18,000 km cycled, and I'm coming home!
I didn’t plan very well for Sumatra, so my route has really not been that interesting. So, I won’t be writing about cycling in Indonesia. Jakarta has been a blast though! Instead, I’ll be reflecting a bit on what cycling 18,000 km, across 26 countries has taught me. Quite a bit of thought has gone in to this post, so grab a seat, grab a cup of whatever, and hold on tight!
People often ask me about the toughest part of the journey and expect me to start babbling on about some action-packed near-death experience in Pakistan. Truth is, it’s a really hard question to answer, because the most challenging part of the entire trip has been playing out in my head. I’m pretty good at enjoying time spent by myself. I can have fun in my own company. If I couldn’t, this would’ve been a dumb project to begin with. One very important thing (perhaps the most important) I’ve learnt on this trip though, is that I am not very good at being miserable on my own. When the hard times strike, that’s when you realize that you’re alone. I’m not just talking about a long desert ride or a strenuous mountain pass. They might be tough, but if you’re in a good mood, they’re just relatively short, physical challenges. You overcome them, you celebrate, and you keep on cycling. The truly miserable times occur when you get in to a bad mindset, with no one there to pick you up and help you turn it around. I can’t stress enough, just how difficult it is to get that joyful spirit back, when you feel like everything you are doing is pointless. I haven’t been touching this subject very often, if ever, on this site, but every now and then I would get into this mindset, that what I was doing was making no difference to anyone but my own ego. At times, I’ve felt like I was wasting my time and energy. Like what I was doing wasn’t good enough. That I should be pushing harder, raising more money, and basically just putting in more effort. I’ve been stuck with these thoughts for days and even weeks at a time. And then the guilt sets in, because let’s face it. It’s the trip of a lifetime. I should be having a blast! But reality is, you’re not going to have a blast every day for a full year, and most of these thoughts are completely irrational anyway. Battling these sorts of feelings; those were the toughest times of the journey. These thoughts often occurred when I went back to solo after having cycled with someone else. I very rarely got in to that mindset when I was actually riding together with other people. And that leads me to the opposite question. “What has been the best part of the trip?” The most enjoyable parts of the journey have been those spent with friends, family and fellow travelers. The upside to traveling solo for me, is that I find it much easier to meet new people when I’m on my own, and that is a massive plus. The first time I got to cycle together with another tourer, was in Romania. I met a Dutch man named Willem. His story was heartbreaking, yet beautiful, and I realized just how much I was able to gain from spending time with other travelers. A few days later I met Harry, whom I ended up cycling with for two full weeks. We were hit by some of the worst thunderstorms I have ever experienced. While that could’ve very easily been miserable had I been by myself, we ended up laughing hysterically through it, simply because we had each other’s company. It’s become a fond memory by now. By the end of Turkey, I got my first visit from back home when my friend Clara came to cycle with me for a couple of weeks. Riding with Clara remains one of the best parts of my entire trip. It was pure joy for me to be able to share part of this life-defining journey with one of my best friends, knowing that we would now share these memories forever. When she left, I was feeling lonelier than ever, but only for a short time. I met fellow cycle-tourers, Ed and Jamie, stuck in Tbilisi just like me. And once again, I got to enjoy creating memories with others. I think you get the point by now. As I was crossing the Caspian Sea into Central Asia, I met Matt and Becky, whom most of my followers will probably know by now. I didn’t know it then, but they would turn out to become a defining part of my trip. We’ve bumped in to each other an almost comical amount of times since, and I’ve felt lucky every time. They’ve made my trip so much more memorable. Even the times we split up, knowing that I would probably bump in to them somewhere down the road again made the lonely times so much more bearable. A special thanks to Matt and Becky for putting up with me for so long (truly an impressive feat in itself)! So, in short, the best part of the Journey has been creating memories with others and meeting strangers that I can now call friends.
The physical challenge is obviously a big part of long-distance cycling. It was also a big part of the reason I wanted to travel in this fashion. The first couple of weeks, and perhaps even months, I would constantly try to break my own records. Pushing it further and faster day by day. It’s exciting to start out with as you experience your own strength and stamina growing. But after that initial rush, you’ll begin to settle down at your preferred pace and care a lot less about the physical side of things. Reason being, you realize it’s really not that tough. Of course, certain days might be tough, but as a whole, it’s very manageable, and I think that might come as a surprise to some people. I honestly believe most people could cycle this sort of distance though. You might be faster than me, you might be slower, but that doesn’t really matter. Speed is not the point of it all anyway. Human beings are very capable of adapting and enduring to these sorts of challenges. I didn’t do any sort of training prior to my trip, so the first few weeks were tough. But after just a few days I was doing 100+ km days without much trouble. I’ve even met people in their 70’s who’s been riding for years, and I think that should be proof to most people that you too could cycle across the world. It doesn’t have to be cycling though. The point is valid for any big challenge. Basically, I believe that we are a lot more capable than most of us think. So, don’t let initial overwhelm stop you from pursuing your goals
From speaking with others, it seems to me that a lot of people are held back from exploring exciting places due to a fear of the (perceived) dangers involved. I’ve now travelled to a few of those places. Countries such as Iran, Tajikistan and Pakistan come to mind. I’ll admit that I felt nervous entering each one of them, since they aren’t exactly portrayed particularly well in the mainstream media. You hear so many stories, so many horrible news, and rarely, if ever, anything particularly good to be honest… I was affected by these horror stories just like everyone else. But I’m usually not satisfied with what I’m told. I want to make up my own opinion. So, I went there despite the stories. And time after time I’ve ended up feeling embarrassed of my own preconceived fears. I even found that the kindness of strangers was the greatest in these countries. Iran is the classic example. It came to a point where I had to reject offers of hospitality on a daily basis since I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere otherwise. The Iranians were desperate for me to bring home their message. Desperate for me to promote their beautiful country, so that they could someday enjoy the benefits of the tourism they deserve. The media will write about governments. Not the everyday people you as a traveler would be meeting. And truth is that there is a vast difference between the two. The people are very much aware of their own global reputation though. It’s sad, just how misunderstood certain people are, but heartwarming that the world is not quite as rough as the media will make it out to be. Obviously, there are certain places you probably shouldn’t go. There’s no reason in going to places that are actually dangerous, such as straight up war zones. But now we are talking the hotspots of Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and the likes. You most likely wouldn’t be allowed to enter these places anyway, as the surrounding areas are usually very tightly controlled. So, I encourage you to go explore the places that deserve to be explored. Do the research, and you will be surprised by the overwhelming kindness of the people so desperate to be understood.
