Dispatch #1: “It must be difficult to leave the comfort of hearth and home, otherwise it can’t be a significant experience”

Leaving home. It seems like a simple thing, really, but in this case it involves so much.

Everyone who I mention the trip to has some sort of advice to give — usually: “be careful in (select country from drop-down menu)” or “oh, you have to go to (select country from drop-down menu)” — and it’s very welcome. Everyone wants to help and support me in every way they can. I seem suddenly to have so many people to stay with all around the world, which is wonderful.

There has been a sort of frustration recently, which has taken me a while to come to terms with. I feel like my life is completely on-track. Finally. I’ve got a good graduate job, and some freelance work on the side. I’m living in a wonderful little house, which I spent so much time and energy on, making it perfect just for me, and now it’s finally finished; all the creases ironed out — no more leaks. My friends are close, and even the far-away ones I can see and speak to regularly. There’s someone here for me, who will be difficult to say goodbye to.

And now I have to leave.

I’m in a good position, and I’ll leave anyway. But I think this is a better way, than if things were terrible, and I was running away. This is the nature of pilgrimage. It must be difficult to leave the comfort of hearth and home, otherwise it can’t be a significant experience.

I’ve been acutely aware — nervous maybe — of the transition into a new, very different phase of life. I’ve found myself subconsciously, and now consciously, ridding myself of baggage and starting to simplify life. Selling my belongings, or just throwing/giving things away. Lending (semi-permanently) my more precious possessions to friends and family. I had the overwhelming desire to get rid of all of my hair. I wanted to shave it all first-off, but didn’t have the guts, so it went in some very interesting stages, including a festival-cut mullet at one point! But it’s there — gone — now, and I love it. Most of all, it’s easy to maintain. Ready for the road. I’ve been packing and preparing too, and starting to think about saying goodbye.

These sort of ‘cleansing rituals’ are in preparation for the transition, but also a cleansing of identity, ridding myself of the baggage of my current corporeal life, a loss of identity, in preparation to become a pilgrim. The loss is accepted for spiritual gain. And I hope I will gain.

I’ve received all the sponsorship now, and I can’t begin to imagine how much it all would have cost me, in time as well as money, working out specifically what I’d need. I spent a few days cycling and camping (and of course, visiting forgotten village churches, my favourite pastime) around the Sussex downs to test and prepare both the equipment and myself.

The bike is incredible, so sturdy and comfortable, such a dream to ride. The bottom stand is so, so useful, especially when I’m loading up in the morning, or stopping somewhere there isn’t a wall to lean against.

The Carradice bags; there are so many of them! At first I wasn’t sure I could use them all, but having done a kit pack, I’m definitely grateful for the extra room the pannier-top bag in particular gives me. I can keep my tent and roll-mat in there, and it’s secured on top easily with bungees. Thanks also for such great service – when the mount for the handlebar bag didn’t fit on my tiny handlebars, they sent me some nice bits of leather to bulk them out, and it’s worked a treat.

My new cycling clothes from Polaris are dreamy. The padding on the shorts is amazing, I don’t know how they’ve made it so comfortable, and having the side leg pocket is so useful. I keep my sunglasses in there so I don’t have to stop to take them on and off. The socks make me feel like a bumble bee, and they look great with my sandals (sorry, fashion police!).

The lifesaver pack from Porterlight has been a lifesaver already. There was included so many little things which I might have forgotten, or not thought to bring at all. The fix kit in the tube is great, to be able to keep everything in one place. The chargeable battery is such a good thought. I’ve used it already, when my iPad was running out of battery and I wanted to keep writing this! The handwritten letter of encouragement I received with the pack was so lovely.

I’d like to thank all the sponsors – Richard Delacour of Oxford Bike Works, Peter and Margaret at Carradice, Polaris, and Lawrence at Porterlight – for being amazingly kind, friendly and generous. I hope I do all your awesome equipment justice!

As for other equipment I’ve sourced, Cascade Designs MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent has been my biggest spend, at £350, but I figure as I’ve got to live in it for 2–3 years, I don’t mind splashing out. It’s worth it, though, because this tent is literally amazing. It’s like sleeping in a sci-fi film set. The other is a down sleeping bag. At £100 it’s probably the cheapest down bag available anywhere, and it had a few questionable reviews, but so far I’ve had no problems with it at all. It’s warm and the zip is sound, and it actually packs down into the stuff-sack. Thumbs up.

I thought I’d say a little about my route, as much as I know so far. I’ll start from Bristol, because I need to say goodbye to everyone, and also because I need some space to throw things around whilst I get ready to go, which I just don’t have in my windmill, unfortunately. I’m planning to cycle upcountry, to Northumberland. My route will officially start on Holy Island, Lindisfarne, which has spiritual roots dating back thousands of years, and a rich history Pagan, Druidic, and Christian religious heritage. Plus I’ve always wanted to go there. From there, I’ll get the ferry from Newcastle to Amsterdam and carry on through to Germany, and onwards, out east. I know this doesn’t sound very specific, but to be honest, I’m tied by neither time nor distance – just money. I’ve got some big places that I need to see, and the rest of the world will fit in around them, I hope. It’s important to me to have the space to follow others’ stories and journeys as much as my own. That’s what this trip has been intended for.

I’d like to thank Tom Allen, firstly for creating the Janapar Grant – what a wonderful thing to support young people in their quest for the world – and secondly for seeing ‘the thing’ in me. Thanks also to the mentors. You’ve bestowed some seriously sage advice. Thanks to my ma for not being too worried about me, and supporting me in ‘the thing too’. 

See y’all on the road.

Jess Hargreaves is 2016’s Janapar Grant winner. Her dispatches will be published here on a monthly basis, or as time and circumstance allows.