An Twelve Minute Read
“No one has ever become poor by giving.” ~ Anne Frank, Writer
This past week I was privileged enough to attend WE Day in Toronto. It was one of those experiences that really puts the pieces of our work into perspective. As I watched other change makers and hopefuls share their story, it truly was inspiring. To see the roar of the crowd and the countless people who believe in a better future take the stage was something I will never forget. To see the messages received by the youth of tomorrow and feel that connection was fantastic. Whether it was Gord Downie or Fire Chief Darby Allen sharing their stories, it seemed like we are all working together for something greater. A better future for all. Equality, change and perspective are things I think the world needs to continue to strive towards.
I often think back to those moments on the road. The times of extreme high and low. The poverty and riches that I saw along the way. Both extremes have left a lasting impact on the way that I now see the world. From cobbled roads of Italy, to the hectic Indian byways. From the affluence that is the western world and the imaginary lines that separate similar lands. I have flashbacks to faces and places that now only seem like images of a dream I once knew. The good, the horribly difficult and the monotone moments of challenging bliss in-between.
During those days I smiled a million smiles and felt the weight of my dream on my shoulders. Sometimes, the immensity of my goal weighed a little heavy. When the mountains snaked up on tiny roads beyond my sight or roads stretched out to nameless expanses, I felt that pull forward and pull back to reality. Was I going to make it home? Would people care enough to donate to my cause? Was it all worth it? The answer to all those questions was and always will be a resounding, yes.
“It always seems impossible, until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela, Freedom Fighter
(Below you can read the five-page full update from WE Charity on all of our schools fundraising projects throughout the world. Very exciting!)
Along this journey I had the unique opportunity to help give back. With well over three-hundred sponsors we were able to raise $50,000 for Free the Children (WE Charity). I am blown away by both sides of this accomplishment. The whole experience taught me a good deal about the people I call family and friends, as well as those throughout our world who wished to make it a better place. It showed me that one idea really can make a difference. That we can change someone’s world for the better.
Throughout those two years, people from all over the globe reached out to help me achieve my goal. However, in the process, it became a collective mission. It was no longer just one crazy guy’s idea on a bike. It was a goal that is now shared by hundreds of people. There were even schools throughout Eastern Ontario that rose to the occasion and helped push the metre ever higher. Without the endless donations and goodwill, our collective goal of giving children in struggling nations access to safe and reliable education would have never been possible. Five schools in five different countries.
I will admit, when I first set out, though my hopes were high, I did not know how far or how well the charitable portion of my journey would be received. I had this dream inside my heart of five schools in five countries around the world. However, I set out with one to start. I did not want to look over ambitious or fail miserably for the whole world to see. However, by the time I reached the edge of the Chinese frontier in Xinjiang Province, the goal for the schoolhouse in GuangMing, China was achieved. As I crossed into Kyrgyzstan on a cool afternoon, I knew we could achieve great things if we worked together. It truly was a feeling like no other.
To be able to give back to a country which meant so much to me, was a sign of good things to come. The school in China’s Sichuan province has been complete for some time now and I assure you the effects of which are felt on a daily basis. For the people that live in Guang Ming it represents a chance at a better future. A future that has more than hope at the end of it. Though I was unable to visit the community due to horrible flooding of the road, I plan to make a journey there at some point soon. To see the faces of the change and hear their stories. Sichuan was one of my favourite sections of China and it is a place that will always call me to return.
As I continued to bike, the support rolled with my tires. Countless people continued to donate and some even began to donate for a second time. On the road, I would connect with my sponsors through personalized emails. I wanted to know what made these people feel the pull towards my cause and thank them for their generosity. No matter if it was $1000 or $10, I sent a message all the same. Every donor meant the world to me while I was on the road. I knew that people were giving what they could and sometimes even when they couldn’t. It gave me the energy boost I needed. Sometimes, when I was feeling down or lonely, a donation from a friendly stranger would ignite the flame inside to keep moving.
In India, I visited the community of Verdara. I was greeted by long time change maker Lloyd and his team with WE charity. Thanks to my supporters, a new schoolhouse has been added to the High School where there previously was none. Children have access to a higher education than has ever been possible in their community. They no longer have to walk far distances or move to continue their education. I saw the smiling faces of their youth and experienced a celebration like no other in their village. You can read about and see photos of my experiences in Verdara HERE.
When I reached Kenya, I was met by the warm handshake and laughter of the Masaai people. I explored the daily life of the community, along with their struggles and victories. Here I learned the value of community. I saw their thirst for education, carried water buckets and practiced how to throw a rungu. By the time I reached the bottom of Africa, the fundraising for the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya was complete. I knew we would make the final goal with continued hard work and support. You can read about my days in the Masaai Mara with Me to We HERE.
In the Andean mountains of Ecuador, I pedalled on up to the community of Shuid. Here I saw the struggles of mountain life mix with natural beauty. I was met by Ryan and his generous team. The views were spectacular and the need the same. The dichotomy of all these places truly amazed me. Later that week as I pedalled into Quito, I wondered about the little community on the side of the mountain. I walked about a glimmering shopping mall in search of some peanut butter for the road, wondering about the hard divisions that separate our world. Seeing all that their city counterparts had, I knew that achieving the goal here was more important than ever. Now the two-storey building is nearing completion thanks to my countless sponsors. To read about my experiences in Shuid CLICK HERE.
On the dog days stretch of Central America, I burned into Nicaragua after a 8 day ride from Panama City. I was feeling the push for home. The end was in sight, but I knew I had unfinished business. The two years on the road had taken a toll on my mind and body. I was stronger than ever physically, but my mind was wavering. Once I met my friend Camillo from WE Charity and biked down to the community of El Trapiche with a group of boys, my resolve was stronger than ever. The $50,000 mark would be no problem at all. I returned to Canada with a mission and after a few short weeks the final goal came on a day just like any other. A feeling I can now proudly share with all of my sponsors. You can read about my time in El Trapiche HERE.
You can get involved with WE Charity or experience your own ME to WE journey by CLICKING HERE.
“He who allows his day to pass by without practicing generosity & enjoying life’s pleasures…breathes but does not live.” ~ Sanskrit Proverb
I have now returned to a life of a little more comfort. There is food in my fridge and a warm bed waiting for me each day. I have my wife, family and friends close by. All the little things that many of us take for granted, have been returned to me once again. But we always want what we can’t have. I still look at maps from time to time and have burst of nostalgia that almost hurts. When I ride my old beat-up bike to and fro I feel the pedals looking for the next hill. In some moments I wished I went a little bit slower or spent a day longer here or a week there. Sometimes, I wish I was still out there with the morning sun, evening stars, my tent and four bags. But, that was one adventure. Everything happened the exact way it should have. Had I stayed one place longer, I would have missed one person or another that directly changed the course of my journey and in turn the future of my life. I am on the next adventure and I can’t wait. No regrets. It was the ride of a lifetime.
I will never forget a feeling I had one night two weeks into my trip. While laying awake in my tent, I was looking at a map of China and the world. I had skirted a small slice of the monster that was China and put a pinprick on the world. I was going nowhere fast. I was terrified, alone and feeling down. I had left everything behind to pursue some crazy dream that looked better on paper than it was looking at this moment in real life. I took a deep breath and felt the world crashing down on me. I suddenly found that the idea of the whole world was too big. They journey was going to be too much to handle if I kept looking at it in this way. It was in this moment that I decided to live each day as it came. Forget about the long off finish line. This moment forever changed the rest of my ride and the happiness I felt in my interactions on a daily basis. Sometimes, I still need to remind myself of these moments as I pick away at my book and my goals for the future. One day at a time.
