My mate Goldie cycled across the planet from London to New Zealand, and I recently asked him about his epic ride…
- 25,500 KMs
- 25 countries
- 15 months (220 days riding)
- $30-50 AUD a day (accommodation and food)
- Bike: Thorn Raven – steel framed, 14 gears, 4 paniers, 1 handle bar bag
Countries: London, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, San Marino, Greece, Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran, United Arab Emirates, India, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand
Why did you decide to cycle around the world – what was the trigger?
The idea had always been in the back of my mind. I’ve always remembered an old TV advert from my childhood of a man standing next to his bike looking out at the view from the top of a mountain. I knew a guy in London who cycled from the bottom tip of Chile up to Ecuador and I quizzed him about his trip. When Google Earth was invented I looked up potential routes from London to New Zealand and realised that it was actually possible to ride most of the way, with only a few patches of water to cross. One day I was down the pub with my mates and wondered out loud what it would be like to ride home, it escalated quickly from there… *nek minute* I became the ‘guy who’s gonna ride his bike home’.
I knew I wanted to leave in summer so I had 6 months to get ready. I started researching and planning my trip, buying gear bit by bit – tent, sleeping bag, paniers, gas cooker, spare bike parts.
“When the day arrived I literally rode out my front door in West London to see how far I could get.”
My kit weighed a rather excessive 60 kgs at the start. I had everything, including a full can of fly spray, a little gardening shovel (for ablutions), a change of clothes for going out, even a cook book! I eventually whittled it down to 37 kgs.
My first goal was to make it as far as Istanbul, but I really had no idea how I would go. I’d get up early each morning so I could be on the road as soon as it was light. I ate whatever I found along the way, which was usually cheap and delicious.
I quickly learnt that language wasn’t a barrier and I could get by with lots of pointing and hand signals. I picked up phrase books in Germany, Italy and Turkey and started learning a few words. Often in roadside restaurants they would lead me into the kitchen and pull the lids off pots to show me what was on the menu.
My shortest day of riding was 43 kms and my longest was 247 kms. In Europe I often found myself weaving through peak hour traffic and I’d laugh because they were all heading to work and I was heading off for another day of adventure.
When accommodation got cheap (East of Europe) I didn’t bother putting up my tent and I ended up sending my gas cooker home because food was so cheap and plentiful.
My body coped really well. I got a rash on my rump at the beginning but after a while it toughened up and didn’t bother me anymore. Sometimes I got sore feet from pressing on the pedals so hard and I had a nice blister in Thailand (which I got from snorkeling). I got really sick in India and lay in bed delirious for 2 days, but apart from that I didn’t really have any health issues or injuries.
What were the highlights of your cycle adventure?
One of the most memorable moments was making it to the top of St Gotthard Pass in the Swiss Alps which is 2200m up. I had no idea it was such a big mountain, I just set off and then the temperature plummeted. I started seeing stars when I hit altitude and had to stop every 10 minutes to acclimatise. I made it up and over in one day.
Another memorable moment was when I accidentally found myself on the Autobahn in Germany!
I also had a laugh with my brother when I texted him in New Zealand to look up the wind speed for me in Azerbaijan so I could plan my ride that day! (My trip was before smartphones and portable GPS were common.)
My scariest moment was a close encounter with a pack of wild dogs on my first night in Azerbaijan. When I set up my tent that afternoon I could hear howling in the distance, and I was warned by a farmer not to camp there but I thought ‘she’ll be right’. When it got dark the howling got louder. At 2am I was woken by ferocious barking and dogs nearby. I decided to make a run for safety and climb up a digger that was in the paddock, but when I unzipped the tent it was pitch black and I couldn’t see anything. I sat up in my tent with a steak knife in one hand and a kitchen knife in the other, waiting for a wild dog to tear through the tent. It sounded like 10-20 dogs. If they’d come my way I was a goner, I seriously thought I was going to get eaten.
I did most of my trip solo and was quite happy on my own, but I met a girl called Elke in Vietnam and we ended up cycling together for about 6 months – it was nice to have her company.
My favourite places were Switzerland, Si Phan Dong on the Mekong River in Laos where we had a cabin on the river for $4 a night. I also liked Siem Reap in Cambodia and Hoi An in Vietnam. The worst place for me was India where I felt I was always being manipulated over money. It was a constant battle and it was really exhausting and unpleasant.
What kept you going?
Curiosity kept me going. I found a rhythm and took each day in my stride. I thought about getting home and seeing my family and I was determined to ride all the way without cheating.
What are the must-haves for anyone considering a big cycling trip?
Good tyres and quality paniers with rain covers. And proper wet weather covers for your feet, I just used plastic bags! It’s definitely easier these days with smartphones and Google maps at your fingertips.
Looking back now, how do you feel about your epic travel adventure?
My cycle trip was the best thing I’ve ever done, the memories will stay with me forever. In hindsight it’s almost unbelievable that I did it – like a dream. Sometimes I tell people and they don’t believe me!
How did it feel arriving home?
I rode into my hometown of Warkworth just before Christmas after 15 months of travelling. Then I knew the journey was really over and I felt a massive sense of accomplishment. It was just something I did for myself, for the adventure. Cycling is a great way to see the world, you really get to see a country up close, not just the tourist spots – I got to see all the nitty gritty bits in between. Experiencing the different cultures as I travelled from region to region was fantastic. The nicest people were the Iranians, lots of them spoke English and I had so many home dinner invites there. Once I’d finished my trip though it was like ‘well I’ve ticked that box, what’s next?’
If you want to find out more about Goldie’s cycle adventure you can read his travel diary
Any questions you want to ask Goldie about his cycle madness? Pop them in the comments and I’ll get him to answer for you!
Check out photos from Goldie’s epic cycle ride below