I thought it would be good to share my (successful) application to The Janapar Grant. It's pretty personal, so it's taken a while for me to forget what I wrote so I can post it...
I wrote it on my phone, during an 8-hour flight from Doha to Johannesburg. That was pretty frustrating, to be honest.
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Where you are in life right now, and how did you get here?
I'm just finishing my master's at the University of Brighton. I studied Design and Craft, specialising in Jewellery and Metal.
Right now, even though I haven't yet finished my course, I can feel the post-graduation angst setting in. What do I mean, where do I fit into the 'real world', how do I make a meaningful transition, from a world where everything I think and feel matters almost too much, to one where seemingly nothing I do matters much to anyone!
I feel the powerlessness felt by many in my situation in the UK, dissatisfaction with the life laid out for us, trying to find meaningful work where there is no work.
So we just go off-grid, check out. Currently, I live in a tiny windmill in the countryside in East Sussex. I found rent too expensive in Brighton, where I was previously living. I spent three months of last year renovating my little house, doing everything from scaffolding to building ladders, to fitting my sink (not easy in a round space!). Life is hard sometimes, with an outside compost loo and wood burning stove, but the summer makes up for the lack or warmth and comfort in winter. Plus my rent is super cheap.
I feel like I'm ready to embark on the big one, the adventure and exploration that will frame the rest of my life. Maybe this will be me from now on.
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Why do you want to go on a long, solo journey overseas?
There's a short answer and a long answer. The first is that, I believe I can.
For ever and ever, I've been (at times unknowingly) going on pilgrimages. The act of performing a pilgrimage, a journey of moral or spiritual significance, the journey for journey's sake, mirroring the journey through life, has pulled a thread through my life.
I always seem to be setting myself these seemingly insane challenges. Four years ago I thought, why not cycle around the world, to experience rites and acts of pilgrimage in all different cultures, from the everyday walk to school, to the once-in-a-lifetime turn to Mecca.
Though irreligious myself, I have always searched for the meaning in the journey.
So I started planning, but as the years have crept by and the time and space haven't materialised, my yearning has gradually been consigned to the 'not in this lifetime' basket.
Though I realise I'm at the top end of the age range, when I heard about this opportunity I went digging through the waste-paper basket of mislaid adventures for the old, though seemingly ever-present, plans.
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Why do you want to make this journey by bicycle over other forms of transport?
I have previously made journeys on foot. Last year, a spur-of-the-moment decision led me to walk Chaucer's route from Winchester to Canterbury, through the middle of winter with just a hammock to keep me off the ground. It was a lot more interesting than the memory of dreary GCSE English classrooms.
My grandfather was for his whole life, an avid cyclist, even for the years he spent living with cancer. He never stopped cycling, going on tours around the country late into his illness. I inherited some of his old gear, and a lot of his enthusiasm for the road, when he passed away a few years ago.
I believe in the experience of seeing the whole world, not just the places on top-ten-beach lists. The places in between ARE the world, and I don't want to skip them.
Ultimately, life on two wheels is better than life on two feet.
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When would you depart on your journey, and where would you start from?
I finish university in June, and have no great need to stick around for long. I always thought I'd be on the road as soon as possible.
Summer – Autumn seems a good time to start, meaning a sunny and warm (debatable!) start through Europe to ease myself in.
Leaving from the UK, as that's where I am. Perhaps somewhere spiritually significant, like Lindisfarne.
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Where would you like to go, and where would you expect it to finish (if you know)?
There exist ancient lines of human travel from the UK through Europe, and on to Jerusalem. I imagine following the well-worn lines of pilgrimage, though not forgetting the overlooked paths, following the movement of people following their faith.
I want to go the 'slow' way. North-to-south, east-to-west. I once worked out that to see everything I might be distracted by (I'm a tangential thinker) I would need at least three years. I feel like, I can't expect to know (nor would I really want to) and plan for every village fiesta, church fete or community procession there is to happen across, and so much of the human movement I am interested in takes place in unseen spaces, in small, seemingly insignificant ways (that keep the whole human race churning and sifting), that I am more bound to a vague route with room for interpretation and change, than keeping a strict itinerary. When people are moved to move, to search the physical world for the answers to the questions of the world within, unexpected and magical things seem to happen. What a path to follow!
I met an elderly woman walking alone, many miles from anywhere on the road in Spain. I stayed with her for three days and we sang songs that taught me how to work. I helped in the garden and she fed me. We ate lettuce and cabbages and tomatoes as juicy as apples. We spoke not a single intelligible word between us, but each gained a deep understanding of the other. These are the vignettes that make up the fabric of life. I truly believe I would not have many of the formative experiences of my life if not for these ongoing journeys.
