Which is easier, writing or riding?
Having cycled 4000 miles then written a book about it, many people ask me which was easier.
Before I started the cycle trip, I thought I knew a lot about cycling. I was a daily cyclist and had been my whole life – how hard could it be to turn that love of cycling into a 4000 mile adventure? Turns out I didn’t know much. I was underprepared and naive. I learned most of what I needed to know on the road, or from asking the advice of people who knew what they were talking about.
Before I started writing, I thought I knew a lot about writing. I’d blogged, I’d written articles and essays, and my written English was pretty good. I thought I could churn out a book in a couple of months. Turns out I didn’t know much. Knowing how to use a semi-colon didn’t really cut it. I learned most of what I needed to know through actually writing, or from asking the advice of people who knew what they were talking about.
Cycling around Britain was, at times, wonderful. There were days when the sun shone, the wind was at my back, and nothing went wrong with the bike. The views and the sense of freedom and the simple joy of cycling were irreplaceable. There were times when I wondered why I would ever choose to do anything else, and mourned the day when it would all be over.
Writing was, at times, wonderful. There were days when the words flowed from my fingers, falling in just the right order to capture the image that I wanted to portray. I would read back the words I’d written and think, yes, this is good! I would sit in coffee shops with my laptop and feel like a true artist, and I’d think forward to the time when the book would be finished, and I would feel sad. I loved those pyjama days when all I did was write.
There were times when cycling was terrible. It was boring, arduous, hard work, and made me question my sanity. The headwinds were strong. It rained. The miles passed agonisingly slowly. I thought each hill would never end, and all I wanted to do was give it all up.
There were times when writing was terrible. Boring, arduous, hard work. The words wouldn’t say what I wanted them to say. I couldn’t think of how to express myself in a way that would make the reader want to keep on reading. I couldn’t type fast enough to capture all my thoughts on the page, and by the time they’d caught up I’d forget what I had wanted to say. I would read back what I’d written and think, god, this is awful. I spent many hours staring at the screen. I drank too much gin. I thought I’d never finish the damn thing, and many times I thought I should just give up.
Eat/sleep/cycle. Eat/sleep/write. Both things were the most simple thing I’ve ever done. Both things were the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Both things were the best thing I’ve ever done.
Cycling around Britain took 10 weeks. Writing about it took 3 years. I think that was the only difference.