Welcome to Gypsy Wednesday! Every Wednesday, I strive to highlight all the juicy morsels related to travel and beyond.
Sometimes a regular person is seized by an idea, a strong desire to accept a challenge. Could have been a tragedy or special dream that won’t stop whispering to you, even in sleep.
I use to be a skeptical person, scoffing at the ability to effect change. Meet this fella and watch me switch that negative tape to a rock anthem.
A: I am Oli Broom, a 30 year old Englishman from London. In October 2009, having barely cycled beyond the end of my road before, I left London on my bike with seventeen friends and cycled down to the south coast of England. When we reached the sea, all my friends turned around, I bid them a tearful farewell before jumping on a boat to France. I was at the beginning of a 14 month, 20,000 km cycle ride to Brisbane, Australia towatch a series of cricket matches between England and Australia. Along the way I have gone out of my way to play cricket in as many places as possible, and have given talks to a number of schools and youth projects on my route. I am aiming to raise £100,000 for charity during and after the ride.
So far I have cycled through Europe, Turkey and the Middle East, Africa as far as the Sudanese capital Khartoum, across India and Bangladesh, and I am pedaling through Thailand. The cricket series starts on November 25, 2010 and I have 6,000 km to cycle before then!
My website is www.cyclingtotheashes.com and I am blogging about my journey.
Q: Why choose British Neurological Research Trust (BNRT) and Lord Taverner’s as charities to support? Why not something international?
A: Both charities are close to my heart. I chose to support the British Neurological Research Trust because an old school friend suffered a freak accident 6 years ago and is now paralysed. The work being done by the BNRT will benefit James and millions worldwide.
The Lord’s Taverners is a larger charity that was founded in cricket, but now helps to give disabled and under-privileged children opportunities in the UK.
I chose two UK based charities because the UK is my home, and there are millions of people suffering in all sorts of ways there, despite it being a wealthy country. I have had to wrestle with guilt as I have pedaled through so many of the countries I have visited. The suffering I have seen in places like Sudan, India, Bangladesh and even Turkey, Syria and Thailand, would be unthinkable back home. Maybe on my next adventure I will opt for some overseas charities, but for now I am happy to be raising funds for two very worthwhile causes at home.
Q: And to pick cycling from London to Brisbane? Are you mad?
Before I left England I had never really cycled anywhere. I just fancied a bike ride because of the flexibility, peace and quiet, and independence. I thought it might lend to the traveling experience. I thought I could probably cope with a long journey, so went for it. I told all my friends my plans before I had given the idea much thought – once I had told them I knew I couldn’t back down.
The idea was to challenge myself, and I wasn’t going to do that unless I chose something really difficult. I have learnt that, like a lot of endurance tests, long distance cycling is 10% physical and 90% mental. It’s all in the head! If you are able to break the journey down into manageable chunks in your mind, you have a better chance of completing it. I finished my first day, and was happy. Then I crossed Belgium and gave myself a pat on the back. Before I knew it I had cycled across Europe and found myself in Istanbul. I barely even think about the end goal now. If I do, I begin to doubt myself, and, whisper it, get a bit emotional / soppy! Cycling a long way is really easy, and (almost) anyone I know could do it.
Q: How do you handle long days cycling and solitude?
A: I wanted my cycle expedition to be a solo adventure. I wasn’t sure how I would react to long periods on my own, because I have never been on an adventure like this. But I had an idea that I would cope. I am happiest in the company of friends and family, but I’m pretty good at being on my own too. I don’t get bored easily, and especially not on a bike because I am so in touch with people and places – there isn’t a windscreen dividing us so I always have villagers shouting at me to stop and have a cup of tea and a chat with them. I think most people in the world see a cyclist as poor and in need of help!
There is the world of difference between loneliness and solitude. I have learnt to cherish solitude without suffering too badly with loneliness. An MP3 player helps too!
Q: What was your occupation before deciding to do this 14 month journey?
A: I worked for 6 years in London as a Chartered Surveyor with an international real estate consultancy. Whenever I tell other travelers what I did before, they always tell me they’re not surprised I gave it up. But it was a good job and I enjoyed it. That said, I didn’t love it, and I want to be passionate about what I do in life. I could feel myself slipping into ‘averageness’ and I didn’t want to settle for that.
Q: What’s so damn attractive about travel in general? Instead of choosing something else?
A: It’s kind of obvious I suppose, but the attraction for me lies in the discovery of different cultures. Every minute of every day, if you immerse yourself in another culture, you see people doing things that you never see back home – or maybe just doing things a different way to the way it’s done at home. I spend hours wondering why some ideas and practices develop in one country and not in another.
