4500 km cycled! Is cycle-touring really that tough?

Coming out of Istanbul, Harry and I decided on taking the ferry across to Yalova. The struggle of riding through the massive city was simply too much for us to deal with. As we started cycling out of Yalova, it became apparent to me pretty quickly, that Turkey would indeed become a physical challenge beyond what I had endured so far. We were going up what felt like endless hills for hours and hours, all while being faced with extreme weather and angry dogs. Turkey is famous for a breed of dog called the Kangal. It’s a massive, truly frightening beast, unlike any dog I’ve had to deal with before. It’s exciting though and gives you that bit of extra energy needed to make it over the hills. It's all part of the fun, and I've made it to Sivas in one piece, so I'm feeling pretty good!

The ancient part of Sivas

The ancient part of Sivas

The Turkish hospitality has blown me away over the past couple of weeks. As I was cycling out of Kirikkale, I didn’t have a plan for where to sleep. Turkey is not exactly the best place for wild camping since hideouts are few and far apart. As the evening was nearing, I rolled into a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. I stood there looking slightly confused, but within no time a group of people came to my rescue, so I asked them if they knew of a place suited for camping. One of the workers at the local petrol station then offered me to set up camp in their office, and so I did. The day after I cycled on, once again with no plan for the night. And once again, I rolled into a tiny town looking slightly confused. I went to a kiosk, to buy a few snacks for the night when the owner started asking me what I was up to. I told him about my trip, and within a minute, he went over to another customer and arranged for me to go sleep at his house. Basically, the shop owner had convinced one of his customers to host me for the night. I was treated to a feast that night. Despite some heavy language barrier, we got along just fine. Turns out he had traveled around all of Turkey, and he was proudly showing off all his travel photos. As I set off the next day, I was randomly offered tea, food and even money at one point! Though I refused the money, it really blew me away.

Seemingly endless road in Turkey. Riding on the D200

Seemingly endless road in Turkey. Riding on the D200

I’ve been getting a massive response from the Turkish people on the social media as well. I’ve been called an athlete, an inspiration, an idol, and I’ve even been recognized by random people on the street! While it is of course very flattering, it also paves the way for a point that I would like to make. So, bear with me.

Often times, people tell me that they would love to do what I’m doing, but they don’t believe they would be able to. Truth is, that while this whole project might seem like a very extreme feat, it’s really not quite as extreme as people make it out to be. I am in no way an athlete. On the contrary, I think I’m pretty lazy for a cycle-tourist. I like to sleep in, I don’t like to cook, and I take my time riding slowly. I truly believe that most people could do this. The problem is, that when people ask me where I’m going, and I tell them Indonesia, they automatically start thinking about the project as one big challenge. They see it as a single 20-thousand-kilometer bike ride. Of course, no one is able to cycle that sort of distance in one go. So, then people ask me how far I ride on any given day. On an average day, I’ll ride about 80-100 km. People who are not used to cycling are still quite impressed with that sort of distance. What they don’t realize is that I’m not sprinting my way through 100 km every day. I take it slow, have loads of breaks, and adjust the distance according to whatever my body is telling me. I’ll dare anyone to go cycle 80 km. Once you realize that you’ve got an entire day to cover the distance, it’s really not that hard. When you are just starting out touring you want to take it slow and have tons of rest days to let your body get used to cycling. But after just a few weeks, your body does get used to it, and you’ll easily be cycling 300-500 km a week. I didn’t do any sort of training prior to the trip, and I’ve now cycled 4500 km. Going up massive hills is tough, but it's a very temporary pain, and the reward is totally worth it. So there you go, now you know what sort of physique is required to cycle halfway around the world. And it is certainly not that of an athlete. Your body does get painful from time to time, and you will have to take breaks to recover every now and again. But as long as you are not in a hurry, it won’t stop you. Injuries are very possible though, and could potentially stop you for a longer while, but that is true for any sport or physical activity.

But that is just the physical challenge. Then there is the whole “being-away-from-home” challenge. While cycling through foreign lands can indeed be a challenge at times, it’s really the whole point of doing this sort of thing. As I’ve just explained, the physical challenge of what I’m doing is probably not quite as far-fetched as you’d think, so that’s not really the point. People have done long-distance cycling trips at extreme speeds, but that’s a whole other journey. I’m out here to explore and to meet new people. So, if you don’t enjoy traveling and experiencing new cultures, cycling from Finland to Indonesia might not be for you. But if you do like traveling, don’t let it overwhelm you. You’ll ease into it. Starting from home means that the countries you are visiting are gradually becoming more and more exotic. Certain parts of the world might scare you, but mostly it’ll be unjustified. Some places you do want to avoid though. There is a very good reason for me not to cycle through Syria or Afghanistan at the moment. But let’s say you didn’t want to go to Iran either. Well, don’t go to Iran then. Take a ferry across the Caspian Sea and continue on the other side, but don’t let that fear stop you from going on this sort of trip if that’s what you’re dreaming of. I’m planning on cycling though countries, that at the current moment scare me. Right now, I’m scared of having to cycle through India. I wouldn’t have been comfortable going on a plane to India and starting my trip from there, but once I’ve cycled to the border from home, I’m sure I’ll feel so much at ease with cycle-touring and traveling that I’ll be able to fully enjoy the experience. Traveling in obscure places might seem scary at first, but once you’ve tried it out, it becomes really enjoyable. You just have to trust that people are in fact good, no matter where in the world you are. You might come to a point though where you just need a few days off. Go lock yourself up in a hotel room for a couple of days until you’re ready to go out exploring again. I’ve done so a couple of times already. It’s no shame. When traveling for short amounts of time, you want to pack in as many experiences as possible. But when you are traveling months on end, it’s nice to just stay in bed and read a book occasionally. Point is, it’s only going to be as overwhelming or frightening as you make it out to be. That is the beauty of cycling on your own. You are completely free to travel the way you want to travel.

Emil Hvidtfeldt

This might come off as a bit of a cliché. But the first step really is the hardest. Committing to doing this sort of thing and taking the necessary steps to make it happen. By far the most intimidating experience of my trip so far was boarding the ferry to Finland (check the picture on the right!). When riding around, I have tons of time to think. And one thing I’ve been thinking of is just how much going on this trip, has reminded me of taking on a new job back home in Denmark. It’s practically the same thing. The first few days are intimidating, but then you get the hang of it. No one is going to expect you to be really good at your new job the first few weeks either, but as time goes by you become better at doing what you are doing, and you’ll start building on your own capabilities. And just like your job at home, cycle-touring will suck at times. But as long as you’ve gone for something you are passionate about, you’ll enjoy the process as a whole.

I’ve been blabbering on a bit here, but don’t get me wrong. I’m not trying to convince you all to start cycling towards Indonesia. I realize that most people probably don’t actually want to. But the principal really applies to any large-scale project. Don’t be put off by the sheer size of the project. By doing it one small step at a time, it’ll probably end up being a lot more manageable than you think.

… I haven't actually cycled to Indonesia yet though, so that’ll be enough motivational wisdom from me this time.

I’m riding in support of the Association for Greenlandic Children. We’ve now raised over 9,000 DKK, which means we are very close to the initial 10,000 DKK target! Once we’ve reached that first checkpoint, I’ll raise the target to something more fitting. So, if you haven’t already, please do consider donating to the cause and let us hit that first 10,000 DKK milestone!