Thursday, 3 October 2013

How many Roads?

How many roads must a man walk down? before you can call him a man?... 
I'm not quite sure why but I sing it to myself as I set off on my journey home from Krogis in East Germany. Ok so hitching isnt walking, and nor is cycling for that matter, but it must count for something? Smiling and grimicing at the same time, I look down at the huge pile of stuff I have packed to carry home with me - one rucksack packed to bursting, one suitcase, one very awquard to carry portfolio case, one djembe, one amplifier, a collection of fire staffs, circus equipment... oh yes and and one unicycle - This is going to be a long ride... 

I had made it safely, and quite quickly back to Germany from Macedonia. And arrived in Krogis in the early hours of Saturday morning, I walked into the familiar courtyard, the old grey buildings silent and stern. I noticed a huge sign had been painted on the side of the wall. I had been asked to paint it myself at the start of the summer, but declined, partly because I didn't want to spend my whole visit up a ladder, and partly because I wasn't entirely convinced of the words: "God rewards those who seek him with a desperate heart." There was something a little to absolute about such a statement. Like it was some kind of equasion for success. What about everyone else? I thought to myself: And what kind of rewards do you mean? As I walked up the stairs and found an empty room to lay my head for what was left of the night I wondered how cinical I had become and thought: perhaps their is truth in such a statement?

I woke to find my good friend Daniel out in the garden digging over the hard ground to make a vegetable patch. He had been taking about doing it for ages and it was so great to see him out with his boots on swinging his sledge hammer at the earth. The next few days were filled with chats and coffee, music and fair rides at the local wine festival, but no wine, as the new rules of the mission base stated that they could only drink in the secrecy of their own rooms?!?! After spinning around at high speed on one of the rides at the fair though I was glad not to have any beer in me, as I wasn't convinced it still would be after that. I stayed an extra day to celebrate Daniels birthday with him, and took him out with the rest of the guys to the river to build a fire and roast brotworst. The heat of the south and the long days of summer had given way to the brisk cold nights of autumn. We stood around the fire closely turning ourselves every so often to warm our backs as well.  Another Summer is over... 

At midday on Tuesday I said my final goodbyes, I picked up my rediculous pile of belongings and set off for home. I struggled to carry it all, even around the corner to my first hitching spot.

It was indeed a long ride home. The first half of the day wasn't too bad, I managed to get to a motorway services and then found another long ride from there half way across Germany. The next guy I hitched with was a fellow cyclist. (I noticed this by all the biking stickers on his car and by the mountain bike that was laying over the back seats.) One of my faviroute things about hitching is all the great people you get to meet but it has it's down sides too. We were so busy chatting about bikes and travelling that we completely missed my turning and as there was no way back I ended up going much further south than I wanted. I spent that night dosing in and out of sleep in the enterance of a petrol station and after a very long night, the morning I agreed to go even further south with a truck driver on his way to Luxembourg. He then proceeded to break down and dropped me at a junction on route. After another short ride to a better spot I finally found a guy in a camper van going all the way to Calais! I might even make it home tonight. I thought to myself.

We made it to the coast by around 5pm and while we stopped in a petrol station I noticed a British couple who I assumed were on their way home. I couldn't believe my luck when they agreed to take me over the channel. They weren't leaving till 8 and they were going from Dunkirk but that would give us time to get something to eat. We arrived at the ferry port an hour early to descover that the road to the boarding area was closed due to an accident. Our 8pm ferry from Dunkirk turned into 11pm from Calais. And my hope of a warm bed that night was squashed. I ended up at the new cobham services on the south of the M25 at 1am and settled in for another long night of half sleep. 

It was an early start and still dark when I found my next lift but It would be light by the time we arrived at reading services. I was so close I could almost taste home! I arrived in Chippenham at 8am, to stubborn to catch a bus or call a friend I carried my stuff around the bypass to the next round about and almost broke my back in the process. Finally I found my last ride home with a Lithuanian guy, of all people. He dropped me right outside my house. I found the key hidden under the mole as my brother had said and opened the door...

After 5 months, 14 countries, thousands of miles, countless shows, hundreds of kids, mountains, beaches, rivers, islands, amazing cities and I wont ever forget the bear... I am finally home!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Another Ending...

There have been so many streams of thought going through my mind the last few weeks; I have found it difficult to focus on anything enough to write. I have cleared paragraphs on my phone (on which I have been writing all summer) a dozen times already and written and deleted several titles to this post. I had thought to call it The end of your life book club in reference to the book (written by Will Schwalbe) I have been reading recently, which may be to blame for many of my wandering thoughts. I thought I was reading a book about the relationship between a mother and son as they come to terms with her terminal illness. But as Schwalbe writes about the life of his mother I have found myself inspired and stumped all at the same time by the things she has done. I also nearly entitled this post Poverty Tourist for reasons I will try to explain later. In the end I settled with Another Ending because this is exactly what it is. 

The strangest, happiest and saddest thing about going on adventures is that there comes a point when the journey must come to an end, and for me this is the point where I turn around and head for home.

Endings have a way of bringing things into focus. In all of us I think there is a natural desire for conclusions, for closure. To know we can close the book, safe if the knowledge that everything is as it should be. Of course there may be a sequel - more adventures, more challenges, questions and trials - but for now, we rest, our questions answered and fears relieved. Of course not all endings wrap up as neatly as that, in fact many writers leave us hanging in suspense driving us mad with unanswered questions until the next book comes out. For me the end of this chapter is more attune to the latter.

It was four months ago when I began this journey. My tricycle full to over flowing and my mind and my heart a sea of questions unanswered and dreams unrealised. I had told myself and many others: "This will be my last big journey, I think." I'm not sure why I said that. I think even before I began I was weary of the transient lifestyle I'd been living. I want a home, a place that's mine, to put my belongings in cupboards and wardrobes rather than forever carrying them in a suitcase or leaving them behind in boxes.

Those first few weeks were hard work - I remember - and there were many times I nearly turned around. I'm glad now that I didn't though I would often stop and stare into the distance, then turn around and stare behind me and wonder which way to go. Reluctantly I would face forwards once again and pedal on. 

This journey hasn't just been one measured in kilometres cycled, countries visited and mountains climbed. In many ways my physical movements have been a backdrop for a greater adventure that has been taking place, an adventure of friendships and connections, of learning to see and to do something about what I see, of admitting my weaknesses, realising my strengths and accepting myself as I am, of hope and courage, and mostly... Mostly of dreaming.

As I read about the life of Mary Ann (Will Schwalbe's mother,) it has felt as though I were sat next to her at her coffee table listening to her stories and hearing words of wisdom - from a woman who even in her last days was determined to live a full life and one that impacted the world around her. 

Since I can remember my prayer and my dream has always been to live a full life. To do something that mattered, that made a difference. I say prayer, because I do pray still, not with much faith I must admit. Something Mary says to her son, after some friends (who are completely unreligious) tell her they are praying for her made me smile: "I think the prayers of heathens are much more powerful than the those of the religious." Maybe she is right? I found my self praying the other morning after watching a short film about the Syrian civilians who were brutally murdered in a army attack. I thought of the refugee's we had met last year on the Syrian border in Turkey, I thought of the street kids in Elbasan, the Roma communities I had visited... I don't want to be a poverty tourist! God! I want to do something...

I think prayer is the natural expression when we realise we are at the end of ourselves. I have reached the end of myself. I don't know what I can do, yes I can juggle and set things on fire... But really... How do I really make a difference? So I find myself praying, with little faith, and little discipline. Father if you are really there, help me, I don't know what to do or where to start. I know I don't have much faith, but I do know that I want to make a difference... I can't see and do nothing.

