How I cycled around Sri Lanka without a phone
Life is a highway, and its bloody long. It’s full of twists and turns, so you know some shit’s going to go wrong.
~ Nobody Gets Out Alive, Samuel L Jackson
Cycling down windy roads, life is surely a highway with twists and turns and in my case, the twist is almost always in relation to my mobile phone. My track record with mobile phones is steeped in a perilous decline destined towards relegation. Tucked away in the back pocket of my jersey, it’s always open to the sky but always in a shadow. Just like compartmentalising my emotions, the three pockets house my phone, my iPod, and a lighter coupled with loose change. All it takes is one fall, back-first, and the Chinese products give in. Thank heavens the Apple product can take a bit of hammering.
The most recent case of phoneless anxiety was in Sri Lanka, where I climbed onto a gargantuan boulder in Yala Sanctuary and lay on the surface in a manner oddly reminiscent of Wayne Rooney falling backwards on to the floor after scoring a stunner two seasons ago. What I didn’t realise was neither am I Wayne Rooney, nor was I on my bed. This moment of carelessness led to a broken screen which rendered my phone useless. With a sense of disappointment, I sped back to my hostel in Arugam Bay and sent an email out to my folks of the latest trouble. I was pretty lax, save the anger of not being able to publish weekly articles of my whereabouts.
There on, my only goal was to get in the miles, hold discussions about mental illness, find a cold pint at the end of the day, and stare at my odometer ticking, playing the morose game of cadence roulette which involved counting seconds per ten meters. Somewhere deep down, I was glad the darn iron lung had been sacrificed in an infallible line of reckless misbehaviour. Even though I was hundreds of miles away from home, at least I was rid of the daily calls from Airtel. Quite obviously, I was stoked that my battle with the Red Army had come to a standstill. I probably got off with that victory, but the battle was still on. For the moment, ghost mode was on.
Without the phone, news that I needed to be made aware of reached me sans effort. The death of Jayalalitha flashed on televisions in every direction I looked. The country was mourning the demise of Queen J, and I was invited to the funeral. Likewise, updates of cricket scores, hikes in petrol prices, and an upcoming surf competition in Welligama were all thrust in my face, irrespective of whether I was interested or not. I put myself in the shoes of Bill Bryson, Paul Theroux, Tim Moore, and William Fortheringham – all masters in the field of travel writing – to realise that none of these guys ever mentioned their mobile phones in their novels. Clearly, I didn’t need my handset to pen a best seller. On the more rational side, I started carrying a pen and paper to replace the convenience of Google Maps.
As my battle with the sun continued, it was my routine that helped me the most. No matter how witless it might come off as, I have a fixed routine when I go touring. Whatever I had achieved on the road so far was credited to the 7 am to 5 pm shifts. Whatever I was doing had been working and I needed to keep doing it.
One of the strategies was to break journey under trees, wait for the jersey to rid itself of sweat puddles and scroll through my Instagram feed. That was my way of keeping myself occupied and aware of what everyone back home was up to. I’m not nosey, it’s just a way of keeping myself occupied to be able to be comfortable while travelling all by myself. Now that I was without a mobile, I didn’t really feel like stopping under trees anymore. I’d rather hunt down human life and force repetitive small talk conversations and rid myself of the anxiety of ‘what to do now.’
To top it off, life on the road gradually started taking a toll on my energy levels, body weight, and happiness quotient. It was like scooping out the remnants of a Nutella jar knowing I’d licked out whatever was on offer much earlier than I should have. It was a bit too frustrating to dig deep and scrape out precious doses of lactic acid to pedal on, while also figuring out strategies of getting a one up over the Lord of Light. The infinite lack of human faces was a constant drain on morale. Nonetheless, the comparative joy of sessions of lonely pints in a dodgy pub without a handset was rather pleasing.
To create a slightly healthier vibe, I wondered as I pedalled down the less crowded east coast if I could find a nude beach and relive those days when the birthday boy had to sprint around the 400 m track – naked must I add – back in school. I once clocked a minute fifteen, a time I could never better with all my clothes on. Maybe it was the shoes. I went the extra distance and took it upon myself to find an isolated stretch of sand and turn into a nude beach. Though beaches were ten-a-penny, my plan obviously backfired. The sad reality is that the Lankans love their fishing, or maybe forced to love it. I hardly found shores where I could pitch my flag and claim it as personal territory. I had the boring realisation that the locals weren’t really interested in showing off their particulars. I assure you that this cock-and-balls behaviour can only be credited to the lack of possessing a mobile phone. There are enough people I know who’d vouch for me and testify I’m a decent guy.
What I missed most was the access to new music and the guilty pleasure of YouTubing wrestling episodes on Monday mornings. Music was a crucial part of the routine that I speak so highly of. The day started off with cheerful 60s rock n roll and moved to a drag of playlists that I’d been updating since high school. The evenings were more interesting. Two hours of uninterrupted Oasis. My obsession with the Mancunians is painfully hard to get rid of, and at points I picture myself standing in Wembley Stadium, shouting every lyric that blasted across the field. Rap music featured at intervals, especially Kendrick Lamar and The Notorious BIG. In the evenings, I banked on the uppers of Flume, Odesza, and Fatboy Slim. In context of the heartless sunshine, lyrically, my day could be summarised by the refreshing breeze of Liam Gallagher’s coarse tones in ‘What’s The Story, Morning Glory’, shift to a hopeful hour of ‘Here Comes The Sun,’ and somehow manage to end with desperate cries of Clearance Clearwater Revival’s ‘Have You Ever Seen The Rain.’
I can safely say that I can be okay with not having a phone in unknown territory, but I do miss a little help from my friends. It’s nice to puke out all my troubles and share pictures and videos of all the vistas that came my way. So far, I’m five phones down in two years and a couple of fixable broken screens, and the way it’s going, I don’t think fate wants me to have a normal journey.