Ten years ago Adrian and I set off on a transcontinental bicycle adventure. Our self-supported charity challenge was designed to raise funds and awareness for the Re-Cycle, the bikes to Africa charity. The goal was to reach 20 European countries in just 100 days.
This was to be our first overseas bicycle tour. We’d done plenty of local trips; a five day Sea to Sea, long weekend skirmishes around the Peak and plenty of day rides across the country; cycle touring had become our new favourite thing and the next step was to do a big journey.
In the run up to our departure date, friends had suggested we create some kind of charity element. Others suggested we build a website and garner sponsorship. Adrian and I were quite happy just to hit the road but were eventually convinced that an environmental message combined with the reuse of second bikes in Africa would be a good thing to do.
20 countries in 100 days
And so, in little over a few weeks, a website was built, sponsors were recruited and jerseys were printed. Our escape from reality had been coopted into a journey with a purpose. Little did we now that this adventure would set the wheels in motion for a decade of bike based exploration.
Of the sponsors we connected with, Alpkit were by far the most generous and understanding of our mission. Colin was helpful and instructive. We asked for many things, Numo inflatable beds, titanium mug and cutlery, head torches, and tarp. The money we saved on discounted kit meant that we could focus on raising funds for Re~Cycle.
We reported our progress early on in the trip. It’s easy to see that we were both excited and anxious to have taken off into the unknown. From that point though, we grew more confident in our ability to survive and as time went on we learned to thrive in our new way of life.
In the end we completed the challenge with countries to spare, visiting 22 in total, raised enough cash to send a container full of bikes to Africa and had a life affirming adventure into the bargain. It was a real eye opener for us both and lit the touchpaper for a decade of bike based expeditions.
Upon our return to the UK, Adrian and I moved to London in search of new careers, romance and the finest craft ale money could buy. We found all that and more, the cycling scene in the capital was emerging as a huge proponent for change. More folks than ever were traveling by bicycle.
During this time we took part in the iconic Dunwich Dynamo, repeat of our farewell ride ahead of our European tour. We took many 10 days trips across the Channel to explore other pasts of the continent. The Basque Country, the Verdon Gorge and the Dolomites among the favourites. We also visited Morocco to do a little recce of the region.
After a few years of solid employment, I decided that it was time to leave town for a solo journey. I’d become obsessed with the freedom of the open road. I loved the feeling of living on my wits in foreign lands. I simply had to make a long-distance bicycle journey. It was now or never.
I packed my bags, handed in my notice and broke off with my girlfriend. I even sold my sports car. Things were getting serious.
As the votes were counted in the 2015 general election, I arrived at Rotterdam Ferry Port. I rolled off the ramp with my wireless tuned into Rock Radio and cruised along the smooth red cycle path into the city centre. It was a Sunday afternoon, just as it had been when Adrian and I had made the crossing five years earlier.
My plan was to cycle to China and see how I felt. What actually happened was quite different.
Two months into the trip I agreed to meet my friend and ex-lover, Donna, in Vietnam. I cycled to Istanbul and flew to Hanoi in late August. Our plan was to travel overland to the UK together. It seemed like a great idea at the time. We were old friends and had the funds, time and intention to make it happen.
Alas, within weeks of my arrival in South East Asia, Donna and I were no longer travellling companions. The burden of expectation too great, the reality, of the situation simply too challenging. We parted friends and I found myself starting anew deep in the Vietnamese mountains.
A New Chapter
From there I took in the full length of the country, meeting up with an old friend in Ho Chi Minh City. I cycled across Cambodia choosing in Phnom Penh to collect visas for Thailand, Myanmar and India rather than tackle a long Chinese winter via Laos.
In Nepal I walked the Annapurna Circuit before flying into Almaty in Kazakhstan. India and Nepal are technically land-locked which made the overland logistics nigh on impossible. It was a pity to miss the Karakorum Highway but I made up for it by having extra miles in Central Asia.
After the disappointment with Donna, I wrote a letter to Adrian inviting him to join me on the Pamir Highway. He accepted and we met in Osh on a sunny day during Eid. I was so happy that Adrian had come to join me. Although I’d come to enjoy the solitude of spending time alone, I’d missed the shared joy of traveling together. I was glad to be making new memories.
He’d made lots of modifications to his Dawes Galaxy that I was quite jealous of. Flat bars, wide tyres, and new bar bag were among the highlights. On the upside, he also brough along essential new kit including a Saywer water filter, a solar charging unit and a pannier full of army ration packs. We’d cross the high mountain plateau in style.
Panic on the Panj
One highlight of the three weeks we had together was the night we camped on the banks of the Panj River. We’d found ourselves in company with a group of cyclists known as Women On Wheels, a motley crew of courageous young ladies making an impressive journey through central Asia.
This particular night, we’d set up camp, made a fire and had ben enjoying a bit of banters when across the river, an armoured vehicle complete with machine gun turret slowly made its rounds. We all looked at each other, wondering if we’d made a poor choice of camp site. The silent menace drove out of sight and we decided to call it a night.
Just as we were climbing into our tents we heard a scream. Jenny had been attacked by a massive camel spider. The huge white beast had cornered her while she was taking a pee in the bushes. Adrian and I chuckled and zipped up our tent and pretended not to notice the shrieking. We didn’t want the thing inside our Hilleberg.
Jenny cleverly trapped the cunning arachnid under my giant sized titanium Alpkit mug which had been left next to the campfire and quickly dashed for her tent.
Not for the first time, the wine bottle capacity camping mug had saved the day, but certainly the most entertaining.
After a decade of adventure, my Alpkit mug and cutlery is still going strong. I use it often and take it most everywhere I go. It reminds me of the happy summers evenings I spent cycling over the Roof of the World with my best mate.