It was drawn to my attention last week that I am already one-quarter of a way through my self appointed ‘Bridge Year’. It is exactly three months since I walked out of my last paid employment ready to take on a whole new journey (or at least it was when I started on this post).
I spent a good while looking at the metaphorical map to find the best roads to start me off in the direction I wanted to head. Then I took my first brave steps into the unknown. So far, the ride has been interesting and largely stable. I have kept to the appointed route without much need to stop and check directions and with just the occasional wobble as unexpected obstacles have leapt into my path.
As I cycled to work one morning recently, I was reflecting on how I have mentally divided my route into quarters – each one having a different character. I was wondering whether this might come to reflect the experiences of my year, and if so, what advice or encouragement I might need along the way.
Setting Out: Leaving Comforts Behind
Each day, before my journey can start, I have to leave my comfort zone: the zone that is home, and more specifically bed. It is strange how difficult it is to leave the warmth and comfort of a bed in the morning and stranger still to realise that no sooner is it achieved, it is easily forgotten about.
This reflects what happens with some of the big decisions we make in life – like leaving a job we have been doing for many years. For me, there has certainly been no looking back (although I do confess to the occasional glance into former territory that has caused me to indulge in the odd comment or two).
First Quarter: The Straight and Narrow
Once out of the house, I am very quickly on to the path of the old railway route from Bedford to Sandy whereupon I travel in a straight line, amidst pleasant but closed surroundings taking a well-worn path from which diversion would be foolish.
I liken that to my experience at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau so far…..I am in training, on a prescribed course with little room for diversion or exploration but a safe, tried and tested route, in not unpleasant surroundings. There is no question or choice about where I am going. I can just get my head down and get on with it until I emerge at the end of the path trained, qualified and ready to encounter whatever might come my way.
Second Quarter: Immerse and Enjoy
At the end of the railway track, I enter directly into the Country Park. The vista opens and there are plenty of welcome distractions. Although there are defined paths and an obvious route, my attention is drawn to the views that change with the time of day and weather; the birds – sometimes agitated, sometimes serene – on and around the lake; or people in their various guises and occupations. I am presented with opportunities to explore – the finger lakes and beyond; invitations to stop – maybe at the water’s edge checking out my latent skills in stone skimming (well, it is just possible isn’t it?); and a chance to pause and enjoy the environment. Participation in any of these might certainly break the journey and could quite readily lead to the journey being abandoned. Not to participate – is choosing not to live for the moment.
But ‘beware the dogs!’ Now I know that the dog owners would beg to disagree. ‘Beware the cyclists’ I hear them cry, but it cannot be denied that my biggest hazard at this stage of the route is most definitely the canine species. Emerging from a bush or round a corner, they charge after some urgent point of interest, divert to greet other canine friends, advance upon me at speed as if attacking the enemy or just choose to stop, mere meters from the oncoming wheels of my bike these small loveable creatures have caused a raised heart beat on many occasion. In all that is competing for my attention, the most critical thing remains – I need to watch my speed and always remember to look where I am going.
There are parallels here with my experience so far with the Bedfordshire Rural Communities Charity. The tasks set before me are defined but with plenty of scope for additional exploration. Undertaking the defined role without pausing to view everything else around would be losing out. There are unexpected benefits and delights, but with them comes the opportunity to stray from the purpose of the exercise. In short, it has become easy to get comfortable and enjoy the ride without much reference to why I am there in the first place. Time, I think, to refocus and step up a gear.
Third Quarter: Facing the Hazards
Next comes the most difficult part of the journey. Emerging from the serenity of the Country Park, I encounter a series of twists and turns, pavements and bollards, roads and crossings, cars and pedestrians. Along the way are gathered groups of early morning smokers, trundling lorries, roadside gravel and noise. All have to be negotiated with full concentration, for at times this is a matter of life and death. This is the part of the journey for which I need my cycle helmet, thread on the tyres and breaks in good working order.
It is safe to say, I have not encountered this section in the bridge year journey yet. Perhaps, when I have finished the Citizen’s Advice training and am first let loose on the clients that come in from the street, it will feel similar. Perhaps there is a hazardous phase to come. Whatever the case, there is no moving on to the home straight until the third quarter has been negotiated.
Fourth Quarter: The Home Straight
And so, with the seven exit roundabout with flyover safely behind me, I turn into Bedford Road and on to the home straight. The pace changes just as soon as I have quickly passed by the small bridge on the wrong side of the road (an unnerving missing link on the defined cycle route). My body begins to sigh and relax in the knowledge that the way ahead is smooth and predictable, providing a green and pleasant path straight to my destination.
I shall look out with eagerness for this part of the journey in my year. It may not happen, not every journey has a home straight, but I do still express a desire, that when the time comes and I turn the last corner, I will see a clear route and destination ahead.
I started my last post by pointing out that I had crashed a new website. I am pleased to report that it was up and operational within a couple of days and the pause in entries here can perhaps be explained by the need to get the first few posts up on the new site.
Any who are interested to hear more about my exploits at my first placement, please do travel across to supportbedfordshire.co.uk and have a browse.