The phrase “the journey is the destination” might seem a bit trivial for cycle-tourers, since the journey from A to B literally is the whole point of the trip. Even so, it’s a phrase that has really made me wonder these last few kilometers. Very soon, I’ll be getting in a taxi to the airport, and less than 24 hours later, I’ll be back where I started over a year ago. It’ll be a strange feeling flying back home, knowing just how much time and energy I’ve put in to actually making it to Jakarta, and now effortlessly covering that same distance in a matter of hours. I’ve flown long distances before, difference being, that this time I will know exactly what amazing places I’m missing out on beneath me. I’m obviously very privileged to have had the opportunity to go on this journey. I realize that most people are locked in to a job of some sort, they’ve got obligations, and they might even have a family to care for. So, for most people, going abroad for this long would be a far bigger commitment than it was for me. But I urge anyone who’s got the opportunity, to go out there and experience the world that lies between the major tourist attractions. To meet the people, to experience the everyday life of others, and appreciate just how beautifully diverse this world really is. I’m of the belief, that every single place on earth is worth visiting. If not for enjoyment, then for the experience and the knowledge that comes with it. But of course, we can’t visit every place on earth, so a choice must be made, and sometimes, pure relaxation is all you really want. And that’s fine. I’ve gone for several days of doing nothing much but chilling at the beach on this trip too. We all need a break from our everyday routine once in a while. But the next time you go flying off on holiday, business or whatever other reason, I urge you to look out the window, let curiosity flow, and imagine the journey that could be had beneath you. And if one day you choose to go there, you too will realize that the journey truly is the destination.
Raising awareness and funds for the Association for Greenlandic Children has been a huge part of my trip. As I’m writing this, we’ve raised nearly 10,000 US Dollars. I cannot stress enough just how grateful I really am! After struggling for a year in Greenland, this cause has become very important to me. The fact that I’m able to go on a life-changing adventure while also supporting a cause close to my heart is truly amazing. And it’s all thanks to you! Thankfully, it seems that more and more light is being shed on the issues faced by the Greenlandic people, and I hope that all of you reading this will take the time to do a bit of research for yourself. The numbers speak for themselves, but the beautiful place that is Greenland deserves better. If you’re not able to donate or support the cause now, that is completely fine. Simply educating yourself on the matter would be just as good. If you are however in a position to support the cause, I encourage you to do so! The funds raised will be going towards the mentoring project Ilinniartut, which seeks to help out vulnerable high schoolers in Greenland by allocating an adult mentor. The donations are being handed over on Tuesday the 21st of May, so you’ve still got a few days to donate. Obviously, donations can be made directly to the Association as well after that date. If you would like to donate through my fundraiser, you can do so by clicking here!
The challenges faced by mountaineers and long-distance cycle tourers are inherently different, yet, do share a few similarities as well. To me, the mountains represent the ultimate source of adventure. Reaching the summit of a peak or a pass is such a beautifully simple yet challenging task, very much like cycling from point A to a faraway point B. So, with that connection in mind, I’ll end this post with a short story from when I climbed Mera Peak (6461 m.a.s.l.) back in the spring of 2016.
Even to this day, the summit push on Mera Peak was one of the toughest, most grueling physical challenges of my life. On the morning of the summit day, we woke up at 02:00 A.M. to start making our way up towards the top. As I woke up in the most bitterly cold of nights, I got out of my tent, pitched on a narrow cliff edge, to quite simply have a wee. Instead, I ended up vomiting, fainted, and got frostnip on several fingers, only to strap my harness on half an hour later and start climbing for the final push. Definitely the worst wee of my life. As we neared the peak way above 6000 meters, a single step upwards required me to lean on to my ice axe, desperately trying to catch my breath for 20 seconds before I was finally able to force myself to yet another step. Eventually we reached the summit in a complete white-out, with nothing of the famous panoramic view that had made me want to climb the mountain in the first place. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t have cared less about the view anyway. We climbed for 16 hours that day. When we finally made it back down to the base camp, my tent buddy was suffering from on setting pulmonary edema. The day after he twisted his angle on the rocks so badly that it swelled up to twice its size and turned purple. He was choppered off the mountain with a few other equally worn out expedition members. A week later we met up for a pint in Kathmandu. As we sat there, reminiscing about all the hardships of the climb as well as future mountain plans, he took a sip of his beer and asked, “Emil… what do all mountaineers have in common?”. Slightly puzzled, I shook my head, empty of an answer to his question. He looked at me, grinned, and said, “Short term memory loss!”.
God knows where this addiction for adventure will take me next.