24 Feb Why Cycle The World
Cycling the world is nothing new; people have been attempting it for a long time. Thomas Stevens, an Englishman from Hertfordshire, became the first person to cycle the world over two years between 1884-1886, on a penny farthing no less. Since Thomas completed his bone-shaking ride and proved to the world it was possible, plenty of people have tried and a good number of them finished. The Guinness World Records have even published a list of guidelines for those attempting to cycle the world in the fastest time – the men’s record is currently held by New Zealander Andrew Nicholson in a time of 123 days 43 minutes and women’s by Paola Gianotti of Italy in 144 days. Whether trying to be the first or the fastest, everyone has their own reasons for jumping in the saddle.
Some try to raise money for a charity, others make a documentary and some just want to create life-long memories but all who attempt the challenge share one common motive: a desire for an adventure. It’s impossible to attempt a trip of this length and complexity on a bicycle and not expect it to be quite the challenge, especially when you’re going solo. For me though, it’s also just a continuation of living a life I love.
In 2011, I became disillusioned with living what I began to term the ‘socially accepted norm’ of life in the UK; that is to say that upon leaving school, you get a job, you marry, get a mortgage and have kids and only after working for 4 or 5 decades can you relax and be ‘free’ to do the things you want. Nothing wrong with that, if it’s what you want and by October 2011, I was well on that path, with only marriage and kids left to go (that and decades of work) when I began to realise I wanted more. I craved adventure, a challenge. The humdrum routine of daily life, the bills, the structured ways in which my days/weeks/months/years had fallen into was beginning to drive me crazy. So I made a change. I sold everything I owned – house, car, and nearly all my possessions- gave up my job and moved into what would become my first of three campervans, bought for £1,000. I had no idea how things would work out on the road and the proposition of leaving the comforts of normal life behind scared me somewhat but not as much as knowing exactly how the next forty or fifty years of my life were going to play out. I decided I’d rather risk being broke and homeless and put trust in believing that everything would be alright.
Now, five years, three campervans and thousands of miles later, and having found out that things really do work out if you want them bad enough and yes, you really can live quite comfortably out of a 20-year-old £1,000 van, I find myself in need of a new challenge after having – somewhat – mastered the art of living out of a van.
This is one reason why I’m attempting to cycle the world and, in a roundabout way, why you’re reading this.
It’s been a long-time dream of mine to try this adventure, one that resurfaced during the last few months of 2016 when a chance meeting reignited my desire to give it a go. I had six months left of my two-year trip around Australia and I thought about what I was going to do next. Knowing I had a bit of money saved up, plans were made and then scrapped, with my thoughts running wild with the seemingly endless list of countries to visit or adventures to try. So much so I was having a hard time deciding what to do. That is until two slightly dishevelled people rode their bicycles rather wearily into the campsite I happened to be staying at. Their names where Max and Tanya and they were halfway through their attempt at cycling the world, having set off from their homes in France and Portugal. We met because they, like me, were in the area looking for some work to keep their travelling going. Over the next month or so, I listened and became fascinated by their stories of what the first year and half had been like and by the time they left, I knew I’d found what I’d do next.
I’d worked hard during my time in Australia and for the first time in my life, all the barriers that had prevented me from attempting such an adventure – money, responsibilities, time and if I’m honest, just being plain scared of trying – were about to be lifted. Okay, so I’m still pretty scared but if these last five years have taught me anything, it’s that the world really isn’t as scary as the media will have you believe and being scared of the unknown can actually be pretty helpful sometimes. So when my Australian visa ran out and I’d sold the camper and once again found myself homeless and living out of my backpack, I realised I’d run out of excuses. If I wasn’t going to try now, I’d probably never have such a good opportunity again.
There is another reason too. From as early as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with travel, with exotic sounding locations and dreamt of what it would be like to live in such places. Since I hit the road back in 2011, I’ve been to some amazing places and met so many interesting people. It came as somewhat of a surprise when daydreaming on the long plane journey back to the UK, thinking back over my travels over the last five years that it was more the people I remembered than the places. Learning about different cultures and getting a glimpse into their day to day lives gave me an understanding of what it’s like to be a resident in the countries I’d read about as a child – getting to know them fascinated me and still does.
I decided then and there sitting in seat 32A that I wanted to focus on getting to know the people of the countries I will cycle through. I want to know how different childhood is when living in Panama compared to mine in a the small town of south-east England or what it takes to carve out an existence in the mountains of Nepal. Everyone has a unique story to tell, whether it’s one of hardship in a New York suburb or of luxury in an upmarket part of Sydney. Even you, reading this right now, have an amazing story to tell. You may think it’s mundane and nothing special but I guarantee you’re wrong. Maybe you play golf on the weekends but then so do all your friends so you probably don’t think of it as being all that special. But just imagine telling the story of your weekends to a man living in the Andes. It would probably sound as exotic and as exciting to him as you hearing about the weekend activities of a spear fisherman off the west coast of Australia. During the trip, I want to try and share as many of stories from the people I meet as I can. I want to know what it’s like to be them, what makes them tick, what they do for fun, how they earn a living?
So the short reason why I’m going to cycle the world is to finally attempt a long-time dream, continue to travel, albeit at a slower pace, meet as many of the world’s people as I can and by the end of the trip, bring their stories together and show that although we are all made of the same stuff, we are all unique and amazing in our own ways.
Edited by – Emer Garry