Over the years, as we’ve prepared for our tour, we’ve followed a number of cyclists who were already out there experiencing the world from the seat of a bicycle. Anxiously following their adventures online, their blogs provided inspirational fodder for our dreams. Although we hadn’t met a single one of these cyclists personally, we felt intricately connected to them somehow, and were moved by their online reflections, their struggles, and their triumphs.
We recently contacted some of these folks, to find out what motivated them to pursue long term travel, what challenges they faced, both in preparing for their trips and while on the road, and what advice they would offer others dreaming of traveling. Thus begins our “Cycling Shorts” – a series of short Q & A sessions with cyclists who are traveling or have traveled the world by bicycle. The answers we received in response to our questions were as varied and unique as the travelers themselves, but each of them offers us a glimpse of what it means to respond to the call of the open road.
Sonya and her partner Aaldrik Mulder have been traveling around the world by bicycle since 2006 and are two of the most inspiring cyclists out there. They have a great sense of humor and are resourceful and resilient. When we first found them online we were blown away by the wealth of information on their website: www.tour.tk. There are too many things we love about their site to mention them all, but we especially like their informative “Food, Drink & Vegetarian Fare” section for each country listed under “Country Info“, the fact that they continually update and review their gear as they travel (see “Tyres & Tubes” under “Equipment: Cycling” as an example), and their “Tips and Tricks” pages.
To see a plethora of statistics on where Sonya and Aaldrik have traveled, visit www.tour.tk.
Why did you decide to travel full time? What did you want to accomplish by traveling?
There wasn’t any question about how we were going to travel and we both had life long ambitions to see the world, even before we met one and other. That kind of means a big investment as far as time is concerned. I like riding my bicycle and I like travelling. If you put the two together, you get a great, but a slow moving combination. There was also never any “accomplishment” in this trip and there still isn’t. I just want to see the world and to do that I don’t have to go over the highest peaks or put myself through hell to do it. You just need to be able to pedal one revolution at a time.
How long did it take you to plan for long term traveling?
The idea actually blossomed 8 years before leaving. For five years though, all we did was just talk about it, as if it were a dream. Then we set the date, which changed everything. During the following 3 years leading up to our departure, we accomplished all the planning, purchasing of equipment and the money saving.
What was the number one personal fear you had about taking the leap and realizing your dream of full time travel?
I have been travelling for much of my life, so I never really had a personal fear about travel or the unknown of travel. I knew the first 6 months would be like a holiday, though I was a little curious as to how we would handle the so-called “freedom” of life on the road after this time and after such a structured life before.
What was the number one obstacle you had to overcome to be able to start off on your adventure?
Mentally: setting the date, which was goal number one. As soon as that was done, the mind was set and the rest just followed.
Bureaucratically: leaving somewhere with no forwarding address is really difficult. An email address is not sufficient for councils, banks, telephone companies and bureaucrats. The amount of time spent arguing with these people on the telephone about closing accounts and paying our bills was frustrating and time consuming. The most annoying part was, we were trying to do the right thing and finalise everything, so we didn’t have to co-ordinate anything once we had left.
Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt high/alive/fully human.
Reaching every mountain top.
Describe a moment or experience on your trip where you felt low/tired/pathetically human.
Pushing my bike along the washboard, sand tracks in Bolivia and Chile at 3500 metres above sea level in raging headwind.
How did your experiences on the road change who you are?
I know I can do anything I want to, if I put my mind to it. I had always thought this before, but never really knew if this was true or me just being overconfident. I don’t doubt this for one second now.
I have developed an amazing perception and grasp an understanding of people and my environment almost immediately. I trust my gut instinct unconditionally.
I now have absolutely no tolerance for people who lie or try to cheat me.
I am not afraid to say “no” to something I don’t want to do and I frequently speak my mind. The latter not always being a good thing.
I now love donkeys foremost, then llamas and hummingbirds and my favourite insect is without a doubt the dragonfly.
I was a little bit apprehensive about bike touring in certain regions, but was pleasantly surprised to find that most people in our wonderful world are only ever friendly and helpful. The biggest concern for a cycling traveller is traffic. Hate attitudes and impatience towards two-wheeled, non-motorised travellers were the sole cause of my scariest moments. For the rest of the nearly five years of travel, I have felt completely safe.
I love nature, but never really understood how absolutely beautiful our world is: breathtakingly, lump-in-throat, tears-in-the-eyes gorgeous! Mother Nature would have to be one of the most overwhelming powers – physically and visually – anyone can ever experience. On the negative side, I also never realized how much human beings are destroying her and her environment. Our world is filthy dirty wherever man sets his foot. This is in your face if you travel by bicycle and it is one of the saddest realisations of my journey.
Apart from the Australian outback, I had only ever visited places that were in some degree infected with years of foreign visits. So, I discovered quite quickly, that the best places to visit in the world are where they were not yet tainted with tourism. Our list of most favourite cycling destinations begins with Northern Pakistan, Iran and Colombia: all black-listed countries as a far as the media is concerned. But as far as we are concerned, they have the friendliest and most welcoming folk we have ever met.
I thought it would be hard to continue on the road for so long and to give up all the creature comforts we had earlier. While there were always moments when it might have been a good time to quit, the urge – from at least one of us – to see more, kept us both going. We never really did miss the “old life” and I hope that when/if I do settle down again, I can remain a minimalist. This way of life/travel is quite special and important for me to keep a focused attitude.
Travelling in this way, really did confirm that “Water is life!”
Has your relationship to material things/possessions changed by your traveling with only what you can carry on your bicycle?
Unless you have an unlimited budget, you learn fast to make do with what you have got. You become creative with repairs and you learn to improvise. All these skills are built up as a gradual process while on the road. When you start off, everything is either new or still in good working order and by the time 6 months has past, you will have learned which things you treasure the most and more than likely reduced your kit somewhat.
I think we are still attached to certain items, but they are either a necessity or a comfort that we consider important for us and our lifestyle. Anything with a dual or multi-purpose is loved greatly. But what is definitely evident after so many years on the road is you need very little to be happy and even less to be able to survive. The more things you have around you, obviously the more cluttered life becomes. And life is really good when it is kept simple.
Other than “just do it”, what one bit of practical advice would you offer to someone who is dreaming of touring or traveling?
Get to know your bank manager personally. You will probably need a favour or two done if you are on the road for long enough.
Don’t “just cycle”. Stop and live in the surrounding culture a bit too.
The key though, is to set the date.