this
is waiting on you

I love this song:

It perfectly captures the combination of anticipation and excitement that accompany opportunities in life. Both the active anticipation and excitement toward positive opportunities, or the less obvious opportunities for anticipation and excitement for new things after something bad.

The lyrics are wonderful. Lines presenting ambiguous situations that could be interpreted as sad or hopeless are followed by the refrain “all this is waiting on you”

“It isn’t always easy
Traveling on a winding road when you lost your way
All this is waiting on you”

“Stumbling around this city
Looking up at all the buildings
You feel so small
All this is waiting on you”

But the last few lines of the final chorus remind you that there’ll always be someone there wanting to guide you through the rough times and show you the opportunities waiting for you on the other side:

“When you’re alone in the dark
Shadows on the wall and the voices inside your head
And you can’t get to sleep
Cause you regret all the things you said
I’ll always be there
I will always be your friend
loving together for good
And I don’t know where life will take you
I will know
All this is waiting on you
It isn’t always easy
But you can always find shelter in my arms
I’ll be here waiting for you

Simultaneously an excellent reminder to look for the opportunities presented by any situation, and to be willing to be there for someone when they’re struggling to see them.

The little guitar twiddle at 1:51 is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever heard, too

Having fun with top level domains

.com and are called top level domains.

In the early days of the internet there were just 7, each with its own planned user base:

  • .com for companies
  • .org for non-profit organisations
  • .net for specific networks of computers
  • .int for entities endorsed by treaty between 2 or more nations (wha?)
  • .edu, .gov and .mil for educational, governmental and military institutions, respectively

So far so good, although it quickly became clear though that internet users wouldn’t keep themselves neatly allocated in these 7 boring buckets.

So the decision was made to introduce…

 Country domains

You may recognise popular ones like and .au for the UK UK flag and Australia Flag of Australia.

Others like .gu for Guam Flag of Guam and .pf for French Polynesia Flag of French Polynesia may be less familiar.

Others, like .dj, .me and .is you may have seen but not realised they were country specific; because they look like words, they often get repurposed for niche or vanity sites:

  • Mixing.DJ is an electronic music magazine
  • used to be a social networking site
  • is one of the coolest sites on the internet today

But in reality they belong to Djibouti Flag of Djibouti, Montenegro Flag of Montenegro and Iceland Flag of Iceland.

Thankfully most countries don’t have geographical restrictions preventing sites hosted outside the country using one of their domains (why I’ve not been forced to move to Iceland).

 New top level domains.

Here’s where the fun begins, though. (What’s that? You thought the fun had already started?)

Someone realised that infinite possibilities that lie after the second dot in a website’s name, and decided to launch over 500 new domains over the past few years

Wikipedia gives a list of these, along with a (sometimes flimsy) explanation of their intended target market. It’s an incredibly expansive list, and they range from the sensible (.audio, .business) to the bizarre:

  • .black / .pink / .red, for “those who like the colour black / pink / red”
  • .ing, as in, or
  • .lol, for “LOL: laughing out loud”
  • .ninja, for “general expertise”
  • .sucks, “gripe sites”
  • .wang, claims to be “general”
  • .tennis, whose intended audience is given, succinctly, as “tennis”

But despite their flexibility you don’t see many of them around, possibly proving one journalist’s prediction that they were “doomed to fail” correct.

Some of the rare uses are inspiring though. My favourite is here: a truly visionary exploration of what new top level domains can do.