I also believe travel is the best education you can get. Even without a bike, it teaches you to life lessons like tolerance (of other cultures and races), patience, independence and inquisitiveness. Those are all qualities that we could all do with developing.
An interesting aspect of my travel is that it makes me appreciate home more. Although I am having the time of my life on this adventure, I am also looking forward to going home and spending time with family and friends. This journey, I suppose, has made me appreciate them more. I am also excited about getting home because time travelling has given me so many ideas about what I want to do with the rest of my life, and I’m looking forward to putting at least a few of those ideas into practice.
Q: What is The Ashes Match in Australia and why is it so important to you?
A: Ha ha. Okay. In 1882 England were beaten at cricket by Australia for the first time on English soil. There followed a satirical article in an English newspaper stating that English cricket had died, and that the ashes would be cremated and the body sent to Australia. Two years later the English media dubbed the tour to Australia as a “quest to regain The Ashes.” During the tour, the England captain was presented with a small urn, said to contain the remains of an item of cricket equipment. Since that day, England and Australia have played each other for that little urn, and we call it The Ashes. The best thing about The Ashes is that it sits in a glass box in London and never leaves. Even if Australia win The Ashes, they only get to take home a replica!
And why do I care about it? Well, Australia vs. England in any sport is a grudge match, but the history and tradition that The Ashes brings means that cricket matches between the two sides are fierce encounters. England have been thrashed in The Ashes for the past 25 years, but the last 3 series have all gone to the home team (England twice and Australia once). I love cricket, England have a good chance of winning The Ashes again this time around, and Australia is not a bad place to go and watch cricket – that’s why I’m going!
A: Wake up at sunrise in my tent. Struggle to get out of my sleeping bag for about an hour. Take another hour to pack up my tent and set off for a day on the bike. Cycle until lunchtime, stopping for the occasional chat with an eager villager. In India my thermometer read 56 degrees on several occasions, so I was often looking for shady roadside spots away from prying eyes – very tricky in India! In Thailand now it’s a bit cooler, but more hilly. Come lunch time I will eat a couple of meals to re-fuel and then I’ll cycle until sunset, when I will pitch my tent, or find a cheap guest house. Sounds fun right? Well, it is.
In reality, the day is broken up by amusing encounters with all sorts of people. For instance, the other day I was eating lunch in a tiny village when a well-dressed man introduced himself to me as a local landowner. He had a farm around the corner and said he would like to show me it. So I had a tour of a Thai rubber plantation, and a two hour rest on his sofa in front of BBC World during the heat of the day. Perfect! He is coming to London in a few months so I told him I would return the hospitality.
Q: Any tips for potential round-the-world cyclists?
A: I’ve just been chatting to an Israeli in a guest house in Thailand. He told me it was his dream to cycle around the world so I told him to do it. He replied, “But then it won’t be my dream anymore.”
If it’s your dream to travel the world by bicycle, and you have a passport that lets you travel relatively freely, then there isn’t a lot stopping you. Just go! Don’t wait and definitely don’t plan too much. There is so much expensive kit that you can buy, but that you don’t need. If you’ve got enough cash for a three month ride, set off now. A lot can happen in three months and you might not need to go home.
There is only one thing worth spending a decent amount on, and that’s the bike. I had a Santos Travelmaster built and fitted for me and I would go for the same bike again. Other than a bike, don’t go without a Leatherman Wave (penknife type tool), an MP3 player stuffed full of music and audio books, a digital dictaphone to record your thoughts during long hours in the saddle and a mosquito net so you can sleep anywhere, anytime!
Be ready to sleep in some strange places (under bridges, in mosques, temples, churches, in strangers’ houses and on beaches). Although I have slept in my tent most of the time, in India it was too hot so I opted for cheap guest houses and the occasional temple. When I reach big cities I generally use couchsurfing. I have also used the community section of that website to find independent film-makers in each country to help me with filming my journey. Social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook can lend a different dimension to your ride, and I’m a big fan.
There are some informative websites and forums out there to help you plan your journey (try the cycling section of www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree or www.alastairhumphreys.com – Alastair did a 4 year bike ride the length of every continent, so he has some decent advice to lend. Or check my website to see what life is like on the road, of course! But really, I would encourage someone keen on a long bike ride to just do it their own way. Find your own path and ride it. You won’t regret it for a second.
If you missed it the first time, read Oli Broom’s adventures at Cycling to the Ashes.
Photos: courtesy of Oli Bloom.