We too can all achieve great things with time, patience and a little help. I believe that with hard work and dedication, anything can be achieved in time. Without the help of all my donors, I would never have been able to get through some of the wild and difficult places that were thrown at me along the way. Without those days and the people who came at the right time, I would not be who I am today. For everyone that helped make a difference and construct the five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua, thank you. On behalf of all the people we have helped, a boisterous thank you. For believing in me, I humbly thank you all.
*Please see the inspiring full update from the good people at WE Charity (Free the Children) below as well as my YouTube video from around the world.
**In my following posts I will begin by highlighting some of the truly awesome people that I met on my way around the world. It is my duty now to share their stories and their world.
***To see my charity page from the journey and a rolling list of all the wonderful donors, schools and businesses, please CLICK HERE.
****You can also check out my alternate website at www.tinysbest.com.
My Cycling Journey Around the World
Gord Downie at WE Day
A Ten Minute Read
When you meet that special person in your life there is nothing which can separate your worlds. Many years ago when I was working in Sanya, China I met the love of my life. Not long ago I returned from China with a small group of family and friends for our wedding. I am now married to my best friend and the girl who will help share the rest of my days. It is an incredible feeling as we embark on the new adventure in life together.
Only a few people I know were able to attend the wedding China, so I will share with you a little bit of what exactly it is like to get married in China. We wanted our wedding to be traditional Chinese, so many of the aspects may seem strange or foreign. The whole experience was a learning curve for me as well. Enjoy the beauty in the difference.
I woke early on the day of my Chinese wedding. The last week had been a blur of meeting people, preparing for a wedding and getting to learn a little bit more about my new family. It was raining lightly outside. There I spent a quiet moment in my wedding room. Soon the wonderful chaos of the day would begin. It was a day I had been looking forward to for a long time. I knew it would not disappoint.
Not long after people started to arrive at my room. Family and friends from both sides. We shared a bit of a quick breakfast and tidied the room for the day. It had been decorated with nearly a hundred balloons, Chinese decorations and streamers. A new set of red silk sheets was put on my wedding bed, as is the tradition and I put on my special outfit for the day. Friends were given noise makers and we prepared to take the walk down to get Eliza.
As is the Chinese tradition, the groom must go pick up the bride at a separate location before the wedding day begins. Most weddings take place in hotels these days, so instead of picking her up at her parent’s house, I picked her up at room down the hall from me. However, it is not as easy as just knocking on the door and bringing her back. There was a laundry list of tasks laid before me.
With my cohort, I made my way down the hall at 9:30a.m. I arrive to a decorated door and a lot of noise on the other side. I brought with me a large amount of envelopes called ‘Hongbao’. These would serve essentially as bribes for the girls guarding the door to let me inside. I slipped a few under the door and then a few more and eventually had to push my way inside after being told to sing a Chinese song. When I came through the door I continued to be attacked for ‘Hongbao’ until I made my way to the centre of the room.
I stood at the foot of the bed before my beautiful fiancée. She looked gorgeous in her outfit wearing a variety of bright jewellery. In order to be allowed to take her from the room, I had to go through a few more challenges, that if I lost would cost me more Hongbao. First, I had to find two of her shoes hidden somewhere in the room. One was found by my brother in a pillow case and second was actually jammed inside the Majhong table. The next challenge was to eat a banana with the help of my friends. This was easily my most hated event, as the banana got closer and closer to the end. Then I was told to do twenty push-ups with one hand, which was surprisingly easier than I thought it would be in my insanely hot robe. Then I had three chances to find the correct end to a tangle of ribbons tied to her arm. The final challenge was to kneel on a bunch of Majhong playing pieces and put on her two shoes.
At the end of it all I picked her up and we bowed before her parents. I gave them my Hongbao, as is tradition, and Eliza got on my back in order for me to carry her back to my room. In Chinese tradition the bride is not allowed to touch the floor during this time as I took her from her bed to the bed in my room. As we left the room the hallway was filled with the loud sound of exploding noise makers bearing rose pedals and the bustle of getting back to my room. In my heavy robe, I was sweating like crazy as I carried her like a mule back to my room.
When we arrived it was time for pictures of multiple combinations. At one point I was launched into the air for a photo and nearly hit the ceiling. At this time Eliza was to change into another outfit, while myself along with family and friends were to head down to the wedding hall. It was my duty to greet the people attending the wedding.
As is typical of a Chinese wedding when people arrive at a wedding they give their hongbao to a central table. At our wedding they were returned a nice gift and each man received a cigar which I brought from Canada. Usually, all men receive a cigarette, but seeing is how I do not smoke, I thought this was a little better.
So there I stood, greeting the 150 guests in attendance while the final preparations were made for the ceremony. The people filed to their seats with rain drops on their shoulders from outside. In the corner of my eye I saw Eliza come down and remain hidden by the doorway as the ceremony was set to begin. The MC began the call for quiet and people to return to their seats.
The wedding started with two dancers along the catwalk of the stage. Eliza’s cousins, performing a beautiful dance as we approached the steps to the stage. It was my job to guide her for the first part of the wedding ceremony, as her head was covered in a traditional veil, which she could not see through. We climbed the stage and began to walk holding the red silk ribbon, a symbol of our bond. Over a wooden saddle I guided her, which would keep us safe year after year. Then finally we stepped over a fire pan as we walked to the centre stage of the catwalk.
Our parents came to the stage. We bowed three times and then once to our parents. At this time, I was able to remove the veil with a stick, in a three part fashion. The crowd applauded for the beautiful bride. Our parents were seated and we poured them tea in the traditional fashion. They accepted the tea and returned our Hongbao and went back to their seats.
I put a strand of Eliza’s hair in a box, to ensure we loved each other until our hair turns grey and exchanged a small gift. One of the final acts was to drink a traditional fermented beverage in a lover’s fashion with arms linked. After all was complete we bowed for our friends on the left, in the middle and our friends from Canada. The wedding ceremony was complete and we headed for our seats.
There was then a speech from my father, Eliza’s father, myself and Eliza. The speeches were translated into Chinese and English so everyone would understand how important this day was to all. Eliza’s speech moved the crowd and brought most to tears. It was a very emotional time as I could feel the words she spoke and a sense of pride at all of the planning coming together in the end of the day. We had done it and now we were together.
After the wonderful and moving speeches my brother on guitar, my mother on vocals, a talented neighbour also named Mark on piano and myself on the djembe played Ed Sheeran’s – Thinking Out Loud. The cameras went up and we played through to the crowd. The second song was done by my brother and our neighbour Mark. The amazing difference was that the song was in Chinese. A famous song entitled, ‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’ by Escape Plan. I was so proud of how hard they worked on this song and their dedication to learn a song in a completely new language.
They were followed by a very cool breakdance by the MC, where he did a backflip. The final performance was Eliza’s mother who sang a beautiful Chinese song in a captivating tone. By this time all of the food was on the table and the MC gave the cue to have all the chopsticks brought out. Dinner and drinks were served to all 150 guests. It was my duty to go with Eliza and cheers all of the tables at the wedding.
Not long after people started to pay their respects and say goodbye. By the time the wedding lunch was all over it was around 3pm. We returned to our rooms to rest and prepare for the small dinner with around 50 guests that night and the karaoke afterwards. A Chinese wedding is a full day event. I cannot thank everyone for all of the work that went into making our celebration a beautiful memory. It is one of those days that will live in my memory forever. Thank you to all of the friends near and far that made our day so special. Though a wedding may only be single day, it represents a beautiful union that my wife and I will share forever.
