With a documentary film under his belt and a book in the works, Tom Allen is turning into something of a creative genius within the world of bicycle touring. Tom has toured extensively through Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Next up is in North America.
An interview between Tom Allen and Beyond Limits Magazine.
January 2nd, 2012
“I wanted the fundamental freedom to go literally wherever I liked, not just where I liked from a list of towns and cities on a timetable.” Allen told Beyond Limits Magazine.
That is exactly what he did. He has ridden Scotland, Europe, the Caucasus, Scandinavia, Mongolia, The Middle East and Africa and he is far from done.
Ambitious as a child, already chasing the kill, he built a ramp that would catapult him, BMX in tow through the air and into the River Welland. Luckily, a last minute dose of common sense stopped him from proceeding with the stunt.
Allen credits this first lesson of backing out for giving him the freedom to continue on his adventures. Knowing that nothing is ever set in stone, Allen can plan the most outrageous adventures with the understanding that if things do not go to plan he can always back out and regroup before proceeding on the next adventure.
Over time, his raw hunger for adventure mellowed and slowly morphed into an opportunity to test his capabilities.
“On my first trip I was naive and idealistic,” Allen said, “so everything was interesting and new and it broke my preconceptions. As time went on I became curious variously about my own endurance, my ability to tolerate discomfort, whether places in the world would live up to my fears, how it would be to learn a completely new language, and how I might best communicate this whole process to those who stayed at home.”
The world is a curious place and for people like Allen, the quest to explore, discover and satisfy that thirst is a driving force to success.
During his first year of university he attempted to switch off the insatiable pull and tried to live the student life of beer and chips. However, the adventure world proved too powerful for him to ignore and he spent the following two years catching up on what he missed by bouncing up and down the muddy hillsides of Exmoor on a mountain-bike.
From an outsider’s perspective, it appeared to be all about the bike. However Allen has different ideas.
“When something better comes along, I’d like to think you’ll find me giving it a try,” Allen said, “Or maybe my priorities will shift of their own accord. Long distance walking and pack rafting are two things I’ve definitely got in my sights, because both of them are close to the ground and give you the kind of freedom and unthreatening access to society that cycling does – just from slightly different perspectives.”
“I can’t even meet old friends or walk down the main street of my village without speculating semi-consciously on how the experience of doing so compares and contrasts with myriad moments at other spots and instants on the globe. I can’t walk into a Lebanese takeaway without interrogating the two young Egyptians working there and speculating on what brought them and their Sudanese employer away from their home countries to feed grilled meat and falafel sandwiches to drunk students.”
After all of his time on the road, Allen has one gem of information that will ease the fear that blooms in the minds of every newcomer to the adventure world. According to Allen, they can halt their struggle to plan their maiden exhibition.
“My first big trip was massively over-planned,” Allen said, “I spent a year preparing for something I could now easily depart for and do tomorrow.”
Allen has a refreshing awareness of the global world surrounding him and an even more refreshing attitude about what remains unknown.
“Next spring I’ll head to the West Coast of the States for a couple of months. It’s easy to assume that we know what America is like, because we’re force-fed American culture through our screens,” Allen said, “But it’s probably no less of a misconception as we hold for the rest of the world.”
Apparently he is not all muscle and ambition, but an educated being in tune with the politics of the world.
A line found hiding amongst hundreds of other black inked letters on Tom’s blog deserves quoting; “Sell everything. Quit your job. Get a bike. Ride it. The rest of it will work itself out.”
If you are not already an adventurer you may laugh at this broad statement. It cannot possibly be as simple as that. Tom Allen says it is and it’s strange how the instant he says it, I suddenly believed it. But, then again maybe it isn’t. Allen does seem to have a grasp on something so many of us are looking for.
Allen said, “Happiness is a fleeting emotion, isn’t it? Contentment, on the other hand, might be something more long-term. I’ve never been more content than now.”
How is a man who the UK government defines as living below the poverty line happier than the majority of people we encounter daily? Perhaps it is because he is married to an equally amazing woman or because his various adventures are not about competing to beat the records, the clock or the others in the field. For Allen it is not a job and it is not about the money.
Whatever his motives, be it satisfaction or testing himself, there is something about Tom Allen that leads us to believe that he has figured it out; the people, the world, the key. There is something about that Tom Allen that has us rooting for him.