I think I have decided that questions very rarely lead to answers. And to expect them to is often the recipe for frustration and disappointment. Mostly they lead us to other questions, to conversations, relationships, impulses, adventures, challenges, and yet more questions after that. Perhaps though questions are more important than answers because they lead us somewhere, and the journey changes us... This has definitely been true of my journey over the last few months. As I have talked and listened and seen; and as I've made decisions and dealt with challenges I have found myself unpacking many questions from my bags and leaving them on the side of the road, not because I found the answers but simply because I had travelled to a point where the questions became unimportant and I had to make room for new questions which would take me further down the road. 

Sometimes questions follow us for decades as we navigate our lives other times they stand in front of us and demand a decision, an action... As I start to pack my bags once more and get ready to leave Skopje and head for home I find myself thinking about my place in this world. As I look around me and see all that is going on - the good and the bad - I ask myself: How will I respond?

Will Schwalbe quotes from the book he found next to his mother's bed the day she died which it's self quotes the words of John Ruskin:

If you do not wish for His kingdom, don't pray for it. But if you do, you must do more than pray for it; you must work for it.

This is indeed another ending, but whether it is the last of my journeys I'm not so sure... I'll have to wait for the sequel.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

This is why!

It was 4.30pm on Friday night and the last day of our circus workshops. The dress rehearsal hadn't exactly gone smoothly, some kids were missing and others wandered off half way through, the hardest part was getting the right children on stage at the the right time, if you turned your back for an instant you would loose some and others who shouldn't have been there turned up in their place. Somehow though we made it through the entire show but after 2 hours I thought to myself it's going to be a long night. "kids often surprise you." I said to charlie while we were worrying about the evening's show. "They are aweful right up the last second. but give them an audience and they shine..." at that moment in time we were actually more concerned about the sun shining than the kids. Our performance space was outside and it had been raining all afternoon, and was showing no signs of letting up. Fiona had said to me that I best start praying. Yeh right. I thought to myself as I looked around at the thick grey clouds looming over the mountains. I really didn't have much faith for such things... If I had prayed it was silent, and it was more of a grumble than a prayer. Really after 2 weeks of hard work...? 

But soon enough the first patches of blue began to appear, the clouds retreated over the mountains and then I was suddenly aware that I had a shadow. I couldn't quite believe it but the sun was out. Just in time.

We walked over to the Roma area that evening. The kids were wild with excitement as they followed us through the streets, miming the parts of the show they would take part in and pointing to themselves eagerly, just to make sure we didn't forget them. Soon chaos had surrounded us once again, chairs and benches were being brought out, sound equipment set up and kids were running about and shouting as I swept the last of the rain puddles off the yard. Parents and many other children began to fill the seats and then it was time... I don't know how but somehow we managed to get all our kids to sit together and almost all of them turned up. (One decided after coming to nearly all the workshops that he would miss the show and go to a wedding instead) I stood up and did the obligatory introductions and then the show began. After the chaos of the dress rehearsal I wasn't quite sure what to expect but as usual they surprised us all. From the opening number as they entered through the audience to the sounds of pink panther, to their closing bows. They danced, balanced, clowned, juggled, span things, through things, dropped things (and sometimes caught things) with smiles on their faces as their families and friends clapped and cheered them on...

There are times when I wonder what I'm doing with my life. Wandering from place to place, no home, no job, no partner, no idea what's next. But then sometimes I remember. As I watched their show, and looked into the faces of these kids who had won my heart and driven me crazy, I new. This is why! 

All the questions melt away in these moments and are replaced by dreams and possibilities.

Tomorrow is set to be a day of many goodbyes. In the morning I wave off my sister Charlie as she flies back to England, she has been an incredible help and as always, a lot of fun. Then after 4 wonderful weeks here in Albania I must pack my things once again ready to leave for Macedonia on Tuesday morning. This is the end of the road for my beloved tricycle too, tomorrow I have to take him apart and pack him away to wait for his ride (in the back of a van) all the way back to England. I will be very sad to leave him behind, I never decided whether it was me or the tricycle who was the goose, we have shared so many experiences over the last few months that 'it' has become a 'He', and almost a friend. (although we have had many arguments.) But with winter approaching and thousands of miles to make all the way home, I must travel from here by cardboard and thumb once again. 

I am sure this won't be my last visit to this beautiful country though, In fact I have already started scheming about plans for next year. And with so many friends here and many opportunities to work with wonderful kids, it seems it would be wrong not to return.

But for now, Skopje here I come...

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The 3 wheeled circus...

A look of guilt and an uncontanable smile broke across my face as we sat at the airport coffeshop waiting for the bus back into Tirrana. Charlie had handed me a margarine container filled with polistirine  protecting two eggs she had dutifully transported all the way from England on the plane. I had thought that someone in my house might have had the sense to think I was only joking about the egg I so desperately needed... Thankfully Charlie had the grace not to crack said egg on my head and the next day we laughed as we enjoyed American pancakes made from English eggs sat in Albania with friends from Texas and South Africa.

On wednesday we began our circus program in the roma gypsy area. It was for this reason I carried a trailer full of circus equipment across Europe on my tricycle, of course it wasn't untill I had cycled half way that my sister agreed to come and help and I realised I could have sent everything over with her by plane and enjoyed a much lighter load... But the circus arrived all the same. I had spent many days making more equipment, (flower sticks from old inner tubes, staffs from broom handles, even stilts were cut to size at the local saw mill) and Charlie had brought some of the things i left behind in England to add to the collection. So when the gates opened on Wednesday morning we were ready for the beautiful chaos that awaited us. 

And chaos it was... Over 40 kids arrived and soon the courtyard was alive with balls and rings flying through the air, brightly coloured socks were spinning around children's heads, diablo's shot up into the sky and occasionally wooden stills would crash to the ground as a kid tumbled down after. There was laughter, shouting, screaming, snatching, cheating, fighting... I discoverd quickly that embracing the crazyness is much easier than trying to control it... Although not always the best idea.

The next day was more successful, we scrapped the games that everyone cheated at and returned to silly warm ups which mainly consisted of the 'wiggling fingers, shaking wrists, spinning arms, circling hips turning round on one foot dance,' it's not at all sexy but apparently quite entertaining. I even taught the kids how to bow and explained that if we had to drag them offstage everytime as they continued to do "just one more trick" it kind of ruins the show...

On Thursday night we were invited to a birthday party of a friend from the Roma community. Raji's birthday was slightly eclipsed by the presence of his new born daughter but still the music blaired out of the giant speaker (that somehow apeared part way through the evening) and of course we were subjected to traditional dancing, in wich everyone joins hads and dances around and around in circles, over and over again, it's actually quite fun if a little dizzy. It was possibly slightly more dizzy for me as I had not learned the art of leaving the last bit of my drink. Apparently if you Finnish your beer your host fills it right back up again... Thankfully they were quite small cups, but I must admit I couldn't tell you how many times it was refilled. I didn't often refuse but even when I did I was completely ignored. 

There are many things that are difficult to understand about Roma culture, many hard things, perhaps even wrong things. But there are also some beautiful things. And for one they deffinatley know how to party.

The next night as we walked our way down to the bridge we could see the crowd had already gathered. For me it was a familiar scene, I rembered mine and Patrick's show there last year, the kids had remembered too, for weeks they had been miming and pointing, asking when we would make a show. They all seemed to like the fire breathing best as that was the most common mime they made. I didn't even try to explain that I wasn't going to breath fire, I just nodded and said "soon."

We arrived at the bridge to find hords of excited children, adults and families had come out to see what was going on too. I would like to say that it was because they had heard how good we were, but the reality is that there really isn't much else to do... 

