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The Rider

Photo - Tomek Janus

Me staring at the opposite bank of River Thames

Introduction

My name is Tomek Janus and I’m a thirty something years old Pole living in the East Midlands region of the United Kingdom. The last years of my life have been very hectic as I had to juggle between part-time PhD work and full-time employment as a research fellow at a local university. My life followed a simple yet full schedule of working, sleeping, eating, climbing, riding and fixing my bikes. The rest of the time was spent on thinking about travelling on one of them. I managed to go on several journeys in the last few years despite of being busy with the doctorate work. Some of these trips have been recorded in blogs, some of them not. Despite of lack of time in the last year or so I managed to get ready for a solo trip around the African continent which I am doing all by myself and without any sponsorship. I wish I could organise and go on this trip earlier but a sequence of events in my life and my chosen path in life did not give me an opportunity to fulfill this lifelong dream of mine – to travel the world without a fixed schedule, no long-term plans and no immediate return date. This is what travelling is all about – seizing the moment and enjoying every single bit of it, taking advantage of the opportunities and seeing where they take you. It is very hard to put such a philosophy into effect when you are on holiday, the flights have already been booked and you are expected to be back at work at a given day. Fortunately, the opportunity has come to do what I have been planning to do for a long time – to travel just the way I want. I got a 12 month sabbatical which  I’m using go around Africa on my enduro motorbike. How did it happen that I am where I am right now, hadn’t been there earlier nor later? Here’s my short life-story of a wanderer at heart.

My short story

I’ve been curious about the world since I ever remember. My wanderlust started when I was probably around 5-6 years old when I got my first foldable bike which I used to explore my neighbourhood. After I got to know it well I felt like the pond was too small so I began venturing further away. I remember going once to my cousin Marcin who lived quite a long distance away in another district of Warsaw, roughly about 7-8 kms away from where my parents lived at that time. Although it doesn’t seem at all like a long distance now, when you are young everything  looks and feels much bigger. Visiting his neighbourhood was almost like going to another country, which by the way, I was also curious of seeing – it didn’t matter which one as long as I could cross the border. When my parents came up with an idea to go on a family holidays to Lake Balaton in Hungary or to The Sunny Beach in Bulgaria I voted for the latter because it was simply further away and we had to cross more countries on the way there. I must say that was probably the most exciting holiday I’ve ever been on with my parents and the first true road trip in my life. At the age of 17 I was given an opportunity, thanks to my parents, to spend a year in the US. I did not hesitate a single bit with the decision. A year in America! At that time, America was a place to dream of, a land of plenty, a paradise, or at least it seemed like that to all of us. It was also on another continent and everything there looked so much different to what we had in Poland. I had a great time in America and saw a lot of things thanks to the Peraino family who hosted me for an entire year and showed me around the neighbouring states in their free time. When I came back from America I enrolled at a university and became skint all of a sudden. The students in Poland in those years did not have money alike the students now in the UK or in the US who mainly live on borrowed money. I had to put visiting other countries off for a while and get focussed on my studies. Five years went buy and I became an engineer – an unemployed one. After a bit of searching and some help I secured myself a position of a process engineer which earned me a salary of 200 GBP net / month, hardly anything you can live from in any first or second world country. A year after I won a scholarship from the Maciej Nowicki Foundation which allowed me to spend 12 months at two different German universities after which I moved over to the UK and began a professional career as a process/water engineer. Although with only 22 days of paid holiday per annum I finally began earning enough money to think of travelling abroad. Me and my girlfriend Marta started going on bicycle holidays around Europe and managed to complete journeys across Germany, Spain and Croatia. The things began looking even better when I switched jobs and started working at De Montfort University in Leicester. With about 40days of paid holiday per year I could finally plan longer trips. The first one came up in 2008 when myself and a friend of mine from uni days Marek went on a Mongolia Charity Rally to Ulaanbaatar in a 800 GBP 4×4 Isuzu Trooper. In 2010 I took part in a group motorbike trip around Argentina and Chile. In 2011 I travelled with my girlfriend in Vietnam on two 125cc two-stroke Minsk bikes which we purchased from the famous Cuong’s garage in Hanoi for 250 USD each. Later that year I travelled from Delhi to Leh and then to Kashmir on a rented 350cc Royal Enfield Electra inspired by a magnificent movie by Gaurav Jani’s entitled “Riding solo to the top of the world”. I loved the Indian Himalaya mountains so much that I returned there with Marta the next year. We went on two Enfields again to Leh but this time we visited the Spiti Valley and taking long way back to Delhi we stopped by in Rishikesh, Lucknow, Sultanpur and Varanassi. During these trips I gained some necessary knowledge on how to maintain and fix bikes whilst on the road, and how to prepare them for long trips. I was planning to go on a bike trip across Africa much earlier although I know now that the timing would not be right if I did so. I didn’t have enough knowledge about motorbikes nor about the continent. It looks and feels like the timing now is spot on. It’s never good to rush things but to wait for them to come naturally. The trip to Africa which I am undertaking now is the ultimate trip for me at the moment and the one that is hard to beat in any way with regard to complexity, the level of danger, and the required amount of preparations. I do have plans for next trips already, but let’s see what the nearest future brings first.


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