A Glimpse Into Our Wedding Day by Video (Photos Below)
*Please stay tuned as I prepare to release a new series in the coming days. As I made my way around the world I got to meet a good number of amazing people along the way. Some I only spent a few minutes with, others a few days and weeks. It is here I would like to share their stories. For me, meeting the people along the way was the most inspiring part of the journey. The people that welcomed me into their homes or just stopped to have a chat will forever be etched in my mind. For that past few years, you have heard of my love for travel and the spinning world. Now, please welcome their love for life and peer into what makes them so special. I look forward to reading as much as you.
**I apologize that posts have been sparse recently. It has been quite busy since I returned from China. I started a new job, I moved and my father was ill. However, I have never settled into a different pace of life and a new exciting adventure. I still plan to continue on with my book and will be launching a new website in the coming weeks. Back on track towards new and exciting goals.
***To check out one of my current side projects, look up www.tinysbest.com for more information on how you can place on order or check out products for delicious and healthy Chicken Jerky.
****Look for an update from Free the Children (WE Charity) in the very near future on all five of our school projects. Thank you to everyone that has donated over the past few years. Together we have achieved a beautiful change. 🙂
Escape Plan ~ The Brightest Star in the Sky (Wedding Song)
Ed Sheeran ~ Thinking Out Loud (Wedding Song)
(My Gear: Post-Trip)
“He who would travel happily must travel light.” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Travel Writer
When I set out from China on my journey around the world, one of the hardest things was choosing what to bring with me. I had my four bags laid out on my bed and a mound of stuff that I thought I needed to take with me. I spent months before I left figuring out just the right stuff to bring on the trip. I am not sure what you would pack for two years, but it is easier said than done.
Before, I had done a number of lightweight trips that usually lasted a few weeks to a month. However, on most of those trips I didn’t need to be self-sufficient. They were also much shorter than the journey I was about to undertake. I knew I needed equipment that would last and would be durable in the rough conditions ahead. In most of China though, outdoor adventure stores are a niche market and expensive. As a result, I had to navigate Chinese websites to get all of my gear ordered online. With the help of my teaching assistant in China, I was able to do just that. It was a headache of a process, but I learned a lot.
Finally, with all of my gear laid out on my bed, I packed it up into my four bags with a tent. When I plopped it all on my bike, I felt the weight of all that stuff. After a heartfelt goodbye, I was off riding along with this monstrous load of weight in the sweltering heat of the South China summer. After a hard first day of riding, I was shattered. My bags were far too heavy.
That night I unpacked everything from my bags. I took everything I truly didn’t need and gave it away. For a week, I did the same thing almost every day and lightened my load to the point where I only carried what I truly needed. Periodically, I would go through my gear as seasons changed and my needs. Eventually, I rid myself of all unnecessary items. By the end of the journey, every single item had a purpose and a place. It was liberating. I could move faster, longer and happier. Freeing yourself from shackles of things, allows you to see the world around you as it is. It allows you to see the face of travel as it was meant to be seen.
“On a long journey even a straw weighs heavy.” ~ Spanish Proverb
There are many ways that you yourself can travel cheap, light and smart. I will dive more into how to travel cheaply in the future, but in many ways what you pack can directly impact the cost of your trip. This will make more sense later. The most important part, for myself, has always been to travel light. This allows you to have an increase in mobility throughout your journey. After traveling to over 60 countries, most of which was done lightly as possible, I have learned a few things from my different adventures. I will break down packing tips and tricks into a few categories below, with a bit of practical context for each. Remember, in many ways, what you own in turn owns you.
(The only souvenirs I collect, besides memories & photos. I suppose I would be a mild collector, with all the bills from the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, Saddam from Iraq, a Pakistani collection, old Russian rubbles & Chinese bills before Mao, as well as an extensive collection of all countries I have been to and more)
1. Travel Light:
It is easy to travel light if you know a little bit about where you are going. Look at your upcoming trip. Do some research. Google is your friend and easy to use. Where are you going? What season is it? Will you need a winter jacket or will just a T-Shirt be fine, even at night? How long are you going for? What type of trip are you headed out on? Are you going for a week or a month? Will you be moving your bags a whole bunch? Are you planning on camping or staying in nice hotels? These are all things to consider when thinking about what you may pack for your trip.
If you are wondering if you will be able to buy something related to clothing, the answer is yes. If you are going anywhere outside North America or Europe, things will generally be cheaper to pick up on the fly. In most cases, aside from specialized equipment, you will be able to find almost anything in the country you are headed to. I do understand that if you are on a shorter trip, chances are you’re not going to be interested in looking for a power adapter or a new pair of socks the moment you arrive. Weather and seasons aside, here are a few packing tips to save space, weight and mental breakdown with your luggage.
Roll your clothes. This frees up more space for other more important items. Packing what is needed goes a long way to avoid lugging around a heavy bag or suitcase for weeks on end. For two years I had only 3 shirts, 3 pairs of socks, 2 shorts, 2 long sleeve shirts, 2 pairs underwear, 2 hats, 2 buffs, 1 toque, 1 pair of mitts, 1 pair long johns, 1 sweater, 1 pair of cycling shorts and 1 set of lightweight rain gear. This all fit into one small bag at the front of my bike. On my other trips where the weather was consistently warmer and I did not need to camp, I packed much less than this. Time and time again I have seen backpackers on short trips with double what I packed for two years. Most only stay in hostels and rarely need more than a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. What the heck do they have in those bags? Pack what you need.
Again, check the weather for the season and know where you are going. It is easy also to wash your clothes as you travel. A bit of laundry soap and travel clothes line or even a piece of rope can go a long way. Wash your clothes when you have the chance in a sink. Most places I stayed for a day off had at least a fan, things dry quickly and you save a bit of money. Even if you are going on a week-long trip, you can save time and money by washing your clothes yourself. You can also save time by just taking a carry-on backpack. You don’t need to wait for your bags after getting off the plane, you just get to go. Aside from moving to China and South Korea, I have never traveled with anything besides a small backpack. You beat the rush at immigration and you’re off on your adventure before everyone else gets their bags.
First Five Tips:
-Bring only what you will actually need
-You can get the little things later
-Roll your clothes to save space
-Pack for the occasion, not the end of the world
-Know the seasons & where you’re going
2. Travel Smart:
There are many items that you can bring that will make your trip much more enjoyable and safe. Bring a small lock with a key. If you are not staying in some fancy hotel with safety deposit box, then you will need to have peace of mind when going out for the day. Chances are you are not interested in lugging all of your things around each day, especially if you are hiking a mountain or walking long distances. In any hostel, there should be locker, where you can use the lock I just mentioned. You will likely be sharing a room with 8-10 people and sometimes you won’t even meet most of them. It is hard to know what everyone is thinking.
When there were no lockers, I pushed my bags underneath the bed and locked the most important bag. Nothing ever went missing. I have heard all of the horror stories about people being robbed. In most cases, in my opinion, people were doing something they shouldn’t have. Leaving a phone on a table in a busy restaurant, taking expensive cameras to a market, going to a bar late in a bad part of town and leaving a bag at a table to go to the bathroom. All of these people were robbed and they wonder why it happened.
Throughout my two years on the bicycle around the world and all of my other travels, I have only had two things stolen from me. My bicycle tools in Peru and a travel towel (little bit gross) in China. Truly inexpensive items, though slightly annoying things to replace. Maybe because I always looked poor, people left me alone. There are still a number of things you can do to prevent theft. One is trying not to look like a ridiculous tourist. Wear what you would normally wear and bring what you would normally use for a domestic trip back home. That way your clothes will be familiar and you don’t look like a target. There are people who make a living out of this type of thievery. In most cases, you will be fine.