Fortunately I have the time and the space to commit as much as is physically and mentally possible to the experience. As an artist, my work broadly concerns human movement through the landscape, so this most epic journey would give me enough to work with for a whole lifetime of inspiration. So I guess it would finish, eventually, with an exhibition.
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What is your estimated budget for the journey, and how do you plan to finance it?
I'm lucky enough to have some inheritance left to me by the same grandfather who also left me with the passion and commitment to cycling as a way of living and moving. There doesn't seem to me to be a more fitting way to honour his memory and his warmth and life, than to use what he left me to cycle around the world and explore the journeys of others. I think he would be as proud of me as I was of him!
I have around £10,000 (I'm not sure of the exact amount!) but at the moment I'm not too sure how far that would get me. I'm pretty good at living on a shoestring though.
I'm also a pretty practical person, it helps to have a trade, I think. I can build and repair and generally labour, I can work as a jeweller, and even teach English if needed to pay my way. I like to make things as I go anywhere, and usually have tools on me to whip up a ring or a pendant from whatever is lying around. I find it helps to come bearing gifts when you ask people their stories.
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In what ways do you expect your journey to challenge you?
I expect every journey I make to challenge me, and actively seek these challenging situations.
Even as a child, going on a long walk in the countryside, I would find the biggest rock I could conceivably lift and stubbornly carry it the whole way, arms stretched down and straining, tongue poking out of the corner of my mouth in concentration. No matter how my parents tried to convince me to put it down I would carry that rock! I have an idea that many others also have, that the way our lives are lived makes things too easy. I find myself the most joyful, the most content, when my body sings with the struggles of just finding a way to get through the current hurdle, and on to the next one. The primal struggle to survive brings the best out of us and we can really come to understand why we need to be alive.
Aside from the obvious physical challenge of cycling considerable distances through difficult terrain, maintaining mental fortitude whilst also being realistic about my ability to overcome obstacles, will be a powerful balancing act.
I also expect to encounter cultural challenges, as I'm aware that I'm in a privileged position as a white, western woman. I can only say, especially as I'm interested in actively participating in and exploring the rituals of other cultures and religions, that I always try to act in the most respectful and interested manner. I think if you come to people with an open curiosity, most of the time you are welcomed! This is also not an anthropological mission, I wish to explore my own ideas around pilgrimage by exploring others'.
Many people laughed at the idea of cycling around the world as just another of my weird personal challenges, one that would never come to fruition. Many people were quick to point out potential pitfalls and 'reasons not to go', but I tend to see those as challenges rather than being dissuaded!
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What aspects of the journey are you most daunted by or afraid of?
Being realistic, travelling alone as a woman. In my life in the UK, I very rarely encounter any resistance to the things I want to do, because of my assigned gender! However, I'm not naive to the understanding that many places in the world aren't as 'safe' for lone women as others. This is one of the areas where I feel the mentoring would really benefit me.
The first few weeks of 'why am I doing this, what have I got myself into?!' and the urge to turn back, and being able to overcome this.
The point at which you don't know whether it's safer to turn back to find water/food/shelter or to carry on. Will I make the right decision? No matter how prepared you think you are, I know there will always be a situation with a decision like that. It's intrinsic to the journey and the unknown.
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What do you hope to learn through making this journey?
How and why others are moved to leave their homes, to travel into the unknown, in search of something outside but inside. The whole of human history, people have been making journeys like these. Maybe through them I can come to understand my own desire to keep moving, keep pushing, keep breaking down boundaries, just over that next hill.
What keeps us all moving and seeking, through different cultures and religions – a constant physical journey mimicking the journey of the human body through life.
I think an experience such as this would teach me that I can truly believe in myself. I often question a lot of things about myself and my motives in life.
I also really want to learn Spanish.
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Would you still make this journey without the Janapar Grant, and if so, how?
Perhaps, one day, maybe. I'm a determined person, but there's nothing like a push and a breeze to set you off.
Feeling the journey well up inside me from somewhere tucked away, seeing the grant felt like the catalyst to renew a dream that never seemed like it could be a reality.
A while ago a friend asked a group of us, as he turned twenty-five (my own quarter-century milestone just a few weeks away), what would we regret by the time we were thirty. Being the gen-Y millennials that we all are, and a few drinks down, many bemoaned the lack of affordable housing, the tinder-fied dating culture meaning no marriage in sight, or the fact that not a single one of us has spawned. Without even thinking, I replied 'not cycling around the world'. He just raised his eyebrow.