I don’t think you could be any less prepared to cycle around the world than I was. The morning I cycled out of London, I had no idea that I would be away from home for so long – I just wanted to see how far east I could ride! Three years later I arrived back where I started with 50,000km under my belt. My challenge to ‘see how far east I could go’ had led to a full lap of the planet…
Why I Did It
I left London because I wanted to step outside my comfort zone. I was bored sitting on a crammed train, only to get off and work for minimum wage at the other end. I wanted an adventure and travelling by bicycle was the simplest way to get it. I figured I could go further with only limited funds by sticking to my bike, avoiding paying for transport and packing a tent so I wouldn’t have to pay for accommodation.
The planning all happened rather quickly. I first started entertaining the idea of a long bike tour in late autumn but only actually got a bike that would carry me the distance at Christmas. I set myself a leaving date for two weeks later and spent my final few days in London stressing over whether or not the postman would deliver the equipment I’d ordered in time.
I was far from a what you would describe a ‘serious cyclist’ when I started this trip. I used to cycle a lot in London simply because it was a cheap way to get around and generally faster than waiting for the bus. The furthest I’d ever pedaled before leaving on this trip was the 10-mile commute I used to ride to work. I didn’t own any Lycra and had never worn a cycling jersey with funny pockets at the back. My maintenance skills extended as far as a punctured tire but that was more-or-less the limit of my expertise as a mechanic. Fortunately, I made up for my lack of credentials as a two-wheeled adventurer with a very healthy dose of optimism and an ability to think ‘everything will end up OK’ even when every rational thought suggested otherwise.
I cycled to Dover, took the ferry over to France and began riding up the North Sea coast. I naively concluded that if I could make it up to Scandinavia in January the ride across Europe to Istanbul would be easy. That first week was hard work. The extent of my training had been a couple of laps around Richmond Park and my legs weren’t ready for the long hours of riding in the cold. The morning of my trip was the first time I’d tried cycling the bike with loaded panniers and the weight put strain on my knees. I developed tendonitis and winced my way up through Belgium and Holland. In hindsight, I should have paused to rest – stubbornness can be both a positive trait and a negative one – but I couldn’t bear the idea of stopping so early. So, I pushed on through the pain and after a few uncomfortable days my body started to adjust to the new routine. Thus began my love affair with bike touring and I would never want to travel any other way now.
For me, the beauty of bike touring is the way it forces you to interact with people in the places you travel. Anyone can get your attention and stop you with the wave of a hand. This does make you more vulnerable, of course, but fortunately the world is generally full of pretty wonderful people. It was these chance meetings that turned into the most special times on my cycle around the world. It was because I was travelling by bicycle that the Romanian granny could invite me into her house for Easter lunch, that I got to hang out with the Kazakh military and that I got to welcomed into a Naxi wedding in a remote corner of Yunnan, China.
The first few months I cycled with my valuables carefully stashed across my body and bicycle. I kept US dollar bills hidden in my handlebars, tucked my money belt under my shorts and locked my bike to something solid every time it was out of eye-sight for a mere second. I was convinced that I’d be getting robbed multiple times during my trip which was one of the most absurd notions I harvested prior to leaving. Although I was excited to explore new countries I was also nervous about cycling them because I’d grown up around mainstream media that seems desperate to paint the world as a dystopia of total danger.
It turns out that the world is not a scary place at all. I won’t pretend that I didn’t meet a few shady characters and found myself in the occasional ‘hairy’ situation but by and large I was usually wondering when I’d meet all the evil people that feature in the news daily. Spoiler alert – I never did. Instead, I met people like the Indonesians who let me sleep in their mosque when a storm hit Sumatra, the Aussie miners in the desolate Outback who put me up in an air-conditioned cabin and the Bulgarian man who gave me a Bluetooth speaker for my bicycle.
Read about the rest of Jonathan’s adventure at Discover Interesting