If you are worried about your health, pack medicines and health items which are versatile. Check the health warning and any vaccinations you may need for an area. Even if something terrible does go wrong, I assure you, health services are better than you think in most countries. If you have adequate insurance then you should be covered, if anything goes terribly wrong. Don’t over pack on the medicines. You can get most of the same things for coughs, sore throats and diarrhea in any country. A basic medical kit is all that you need. Take regular vitamins to stay healthy, especially when you cannot access healthy foods and take care of your body.
For two years I carried the same bit of pills and medical equipment around the world. I rarely used any of it. I was only truly sick twice during that time. For all of the terrible places I ate and the worn out rough conditions I was through, I think that is pretty darn good. Along the way I ate a ton of garlic and onions, took my vitamins and ate healthy whenever possible. Preventative measures are the best way to keep the doctor away. It also helps you lighten the load and maintain a healthy mood. No one likes getting sick on a holiday. Take care of yourself before your go and while you are abroad.
Also, don’t forget a good set of earplugs. Much of the world is quite noisy, especially in the developing world. A decent set plugs will save you a good night sleep and your enjoyment the following day.
Five More Tips:
-Bring a lock
-Look like a normal person
-Don’t do dangerous things
-Pack only necessary medicines
3. Extended Travel:
There a good number of key items that will allow you to cut down costs, save space and make your trip more liberating. For myself, the number one thing on any adventure trip is the camp stove. You can get a lightweight stove that runs off liquid gas for less than 80$ at your local camping outlet. Over time, this little invention will save you much more in terms of food costs as well as mobility of where you can travel freely. The stoves are easy to carry and less than a dollar to fill up. I used regular unleaded gas, because it is available everywhere. It is the most beneficial item you can have if you are on an extended trip into expensive or far off places of the world. Also bring a small knife, plate and lightweight pot. A spork is a handy tool for eating on the road and useful for stirring your pasta or rice. You won’t be able to cook the most amazing meal in the world, but I have whipped up some pretty satisfying things on the fly.
Bring a lightweight and easy to set up tent. Again this only pertains to extended travel, but that tent, like the stove, will allow you to be out in the wild. If that’s what you like, the tent will allow you to experience nature and the people who live in those parts of the world. Free camping is exactly that, free. There are only a few occasions on my trip around the world where I agreed to pay for camping. When I rode my motorbike around Mongolia, I never did. It depends on the country and the type of comfort you are looking for with your travels. People are kind, so say hello. They will almost always allow you to camp on a patch of land near their home. I have a rule of always asking, if I don’t know. Gives you peace of mind while you sleep. You never know, you may even make a new lifelong friend.
A good sleeping bag. You can now get very warm and tightly packed sleeping bag that will allow you to sleep comfortably anywhere. In some places where I found the cheaper hotel beds to be completely filthy, (ie India and Ethiopia), a sleeping bag also comes in handy to separate yourself from the unclean sheets that won’t be cleaned even if you ask. Forget packing the bulky travel pillow and roll up your sweater or your towel for a fairly soft place to lay your head. If money is an issue, the more you save on buying the best of everything, will allow you to do what you came to do. Travel.
Lightweight electronics. Forget the huge laptop at home and invest in a small tablet or use your phone. This does not include a nice camera, if taking pictures is what is really important to you. The worst part about electronics though, is charging them. There are now many types of external battery sources from solar, electric and even self-powered energy devices. Find the one best suited for your trip and it will allow you to still stay connected in far off places and even enjoy your music.
Obviously with all of this stuff your bag is getting a bit heavier, but if you are going on a long enough trip with a budget and seeking adventure, I believe all of these items are liberating and will return their weight in cost and memories over time. Though it weighs more, I recommend bringing some sort of journal for those extended trips and making a point of writing as often as possible. It only takes a few moments to fill a page. Online blogs are nice, but there are certainly things you would write in a journal that you wouldn’t publishing online. It isn’t for anyone but yourself. You will likely be the only one interested in looking back later at your former self. On any long journey, always remember to bring an open mind. This can be the most important thing of all.
Last 5 Tips:
-A Journal & An Open Mind
These are just a few points to get you going in the right direction for your next trip. If you would like to learn more about these topics or have questions about travel in general, please don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, take care, travel light and live for the adventure.
*Now that we have reached our goal for five schoolhouses in five different countries, an update is underway by the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity). I look forward to sharing the full update on the progress of all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua with all over my sponsors. Stay tuned!
**If you didn’t see my new video from cycling around the world, you can check it out below, or even just watch it again! 🙂
A Three Minute Read
(NOT INCLUDING THE VIDEO BELOW)
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch, Author
Looking back at old clips from my journey around the world, it transports me to a different time. It evokes a feeling of wonder inside, at all I went through to reach my final goal. Now looking back, it has all started to feel like a dream from yesterday’s past. Going through the thousands of hours of footage, one of the most important messages continues to jump out at me. It was always about what was in-between and never about the destination. I am happy that I learned this lesson very early on. Looking back on these videos of challenging, bright, tiring and beautiful days, I can honestly say it was worth it all.
Please take a look at my cycling video around the world. It was shot on my GoPro Hero 3+ and my DSLR Camera. For two years I kept the same mount and recorded it whenever I was able to do so. I have used those thousands of hours of footage and compiled it into a single video. I take you on a first person perspective journey around the world. Through 40 countries and five continents, from China back to Canada. Enjoy the wonder that this is our world. The struggle, strength and power of the human experience. A tour on two wheels.
The Video: 2 Year GoPro Bicycle Adventure Around the World
*We totally did it. The ultimate goal of $50,000 to help build five schools in five different countries around the world is complete. Now that we have met our goal for the fifth schoolhouse in El Trapiche, Nicaragua, the good people at Free the Children (WE Charity) are working on a full update. This review will include all five schools in China, India, Kenya, Ecuador and Nicaragua. It is a big update so it will take a bit of time. Once it is out I will be sharing it will all of my sponsors. Thank you everyone!
**You can see the completed donation page for yourself by CLICKING HERE.
***I will be condensing the video into a more succinct version for future presentations and speaking engagements, complete with all of my own music. In the meantime, you can check out videos, articles and podcasts on my ‘Media’ page HERE.
****If you are interested in learning more about my new side project, making healthy and delicious original recipe ‘Chicken Jerky’. CLICK HERE to check out my new website.
(Spice Markets: Kabul, Afghanistan)
Lesson #5- The World is Full of Delicious Food: Have a Taste
“Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon.” ~ Doug Larson, Columnist
—-> With transportation, trade and communication bridging the gap between countries around the world, we are privileged to a wider array of ingredients, flavours and information than ever before in history. People used to sacrifice their lives bringing spices from China and India, now they are available in almost every town. We eat the foods that were once only available to the richest and most powerful people. We have the opportunity to eat, healthy fresh and delicious food from around the world.
However, many of us fill our stomachs, baskets and fridges, with subsidized junk. Food that lacks energy, takes zero effort to make, expands your waistline and does nothing more than fill that empty hole. In return, we get the sluggish people, slow minds and self-inflicted sickness. Taking a bit of extra time to prepare something healthy will repay you in the long run. With the food selection today, healthy does not just mean salad anymore.
