Taking a gap year – aged 53

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Nicholas Waite decided to take a gap year. Aged 53. He cycled 7,000 km from Spain to Norway. He tells his story to Living In Magazines.

A builder who we employed to renovate our house in St Margaret’s once said: ’Anything is possible if you have enough time.’ With those wise words resonating in my head I set off on April 6, 2018 to cycle solo the 4,300 miles from Europe’s southernmost point (Tarifa in southern Spain) to its most northern point, Nordkapp in far north Norway.

Enjoying a mature ’gap year’ from the frantic pace of the corporate world, I had decided on this trip to immerse myself in Europe at a slower pace than driving or flying and to raise as much money as possible for the Nepal Youth Foundation charity.

My route would take me up the east coast of Spain into France and then onto Germany, Denmark, Sweden, and finally Norway.  I would be on the road for 84 days, of which 73 were spent cycling.

When I finished the two most common questions asked were ‘what was the highlight?’ and ‘what did you think about?’. Answering the first was easy. It was the people I met. The warmth of hospitality and generosity extended to me by complete strangers was immeasurable and without exception. As, too, was the inspiration I drew from my interaction with fellow travellers. None more so than two particular characters. One was a blind German man who, with the aid of a friend riding in front of him, was cycling a Trike (bicycle with three wheels) 500 km, ‘just because,’ he said, ‘life needs to be lived’.

The other was a paraplegic lady who I came across in Norway. She was roller skiing down the road, pushing herself with her arms, whilst sitting atop a small platform attached to her two skis.

Both experiences made me pause and reflect that whatever pain or tiredness I was feeling was put into context by these two.

And what did I think about on the trip? Well, not a lot. I was usually concentrating on counting the miles until the top of the next hill or concentrating on staying alive on the way back down.  But, being a keen photographer, I was always scouting the terrain for a decent photo.

I never pondered too long on how far I had to go and nor did I get struck by the supposed ‘white light’ of revelation as to what I was going to do career wise once I finished the ride. In contrast, I found myself in an almost meditative trance most days, absorbing everything around me through sight, sound and smell. Lowlights were few, if any. Yes, the weather in the far north of Norway was at times challenging. However, I was inside the Arctic Circle.

Of course, none of this would have been possible without the understanding and support of my wife, Kathryn, who came out to meet me on several occasions during the ride and was there at the end when I rolled into Nordkapp in the middle of one of the fiercest storms to hit the area during the entire summer. Family and friends. The existence of both during my trip awakened me to the belief that it’s not so much the experience itself, but who you share it with that is more enduring.

Read more about Nicholas’s adventures at: www.thelaeman.com

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