I have made countless shows throughout the summer in all kinds of places, but this place and these people hold a special place in my heart. Often I count my success by the amount of coins in my hat, here I just enjoy smiles, high fives, cheers and laughter. The music blaired, fire burned, people shouted... Occasionally a car would come through and we would have to pause as it passed. The circle seemed to get closer and closer, untill I dropped my staff into the croud and everyone jumped back. Charlie did great as usual (every time I see her she gets better) and she whispered instructions as we performed our partner ruitine trying to prevent me from hitting her in the head with my poi... 
It was a great show though, and all the better for having my little sister join in. As we packed away, dripping with sweat and stinking of fuel, the excitement slowly died away and I thought to myself. I love this!

After a mostly relaxing weekend (well for me it was relaxing, Charlie was a bit saw after the "little" bike ride I took her on) 
we have begun another week of circus workshops here in the Roma area. We are working with the kids on a show to perform to their families and the rest of the community. Today is day two and little routines are taking shape and stars are beginning to emerge. It's hard work, hot in the sun and the kids are pretty wild. most nights I'm ready to crash by 9 o'clock. But its worth it, not just for the fun, and it is a lot of fun, but for many of these kids life is survival and childhood is short. The guys who serve this community have created a sanctuary for the kids here, where they find safety, guidance, love, education, fresh fruit and so much more. It is such a privilage to be apart of something so special and even for just these few weeks to be able to bless this community in giving what we have.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Old tricks...

The lady in the shop looked at me queerly as I proceeded to mime milking a cow in an attempt to buy a bottle of milk for my coffee that was waiting back at the house. (It's always traumatic when you discover there is no milk after you have poured the coffee.) My house mate, Elton, had sent me out bleary eyed repeating the word for milk over and over before I left. Needless to say I had completely forgotten by the time I had got to the shop.

The pace of life has slowed down quite dramatically since I arrived in Elbasan, which was well over a week ago now. I have welcomed the rest though, I really hadn't realised how tired I was and the first few days all I did was eat, sleep and relax. When ever I did try to do anything I groaned and hobbled like an old man much to everyone else's amusement. 
It's the strangest thing being in one place, after so long on the road. Sometimes I miss the stars, and smell of an open fire. But the comfort of a soft bed, and the wonder of kettles and cookers more than makes up for it.
After a couple of days of being more or less horizontal I have now started to venture out a bit more and am enjoying getting to know a little more of Albanian culture, hanging out with my friends here, and making some new new ones too. 

It was Tuesday morning when I wrote OHRID in big letters on the back of a pizza box, packed my bag and set out for Macedonia with my thumb at the ready. It had be quite some time since I had hitchhiked and it felt great to be back up to my old tricks. Even better when the road zig-zagged steeply up the side of the mountain and a smiled to myself very happy that I wasn't cycling. I arrived in Ohrid a few hours later after 3 lifts and a bit of a walk.

I stumbled apon this place last year when I was hitchhiking back from Turkey, a small town set on the side of a vast lake, surrounded by mountains. And so when my good friends Han and Dan told me they were going to be travelling through Macedonia on their 60 day trip from England to Kuwait, I suggested that we meet here. 

I can't tell you how nice (and strange) it was to hear Hannah shouting down at me from the window of their hotel room. After so many months on the road and so often as a passing stranger, to see friends I have known and loved for years was priceless. Han and Dan had booked a hotel room just outside of the old town for two nights before they would continue  on their folding bikes to Greece. The biggest shock for me was the size of their bags (they were tiny.) I really do need to learn the art of packing light. I thought to myself.

We walked about the old town, drank coffee as we sheltered from the storm. (Ok I had beer, and Han and Dan searched for hot chocolate and ended up with some strange hot strawberry milkshake, but the thought was the same) We chatted, and laughed and shared stories from our different trips, reminiced about old times and old friends. And the rain continued to hammer down arround us. 

By lunchtime the next day the weather was back to it's normal heat and ironically we decided to go out on a bike ride arround the lake. I hired a bike and was excited to ride on two wheels and without a mans wait in luggage trailing behind me. It was so nice to race up the hills and wizz down them again. When I get home I'm getting a racer I thought to myself. We ended the day with a meal at a little resteraunt on the side of the lake watching the waves crashed on the beach and the wind picked up once again. I waved them goodbye the next morning as they peddled off on their way to Greece. 60miles and over the mountains... It felt very strange to be the one waiting behind rather than cycling away into the distance, but I was quite happy to hitch my way back to Albania this time. I'll leave the mountains for another day.

Today is Sunday and I am back in Elbasan sitting in the shade at my place in the Roma area. Wedding music fills the air and we've just shaked the last of the fruit off the trees to feed the kids tonight at church. On Tuesday my sister Charlie arrives and then starts two weeks of circus workshops, fire shows and many kinds of fun. Can't wait!


Monday, 19 August 2013

Turtles, tunnels and the last days.

It's been just over a week since I left Dubrovnik to make the last 300km of my journey to the most south easterly border of Croatia, then through Montenegro and then finally to Albania. 

For many cyclists 300km is a 2 day ride but of course nothing is quite that fast on a heavy layden tricycle in the 40 degrees heat of summer. And truth be told I had been getting even slower still over the last weeks. The first day I only made it 10km out of the city before deciding that the cliff I was cycling along was far to beautiful to carry on and I really should stop and watch the sunset... And then the stars... I ended up camping that night with my hammock tied between two rocks out on the side of the of the cliff gazing up at the night sky, the lights of Dubrovnik shining down below. 

The next morning I finally made some miles and headed my way Along the coast towards Montenegro. I had organised to stay with a guy called Marko who lives in the hills just before the border. It was a little way off route and a long way up, but after being in the city for a few days I was looking forward to escaping to the quiet of the hills. Macro had described his place as a little oasis which I liked the sound of. But after making my way up the long winding road I was a little surprised to find a couple of scruffy sheds covered in all kinds of random junk. A big sign said Marko's flee market. And a little old bicycle hung from a tree. I knew I was in the right place but as I waited for Marko to arrive I thought to myself where is this oasis he talked of? Marko didn't arrive back at the 'oasis' until the next morning. An older man in his 70s and as scruffy looking as his sheds, he wore nothing but a pair of brightly coloured shorts that looked like they had been made from a child's duvet set and his huge belly spilled over the top of them. He later told told me he was a nudist, so I was quite glad to have found him in his shorts "Are you coming to the beach today? Or do you want to fuck off?" He said in a gruff tone. I hesitated for a moment, but agreed to come. Once I got over His ruff appearance and baldy language I discovered a kind and generous man with some incredible stories, the day at the beach got extended into the night and followed with raki and fire shows and wasn't until the next morning that I made my way once again towards the boarder. The miles came quickly as a sped down tge other side of the hill I had laybord over a few days before. Soon I crossed the little border on the cliff road and passed my way into Montenegro. It was strange to find myself in another country after spending over a month in Croatia.  

"Montenegro is much like Croatia only the the mountains are bigger and the roads more windy." A guy I met had told me. He wasn't wrong. My road wound up, down and around every cove and ridgeway. Finally I left the coast and zigzagged my way over the last pass to take me into Albania. As I made my way over the hill and through the last small villages of Montenegro I could see before my eyes the world slowly changing from Christian to Islam. Monistaries faded out and were replaced by Mosques and grave stones were marked by the crescent moon instead of the cross. 

I camped that night on the top of the hill. In the company of three tortoises that happily wandered around beside me (I later realised these are quite common around this region and sadly saw more than one squashed on the road as cycled the next day) I Cooked my spaghetti on a little open fire and watched the stars in the clear night sky. Tomorrow I pass into Albania I thought to myself. After two months on the road and over 2000km, mountains, bears, seven countries, dozens of shows, and many friends and faces, my journey was finally coming to an end. I was looking forward to finally arriving but I was also sad to think it would soon be over.