When I was on my cycling trip and actually had the opportunity to visit a ‘real’ grocery store, I would often go in and spend hours just gawking at the excess. Coming from the mountains, desert or countryside into a big city and visiting one of these stores, I felt like an alien. Typically I would shop at local markets and tiny shops on my route. Almost every grocery store in Canada is packed to the brim with foods that can make us feel awesome, but we oftentimes choose items packed with salt, sugar and fat. If you don’t know how to cook, buy a beginner cookbook, take a class or ask a friend to help you. It’s never to late to learn.
“If we’re not willing to settle for junk living, we certainly shouldn’t settle for junk food.” ~ Sally Edwards, Author
On my website, I almost always made a point of sharing at least one recipe from all of the countries I made my way through. I believe to understand and experience the food of a culture is half the battle. It is the gateway into people’s homes and lives. Whenever I passed through new lands I always ate what the local people ate. Often times, it was the cheapest and most delicious thing to be had. Chow Fan in China, Kabuli in Afghanistan, Biryani in India, Kushari in Egypt, Shawarma in Turkey, Pizza in Italy, Chips Mai in Tanzania, Braai in South Africa, Encebollado in Ecuador, Ceviche in Panama, Tacos in Mexico and Barbecue in the United States. The list goes on. My stomach growls just thinking about it all.
In any big city you can experience food from all over the world. A quick Google search will allow you to step into new culinary adventure in any big city. You’ll find hidden gems that will keep you coming back. Remember, in Canada we are able to eat bananas in December and mangos in February. We are a lucky people. Take a chance and have a bite of someone else’s culture. You might just be surprised.
(You can expect a post on my top ten favourite dishes from around the world in the future.)
*Less than $320 to go to the final goal of $50,000 and the last schoolhouse in El Trapiche Nicaragua. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Tomorrow you can expect Lesson #4 from the road. Thank you for reading! 🙂
Kabul Pulao – Afghan Cooking
“Charity begins at home, but should not end there.” ~ Thomas Fuller, Writer/Historian
With over $30,000 raised, the schoolhouse in Esinoni, Kenya is now under construction. I cannot thank everyone enough who rose to the call and gave what they were able. Together we are making dreams come true for young learners in different parts of the world. We have now accomplished building a school in Guangming, China and the second schoolhouse in Verdara, India is now underway. I am without words. When I look back at my humble dreams of making a difference in the education of tomorrows youth, I would have never expected this. Simply getting on a bike everyday and going for a ride, has given young children the opportunity for a better future. The dream of having a memorable childhood is the gift we are giving. Seeing the smiling faces in these communities is all the thank you we can ever need.
My next hope is an additional $10,000 and a schoolhouse for the children in Shuid, Ecuador. I know working together we can achieve this. Together we are powerful. Together we are strong. We can make a difference. We have already proven that. Giving others hope and a better life is one of the best feelings in the world. We are already off to a great start thanks to wonderful donations by Eleanor Glenn and the Rutherford family. Below is a look at Shuid, Ecuador. Some of the accomplishments, needs and details about the community are listed here. I hope to visit the site in the coming months, as I make my way up South America. Together our potential is limitless. We may not change the entire world, but at least we can give hope and alter the course of someone’s life forever. This is what it is all about.
“The more credit you give away, the more will come back to you. The more you help others, the more they will want to help you.” ~ Brian Tracy, Author
To make a difference in the world is not about throwing money at a problem and looking away. It is about extending your hand when someone else is down. When they are out in the cold both figuratively and literally. It is easy to forget about people worlds over or turn the channel. Those with the smallest voices need the most help. The people that just want to live in peace. My experiences throughout my journey are amazingly positive. If you open yourself to the world, you never know who you will meet. The people that had the least always seemed to give the most. When a little is a lot. When times are tough and they were still about to help. The places you’d at least expect kindness were the most giving. This world never ceases to inspire me. Something to think about:
Feels like Home
We closed up and left our shop,
We walked away, with no more talk.
Stealing away under darkened care,
Together we walked all the way there.
The heat rose from the daytime light,
While familiar noises banged in the night.
We took what we could drag, roll or carry,
We did it together, even if it was scary.
Arriving was not a typical scene,
“You’re a refugee.” What does that mean?
A girl I met had the same story,
There were no more bells, no more glory.
We waited in that place forever it seemed,
We talked knee to knee, in small spaces I dreamed.
Reports came in, they were always bleak,
There was no place to go, no shelter to seek.
Inside the gates, caught between curled spikes,
Out of mind and out of sight.
We finally got news of something good,
We packed our few things, happily with Mom and Dad I stood.
Boarding a big plane, it rumbled up high,
Into the night we flew, below dark as the sky.
“Where are we going?” I asked my Dad,
Looking off in the distance, a little sad.
He smiled and said “Somewhere beautiful where we can live free.”
“Welcome to Canada!” The man greeted happily.
I nodded and thought, “Feels like home to me.”
Pieces of people walk,
They pass and they glow.
Open books, filled up with talk.
Hopeful we all know,
Know that there is more.
Lifestyles built on a hollow core.
We pass on open roads,
Practical and passive,
Bearing secret loads.
The gap grows, it is massive.
Plugged into lives dictated to be free,
While invisible forces of spirit divide you and me.
We trowel for diamonds in the dirt,
Searching with broken tools and sun cracked eyes.
Amid all the shroud of veiled hurt,
A child’s voice muffled, silencing all their old cries.
Goals lost to political treason,
Hate falls, halting all for no reason.
Flickers of light stain the side of turned faces,
As unwanted feelings bubble deep inside.
Complacent looks shrug away the traces,
Moods dampened, that we easily hide.
Distractions come by the many, they are plenty.
Not my problem anymore,
Call it someone else’s war.
This is dedicated to all of the heroes who have made my journey every bit possible. To all the people who have opened their homes, lives and hearts to me. I am forever grateful. For every bit of freedom you gave me and all of the hardship you saved me from. Thank you for allowing me to show that the world is a good place. Thank you for reminding a guy on a bike, wherever I go, there will be kind people. I encourage those all over the world to look inside and reach out to people in need. Please welcome those the same way you would want to be. We are all of the same world. Just like you. Just like me. Just like us.
To join the cause and help give the children of Shuid, Ecuador a safe place to learn, CLICK HERE TO DONATE.
**Here is a recent article by Stacey Roy about my ride and charity from my hometown paper. A big thank you to all of my supporters back home! CLICK HERE TO READ.
During my brief period at home I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of schools in the area about my cycling adventure around the world. For the purpose of my talks I created two videos to inspire and catalog my journey so far. They detail my cycling adventure through China and Kyrgyzstan in partnership with Free the Children Charity. The first being a dramatic GoPro compilation of my favourite shots through both of the countries. The second a chronological video by pictures of my trip since July 7th, 2014. The ride resumes again in less than a week. Click on the links below to check them out!
“The wilderness and the idea of wilderness is one of the permanent homes of the human spirit.” ~ Joseph Wood Krutch, Writer/Naturalist
Kyrgyzstan. A place I have quickly grown to love. A place of it’s own. With more mountain peaks than people, it is a spectacle. Trapped and freed by the landscape that defines it. The dichotomous influences of an old Soviet state and nomadic culture are rolled into one with Chinese and Islamic tendencies. It works in many ways. The call to prayer can be heard in the towns. Unmarked ‘stores’ abound selling nothing but cheap vodka and sweets. The food is hearty. Cheese, sausage and bread are plentiful. The fruit and vegetables fresh and full of taste.
