• Tim posted an update 12 years, 9 months ago

    Fear is a gift others give to you. You’re about do something and a voice at your side tells you that “you should not do that as it is too dangerous”. Out of politeness you listen, you pay attention and weigh the words in your mind. You wonder what the danger is and you look at yourself in the mirror and think, this is the person in danger. Is he a bomb disposal expert? Does he clear minefields for a living, is he a news correspondent working in a war zone? Is he learning to do the Hopi snake dance? As is true of almost everyone, my answer is none of these. I am just a slightly overweight person peddling a bicycle
    When I was a child I was told that the most dangerous job was that of a deep sea fisherman. This I accepted without ever having met one or been on a fishing vessel. A mine clearance expert who tap-danced as a hobby? Yes that sounded weird and very dangerous. But remember that there are many different people in the world all trying to get on.
    With all I know, I am a cyclist. My great fear is high-speed horseflies able to fly faster than I can peddle. As far as I know there are no statistics for the number of cyclists who have been dinner for cannibals or swallowed whole while on their bike by cyclist-hungry anacondas. So what fear can I, a cyclist, reasonably have? That is why fear is a gift. It is not yours, it is a present from another who tells you that you will certainly be attacked and robbed. I remember the first time I arrived in Bogota being told, in all seriousness, not to put a foot outside my hotel door as, if I did, “they will steal the shoe”. But please note that despite this danger within three years I married the most beautiful woman in the world who stole my still beating heart.
    Such is life. But how to deal with other people’s fears as every minute people are attacked. The strangeness of the lone cyclist does give some protection because almost all of the world’s wildest places have become used to the nervous panting mechanical human patchwork with bulging pants?? that arrives from nowhere in their midst; a peculiar object perhaps from outer space, speaking a strange language which is eventually understood to mean it wants to buy a bottle of water, or could it just please sit in the shade – nothing much here to make even the hungriest cannibal start to think of the best recipe for this person.
    When cyclists do go in harm’s way it is done of their own accord. It is they that decide that they can cycle faster than the foaming dog at their heels, and it is the cyclist who starts to shout as the children surround his bike and touch all his things. He will remember too late that children everywhere do the same thing. Mainly these are silly and not dangerous moments. You can go swimming in the Amazon even knowing that there are 35 different strains of piranhas – if the locals go every day, so can you.
    So what fears are my own? Almost all of the fears I’ve collected are after the event. For example I learnt in the Middle East the certain knowledge that my forward motion can be stopped immediately by the sound of a rifle bolt being cocked. I was not afraid at the time, but I certainly found real fear thinking about it afterwards. I also managed to do some really stupid things on boats in the English Channel which again, in retrospect, makes me scared of my own stupidity. I crash and burn with fear and shame at the memory of being in Panama when a large hand was placed in my shirt pocket. I grabbed hold of the hand and, much to the surprise of the owner, bit it as hard as I could. The owner then fled up a dark alley. I followed and caught the thief. Then I stood ready in the classic boxing stance. I then looked again as my huge dark opponent turned around and ran back out into the sunshine.
    Today I fear that I may not show respect or understanding to the community as I’m travelling through. In Cuba my bike was the equivalent of the total value of a professional salary for four years. Naturally this is not something I mention unless specifically asked. Other touring bikes can easily be twice or even three times this cost. Fortunately the amount is so bizarre that most people in the community you are travelling through will have no idea. Cameras are another problem. I was amazed and perhaps disgusted to see foreign tourists in Cuba walking around with $3000 plus cameras hanging around their necks. This scares me, as does a man wearing a gold Rolex watch.
    Certainly it is wonderful to have nice things, but respect the community you’re travelling through and keep them hidden.
    You are not allowed to keep fear in your mind. If it comes to visit get it to sit down and listen to what is has to say, but then get on your bike and pedal and leave the fear behind.

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