I crossed the border the next day and it was like passing into another world. Until now most of the changes I have seen have been gradual. But here the changes were stark and drastic. As soon as I passed through the borders I was approached by Roma children with hands out stretched, women carrying babes in the midday heat asking after every passing car. To my right a group of Roma's sheltered from the sun under self made canopies. To my left two young boys were rummaging through the  rubbish. A man walked down the road leading his cow by a rope and chickens hung upside down from a boys hands flapping their wings as he tried to sell them. 

As strange as all this was to me. It seemed that for everyone else the mad Englishman on a tricycle was a much more unusual sight. Many People shouted after me, or pointed, or laughed, and If I had stopped for every person that waved me down to say hello I would probably still be there now. 

There were many other changes too. For one, cycling on the motorway is perfectly normal, and actually in many ways safer than cycling down the smaller roads where, if you weren't careful you might loose a wheel in a pot hole or get run off the road by a lorry and where almost every car honked its horn as it passed, sometimes right in your ear sending you swerving out the way in shock. 
As I cycled along the motorway I must have passed a dozen weddings by the time I reached Tirana (which traditionally last for three days here, and each day the bride wears a different dress. Needless to say there are a lot of wedding shops. And the dresses are quite something.) 

After a nights stop in Tirana I made the final part of my journey over (well actually through) the mountains to the small town of Elbassan which was my final destination. My friend Kerri had told me there was a tunnel right through the mountains but as I cycled up and around the winding roads, dripping with sweat in the midday sun I wondered if I had come the right way. But finally I saw the black hole of the enterance, I attached my lights and sped down hill through the dark and cool of the tunnel. I looked at my map. 5km to go! It felt so strange to say it out loud. 

I cycled into the town passed the old walled city and made my way to the kebab shop my friends had introduced us too last year. I have finally made it! Wow! Shit, this is crazy! 
I thought, or something like that (though it was probably more colourful.) Of course I ordered a beer. 

It is hard to put into words what it feels like to have finally arrived. This has been the most incredible journey of my life, without a doubt. And yet it feels like it isn't finished. (Although my legs are, at least for the moment) As I think back on all the adventures I have had over the last few months, the hard days, the wonderful days, the days when I wanted to give up, the days when I joked about going all the way to India. (Jokes over! Btw) it's hard to believe it all actually happened... But it did... I cycled from England to Albania. All 3500km of it...

Of course the journey isn't over though. And the reason for coming all this way has just begun. Today I moved into my new house for the next month, right in the heart of the Roma area where I will be making a series of circus and art projects with the kids here. As I rode through the streets many of the kids came out to greet us, some even remembered me from last year. It felt strange but good to be back, I was introduced to the guard dogs, bribed them with treats in the hope that they won't eat me (one is as soft as a pillow and more likely to lick you to death than anything else, the other, a big German Shepard needs more convincing)
Finally i emptied my bags and my precsious circus cargo from my tricycle and pushed it into the little shed and locked the door.

I won't be cycling for a little while...

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The sweet taste of friends.

I could bairly see the mountains that surrounded us as we stood under the auning of a small cafe hidding from the storm. the mountains loomed over though in a cloak of grey mist. From every direction I hear cracks of thunder and once in I while the grey haze flashed in brilliant light as cracks of lightning filled the sky.
The rain was relentless hammering down on the canopy above us and setting the sea alive with explosions. It wasn't long before there were waterfalls running from the canopy as well.
It was a strange sight after so many days of blistering heat. Even stanger was the feeling off chill, and the desire to find my jumper. But it was buried deep in my rucksack and I would have gotten soaked to the skin trying to find it. So I imbraced the cold... And it didn't last long.
I has been a couple of weeks now since I started cycling along the coast of Croatia and I have encountered some truly encredible places on my way. From the north islands of Krk, Rab and Pag, to Zadar, Split and now finally Dubrovnik. Walking through the old stone streets here, is like stepping into some fairy tale castle. (Except for the hords if tourists making it difficult to move even in some parts) but if can ignor or escape from the bustle then it's like another world.

I am sat now just outside the old town of Dubrovnik filling up on lasagne before heading off into the sunset once again. I will leave Dubrovnik behind and set out through the last most southernly tip of Croatia and into Montanegro. It's strange to think that I am less than 2 weeks away now from Elabasan which is the first of my final destinations.
I will stay with my friends there and make circus workshops with kids from the street and also in the Roma community. And my sister Charlie is coming to visit too! After so long on the road on my own sleeping in different places every night, saying goodbye on a daily basis the thought of being in one place (and one bed) with friends and family around me is a sweet thought indeed...

So sweet it calls for pudding... Yes cheesecake I think. And then I really should ride.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Clapping the Sun.

I was 18, it was my first summer after collage and I had come to the Cultural Shift conference in Southampton gathering gathering with young Christians from around the UK. In the central hall. It was there dancing to the sounds of Andy Hunter that I knew I had to go to Ibiza. It was like a silent voice right in the depths of my soul. 
A few weeks later I found myself stepping out of the plain into the warm heat and cloudless skies. I had joined a group of Christians who came to the island to pray and share the love of God with party goers. Full of faith and energy, I believed  God could do anything - even answer the secret prayers of my heart that I dared only whisper. It was like Christianity on Red Bull. We prayed late into the nights, danced our worship as DJs played, gave out fruit in the streets and helped drunk people stumble home to their hotels. 
Those two weeks changed me in a way nothing else ever has. They ruined me for the ordinary filled my mind and heart with crazy dreams and set me on a Wild Goose Chase following the whispers of God. 

Ten years have passed since then, and my world has changed in a thousand ways. The Red Bull has warn off and a dazed hangover remains. I was so sure of everything back then, even in despair I had answers. One day... I believed it. God would make things right. Ten years later Many of those secret prayers still remain. And the confident One day sometimes feels like a futile dream. Still though the chase goes on, and the whispers still... whisper. A verse from the psalms still rings in my ears... 'Delight yourself in The Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.' The psalmist writes. But delighting in God is not always easy especially in the mist of questions and disappointments. And recognising the desires of your heart is a greater mystery still. Ten years on I wonder is this really a promise I can trust? 

Huge crowds had come to see as the sun slowly make its way down to the horizon. Hundreds had gathered on the sea front in the city of Zadar. Listening to the surreal sounds of the sea organ - a series of tubes that tunnelled down the the water and each played different notes as the waves came. When the sun finally dipped bellow the great expanse of the Adriatic Sea a spontaneous applause erupted from the crowds. 

I could have closed my eyes and been back in Ibiza amongst the rocks on SunSet Strip, Cafe DelMar playing Baleric beats behind us and fire spinners whirling flames to the side. I remember thinking back then when i first heard the applause. If only they would lift their eyes a little higher, to the one that made the sun...

Sometimes it's the simple things that set our hearts ablaze. Back in Zadar Sat on my tricycle instead of the rocks I asked myself the same question I asked of the crowds all those years ago. Will I lift my eyes a little higher? Sometimes it hurts your eyes to gaze apon the sun. Sometimes believing hurts, hope hurts, love even... hurts. 

Will I lift my eyes a little higher? Dare to believe where there is doubt, hope when it feels like its all run out, will I whisper again those secret prayers, and will I love... Again?

It's a question I ask myself almost daily. Even this morning as I sit in the town of Trogir eating breakfast, watching the ships and writing these thoughts. Keep Walking is written across the side of the van loading onto a ship. Sometimes I think that's all we can do. 

One day I might put my hands up. Say Enough! But it doesn't have to be today. Today I can still hope and dream and whisper my secret prayers, believing there is one who answers. As the day ends I clap the sun... And lift my eyes a little higher.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Gaffa, Sea and Sand.

