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Graham Field: Where's the time?

Generally, when we travel we slow our pace, we find time to watch sunsets and we are more aware of seasonal changes, we're certainly more aware of the weather.

Travelling helps us adjust our speed of life to the pace of appreciation which in turn enables us to see so much more, not just sites but a bigger awareness of what's around us. The shock usually occurs when the trip ends and we come back to our fast modern world, a place where there is never enough time. Maybe upon your return you pass a friend in the street,

'Wow I haven’t seen you for ages' he says

'No I've been away on my bike'

'Sounds great. We must catch up sometime, I've gotta rush now.'

Must you eh? Must you rush, so you can catch up sometime in the future? Listen to the terminology.

I would imagine many of my readers and listeners are around my age group, an age that remembers life before mobile phones, before sat navs and email. Remember when you came home to listen to your messages, then tied by the phone cable anchored to the wall you would speak with no other distractions. But now we have all these time-saving devices, the smartphone – no more answer machines, the email – no more physical letters and trips to the post office. And now contactless payment to save the time it took to press a keypad 4 times which in turn saved the signature and before that the carbonated credit card imprint sliding machine.

All this time we are saving, where the fuck is it? We will never save enough time with these devices to have any spare; the void is always filled with anything but spare time. There is not going to be sudden abundance of it at the end of the day with the completion of all tasks or a credit to our life expectancy.

Let’s say I go into the supermarket and get a ready meal. I save 5 minutes by not having to buy ingredients, then I go to a self checkout and flash my card, saving a 1 minute queue and 5 seconds by not typing my PIN. I receive a call and babble away the 5 minutes it takes the microwave to bubble away what little nutrition was in my food. No chopping, stirring or cooking, no answer machine, listening and dialing. Then check my email as I eat, no letter to write, no stamp to find or a walk to the post box. In the space of half an hour I've saved at least that much again. Where's my credit? When do I get that half an hour back? I'm not going to am I? The relentless demands on my time continue. I could have enjoyed the ingredients selection, the checkout interaction, the cooking preparation and lived in the moment as I tasted my creation. Would that have been wasted time?

The slower pace of life I think is the best spent time of all. What's the rush, the need to catch up? Seasons will change whether we're aware or not, plants will grow and flower, children will grow up and parents will grow older. This isn't a unique observation by any means but those of us who have been away for a prolonged period are perhaps so much more aware of the speed of life we left behind and the lack of fulfillment it brought.

That’s why I take a minimal amount of electronic gadgetry with me on the road. I remember sitting in a café in Macedonia looking out the window, watching a fully loaded, solo GS rider, first fiddle with his phone then his sat nav and never once looking up, he didn’t even see my bike, absolutely oblivious to what was going on around him.

I recently read my second book Eureka into a microphone for it to be turned into an audio book and reread some experiences I'd forgotten. In Northern Iraq I stopped to ask directions because my map was not corresponding with the road I was on. I was helped by armed men without uniforms and then an Arab in a Mercedes stopped to look at my map too.

A moment now, that seems quite improbable but it was a daily occurrence in my journey because I simply had to stop and ask for direction, for hotels, for everything. No, no sat nav but human interaction instead - these are the memories that remain. Perhaps with digital directions I could have saved an hour and spent it doing what exactly? Downloading tomorrow’s coordinates? What would have been a better way to spend that time?

At this time of year there tends to be some summing up of what's been and thoughts look forward to the near future. Perhaps a goal for 2019 could be, let's be a little less distracted by the permanent rush and instead engage saunter mode, and take the time to appreciate the moment as it occurs. The saunter is the organic antidote to multitasking, it takes longer, is more fulfilling and wholesome.

When I cycled round India in the 90's I was reading Thomas Hardy's Far From the Madding Crowd, (the irony of the title didn’t go unnoticed) but also, it was for me, a story of a slower life, something you can certainly relate to as a cyclist. The story took place during the industrial revolution, a period of mechanisation, a new birth in time-saving devices. But Gabriel, the main character, remained unaffected, kept his life simple, watched his flock, predicted the weather and told time by the stars.

So as you kit up for your long anticipated journey overland, consider exactly where you want to save time and where it's best spent because out there in the less developed world time moves at the same pace it always has, the trick is to keep in time with it, you will never catch up, best to slow down.

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