Smoke me a lllama, I’ll be back for breakfast.

Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002
Pacific Rims.

Tucked away in doughy cerebral loaf are a number of passably articulate posts. They include the rather racy “we’re all cyborgs now“* requiring translation from a spidery scrawl- forced upon me by our continuing love/no love relationship with the Internet. Directly related is a spittle-flecked invective-fuelled open letter to Ian Livingston, apparently head gibbon at the gloriously incompetent BT. This sweary rant has the potential for a few laughs especially if you find pithy offering such as “what the fuck were they doing back there? engaging in a spot of unionised dwarf tossing” amusing.

It’ll make some kind of sense with a little context. Possibly not too much.

This is none of those things. The closest it comes to previous rambles is the shameful photologue** cataloguing the rambling pantheon of my bike collection. In that it dusts off some pre-digital photography, lampoons my many dodgy parts within the frame, and wistfully recollects halcyon days with a focus on jumpers-for-goalposts, respect-for-your-elders beer-at-a-pound-a-pint, rickets and the poorhouse.

Cast your mind back to 2002. A year – for me – much closer to 30 than 40. Still on the backslide of trying to save the world by depriving it of alcohol, and newly obsessed with two wheeled mud plugging. Beer and Bikes at the NEC MBUK show intersected with the Macmillan Cancer stand and a thirst for some new adventure.

That adventure proved to be closer to home than we suspected. On falling through Mike’s front door to be confronted by both our watch typing wives, we drunkenly explained that – in less than six months – we’d be off to Ecuador having raised vast amounts of cash for a fantastic charity, and – in my case – abandoned the mother of my very, very young children. This unexpectedly did not play well. While you wince and tut, I may as well add “missing Jessie’s first birthday” and “explaining it didn’t matter as she wouldn’t notice” to the lengthening charge sheet. But we badgered on, entirely free of guilt, and eventually received grudging approval.
Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002 Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002
First some basic maths. 1000 kilometres, 11 days, mostly road, middle of the monsoon season. Fly into Quito (via Spain, that was one hell of a trip in itself), ride to the pacific. All sorts turned up, proper cycling men and women with gleaming bikes (me, natch: shame about ruining it with the yellow tyres) to bar-bag strapping recreational riders having no clue at all what a 100k a day does to your arse. And that’s before the suspected dysentery.
Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002 Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002

It was quite a trip. 100 people stuck in a bubble for two weeks. This was pre-smartphone so we didn’t get too much iPhone separation angst, but it still messed quite severely with your head. Stuff that was previously complex and important proved to be mirrored smoke, instead we lived simply and prayed for the rain to stop, paying (in rum) for others to pitch your soaking tent, pitting desperately tired legs over proper mountains, firing down tarmac roads outbraking the huge trucks into the bends and forging amazing relationships in a shared white hot experience.
Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002

And shitting in holes in the ground. And Dodging mosquito’s the size of sparrows. And eating terrible food. And suffering horribly with “the runs” that make every previous dose of diarrhoea seem nothing worse than cutting a noisy fart. And with all of that and more, it was an experience that I can feel/taste/smell/see as I write these words and look at those images. And it becomes evidently clear that we don’t get enough of those.

Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002

The sense of achievement as we hit the pacific – and then hit the bar twice as hard – is indescribable. And I’m not being semantically lazy here, especially since somehow I was the first one home, five minutes ahead of everyone else having gone a little mental in the last 30ks. Beer in hand, toes in the ocean, sun on my back, maelstrom in my head, it really did feel like being between two worlds. One that was new and fresh and impossibly exciting, against the old version that felt small and silly and a little bit hateful.

Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002Ecuador Mcmillan Challenge - 2002

That trip taught me many things. How insanely fucked up the world was in terms of the have-lots and have-nothings. The way kids are the same the world over, every hopeful and always laughing. Unless the poor bastards were crawling about in the dirt and starving. The unfathomable greed of Western oil companies. The endless, wearisome corruption of governments and those who govern in their name. What a bloody disaster the deforestation of the rain forest was, but just how much was left.

It also taught that me stupidity has no limits, and neither does mankind. It made me grow up a bit and realise that black and white are merely shades of grey depending on who is doing the talking. That right and wrong don’t really exist, the best you can do is find a decent place to stand. So when watching only-slightly-grown-up kids shifting oil with their bare hands for $7 a day I thought that was terrible.

Until they explained that this was “proper money” and – while it may shorten their life by 30 years – it gave them access to western consumerable shit; playstations and the like. That shouldn’t make you sad, it makes you so bloody angry that we’ve got the poor fuckers coming and going. Then I came home, full of the righteous urge to do something about it.

I did. Forgot about it mostly. Maybe changed the way I looked at the world and that’s a good thing. And it started me writing properly. Which may not be. There’s 10,000+ words*** on my hard drive recording the whole trip; some building rants and right-on observations, while the rest appear to be documenting poo-pits and how shit tents are.

And because I’m stupidly busy leaving one job, and trying to work out what the fuck I might do next, I feel a few well chosen chapters could fill the gaping maw of vanity publishing.

Sod the content, smell the whiff.

* a concept explained to me by my friend Will. Will – be clear that’s the only namecheck you’re getting. Everything else written on the subject shall be unashamedly plagiarised.You should know my lawyer is so genetically close to a shark, he has suit-fins. Consider yourself warned 🙂

** Not a word? Must be. If not, damn well should be. Surely there’s money to be made here. And it’s better than “Chillax“. And less likely to get the speaker silenced with an axe.

*** You think I’m wordy now? Christ I shall introduce you to some of my back catalogue. That’ll make you a bit bloody grateful for my more recent personal sub-editing.

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