"Is this the strongest tape you have?" I asked the man in the store holding a roll of gaffa tape in my hand. The question was rediculous not least because this was gaffa and what better can you get? But of course that wasn't the end of my folly.

I had noticed over the last few days that my beloved tricycle had been creaking and moaning at me much more than usual but as I looked down that morning after leaving for my next destination I discovered that my top bar had come away conpletely from my frame. My tricycle was quite litraly falling apart at the seems. 

In a moment of panic gaffa tape seemed like a lodgical solution but even as I bought it I new it was never going to work. There are some things you can't hold together with tape...

Almost as an after thought I asked him if he knew where I might find a welder. I realised as he happily drew out some directions that this was probably the first question I should have asked. 

I found the garage easily enough and was greater with a smile and a raised eyebrow aaa the guy looked at the state of my tricycle. He laughed when I told him where I had come from and showed Him the broken frame. Before long though there were sparks flying as he grinded down the metal to make a clean weld. He showed me to a room in the shade where he said I could wait. I tried to ignor the slightly distasteful posters of naked ladies plastered all over the walls. 

After half an hour the job was finnished and he had even repainted it for me to match. When I asked him how much I owed him he wouldn't take a penny (or a kuna in this case) he shook my hand as I said goodbye and I thought to myself heros come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, and with all kinds of vices too. 

I had left 2 hours to get to the ferry on time but that was before I discovered my broken frame. Now I had only 40 minuets to get there. 12km and up and over the hill. I peddled as fast as my legs would let me. My thighs screaming as I peddled up the steep hill. Somehow though I made it to the ferry with 5 minuets to spare. 

As we left the harbour and sailed across to the island of Rab I thought to myself how nice it was to be moving with out having to pedal. I remembered back to just a few hours before when it seemed like I was stranded with a broken bike. And whispered a quite thankyou heavenward.

I arrived in Rab late in the afternoon. A beautiful island perimitered by sandy bays, a thick forest and cliff faces. Also a lot of nudists but hey, when in Rome! 
I had thought to make a show that night In the tourist area, but I was far too tired and the sunset over the sea far to beautiful. I slept on the cliffs that night, the stars shining brightly above me. Wow whispered from my lips once more. 

The next day I cycled through the island to the old town of Rab. One of the most beautiful towns I have seen. Wedged between the harbour and the sea. Thin streets cross-crossing amongst old buildings and towering walls. I hadn't planned it but I had arrived on the last day of their medieval summer festival. Trumpets played, drums thundered through the streets and everywhere I looked people were garbed in traditional medieval dress. 
I found myself a good spot, tryed to make myself look as medieval as possible and had some of the best crowds yet for my show. It turned out to be a long night and I work early in the morning after very little sleep amongst many other travellers and party goers on the beach below the city walls.

My next crossing was a little more tricky as the main ferries wouldn't take bicycles so I ended up finding a small taxi boat and strapping my trike to the front of it and we sailed across to the island of pag.  
It was a hard days cycle through 40 degrees heat, my body soaked in sweat and my water bottles were hot from the sun. I finally made it the the town of Pag, very different from Rab and more like a want to be Ibiza. My legs were aching and my right foot swollen and throbbing in pain. All I could do was lay down on the cliffs and listen to the faint beats of the music, close my eyes and fall fast asleep.

It had been a week since I left Zagreb and I had been wild camping the whole time. My skin tasted of salt and my hair thick with grease. It was time for a bed and a shower, and I found one here in Zadar. I met Filip in Rab after making one of my shows and it was partly his fault that I was seduced away from an early night to the late night party on the beach. He has been hitching through Croatia and planned to stop here in Zadar to see some friends. We agreed to meet her and also to make a show together with his digeridoo. Which we did last night. A lot of fun but strange not to be using my music that I have become so used too. I am recovering today after another far too later night (followed by a too early morning) and have decided to take some rest before I continue on my journey in the morning.

It's strange to think that I am a actually getting quite close. Only 600km to Albania from here which in the scheme of things really isn't that far. In the back of my mind I know more mountains are coming but for now I shall enjoy the sea and the sand.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Mountains, bears and islands.

I have had many challenges on this trip. and have faced many fears but never yet have I feared my my life... Until I heard it roar!

I left Zagreb on Monday afternoon after finding a mechanic to convert my gears to a super low speed for hill climbing. Darco had suggested this would be a good idea after repeatedly warning me of the steep mountain roads I had to climb. "They are really high" he kept on saying, looking back at the state of my bike and the copious amounts of luggage I was carrying. The look on his face suggested he wasn't convinced I would make it.
The first 2 days were actually quite pleasant. The hills were not to big, and I had found a path that wound around the first of the big peaks and took me through the valleys into the heart of the mountains. There were plenty of good spots for camping too. The first night I camped beside a large river, and spent the evening in the company of a mother and son from a nearby village, "this is our drugs and alcohol" the son said (who was actually in his 50s) pointing the the river, the moon and stars. I had offered him some whiskey which he refused saying he'd been sober for 10 years. I admired him for that, but enjoyed the moon and stars with flask in hand. His mother made a catch and smiled as they handed me a catfish saying "breakfast." 

I was probably more effort than it was worth, washing, gutting and cooking the fish on a stick. But something about it was very satisfying and probably nourished my soul more than my body. I thought of Jesus and his friends sharing fish for breakfast sat by the lake. After all all the horrors of Good Friday, they recognised their friend after he repeated his trick with the fish in the nets. I can't imagine how they must have felt. But I pictured the scene as I toasted my catfish over the fire, and whispered a simple prayer. Maybe it seems like your far away and I don't seem to hear your whispers anymore... but wow. 

I camped by a lake the next night with slightly less enjoyable company, a couple of guys had found the spot too, and seemed unaware, or unconcerned of me sleeping as they blared music from the car stereo and shouting, and smashing bottles on the ground well past midnight. I woke that morning a little tired, but a quick dive in the lake soon freshened me up. This is it. I thought to myself. No more winding through valleys anymore, I have to go up. I felt very small in comparison to the great peaks that surrounded me... it seemed, in every direction. 

As I started to climb I quickly became very glad of my new gears, and steadily made my way up the mountain. I had found a road that was mostly shaded by trees but still my body was dripping with sweat. The highest pass I would have to make was just over 900 meters but it wasn't simply a case of up and over, the road went up and down again and again. Normally I enjoy down hill, but after you have laboured over a 100 meter incline, to find yourself dropping back to where you started in a matter of minuets is quite disheartening. After many hours and buckets of sweat I finally made it to the top and to the lake I had spotted as a good camping site. I was almost delirious with exhaustion, by body so tired I felt as though I was floating. The views had been incredible though, I made myself stop often just to soak it in. Wow. Was all I could think, that and, your mad. Many of the locals seemed to agree  laughing and honking there horns as I rode passed.

I reached the lake just as night was falling and after reading a sign saying no camping or fires. I decided to hide myself a little way into the wood so not the be seen... That was a mistake.

It was 4 in the morning when I woke to the sound of loud grunting and the heavy thud of of paws. By the sound of it, it could only have been 30 meters form my camp. I could hear my heart pumping through my chest, and I lay there completely still. I had been told this was the best thing to do, if ever was to encounter bears. But i think if I had been told it was best to run I couldn't have, I was frozen with fear. As quietly as i could i pulled my sleeping bag over my head hoping to hide my scent. For 10 minuets the creature trumped and grunted around the camp. For a moment I though I heard it coming closer, and fear gripped me. I had just been reading one ofmy favourite psalms earlier that day, my focus before had been on the words "I look to the mountains, but where does my strength come from", but now I was very much focused on the bit about "the moon not harming you by night" it wasn't the moon that bothered me right now but I don't think that's write the writer meant either. I said the words over in my head, hoping they were true. In the back of my mind I thought about friends and family I had lost to tragic accidents and thought, people still die though. The sounds came closer, maybe 10-20 meters away, i didn't care to look, my body was so tense you could had snapped me in two. Finally the creature went past and I finally allowed myself to breath as I heard the noises go off into the distance. I lay there quite and still for some time after that. My mind was a rush of relief and terror. Wow, I thought to myself. I almost laughed, I almost cried. After I was sure the sounds had gone I fumbled my way out of my hammock and still trembling I crept my way down to the road. I waited out the rest of the night lying on the floor with nothing but my sleeping bag praying for dawn to come...

