Travelmag Banner
Archives
Search
 Features

Two Years By Bike


Some thoughts as I launch into my third year of life cycling round the world.

(If you feel inclined to make a donation to the charity I am supporting please check out http://www.hopeandhomes.org/)

I am a part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
– Tennyson “Ulysses”

Two things have become apparent to me during the first two years of my attempt to cycle around the planet. Firstly, in many ways, the world seems very small- gossip from home on the email, the same music in every bar in the world, David Beckham’s haircuts discussed globally. Secondly, from the seat of a bicycle, the world seems very large. Three more years of riding until I arrive where I started (and know the place for the first time?) is a daunting prospect indeed. Yet the further I ride the more I feel at home in our world; places begin to feel more normal and the similarities easily outweigh the differences, whether it be Vienna, Beirut, Khartoum, Nairobi or Lima.

I left England rejoicing in England’s 5-1 drubbing of Germany and set my sights towards Australia. But the September 11th attacks and the USA’s retaliation made my planned route through Afghanistan and Pakistan suddenly seem rather less appealing. So in Istanbul I turned right instead and headed for Cape Town. The aftermath of September 11th made for exciting riding through the Middle East. Three weeks hauling my bike through the 450C desert Sudan sands felt like a holiday compared with the stone throwing children of Ethiopia and it’s post-Live Aid culture of expectant, demanding begging. Masai men (the biggest posers I have ever met) looked enviously at my straight yellow hair whilst I wondered at the vast holes in their earlobes. A dollar-a-day budget saw me living on banana sandwiches; dull fare but I still declined the offers of boiled mice on sticks in Malawi. Landmines in Mozambique made heading into the bush to go to the loo less than relaxing, whilst in Zimbabwe mad Mugabe’s land redistribution policy (to himself mostly) left me fearing that I was watching the beginning of an irrecoverable decline in that most beautiful of African success stories. And I thought that it would never happen, but one day Table Mountain eased over the horizon, the champagne cooled in my pannier and eventually Africa was behind me.

I hitched a lift on a 17 metre racing yacht, the renowned ‘Maiden’, and joined in the “Cape to Rio” race over to South America. 24 days at sea saw more time devoted to eating ceviche than to sail trimming. Offered 50 pounds for the pleasure of wielding the scissors I succumbed to my first haircut in 18 months and allowed the sailor- well-oiled with caipirinha- to scalp me before I did battle with the notorious howling winds of Patagonia. From the southernmost city on earth, Ushuaia, I have been crawling northwards, through the glorious south of Chile, Argentina’s winelands and the world’s driest desert. I broke my previous record as I managed 24 days without a shower. 4600 metre passes and ­200C nights helped pass the time as did some entertaining, yet very cold, naked cycling across Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, one of several claimants to the title of “World’s Largest Salt Lake”. A recent second haircut was prompted by a desire to look as un-druggy as possible as I head towards the uncertainties of Colombia. After that awaits the USA where I hope my English accent and Royal blood will help secure me plenty of hospitality. The odd white lie never hurt anyone, did it? A quick dash across Australia and Asia and I’ll be back in Trafalgar Square before you know it, or rather in three years time.

I entered the project with my eyes wide shut, dreaming of adventure and exotic, far-off lands and blazing sunsets. I had subscribed to National Geographic, read Bill Bryson and watched Michael Palin on the telly. So I knew a thing or two about travel destinations. What I had omitted to consider, however, was the 8000km between Trafalgar Square and the Pyramids, the 12,000km between the Pyramids and Table Mountain or the 8000km between Ushuaia and Machu Picchu. On a scale such as this the highlights shrink to the size of bright stars in a vast night sky. It is the journey itself that has to be the reward. All that lies between the destinations is the true journey: the destinations are important merely to make the journey necessary and give it some purpose. This is the biggest single difference between cycling and backpacking where the sights listed in the Lonely Planet can start to become little more than just a tick-sheet. I have ridden through deserts and mountain ranges and mad Arabian mêlées and fiestas and African funeral parades. Strange and extravagant sights and sounds (that break the monotony) and unfathomable animated conversations on the street corners and market stalls and cafés of the world are the fascination. Yet I am just looking into someone else’s normality at the vast ordinariness of all the people of the world. Everywhere I ride through is only someone else’s normal Thursday afternoon. Indeed the reverse effect is also true, whereby I, an ordinary English guy on a bicycle, becomes an exotic, extraordinary spectacle to the people and places I am seeing, merely by being two years out of my own natural environment.

