By Simon Parker
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
Simon Parker is a travel journalist and broadcaster with numerous journeys under his belt, frequently writing for the Daily Telegraph and other journals. Wanderlust may well be understating it, but his urge to travel became a major issue during COVID lockdowns – and not just because it is how he earns his livelihood. Running through the book are anxieties and insecurities from his youth onward that seem to have been forced to the surface by compulsory inactivity. If you want a prime example of ‘cycling-as-therapy’ this is up there with the best. The journey, or two journeys described here, bring self-discovery, renewed friendships, and in the end …. well, we’ll leave that for you to discover.
Riding out anxiety, riding out COVID, riding out to solve financial challenges, riding out to see the British Isles from Muckle Flugga to Land’s End and from the Scilly Isles back to Muckle Flugga – down the west side and back via the south and east coasts. Take the title to mean one or all. Needless to say, this variety of facets ebbs and flows with the tides, with changes of current keeping things mixed. Like any blend, some parts may be more to the readers taste than others, but the flow will sweep you on.
Simon Parker does not describe himself as a cyclist, although his account is full of grit and determination. We all do things different ways. He set off on a budget – actually rather less than a budget. Scrimping and saving was necessity having seen earning opportunities disappear for both himself and Alana, his partner. Add in the challenges of lockdown, limited preparation, a mixed-bag of gear, and a great bike in less than perfect nick, and you have a cycle trip likely to invite ‘adventures’ beyond those any trip brings. Those precision tourers who measure their muesli and plan every inch of the journey may wish to look the other way. Travel as you like, I say, and good on Simon Parker for taking on the vagaries of national lockdown rules on his bicycle in his own style.
Strangely enough, during lockdown I hosted a German journalist who was writing a book – and several articles – on travelling in COVID Britain. I’ll point out here that no COVID rules were broken, nor were there any parties, and if there were I was not aware of them. Like his German counterpart, Simon Parker met a lot of people on his journey – some were professional contacts, some arranged meetings with business owners, friends, as well as the random encounters most cycle tourers are acquainted with. The varied experiences of COVID may broaden a few minds. From one end of Britain to the other it was not the same for everyone. Interviews and chance meetings give an insight into individual experiences, and whilst we were all in the same boat – officially – impact on lives were varied massively.
Description of the route, scenery, and places is more limited than in some travelogues, for example “Eat, Sleep, Cycle” by Anna Hughes, also published by Summerscale. That’s not a drawback, unless that is what you really enjoy. In any case, that is not really the point of the book. However, when you do get some detail, it is often about the less visited. I liked the fact he gave time to the little ferry across the Cromarty Firth and the graveyard of oil rigs. I guess we all like to be reminded of things we have seen ourselves. It gives us something in common with the author, when, I am pleased to say, many elements of the story are not things we have in common.
At times “Riding Out” is not a comfortable need. There’s no reason why it should be, or why we should want it to be. However, it is enlightening, and you may find it inspiring.