How a martian helped me cycle across Europe


It is a running joke between me and everyone that I have seen a woeful amount of films.

Disney? Not unless it has an animal as the main character. ET? I thought he was a robot until recently corrected. And you can guarantee any jokes about Back to the Future, Titanic or Superman will go straight over my head.

I don’t like sitting still. Even writing this blog entry is punctuated with me getting up, making a cup of tea, going to stroke the cat, going to microwave said tea because I’ve spent too long stroking the cat, texting my friend Karen a picture of the cat being stroked… and so on. Watching a film has too much sitting around, and not enough feline distractions, to hold my attention.

So when I find a film worth talking about, you know it means something to me.

Last year, I saw The Martian at the cinema. To be honest, I only went because some friends were going, because they are better at the whole sitting-still-thing than I am. Little did I know that three hours later, I would be bouncing down the cinema stairs, ready to cycle round the world.*

First things first: it is a fantastic film in its own right. My sarcastic sense of humour found it genuinely hilarious. As a bit of a geek, I loved how it incorporated logic. None of this super-hero nonsense which my imagination doesn’t stretch to, or unexplained aliens. Simply how Mark Watney, human being, could survive on Mars until rescued.

There is one particular scene in it which hit home beyond the sarcasm, though. After (spoiler alert – but you could probably guess this part anyway) the protagonist successfully gets back from Mars (surprise!), we see him talking to his students. He speaks of how he started to build his shelter, cultivate his food supply, create his communications with Earth, and carry out all other necessary Martian survival antics. It seems overwhelming, he suggests. What do you do to even start to make this happen? Well, it’s not rocket science. You just begin. To quote: “You just begin: you do the math. You solve one problem. And you solve the next one. And then the next. If you solve enough problems, you get to go home.”

Unsurprisingly, this is exactly what you have to do with planning and going on a massive cycling trip. And this line was what made me actually start to do it.

You research bicycle panniers. You do the math(s). You find that you can save £50 if you get the panniers second-hand. You can buy a second-hand tent with that £50. The tent doesn’t fit in your panniers. You solve this problem: two bungee cords. You buy a map. The map is too heavy – find electronic resources. You speak with others who help: your uncle gives words of wisdom, an acquaintance will join you for the first week, a colleague lends you two power banks to keep your maps alive. You plan the route. You book the ferry. And once you’ve done all that… well, you’re not just beginning any more. You’ve involved too many people to pull out. You’ve committed. You haven’t even left the country, and yet you have to go.

Except, unlike Mark Watney, you don’t get to go home. Or at least, that’s not the destination. Even better. You get to go on the cycling trip of a lifetime.

All packed up and good to go.

*Cycling around the world will happen… but this particular just begin has just been a trip around Europe. So far…


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