But, at the heart of this lies the fading spirit of the nomad. This is what the country was founded upon. The older generations saw hard times under the Soviet regime and with independence came a new list of struggles. It is a tough, rewarding and peaceful life. The flock and the herds are bound to the livelihood of the people. A proud group that love their land and know it well. They are strong on the exterior, but extremely friendly underneath. They welcome you in for ‘chai’ at any meeting and often ask you to spend the night in their home. The simple offerings mean more than just fresh bread, noodles, mutton and tea. Islamic teachings mixed with nomadic kindness is a vibrant combination. Pride and hospitality. It is the way of their world.
As I entered Kyrgyzstan, I was more than excited. I had made it through China and entered my second country. After two years living in China and having cycled across one of the largest countries in the world, it was time for something different. I was immediately met with new challenges. After crossing the border I cycled for two days without hardly seeing a soul. The bumpy road all to myself. I had chosen to cross at the Torugart pass, at 3,750 metres, for reasons that ranged from rumoured beauty, it being relatively uncrossed by bicycle and it is much quieter than the other border. Less busy was an understatement. It was empty aside from a few nomads still tending their herds and some lumbering trucks.
On my first night I camped with a family of nomads. They welcomed me in for noodles, bread and tea. We watched their daughter draw pictures and I gazed around at the makings of their home. When I woke in the morning, the world had been transformed into a winter wonderland of snow and freezing cold. Winter had arrived much earlier than I hoped. The family again had me in for a breakfast of bread and tea as I warmed myself by their stove. They helped me pack up my tent and sent me on my way. Descending down the mountain passes the snow faded and the weather improved. Later that day I saw the family drive by in a car, waving with all of their possessions (house included) hitched to the back of the groaning car. Can you imagine having an unexpected guest drop in the day before moving? You would never even know they had planned to head back to their village that day, with all the calm in the house.
Everything in a yurt has to be easily transportable. In the west, we take our possessions for granted. They are numerous in our homes and take up the majority of our lives, as we acquire more and throw out in repetitive cycles of monotony. But, that is our culture and this is theirs. A table for eating, stove and pots for cooking, blankets, collapsable beds and a few family pictures or momentos. Some of the more modern nomads have solar panels for running a dvd player, hot plate or crackling radio. On one night I was privileged enough to be welcomed to sleep in a families yurt after being told I was not allowed to pitch my tent. They wouldn’t hear of it. We ate dinner then all watched ‘Machete’ from the floor of their home in our beds as the family with three young boys went to sleep. The boys well versed in English profanity by the time the movie was over. It was their movie, not mine.
In Kyrgyzstan every once in a while I have to remind myself to just stop. Stop to have a look around. To take it all in. Whenever I do, there is an ominous quiet. If I listen hard I can hear the caw of an eagle, the trot of a horse or the sputter of an old Russian Lada in the distance. Unlike China the people passing by in cars honk their horns to say, ‘Hello, good luck!’ instead of ‘I’m driving here!’ A thumbs up out a window is often the norm. With the terrible roads and steering wheels on the left in some cars and the right in others, driving can be a terrifying experience for an intrepid cyclist.
The following days were inundated with great downpours and pockets of sunshine. Grey heavy clouds pregnant with rain hanging on the horizon. I got soaked each day as I slugged my way to Bishkek. At night I would make half-hearted attempts to dry my clothes. One day my shoes were so filled with water that the owner of the guesthouse suggested I dry my shoes beside a hotplate. I ended up burning a hole in my shoe and thanked the man the next day as I rode along while water dripped in through the hole.
After a soggy few days the clouds lifted and I was greeted with a nice sunny entrance to Bishkek. I had made it. The bustling city emerges right out of the countryside. I rode through the welcome sunshine and stopped to eat some local fare. I had been invited to stay at a Canadian and Bulgarian couples house for a few days. My host Angie was fantastic and amazingly accommodating as I rolled in with my wounded bike and smelly clothes in tow. Just another fantastic act of kindness from the road. It is from here I take a short intermission. I will be flying home to Canada be the best man at a friends wedding, before returning back to Bishkek and continuing my ride. It will be an honoured and exciting moment that I cannot miss. No matter how selfish my bike ride seems at times, I have not lost sight of reality. My Family, friends and girlfriend Eliza, will always be number one. I couldn’t do it without them all. To the people that mean the most to me, there is nowhere else I would rather be. It will be an amazing celebration as I reflect wholeheartedly on my ride so far and the road to come. I cannot wait!
“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being,” said the old man, with a certain bitterness. “Maybe that’s why they give up on it so early, too. But that’s the way it is.” ~ Philip Coelho, The Alchemist
As I break for home I would like to say this: No matter where you are in your life, there is always hope. Through my travels I have seen such great inspiration and joy from those who seem the most hopeless. We all have the opportunity to give our life meaning, if not for anyone else other than ourselves. I read recently, that the idea of needing a ‘Life Purpose’ is a completely new concept in our world. This can be a stressful and liberating commodity as we are bombarded with messages and information about how we should live out our days. It can be a daunting task as we move further into our comfort zones and away from the hard choices that call themselves our dreams. Life can take us in a spaghetti bowl of lines. It is up to us to figure out which strands of life we connect with the most. To follow the lines that make ourselves and those around us feel the happiest. Life has no one set purpose, but is made up of a multitude of layers. The freedom of this reality is ours for taking. It is never too late. As terrifying as it may seem. Follow those dreams.
***To all of my sponsors with the Free the Children charity: We can expect picture updates from the new school in Guang Ming to be coming out next week. I have been patiently awaiting these, along with the rest of my sponsors. Very excited about this.***
***We did it. We rose to the challenge and made a dream a reality. As of yesterday we reached the fundraising goal of $10,000 to help build a classroom and complete the school in Guang Ming, Sichuan, China. It is an amazing feeling and I would like to thank everyone for their kind support and generous contributions to make this dream come true. From my family & relatives, friends near & far, the communities of Smiths Falls & Perth, Ontario, acquaintances and some kind people unknown. It is not the size of the donation that matters, but the involvement in a worthy cause. To be apart of something that counts so much in the lives of the children. In just a few short months 78 donors contributed to reach the goal for the school in Guang Ming, just two days before I finish my ride through China. I couldn’t have asked for anything more. Amazing! Pictures and updates on the school as classes get underway to come soon. Can’t wait, thank you once again! Click “HERE” to see the charity page.***
“This creed of the desert seemed inexpressible in words, and indeed in thought.” ~ T. E. Lawrence, Writer/Colonel
(See below for all new travel pictures)
The road lay ahead, beckoning me onward like a whipped donkey. The sun scorched the dry Earth and my tight skin. The wind scratched my face rough and raw as sandpaper. My beard tangled with dust and fingers brown with the daily grind. The parts left open to the elements showing their human weakness in their coarseness. At night it was cold and the wind flapped my tent throughout the evening. In the morning a peaceful calm would emerge. The coldest part of the day poking it’s head to welcome me into it’s misleading opportunistic glow. Towards a polished blue sky and dusty brown Earth I rode.
During this time I struggled through a mental and physical slog. On my right side long stretches of empty scrub with towering snowcapped monsters blowing their cool winds. Empty. Endless emptiness to my left. If you walked either direction from the road, there surely was no hope of emerging on the other-side, if one was foolish enough to enter unprepared. The stops between cities are long and few. In the desert things are simple. Survival is the key, there are few other distractions. Sandwiched in-between the Takalamakan and Gobi desert sections of the Chinese Silk Road I powered on at a minimum 130km a day. If I didn’t push myself each day I felt like I would never make it. Through legendary cities with histories more complex than I have had time to fully wrap my mind around. To dirty truck stops with a predictable grime and gritty feel. I was but a rolling speck amidst all the vastness. (See all pictures below)
As I left Zhangye I watched the landscape change by the day. From a region inundated with trees and water in southern Gansu province to the empty desert scrub of the far western area. I went through towns that reeked of onions to road stops selling dried dates and nuts. I ate delicious noodles and was welcomed by Muslim hospitality. Here and throughout most of (rural) China life takes place outside. A man sips his tea after a day of hard work. A women wrangles a young child running around with their bums out the open flapped pants. A bearded man plays his favourite tunes on a small wooden whistle. Garbage burns listlessly in a ditch. I watch and stare in wonder, the favour returned three times over.