The challenges of the first year on the road were the feelings of isolation, of never belonging, of always moving on. The battles have been against loneliness and boredom rather than against corrupt officials with large moustaches, gun-toting child soldiers or unamusingly large mountains. This second year I have grown accustomed to my choice of lifestyle. After two years I feel that I could belong anywhere; every pause in every city leaves me thinking, “I could live here, perhaps I should stop and settle down here”. There is so much normality in the world that you really can feel at home wherever you choose to feel at home. It has been a warm, welcome discovery to find that I can find something in common with almost everyone in the world.

Generalizing a little, a great view is a great view, a sunset still a sunset whether it be over a Roman temple or African village, the Pacific or the Atlantic, Aconcagua or Kilimanjaro. I think therefore that the challenge of my third year on the road, the ride up to Alaska, will be to try to keep my sense of wonder and my wanderlust. The challenge has lost some of it’s appeal now that I realize that it is actually possible. I need now to generate other ways to motivate myself, other metaphorical dangling carrots. Perhaps a real dangling carrot would work?! I am sure though that, somehow, I will keep myself moving on. I look at maps of the world through different eyes these days, calculating in my head the time it would take to cycle between cities or countries or continents. It is all feasible. The world is not so big, even when seen from the saddle of a bicycle.

Read on for two years of ‘top tens’.

Top 10’s of the first 2 Years…

COUNTRY

1. South Africa
2. Sudan
3. Jordan
4. Argentina
5. Turkey
6. Kenya
7. Lebanon
8. Zimbabwe
9. Chile
10. Lesotho

CITY

1. Cape Town
2. Rio de Janeiro
3. Istanbul
4. Budapest
5. Beirut
6. Belgrade
7. Salta
8. Amman
9. Cairo
10. La Paz

FOOD

1. Islamic Iftars (Lebanon, Syria, Jordan)
2. Braais (South African barbecues)
3. Asados (Argentinian barbecues)
4. Cape to Rio race (Atlantic Ocean. It is no wonder we didn’t win the race- we spent the whole trip eating. Thanks, Joel!)
5. Njera (unique Ethiopian food. Usually revolting, but the good stuff can be really good)
6. Saltenas (Bolivian Cornish pasties)
7. Kebabs (sorry, Turkey and England: the best ones are in Damascus)
8. Sausage sandwiches (Belgrade)

BUILDINGS

1. Petra (Jordan)
2. Abu Simbel (Egypt)
3. Baalbek (Lebanon)
4. Lalibela (Ethiopia)
5. Pyramids (Egypt)
6. Machu Picchu (Peru)
7. Valley of the Kings (Egypt)

NATURAL BEAUTY

1. Carreterra Austral (Chile)
2. Wadi Rum (Jordan)
3. Table Mountain (South Africa)
4. Dana (Jordan)
5. Salar de Uyuni (Bolivia)
6. Patagonia (Chile and Argentina)
7. Victoria Falls (Zimbabawe)
8. Tlaeeng Pass (Lesotho)
9. Perito Moreno glacier (Argentina)
10. Fitzroy (Argentina)
11. Torres del Paine (Chile)
12. Cappadoccia (Turkey)
13. Coffee Bay (South Africa)
14. Nile in the Sudan desert (Sudan)
15. Blue Nile Falls (Ethiopia)
16. Lake Titicaca (Bolivia and Peru)
17. Lake Malawi (Malawi)

BAD ROADS

1. Sudan
2. Ethiopia
3. Southern Chile
4. Lesotho
5. Northern Chile/Argentina
6. Bolivia

MEMORABLE DATES
(where were you when…)
1. England 5- Germany 1: my last day in England, Sevenoaks, Kent
2. September 11th 2001: cycling through Germany on my way to Afghanistan.
3. Beckhams’s penalty against Argentina: in the Sheraton Hotel, Dar Es Salaam, where British Airways were foolishly offering free beer for any English people present. The place was packed!
4. Declaring War on Iraq: blissfully unaware in Southern Chile
5. Christmases: cycling in Jordan and relaxing in Cape Town
6. Queen Mother’s death: on my way to Lalibela, Ethiopia
7. Queen’s Jubilee: Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania

And, because it’s not all hard work…

MOST BEAUTIFUL GIRLS

1. Mendoza
2. Rio de Janeiro
3. Cape Town
4. Beirut
5. Belgrade
6. Bolivia (…only joking!)

WORST HANGOVERS

1. Cape Town
2. Nkhata Bay, Malawi
3. Mendoza
4. Rio de Janeiro (sleeping on a moving yacht doesn’t help)
5. Nairobi
6. Amman
7. Salta

   [Top of Page]  
 Latest Headlines
Pole to Pole