Early DaysAt the same time as I've always biked and climbed, I took to playing Badminton in the early 70s. It captivated me. No pit-pat stuff for me, but the full-bore 180mph smash. No half measures. Got to go full throttle. Bike at max speed and find the longest hills to climb and the steepest ones to descend. Lucky to have at my centre UK National Senior and Junior Champions. They both gave me coaching and soon I entered the tournament circuit. Though I never did that well in those matches unless I played someone strong. Otherwise it's like entering a mtb downhill, where all the soppy buggers mess up your flow.
Yet soon, in the days without internet, I arranged a US tour. With a series of letters and magazines, I'd sorted a five-week trip. And there I stood at the airport, wondering yet what new madness I had volunteered myself for, yet really a conscript of my own, inescapable wanderlust. I thought myself mad and scared. And my ventures alone way into the Highlands of Scotland with a pack that I could barely haul with a dingy inside, and my biking from London and across France, to Switzerland and back. Full of youth and energy, and at the same time, trepidation. But I couldn't stop myself. These sort of things do that to me. I can't sit and be ordinary. Even to this day. Neither do I age in my thoughts. It's still full throttle, and age 25.
The Boston Tea PartyAnd so there I roared into the blue yonder, wondering if I'd locate the people I'd contacted. There I landed in Boston, some years since the Boston Tea Party. And then made a call to my first link and over to his workplace, through the subway, down the unknown streets and toting a big bag. Ask a cop. Jeepers, he's got a gun!
But Boston, yes, I felt so at home. I loved every second. Everyone made me feel right at home - yes New England. Great Badminton courts led me to a regional final. But alas, 14 match point 7 down. The tea clipper was sunk. But no, the British had come. Smash, lob, clear, throw myself to the floor, and back came the score. 8, 9, 10, 11. Again match points against me. This guy wasn't gonna lie down, and nor was I gonna be beat.
But I played him like a fish on the line, wore him down and reeled him in to get the big point, level at 14 all and set to 3. Still level at 2 all. Now all or nothing. Lie down and get beat - I shot a fast clear overhead, and the guy doubled up with cramp and it fell plum on the line. Win !! A party, celebrations all round. Halcyon days.
Then for every following weekend, a new flight. Living on airline extra meals and Saltine crackers and peanuts stuffed into my bag as money was real short and running on a couple a hundred bucks ticket with a roll of vouchers for stops. A new place, new people to find. Bam, lob, smash, some matches lost, some won. But what an adventure. On to Toronto. Out in the singles, but gunning it in the mixed with a good partner. And another title. She took me home to dinner. Then her boyfriend turned up. Jees, another cop and showing me his gun and all, and I leaving with my tail between my legs instead of hers. The mixed match was over.
Next stop, and through the streets and sandwich bars, food as little as I could afford but at the same time just finding enough to eat. And the great people that also kept me fed. Me, age 24 skipping around the Americas alone - plane hops, Pittsburgh, Toronto and its towering heights, St Louis, LA, Mexico, back to LA, Florida, San Diego, Denver in those two trips, and seeing every sight I could get to. Just a Whirlwind. At times I'd outrun my tickets, playing tactic and guile to get them to press the print button and get me a boarding pass otherwise I was stranded like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal" with no nationality because there was a coup.
ThanksgivingYet the special days where I sieved through sand on the beach in LA to find some change for a Dagwood and shake, but then a Thanksgiving hospitality dinner, rides in a Cadillac, a Ford Thunderbird and the sound of Fleetwood Mac and The Beach Boys. And the Mayor of Mexico City giving me his chauffeured limo and free meals at the restaurant. Escorted with lovely gals, the one who fell in love with me, but I failed to see it and instead I fell for her friend who had a voice like a songbird. But the first came looking for me, but I was overseas again. People I've not traced, some maybe dead in the Mexican quake they had those years back. Those trips to the Aztec Pyramids and The Avenue of The Dead. My head span with the whole venture. I'd never felt so alive. But in all, the best thing I've ever done. It set me right for travelling. Five years away in another continent, new ventures to the Drakensburg, The Barrier of Spears and across the Roof of Africa by 4WD and seeing the real remote places, packhorses and packing in a wonderworld as I drove half way to the top of it.
But then coming home to no work. Skilled without the paperwork. Back to school and another Whirlwind cramming 3 years into 2 and coming out with flying colours as it all came together through the gains of worldly experience, and fell right into the new job. My new boss could sense it. And so, I was off again, everywhere by myself living in an echoic world of "trains planes and automobiles", the milling, transient world of the populous, floating through the airports on autopilot and incidental conversation like a drifter. But I landed on my feet, every assignment amidst the beloved mountains and wonderful Alpine passes to bike. Had I dreamed I was in Paradise. I never fell out of bed to find it so.
Yes, the work tough, the 9 to 5, the evening and weekends on-call, as I entered both the tranquillity and storms of the heights - Climb, Trek, Bike, as I explored alone the heights of each new stable, giving me the energy to do the job. The high ventures testing myself as I climbed white mountains and many times teetered on the brink. Scared then, and afterwards remembering that I was, but it's not the same as being there. It's the only way to know. Each part, a tough yet wonderful venture. So lucky to be me. So lucky to be born, as my Grandfather engaged in the Boer War of 1899, then in the trenches in WWI at the Battle of the Somme, the WWII air raids on London, and my Pa in the Libyan Desert in WWII. How did I get here at all !!