When dawn finally broke it was as if I had awoken from some crazy dream. I hesitantly made my way back into the wood to collect the things I had abandoned in my haste. A cup of tea did well to calm my nerves and the beating of my heart eventually returned its usual tempo. 

It was overcast and cool as I made my way over the last of the mountain passes. I was still giddy with adrenalin and my legs like jelly. But i continued on, picturing the sea and a cold beer. They had been magnificent, beautiful, terrifying, and very big I agreed with Darco. But I had made it! I passed the last ridge and the roads went down...

When I saw the sea I was nearly overcome. There was something very final about the vast blue expanse in front of me. The last time I had seen the ocean was as I took the ferry from Dover to Calais. I thought back through all the different counties, thousands of kilometres, people, experiences, mountains... All I could do was whisper a simple Thankyou. This is mad. This is incredible.

I woke up this morning to the sound of the sea lapping against the shore. I had slept under the stars on a quiet beach on the island of Krk on the Adriatic Sea after making some shows in the main town that evening. When my eyes opened to see the sun rising above the water, Wow and Thankyou uttered from my lips once more.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Cardboard Jesus

As you make your way through many parts of Europe, you will see time and time again the same symbol standing on the side of the road, like sentinels they watch over the passing traffic and lonely cyclists. One long beam stands straight up towards the sky, and another shorter one passes horizontally across it about a quarter of the way from the top. 
Sometimes a man hangs from these interlocking beams, naked all but a loincloth. And his eyes watch you as you pass. 

I see Jesus everyday as I cycle along these roads,  Sometimes he is made of stone other times from wood, he is large and small, painted and sculpted. sometimes red paint mimics blood trickling down his arms and feet. But he is always there. The silent statue on the side of the road. 

I have gotten quite used to these encounters, so much so that I often pass by with out a second thought... But it was as I cycled through the back roads of Hungary, through the forgotten towns that no tourists ever visit. That I saw him. Crudely painted on a piece of very thin old hardboard, his arm was broken and was hanging limply from the wooden cross he was stuck too. No gold or precious stones, no beautiful carvings.
A flat, lifeless, old and discarded Jesus hanging on the side of the road. 

Initially it shocked me, even offended me that this precious act could be portrayed in such a way. But the irony struck me that this was possibly the most honest and telling statue of them all. It stood out because of it's poverty, but it was no different from every other replicated image of the cross. A symbol so brutal, and yet so pure and full of love. Mass produced, cast in stone, hung around our necks, and lost in a maze of familiarity.

The thing is as I cycle may way through these winding roads I realise that so much of my life is just like these replicated images, I have become so familiar with Christianity. With it's language, traditions and habits, like a camilian I fit in, saying and doing the right things. Sometimes I wonder if my words and prayers realy come from the heart, or if i'm just  painting the tomb of my super spitual ego. Being seen to have all sorted when really I don't have a clue.

The thing is though that I have come to realise a second irony. This cardboard Jesus, was poor in every way. It had no pretence to hide behind, no beauty of its own, or value in it's materials. But the reality was, that, so were the people who he belonged too, the children ran around in dirty clothes and no shoes, and the houses looked like they might fall down at any moment.

When it comes to the cross, to the unconditional, furious love of God. We are all increadibly poor, we will never really get it, understand or accept it fully. Our faith will always be small in comparison to the faith God has in us. And our love for Him and for each other is like a drop in the ocean. We are broken, selfish, messed up and so beautifully human. But if the message of the cross that this cardboard Jesus so poorly depicts, is really true then the reality is that it's OK... Our father is under no illusions about our poverty, No matter how hard we try to cover it up. And he loves us completely, unconditionally, always...

Even as I write this I'm not even sure if I believe what I'm saying, life if full of questions, hurts and disappointments, and sometimes I wonder if this could really be true. But what if it is? What if Jesus really is who they say he is? I doubt, I hope, mess up, make up. And some how keep coming back... To Him.

So maybe are offerings are weak at best,  and our motives selfish even. Our worship repetitive, and faith learned. But maybe that's ok. We give what we have, and no need to pretend that it's any more.

So this is my cardboard Jesus...

My faithless prayers, my empty promises, my foolish words, my self-serving love, bad habbits, addictions, flaws, fears, passions, loves, questions, masks, desperate cries. And all the other bits inbetween...

Unexpected Juggling.

"You show me, and then you can go." Said the border policeman, with a smile on has face.

It was the first time I had to show my passport since I left England, but this wasn't what policeman was interested in. After repeatedly asking me if I had any drugs to declare, and warning me of the consequences if they were to find any, prison and a hefty fine. I had parked my bike by the gates and started to unpack my things for him to search though. This is going to take a long time. I thought to myself. The last time I had tried to cross the boarder into Croatia I had a 20 minuet interrogation, which as scary as it was i think i would have preferred it to unpacking the entirety of my bike. "You show me" he said again, and I realised he was pointing to my juggling clubs...
So instead of unpacking my bike I proceeded to juggle for the policeman and his colleagues, then proceeded another interrogation, but very different from my former experience. "You came all the way from England?" "How long did it take?" "Where do you sleep?" "Are you making a show tonight?" And after a short lesson in Croatian greetings (which unfortunately, I promptly forgot.) I was waved goodbye, by a happy policeman and his friends. And began my journey through Croatia.

It had been interesting and beautiful since i left Vienna last saturday. My first stop was a little town called Rust, set on the side of a big lake and surrounded by marsh and vineyards. I had thought to make a show there but ended up taking a swim instead. I cycled trough the vineyards as the sun set over the hills and hadn't even realised I had crossed the boarder until I received a text from Vodaphone saying welcome to Hungary! 

One of the strangest things about Europe is how quickly and unexpectedly everything changes. In the space of a few hundred meters, the language, currency and culture is suddenly very different. 

Hungary was quite a different animal all together, especially as a cyclist. Many of the main roads were banned for cyclists, so I found my self winding my way through tiny country lanes or taking illegal actions when there really was no other way to get where I needed too. But eventually I made my way to the Balaton See, which is a massive lake, and a hotspot for tourists from Germany and Austria. I took full advantage of the tourist trade and set up to make some shows in a little town on the south of the lake. It was probably the first show I made that actually made any decent money, and what's more I even found a bed for the night! 

The next day I made my way west after celebrating my success with pizza and a morning swim. Again I took the winding roads through the forgotten towns that no tourists ever visit. It was as I passed through one of these towns, and I saw the kids sat on the side of the street, many of them looked even more grubby than me. I had this nagging thought in my head, Isn't this what you talked about, you make shows for tourists, why not for these kids? So after cycling very slowly through the town trying to battle off my inconvenient thoughts, I finally conceded and turned around and found the children on the side of the road. 
I didn't speak a word of Hungarian, and I felt utterly foolish trying to communicate. But I got out my staffs, and my music, and preceded to dance in the middle of the road in my cycling shorts and in the blazing sun. It was a terrible show, but the kids seemed to like it. I then got my workshop gear out and pointed to it, to say have a go, but the kids got the wrong idea and thought it was a gift. It was total chaos, but in the end they got the idea. There were plates spinning, and hoops flying across the road. It was completely ridiculous. And cars honked there horns angrily as they drove passed. When i realised i had completely lost control I tried to pack away, which was an even harder task. children laughed as they helped my shoving things in my basket haphazardly, putting plates on my head. giving me ridiculous tokens, of broken earrings, flowers and weeds. How I managed to get away i don't know. My stuff was almost overflowing and trailing behind me as cycled away and children ran behind me, laughing and shouting. I cycled a kilometre out of town. Breathed, repacked my bike - amazed that (almost) everything was still there. That was mad, what on earth was I thinking! I laughed, wiped the sweat off my face, drank, breathed again. And decided I probably shouldn't do that again...

