Wednesday 19 December 2018

Dermo won't rest for long

Finally home after a life-changing, epic cycle around the world, Dermot Higgins tells John Manning he is now planning a 'pole to pole' cycle

Rush welcomes home round the world cyclist Dermot Higgins
Rush welcomes home round the world cyclist Dermot Higgins
Rush welcomes home round the world cyclist Dermot Higgins

After completing his goal to be the oldest man to cycle around the world, 56-year-old Fingal man, Dermot Higgins is not resting on his laurels and is already planning to go around the world again in 2020, this time from 'pole to pole to pole'.

Before setting about planning another epic trip around the world, this time vertically instead of horizontally, the local adventurer sat down with the Fingal Independent in Skerries and reflected on his world record breaking trip around the world.

Dermot said: 'It's a great sense of achievement and pride and a little sadness too because it's over and all the excitement is over.

I'm conscious that I need to keep myself busy because I have been so busy and that's the kind of person that I am.'

You might think after the guts of 30,000km in the saddle, Dermot would be more than happy to stay away from the bike for a while but the opposite is the case.

He said: 'I do miss the bike, I really do. The past couple of mornings I've actually got up early in the morning and took the bike out for a spin. I do certainly miss the cut and thrust of it, but I don't miss the pain and I enjoy having a nice warm bed to get into when I get home but it's about adventure cycling and now the adventure is gone so what do you replace that with? It's very hard to replace that.'

While it was the physical challenge and the sense of adventure that first attracted Dermot to taking on his epic cycle, the trip became about something else entirely.

He explained: 'It became more about the people I met and the experiences I was having and how I was feeling about it all. The blogging became an essential part of the journey, not just an add on at the end of the day. It was something I thought about as I rode along and then at the end of the day it helped me to organise my thoughts.'

And there was plenty of thinking along the way, and a lot of personal and political growth.

He explained: 'When I met you in the beginning, I was mostly talking about the cycling and breaking the record and the challenge of it. But it became more about the personal development that happened, socially, politically and even spiritually - I wasn't expecting that.

'My mind stopped focussing on the record and I just let it wander and through that, a lot of personal development happened. I certainly would have been politically aware before this but I wasn't active in terms of getting things done or having my voice heard in terms of how I felt about things. But as the thing went on, I just felt compelled to comment on the situations in various countries and what was going on there.

'So now that I am back in Ireland, I would like to continue with that as an activist or commentator through whatever platforms are open to me.'

Politically speaking, it was his cycle across the United States that perhaps had the greatest impact on Dermot.

He explained: 'America surprised me a lot. I arrived in Los Angeles and I wasn't naive enough to believe the rest of the Unite States was like Los Angeles. California is lovely, with beautiful sunshine and a lot of people who thought the same as me but it was only a day or so out of LA when I got to New Mexico and Arizona where I was meeting with people who had very different views to my own.'

What worried him most about the United States was what he saw as a disregard for the environment and the national debate over gun control.

He said: 'I had never been to America before but I read a lot about it and seen all the American movies but I never realised it was as conservative as it is. I was absolutely shocked with the reaction to high school shooting. The notion that people, often intelligent, educated people, would value their Second Amendment rights to bear arms, over the rights of children to go to school and be secure, was shocking to me. I said this to people, that as a teacher, the notion of kids being afraid to go to school was shocking.

'I was in Texas and I went into a restaurant. There were a group of teenagers sitting behind me, just messing around. I like talking to kids so I chatted with them and asked them why the weren't at school. They said to me that they weren't in school because they were afraid to go. I thought maybe they were afraid of a teacher or a bully but no, they were afraid of being shot.

'They said there was a kid at their school who was mentally unstable and he had guns and they were afraid he would commit a copy-cat shooting. It made me think that even in places like Syria and Afghanistan where there are terrible atrocities being committed, school is a sanctuary and you don't have guns in schools. And then, in the theoretically most progressive and most powerful and wealthy country in the world is allowing this situation to develop. It was shocking and the fact that there is people that support it is shocking.'

Dermot got on his bike as an atheist and came home as someone who believes he had a guardian angel with him on his trip around the world.

Dermot explained: 'The spiritual aspect of it was phenomenal. I would have been an atheist but I was interested in the idea of pilgrimage. My mother and father were very religious and may that was kind of residual in me but in India in particular, the whole spirituality of the country and how spirituality is part of people's every day lives and impacts who they are, how they intact, what they eat and drink and how they live their lives.

'I was very impressed with that and got drawn into lots of ceremonies and spiritual events there. That was one aspect of it but the other aspect of that sense of believing in a higher power, when there were so many times my life was in real danger and I found a way out - I don't think that was possible without somebody or some being protecting me and guarding me.'

He gave an example, explaining: 'There were two days in a row in Australia when I could have died and the day after, I was cycling along in the evening time. And I used to love that time of the day. The sun would always set behind me and the shadow would get longer and longer and I got so used to seeing that. But this day, and people tell me there is a scientific reason for it, but I looked at the shadow and there was this big glow, a big bright light on the shoulder of the shadow.

'I was blown away by it and it stayed me with for a while and I just thought, yes that's my guardian angel and I'm safe. Not that I thought I was invincible, but I was reassured I wasn't alone.'

There were so many adventures along the way, from meeting the Taoiseach and George Mitchell in Washington to re-routing to India when China would not let Dermot into the country to benefiting time and again from the kindness of strangers but oddly, there was not a single puncture along the way and Dermot only came off the bike twice, which leads you to think there might be something to this guardian angel theory.

Now he's back home and moved from Rush to his native Skerries where he soon hoped to put some of his environmental philosophy into action with 'zero waste' food store which he hoped to establish in the town, this summer.

Meanwhile, he's planning that trip around the world from North to South and back to the North again, in two years time.

Dermot has dedicated his first journey around the world to his late father and to his teenage son, Fionn. The trip became a chance to build and in some ways repair relationships with both of them.

Looking back at the trip with all of its ups and downs, its challenges and rewards, its ability to crush the spirit and then build it up again, the Fingal adventurer doe not have any regrets and would do it all again - in fact, he is going to do it all again!

Dermot concluded: 'I can't think of anything I could have done that would have been more worthwhile. It was awe-inspiring and life-changing. It was phenomenal in terms of its impact on me and I hope that will ripple out, that there will be a butterfly effect and it will affect others.'

Fingal Independent