After finishing my trip I fly out to Phuket to spend two wonderful weeks with my kids, before heading back to the UK in Springtime. My first month or so is spent with family in Scotland, which is therapeutically good for the soul like it always is. Then, the remainder of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 are spent back on the Isle of Wight. I pass my time working in a Call Centre which, inevitably, turns out to be as demoralising and tedious as it sounds. Nevertheless, I keep my head down and just get on with it, quietly hatching my plans of freedom as I pretend to empathise with a tiresome barrage of moaning customers.
Unsurprisingly, work seems to improve when I book my escape flight to Bangkok for February and give myself a definitive finishing date. My intention now is to carry on cycling from where I left off last April, heading South this time and aiming to make it all the way down to Singapore. Once again, I’ll have the goal of coinciding the end of my journey with meeting my kids at Easter. All I have to do is sort out a rough plan for cycling the 2,500km in between.
I have a final two weeks with family in Scotland, organise a Thai visa, get some spares for the bike and buy all my sunscreens, lotions and repellents. Everything appears to be going really smoothly until – medically speaking – I fuck my back up. Somehow I manage to twist myself whilst getting up and trap a nerve in my lower back. It’s like two bones in my spine have collapsed on each other and are squashing the nerve. It’s bloody agony, and can only be remedied by me hanging from a door, stretching my spine and thus releasing the problem nerve. This injury leads to me walking round like a cripple for days, in wincing slow-motion, and having to postpone my flight by one week. Then, just as I’m recovering, Storm Ciara blasts in from the Atlantic, cancelling trains between Oban and Glasgow and scuppering my intended method of bike transportation to the airport. Luckily, very luckily, my sister happens to be driving to Glasgow and saves the day. Miraculously we cram the bike, a plethora of luggage and two small children into her family car.
The day before departure then sees me engaging in a similar performance to that of the previous winter. Once again I spend a cold hour in my sister’s back garden, wrapping my bike with bin bags and packing tape so that it’s deemed acceptable as aeroplane hold luggage. The big difference this year is that I have a dodgy back and hail showers to contend with.
My Wednesday flight to Dubai is an hour late taking off, but makes up most of that time due to the remnants of Storm Ciara blowing us along. I notice that in the plane, and especially at Dubai airport, there’s a good number of passengers wearing mouth masks to guard against the Chinese Coronavirus. In departures, a French woman sitting opposite me coughs once and I move away, immediately suspicious of her. On arrival in Bangkok every passenger is ushered through two separate temperature check stations, so at least I know I’m Coronavirus-free at this point. I retrieve my bike from Oversize Luggage, withdraw some Thai currency and head outside for a taxi to my hostel. It’s mid-afternoon by this time, but my taxi driver tells me I’m only his second fare of the day. Apparently everywhere in Bangkok has become a lot quieter without Chinese tourists.
Last year I finished my cycle at the Best Bed Suvarnabhumi Hostel, and that will be the exact same location for the start of this year’s cycle. The owner family recognise me from before and tell me I can chain my bike to the stair railing like I did last time. I move all my gear upstairs in a weird twilight zone of consciousness, half wired and half jet-lagged, until sleep and a shower perks me up. So, despite an obstacle course of back injuries, winter storms and a potential global pandemic, I’ve made it to the starting line. I just need to acclimatise now.