So now I am here in Zagreb. The capital of Croatia. I stayed with a guy called Darko, who is also a cyclist, he also knows a thing or two about bike mechanics so was keen to take a closer look at my trike, he was really impressed by all the old mechanics, but slightly appalled by the state of my breaks. So quickly the tool set came out. Every one I meet now seems very worried about the fact that I'm going to the coast. "You know there are huge mountains to go over?" "And there are bears, and wild cats!" "Where are you sleeping?" "Don't go into the woods!" The list goes on...

So I'm feeling a little nervous about the days that lie ahead, the 1200m I have to climb, and the bears that I would rather not encounter!

Decided to take another day off and start tomorrow instead!

Saturday, 13 July 2013


I wasn't quite sure what to expect as I cycled up the very long steep hill to my host norbert's house. "It used to be a tree, and now it's a house" he said. As I struggled to push by bike up the steep gravel path, a shaggy haired smiling man came out too meet me. His eyes opened wide as he saw the size of my bags... 
His house was actually a lot more homely than I thought. A simple but well made wooden hut. The view though was something else. Peering over the trees you have a birds eye view of the whole of Vienna. 

What was planned to be just two days has turned out to be a whole week enjoying the city and the quite hill. I even found a bicycle workshop and did some repairs. Although after lots of indecision I ended up not changing the part that I probably needed to most. So another pit stop might be required soon.

Norbert invited me to go away 'camping' with him to an alternative community place in the country. So we packed ourselves up, the two of us and norbert's beautiful golden retriever aptly called 'ginger.' It ended up not to be camping at all, as we stayed with some friends of his sleeping in their fathers art studio. 

I am learning to cast my assumptions aside and just enjoy the differences and life experience of other people. "You must feel it in your head, and heart..." The old lady said as she poked me rather forcefully in my forehead and then in my chest. "You are one... Be heeled" She was very concerned about my hey fever ( which actually, was quite bad as I'd forgotten my tablets) and wanted to heel me as a gift over breakfast. I wasn't exactly sure what to make of it. And also whether I should accept such a thing. But as I looked into her big eyes and wrinkled smiling face, I thought to myself who am I to refuse such an act of love. 

The rest of the day consisted of collecting herbs for healing on the top of the hill. It did make me laugh though as we rustled through the long grasses in the fields, my nose running and eyes streaming as the dust from the field filled the air. This really isn't working... The next day I took my tablets which was much more effective.

The best part of the day was learning to hunt for mushrooms. I have always wanted to have a go. And often wondered as I passed mushrooms in the forest if they were good for eating. As I scavenged for mushrooms the others hunted blueberries (which were much easier to find) I came back with a hat full of little of little yellow ones and two big white one's "these are great..." Norbert said pointing to the hat, "these are very poisonous, you'll be sick in bed for a week if you eat those" pointing to the other two. Good to know I thought to myself. Quickly throwing them away.

Dinner was mushroom and potato soup, followed by yogurt and blueberries... And it was good!

So now we are back in vienna my bike is packed up once again and I am ready to make my way south to the sea. I am a little daunted by the mountains ahead, but I have a couple of days on the flat before they begin. Norbert has helped me plot a route avoiding the worst of the hills. So I head south east into Hungary. And then loop back a little south into Croatia and over the mountains. 

Here goes...

Monday, 8 July 2013

Lightning and the dancing lake.

Some people say life is a roller coaster, Forest Gump's mum reckoned it was like a box of chocolates. I have come to think that life is very much like riding a rickety old tricycle, with bad breaks and dodgy gears 5000km across the continent. Sometimes the hills are long and slow and it feels like they will never end, on occasions they are so steep you find yourself grinding to a stop, you stare upwards and think to yourself I just can't go on any more... But then there are times when the miles seem to roll past you effortlessly, with the sun on your back and a gentle breeze in your face, every corner hides new wonders waiting just for you. 

There have been times in the last few weeks when every part of me yearned to be home and to call off this stupid adventure. Times when I felt more lost and alone than I ever have before. To be honest there have been moments when I have wanted to throw out everything I believe in, even the very reasons for making this trip turned to grey confusion. Why am I here? Why am I doing this? Have I got this all terribly wrong?
I asked myself and my God. 

Perhaps it was in answer to these questions that the events of the last few days unfolded... 

I had stayed the night with a lovely Czech couple called David and Petra, they had showed me round their beautiful little town, fed me stawberry dumplings (which were supprisinly good) and took me for a beer in a cosy pub by the river. I made my first real show on the streets that night. Only 20 or so people stood to watch (and half of them were friends of David and Petra's) but all the same it felt great to finally be doing what I set out to do, especially after the disaster that was Prague. 
I set out in the afternoon the next day. After 10km I received a text from David saying I had left my socks on their washing line. Great I thought to myself. It's amasing the silly things that rattle you when your tired. It didn't feel any hotter than the day before but for some reason no matter how much I drank my mouth felt dry and by body ached. The hills went up and up and my tricycle creaked and cracked at every pedal. A great blackness came over me as thought about the mountains that lay ahead. These are only hills, I thought to myself. There is no way I can do this.
God what is this all about? This isn't an adventure. I'm just tired, alone and in the middle of nowhere. This isn't what I thought it would be. I don't know why I'm doing this anymore.... But I can't go home... Not now. 
I'm not sure if it was pride, determination, hope or faith that kept me going. But I reached the top of that hill and many more after that. In the evening I camped out beside a small lake in the middle of the forest. I set up my tent, made a quick swim, then tucked myself under the canopy I had made. As the skies turned grey and lightning lit the sky, the rain poured down drumming on the sides my tent and made the whole lake dance with splashes and ripples. I sat with my whiskey in one hand cigar in the other thinking about the day. It had been hard, hot and and my body ached even still. But as looked out to the red, black sky, the dark pines and the dancing lake i smiled to myself and decided. Right now in this moment there is no place I would rather be.

The next day I packed up and rode a few miles to the nearest town and decided to stop for some breakfast (although by that time it was nearly lunch) and after the second coffee I thought to myself. This place is really busy I should really stay and make a show. It was more an act of defiance than anything else. I had promised myself that I would stop counting miles and worrying about how far I got each day. So I slipped on my baggy trousers (as for some reason it feels not quite right to make a fire show in cycling shorts) soaked my sticks and started the music... "Ladies and gentleman, my name is Josh, I am cycling from England to Macidonia. And I would like to make you a little show..." In the bright sunlight I danced and twirled, dripping with sweat and laughing at myself thinking this is obsured. A little ripple of applause came from the restraunts and a man sat on the bench beside me. After a few numbers and once I was completely out of breath I got out some of my juggling toys and invited the children to come and have a go. I didn't really know what expect but before long the street was full of children and families spinning plates, juggling and making fun. I made another show after that and this time everyone sat around me to watch. Laughing and applauding sometimes in the right places... 

It was nearly 3pm by the time I had finnished my 'breakfast' stop, and I decided I would make the most of the cool (ish) afternoon and make my way to the border and into Austria to the little town of Drossendorf. 

