Inevitably, venturing out on an expedition of epic proportion means leaving a career behind you, may it be handing your notice in, taking an extended break or taking a sabbatical. In my case, to leave the next chapter of my life as a blank page with no anchors pulling me back, I handed in my notice. Despite relishing the reliability of a routine and regular income, and as many will know, meticulously scheduling my life, activities and eating habits like that of the Swiss railway, leaving work one last time before the trip of a lifetime and a decade long dream is a somewhat surreal experience. After being presented with an extremely generous gift and kind words from colleagues, of whom I can wholeheartedly define as friends, some of which, I hope for a lifetime, I walked out through the reception doors with my arms outstretched and the biggest of smiles across my face. The prologue to life’s next chapter finally begins.
The drive home was a mix of emotion: sheer elation and excitement coupled with a benign wave of anxiety; having no routine and knowing I have an ever increasing to do list and am rapidly running out of time. In hindsight, perhaps planning a road trip to Chamonix and a week of rock climbing in the French Alps in the eve of a grand cycling adventure wasn’t such a wise idea. Nevertheless, knowing that I would be deprived of rock climbing, my number one passion, for probably the entire trip and depleting every ounce of finger and forearm strength while enduring time in the saddle, I actually couldn’t think of a better way of spending my penultimate week. Being maniacally busy for the preceding weeks, I was relieved and excited to finally relax and spend some quality time with two of my closest friends. It is difficult to match the connection that is crafted between climbing partners, precariously leaning backwards over a 1,000 foot ledge, looking up and shouting words of encouragement as your partner cracks the crux of the climb knowing that their life is entirely in your hands. Trust is a powerful thing.
After yet another hectic evening of planning and packing the trusty Volkswagen Passat with camping and climbing gear, followed by the most beautiful wedding ceremony of two of my favourite people and the perfect couple, Nic and Anthony, my best friend Tom (Biskit) and I headed south and started our road trip to the French Alps. With a typical Luke Woods, sardine-tin of a schedule since leaving work, it wasn’t until staring back at the white cliffs of Dover when it finally sunk in. No more work, no more ties and in return, an open road and abundance of time. Time that I feel has been so precious during recent years. I left Biskit propped up seemingly uncomfortable, catching flies in the ferry café while I watched the cliffs disappear into the distance. Itching to tie myself in, chalk up and climb.
The only word that can ultimately define the following week was ‘Epic’. Seven consecutive days of climbing in paradise, from desert hot climbs in the Dijon region, exposed multi-pitch routes in the French Alps to bouldering in the sandy pine forests of Fontainebleau. The crown jewel of the trip had to be climbing the 240 metre climb of Cocher Cochon, an awesome eight pitch route with a finale that Rock Fax refer to as “THE PITCH”, a 6a, 40 metre beast that I can only describe as scaling the edge of a giant shark tooth gazing out across the Chamonix valley at the Mont Blanc Massif.
Accompanied by a razor sharp t-shirt tan and shredded finger tips, I was back in the UK. With only three days until departure I settled into a gluttonous routine of drinking and eating out with family and friends. Though it still didn’t feel real, saying goodbye one last time, to then board a one-way flight to Kyrgyzstan with nothing but the absolute necessities for a simple life on the road. I felt not a single ounce of anxiety or excitement. This seemed strange, but with my mind constantly ticking over, double and triple checking mental lists and somehow finding a slice of time to create a euphoric, orchestral movie soundtrack playlist, I didn’t allow myself any ‘me’ time to actually sit back to take it all in.
Forty eight hours, the final preparations had begun: I reluctantly took my bike apart and squeezed each component into the card board box for boarding the plane; I trolled through my kit lists, checked off every item; I packed my belongings, then unpacked to segregate and consolidate; I rearranged each bag and packed again to ensure I was under the maximum weight limits; I cancelled my phone contract, car insurance and slowly but surely, one thing at a time, I washed myself clean of anything tethering me back to the United Kingdom. The force pulled me towards, what I have been envisaging as Elysium, was strong. I knew that soon I would be greeted by my Father at the front door, who without hesitation, is always willing to drop any responsibilities to have the honour of waving one final goodbye to his children at the airport, as we have done so on many occasions. I knew that it would be at this point the huge weights are lifted off my shoulders, all the preparatory stress would be in the past and I willingly free my mind and gaze out the window. The long awaited feeling of not having to worry would be over and I could, at long last, live to enjoy the present moment.
“To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
Hans Christian Andersen, The Fairy Tale of my Life: An Autobiography