The Night I Almost Met Al Humphreys A Royal Geographic Society Explore Evening

How I nearly met adventurer and world cyclist Al Humphreys at the Royal Geographic Society Explore Gathering

In 2012 I almost met Al Humphreys at the Royal Geographic Society Explore Gathering. I was there to convince my then-girlfriend that we should cycle around the world together.

Rosie and I had been together for just over a year. We’d met at Glastonbury in the summer of 2011, shortly before I created the Charity Bike Ride ’20 Countries in 100 Days’ for Re~Cycle. We were introduced by mutual friends at the Paul Simon performance.

Rosie and Jim. How cute! Just like the kids TV show. You guys could live on a barge. You could have a duck and everything

Nearly 18 months later, we were happily coupled up and living the London life.
‘I really would like to speak with Al Humphreys about his trip. I think we could do a similar thing. Maybe not as long but something big. A world cycle,’ I said on the walk up to the Royal Geographic Society in South Kensington. ‘I’ve written it all down on here. Did you fill in the form, Rosie?’

chloe east londons finest single speed shopper
‘Chloe’ East Londons finest single-speed shopper

Royal Geographic Society Explore Gathering

We were attending the Explore Gathering evening to meet with like-minded people looking for inspiration and to ask questions about what long-distance bike travel was like.

‘I’ve written something down, yes. But I do feel a bit out of place here, I’ve barely ridden a bike, you know,’ said Rosie. This evening was part of my campaign to convince my girlfriend to cycle around the world with me.

I’d built her a cool single speed bike, complete with pink paintwork, flowers in the basket and a sturdy rack for her four-mile daily commute into Unicef. ‘Chloe’ was her pride and joy, and arguably, East London’s prettiest bike.

Cold Feet

‘I’m going over to speak with Al.’ I’d spied a chance to speak with the host of the evening, the adventurer and speaker, Al Humphreys. I’d read Al’s books about his epic trip around the world by bike and wanted to ask a few questions about my own plans. I made eye contact, smiled and walked over.

At two paces, a beautiful, tall, athletic woman swept before me and grabbed Humph’s outstretched hand. Still making eye contact, Al shrugged, I smiled, and made the international sign of “I’ll email”, tapping an imaginary keyboard in the air. I turned around to find Rosie.

I’m still not certain why I bailed at the last minute. I was within a hair’s breadth of shaking hands with an actual real-life adventurer and round the world cyclist. Maybe I was a little awestruck. Perhaps I was feeling a little shy. Or it could have been I’d had a long day at the office and really wanted to go for a pint. Either way, I’ve remembered this night for a long time.

The Jack Of Hearts

As I sidled away from nearly meeting one of my heroes I came face to face with Sean Conway. A ginger bloke with a massive beard. He was chatting up my missus as I approached.

‘This is Sean Conway. He’s just been knocked off his bike in the States,’ Rosie said.

‘Here’s my number. Call me if you wanna chat about your trip,’ said the charming South African dude with his limp arm resting softly in a sling. The other hand gently pressing a jack of hearts scrawled with his digits into Rosie’s soft palm.

I padded across the room to have a brief chat with Tom Allen about his bicycle journeys while Rosie stared hopelessly after her new crush.

The evening was a success as far as I could tell. On the way home, Rosie talked endlessly about how tough and brave Sean Conway was, he’d certainly captured her imagination.

a pile of bikes in a house in east london
Sirrus was to be Chloe’s round the world replacement

A World Cycle

Sadly, Rosie decided not to join me on my round the world bicycle journey. My efforts to persuade her to leave London once again had failed. Even to the last minute, there was hope that we might just make it happen, but it wasn’t to be.

Rosie wanted a house and a baby. I offered a tent and a bike.

Rosie had not long returned from a ’round the world’ backpacking trip when we met so it was a lot to ask of her to simply leave town on a bicycle. I was sad but understood. Timing is everything in relationships.

A Night Of Adventure

Fast-forward five years and I had cycled halfway around the world and I was back in the UK renovating a house. I bought tickets to visit London to attend ‘A Night Of Adventure‘ to hear a glittering array of adventurers and speakers share their expedition stories.

This time I felt certain that I would meet Al since he was the host and I could thank him for all the useful advice that I got from Tom Allen at the Explore Gathering.

Second Time Unlucky

Alas, it wasn’t to be. I’d ordered a kitchen and the delivery date was delayed and forced me to cancel my visit to London at the very last minute. So much for my commitment to adventure.

I emailed Al to offer the sold-out tickets up as a gift to someone else that wanted to go. It was so last minute that it was too late even for that to happen.

Maybe I will meet Al Humphreys one day. I’d still like to someday.  I enjoyed his books about cycling the world and still read his blog. In many ways, they are a large part of the reason I left my comfortable life behind to go on an adventure of my own.

And for that I’m grateful. So, thank you, Al, for inspiring my Really Big Bike Ride and for living adventurously so that folks like me can see it’s possible. I owe you a pint.

It goes without saying that the all the Royal Geographic Society events such as Explore and Journeys with Purpose are highly recommended.