"Drossendorf? Why did you come here?" The guy said as we spoke over the gate. The truth was I was hoping to find a busy little tourist town where I could make a show and was quite disheartened as I cycled through the quiet streets of this sleepy but very pretty little town. But as I looked behind him at the bright red and yellow stripes of the circus tent I smiled and thought to myself, It was no accident I found this place.

I am beginning to learn that life is full of so many opportunities and adventures and it is so easy to let them pass us by. Yes it is much more convenient and if we want to keep to our timetables then its best we don't bother.
But it is also easy to push open the door,  to stop and look for a moment, to chat over the fence, to share lunch with a stranger in the park. 

I stayed at the circus that night, and most of the next day, made a show for the kids, chatted with some wonderful people around the fire, shared stories, cups of tea, and slept in a circus wagon. 
All because I stopped and said hello over the fence... 

I still ask myself. why am i doing this? What's this all about? But moments like these make think there's something to it. And even if not it a heck of a lot of fun. So this my new agenda. Grab hold of every day, say yes, say Hello. Watch, listen, look around, eat cake, drink tea, and do a bit of cycling in between...

Oh I made to Vienna by the way. Enjoying a bit of relaxing time and been fixing up some of the more rickety parts of by bike. Strangely I'm off camping for a couple of days tomorrow with some friends I have made here. Probably will hit the road again at the weekend...

Monday, 1 July 2013

Pillar to post.

It's with a bit of a heavy heart that I leave Prague this morning. My bags all packed once again ready wind my way avoiding as many hills as possible down to Vienna. I arrived here on Friday afternoon after a 4 day ride from Dresden, staying in Decin , Usti nad Laben and some forest I found on the way. The Czech Republic is a beautiful country to cycle through, and it was nice to make my way along familiar paths that I cycled with my crazy circus friends last year. The trip hasn't been with out its challenges though. With bike repairs, attempted robberies, and more recently getting fined by the police in Prague for making a mess on the floor with my lamp oil... I am realising that travelling alone really does make you more vulnerable to all kinds of things. Not least all the internal struggles that go with it. My experience here in Prague has been quite mixed, it is with out a doubt a beautiful city, and I have met some really wonderful people here who I have been staying with. But I feel like I haven't really made the best of my time here. Partly down to tiredness and bad moods, And getting fined as I set up for my first real show of the tour didn't help.

Over the last few days i have realised that i have to decide what kind of trip I want this to be. I can let my moods and emotions rule me and be tossed about from pillar to post, and probably get a lot of bruises on the way. Or I can take each new day as a gift, an opportunity, to experience the wonders of this world, to know myself, to seek after God, and to be blessed and be a blessing to the people I meet.
So I set off this morning determined to put the worries/regrets and disappointments of the past few days behind me. 
The sun is shining and I have a beautiful road ahead... So here goes, 5 days to Vienna!

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Today's the day...

It seems like a long time now since I left England on this crazy adventure. The last few weeks have been great visiting old friends and meeting new ones here in Germany.  Spending time here in Krogis at the Steiger base has been really special, I have so many great friends here who are such a gift to me. 
The last week I spent helping out with the children's activities and spent many hours, playing games, doing tricks, making mess, and learning circus skills with the kids here from Brazil, America, Poland, Germany, Finland, Switzerland, and Lebanon... It was quite fun even learning to say hello. It was so good to see them make their show on Friday night, working together, introducing each other, laughing, clapping and enjoying their new found skills... I will be very sad to leave them.

But today is the day when this crazy adventure really begins and I must set off in my journey to Macedonia. 2500km, many counties and mountains; months of rough nights, camp fires, and hopefully many new faces and friends and great shows! I wouldn't say that i'm nervous, but I think that's more because I'm in denial than because of any great faith or confidence. Maybe when I start to peddle down the hill the reality will start to sink in. But once again my bike is packed up to overflowing and even with out the unicycle and my drum it still looks ridiculous. I have said Goodbye too many times already and still i have more people to squeeze before I hit the road.

So anyway must phone the parents, pack the last few things and then... First stop Dresden!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Back to the beginning.

In 1727 in a small village in the very east of Germany a broken community of Moravian Christians began to pray, they prayed day and night for what turned out to be over 100 years...
Although I had never been there before this small place has influenced my life in ways i would have never thought of, and set me off on crazy adventures from dancing on the rooftops of clubs in Ibiza to clearing up sick and praying in an old pub - come monetary in Reading.
As I sit at the foot of the watch tower in this little town with my friend Luke, whispering prayers to God i feel strange sense of symmetry. It was 10years ago that I got caught up in this crazy movement called 24-7 prayer, where young Christians around the world inspired by the Moravians started to pray 24-7-365 setting up communities and sharing the love of God in some of the most (un)likely places. 
10 years later after university, life, love disappointment, faith, lack of faith, and many other stories I find myself to have in many ways come full circle, strangely, back at the beginning. The same questions, the same hopes still pump through my veins, my face just looks a little older and the bleached blond hair has gone. 

Sometimes these moments can be disheartening and you think 'what was that all about? Am I really just back where I started?' I guess the answer is no, and also yes. But even if we do find ourselves back at the start, we can never be the same. And often the 'start' isn't either.

So yes I do find myself 'back at the start' at another one of those points when the options and possibilities are vast and you have no idea in what direction you should run. Some might say 'into the arms of God' but if He holds the whole world in his hands then where do I find his arms?

In a week today I set off on my big ride. 2500km from here to Macedonia. I still have no idea how, why, or what this is all about but I'm excited. I have my eyes and heart wide open. My legs and back are still not convinced but I'll give them a few kind days to ease them in. Until then I am staying here with my friends in Krogis, running more circus projects with the kids here, and sorting out all of the things I should have done last week.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Friends, floods, flats... And finally summer.

I am sat out on the balcony on the 10th floor at my friends flat in Neubrandenburg. With the sun in my face I squint to see the endless expanse of fields and forests. Windmills break up the skyline in the distance and too my left a great lake is glistening in the sun. It is hard to imagine now that the glorious summer has arrived that only on Monday I was helping my friends evacuate their homes and their church as the heavy rains threatened to burst the banks of the River. Prague had already been flooded by then and it was only a matter of time before the water would flow down stream and flood Meissen too. The whole town was busy with people preparing sandbags and moving furniture to higher ground. Some people didn't even bother to block their doors when they realised the water was likely to over head hight flooding entire first floor.
I couldn't help but notice though that even with the prospect of so much loss and damage, there was a sense of excitement and togetherness as everyone pulled together to help. By evening as the last sandbags were put in place, crowds of people gathered in doorways beers in hand admiring their work. As I got to my tricycle to peddle home I discovered my front tyre was completely flat and my pump broken so what should have been a 20 min ride turned into a 2 hour walk pulling my trike behind me. Fortunately though the rain had stopped and I even saw the sun for the first time in days as is dipped below the horizon turning the whole sky pink.

I have been in Neubrandenburg now since Tuesday and have been staying with Some friends from a community called 'polilux'. They live here in an estate at the top of the hill that is dominated by 3 high rise flats. The idea is really simple... Doing life together, loving God and loving their neighbours. Many of them are also involved in a community centre at the bottom of the flats too. I have been here making circus shows and running workshops with the children for the last 3 days. It has been such a privilege to share in a small part of what God is doing here, it has been so much fun getting to know some of the children, they have been so gracious with me as I try to explain what to do in very bad German. And this afternoon we watched them make a performance to show off their new skills. 
Tonight we are heading off to the lake to relax, swim, make fire and drink wine, then on Sunday I make my way back south for a quick stop in Berlin and then onto Meissen to get my tricycle ready for the big ride.
I will be sad to leave this place though, there are no platforms or pulpits, no celebrities or big names, just a group of friends loving God and sharing their lives with others... and it's beautiful.