I came to the ‘end’ of the Great Wall in Jiayuguan. Complete with a fantastic fort that safeguarded the Hexi Corridor from invaders and processed the weary merchant traders that came from the far reaches of the known world. At 8,800km the wall stretches across the Northern reaches in all it’s majesty. I climbed the reconstructed end of the wall and took pictures of the smoking power station below. A dichotomous trend of old and new, rich and poor I have seen throughout China during my time here. As I left Jiayuguan, I was please to see the wall stretch much further onwards in a crumbling state. The wall, now only a relic of a glorious past, is still representative of China’s protective nature.
After more wind whipping and questionable camping spots I came to the famed Xinjiang Province. Known in recent news for Uyghur dissatisfaction and terrorist acts throughout China. Propaganda or truth? Hard to say. The control noticeably stricter, the Han Chinese large and in charge of regulating the population while locals struggle to make a living in the arid region. The beauty and simplicity of the Xinjiang region rivalled the rest of the country as my favourite part. Maybe because it is just so different from the rest of China. So ancient in many ways. A living history can be gleamed from the faces of the people. For thousands of years they remained right there doing the same things. The Uyghur people are strong, proud and largely misunderstood.
I zoomed into Hami, where I ate deliciously roasted naan bread and lamb kebabs. Hami melon, was one of the naturally sweetest things I have ever eaten, due to the cold conditions at night and scorching daytime heat. As I stopped drinking water a man simply walked up and gave a Hami melon to me and said “Thank you come Xinjiang.” It is not the mountain views or ancient vistas, but moments like this that make it all worthwhile. Kindness without any expectation of return. Some of the most touching and humbling experiences on this trip have come from the little gestures that make us human.
“Nothing is black or white, nothing’s ‘us or them.’ But then there are magical, beautiful things in the world. There’s incredible acts of kindness and bravery, and in the most unlikely places, and it gives you hope.” ~ Dave Matthews, Musician/Songwriter
On my journey I have been recording each act of ‘Kindness’ and ‘Unkindness’. In China alone there have been 24 specific acts of kindness towards me. These range from giving me a place to sleep for the night, to free bicycle parts and acts like the Melon Man’s. This does not include all the people that let me fill up my water bottles on a daily basis, the free meals, friendly ‘Hellos’ and directions given. In over 5,500km cycled through China there was only one unkind moment, when someone stole my travel towel in a hostel. I didn’t let it bother me in the least, as I know that it is not indicative of the population. The hostel feeling so bad gave me my 3 nights free of charge as a result.
From there I struggled onwards, past Bactrian camels quietly staring in the midst of mountains. The road always seemingly uphill and into the wind. Onwards to the desert oasis of Turpan. One of the pinnacles on the route of the Silk Road. At last I came to the downhill to Turpan. And what a downhill it was. Turpan being the second lowest point on Earth, next to the Dead Sea region. I sped down through massive canyons, by impressive sand dunes and past vineyards. Famous for grapes, Turpan smells of an endless variety of raisins, roasted bread and availability of cheap wine. I visited the ancient city of Jiaohe and wondered at the weary travellers who once traded and rested here before moving onwards.
At this point I needed to make a choice. My Chinese Travel visa was fast expiring. I needed to get out of China. From my location I could either head to Urumqi and wait a week for a Kazakstan Visa; or take a bus to the amazing historical Chinese Turkestan city of Kashgar and from there travel visa free to Kyrgyzstan. I’ve always wanted to go to Kashgar for years. I chose the later. The reality of long distance cycling in countries that are dauntingly big and have visa restrictions, is accepting that you cannot do it all yourself. Hopping upon a sleeper bus we departed late and broke down soon after. I was awoken in the night by a man shining a flashlight in my face asking me if I had the tools in my bicycle bags to fix the bus. Sure I’ll get out my Allan key and change that tire right away for you. They were unprepared to say the least. 28 hours later we arrived in the sensory explosion that is Kashgar. This was not China. I explored the fantastic Sunday markets where you can buy everything from camels and rugs to spices and antiques. I navigated small alleys. Ate delicious bagels, Marco Polo noodles, kebabs and spiced yoghurt. The old town is a picture into the past. My favourite ‘Chinese’ city by far.
China saved the best for last though. I took a ride up the Karakoram highway to the China/Pakistan border with two other Canadians. The road took us out of the dust storm surrounding Kashgar and up between beautiful mountain peaks, lush green valleys and endless horizons. The mountains of the Himalayas in plain sight, towering at 7,500 metres. Camels, goats and yaks grazing on the picturesque plains below. It was one of the most visually stunning places I have ever been in the world. We then returned to Kashgar down the beautiful mountain road from the Pakistani border and I prepared for my final assault on western China. I made the necessary preparations to cross the barely cycled Torugart border pass in Kyrgyzstan to begin my next adventure.
With country number two on the horizon I am more than excited. As I look back through my journal on my trip across China, I am amazed I made it at all. Starting out in China was a struggle and terrifyingly large task. Everyday was a new learning experience as I settled into my haphazard routine. I struggled some days more than others. But each was a new adventure, a new town, a new camping spot and a new friend. Everyday is new. Everyday is a problem solving situation. I loved all of it.
“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ~ Dalai Lama
It is hard to accurately describe the experience of cycling across one of the biggest countries in the word using but a few words. I have called China my home for the last two years and have experienced a world over. There is still so much left to discover in such a beautiful, complex and ancient civilization. It will always be apart of me and I will always come back. I’m not done with China, it still has many secrets to tell me. To the next chapter.
“A time comes when you need to stop waiting for the man you want to become and start being the man you want to be.” ~ Bruce Springsteen, Musician/Writer
As I set out into the chilly morning I was content. Content with who I was becoming on my ride and where I was going. Each day when I pack up my few things and load up my bicycle, I really have no idea what I am getting into. Where will I sleep tonight? Who will I meet? What will I eat? How far will I go? All questions that are slowly answered as I pedal on and unlock the day. It is completely freeing. The road is my compass, my bike is the ticket and everyday is what I make of it.
Leaving Langmusi I pushed out on a cool morning. I hoped to have my next day off in Lanzhou a few hundred kilometres ahead after descending from the Tibetan Plateau. The road went up and up, green fuzzy looking hills stretching out in the distance. Winding my way onwards the temperature began to decline. 15 degrees, then 10 and down to 5. “How can this be August here?!” I thought out loud as a flakes of snow floated in front of me. I am glad I’m not planning on sticking around for winter. Well, the snow turned into heavy cold rain with wind. Even through my gloves, my fingers were frozen. I pushed on and eventually found a small shop to warm myself by a stove, drink tea, eat noodles and dread the outside. After an hour of feeling sorry for myself, I knew I needed to move on and stop being a wuss. I went back out, tossed on my classic rock playlist, tapping along to Bruce Springsteen and The Who as I climbed a hill in the cold rain for two hours towards the next town.
The following day I set out towards the Tibetan town of Xiahe. It was only to be a short ride, so I took my time. I met an Italian cyclist on the road and we talked of our journey’s so far. It was nice to meet another long distance rider again. I felt bad for him as he had a 30km hill to tackle that I had just came down. I couldn’t tell him. I then was met with my own climb not long after and made my way up to Xiahe and the Labrang Monastery. Mountain rivers flowed below, people harvested their crops with the ending of the season and small trucks trudged up the hills. I enjoyed Xiahe. Spending the day exploring the monastery, watching monks laugh on cellphones, eating Momos (dumplings) and wondering at the old weathered faces of the Tibetan people. You can immediately see the difference in culture both physical and in their spirituality from elsewhere in China. To be Chinese is sometimes hard, but to be Tibetan is even harder. Not only do the Tibetan people have to deal with the harsh climate, but also an ever-changing doctrine of rules and regulations on their comings and goings.
The next day saw me bombing back down the road I came and onto the main road towards Lanzhou. This day was one of transitions. I went from one of the most important sites in Tibetan Buddhism in Xiahe to Linxia, the ‘Mecca of China’, in just over 100km. As I rode mosques began to poke their heads above the trees and present themselves on the horizon. Beautiful buildings, amongst smoking vehicles and dusty streets. I really enjoy the Muslim style of noodles as well as the hospitality you receive when coming into their shops. The noodles are always handmade with skillful stretches of the dough before being dunked into water right before your eyes. I always leave full and with my water bottles filled. There is less poking at me with the typical ‘questions’ I answer over 15 times a day as well. Good tea, nice noodles and peace.
From Linxia I prepped myself for a long day and left early. The day wore on through little villages of Muslim Chinese with big sunglasses on rickety bicycles, roadside card games, loud markets, hockers selling sunflower seeds still in the sunflower, music and more dust. Shop entrances covered by thick curtains to keep out the dirt. A man gave me a heap of flat bread upon reading my ragged ‘Magic Letter’ in Chinese, that proves to inspire bigger smiles the further west I go. The heat had also returned with my decent to lower altitude. Being too hot is better than being cold though. My day was going the way it should have until the slow mountain road separating myself from Lanzhou presented itself. My gateway to the Hexi Corridor and the start of my Silk Road journey. It was slow and my legs were tired after a week of riding. A headwind came up and rain started as I made my way up to the top. It was getting late, but I was still on par to make it to Lanzhou with the light of the sun. Finally, I crested the mountain and let gravity take over as I barrelled into a tunnel.
Well my bad luck with tunnels continued. Tired from the long day I was coasting quickly down the decline in the poorly lit tunnel. At the last second I saw a massive hole. I smashed it. I knew my bike was in trouble. I couldn’t stop, my backrack had collapsed (again) upon my brake line and the front tire blew. I stopped using mostly my feet in the dripping wet tunnel. I walked my beaten bike out the next kilometre as trucks screamed through the tunnel at me. I said nothing and got to work, almost as if I expected this to happen. I replaced the tire and tube with my spares. I unhooked my back brake and saw that the rack could make it to Lanzhou, but I would need a new one.
After a lovely intermission I continued on. Using the front brakes I eased my broken bike down the steep hill. The rain had turned the dust into mud and covered me all the way to the city. By now it was dark and still 25 kilometres of busy and loud city to navigate through to the only hostel. Generally, only the expensive hotels accept foreigners in Western China. After a few kilometres I got a flat in the middle of downtown and patched the tube in front of a huge crowd of what must have been over 20 people. They watched the tired Lawaii (foreigner) get to work without ever looking up. What a show! That day I had also felt a little sick after drinking some dirty water that was not quite boiled. Well I took this opportunity to get sick everywhere on the road. That scared the crowd away rather quickly as I sat slumped on the sidewalk feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t find the hostel after searching for what seemed like eternity. It was 11:00pm, I had ridden over 165km, climbed two mountain passes, was sick, tired and dirty. I was eventually beaten into securing an ‘expensive’ hotel at 30 dollars. Well over my weekly budget for accommodation. I collapsed immediately in the soft bed.
“See the opportunities for adventures, not the constraints that get in the way” ~ Alastair Humphreys, Modern Day Adventurer
The next day saw me picking up the pieces of my life, fixing the bike, finding the hostel and eating, eating, eating. I was preparing for the long road across the Taklamakan desert to Urumqi. While I was there an acquaintance from a few weeks prior showed up after his jaunt from Chengdu. Ernest from South Africa. He has been cycling around the world for over 7 years. It is his second time around with over 122,000 kilometres logged. We got to talking about the adventures of bicycle touring, the roads we had taken from Chengdu and what might lay ahead. If your interested in his adventures click http://ernestonbike.blogspot.com to view Ernest’s website. A fascinating guy.
I woke the following day excited. It was time to start my Silk Road journey. I set out through morning traffic. A man on a bike even stopping me to give me some knee braces and a ridiculous floppy hat. How did he know where I was going? I spent the next few days navigating a scrubby desert road uphill all the way to Wuwei. The road eventually turned west and beautiful mountains began to appear. The road continued to climb up as I drove my way through the Hexi Corridor past wind turbines and empty road. The mornings were cool and the afternoons scorching. The sky completely blue, not a cloud.
Then I saw it. I had been looking for it for the last few days. It was coming over the horizon like a broken train. First nothing more than irregular piles of mud. Then turning into a more identifiable shape. It was the Great Wall! I cracked a smile and pedalled on. At over 8,800km, the Great Wall is truly one of the great wonders of the world. For the next half day I followed the crumbling wall along as I sped towards Zhangye. Great Wall on my right, snow capped mountains on my left. China truly is a fantastic country. If you ever have the chance to visit, take it. The people are kind, they’re curious and humble. The landscape has it all, offering stunning mountains, deserts, grasslands, valleys, beaches and rivers. The food is diverse, delicious and unlike anything ‘Chinese’ you eat back home. I could travel in China for years and never see it all. My cycling route and the last two years is but a slice of the pie.
“People travel to far away places to watch in fascination, the people they ignore at home” ~ Dagobert D. Runes, Writer/Philosopher
But, eventually the road blew through a section of the crumbling Great Wall and snaked onwards. From where I stand the wall still continues another 300km. I look forward to making my journey west with it by my side. I also completed my longest cycling day with a record 178km upon arriving in Zhangye. I felt proud. My legs were wobbly, but my mind was strong. I rewarded myself with a day off to visit the Danxia Landform outside Zhangye. Beautiful rainbow geomorphic rock formations that have eroded over the course of 65 million years when a salt lake dried up.
Now I prepare to tackle the next portion of my journey and the final leg of China. I head west into the Xinjiang region and the Taklamakan Desert. The name literally means in Uyghur, “He who goes in, does not come out.” Sounds like a challenge to me! Time to stock up on water and food for the long journey, just as the merchants of old must have done. Only I’m not carrying any precious cargo, besides pictures and dirty socks. There is now a defined road, it is much safer and I don’t have to deal with camels; just a creaky bike that has put back almost 4,000km in two months. I head now towards cities of old legend like Turpan (the second lowest point in the world), Urumqi and Kashgar. To the end of China. To a flat road and a hopeful tailwind. Into the desert I go.
***Thank you as well to all of the people who have contributed to my charity with Free the Children to help finish the school and build a classroom. The school is nearing completion and we are $1,100 away from reaching the goal of $10,000. Amazing! My Chinese Visa is set to expire on September 25th. I would like to challenge everyone to help me meet the goal for the school in Guang Ming before I have to exit China. I know we can do it. Thank you to everyone for your generous contributions since I began my ride. It is awesome to see what we can achieve working together. I can’t believe we are this close! CLICK HERE TO DONATE