Thursday, Dec 01, 2005
Epic bike ride covers more than 80,000 kilometres and four years
GENEVA (AP) - It may feel like a long commute back from the office some evenings, a tedious trip in traffic, pelting rain and darkness. Now, just imagine if the journey covered more than 80,000 kilometres and took four years.
That's what Alastair Humphreys is doing to get back home - although perhaps the weather and traffic weren't quite the same in the middle of the Sahara as on suburban freeways.
Humphreys set off from northern England back in 2001 to journey around the world by bicycle. A week or two ago, he had made it to Paris - the long way around, through Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia - and the finish line is finally in sight.
"I was at university and it was pretty easy, trundling along towards getting a job after that, I just wanted to do something a bit more difficult and challenging," the 28-year-old Humphreys said during a recent stop in Geneva.
"I didn't want to get a job. I wanted to see all these places and all that obvious stuff, but mostly it was just to do something harder than I'd done before," Humphreys explained over coffee, a luxury when he's on the road.
Riding a bike around the world is not a new idea. As far back as 1884, Thomas Stevens left San Francisco aiming to be the first man to bicycle across the United States. When he reached Boston, he couldn't stop - and carried on across the rest of the globe, taking three years to finish.
The era may be different now, but the adventure - or the risk - is hardly diminished. Humphreys left a whole life behind: an offer of a teaching job to help pay off student debts, girlfriend, friends, family, security. All to raise money for children's charity Hope and Homes, and a distant dream of perhaps making it back again one day having traversed the globe.
"The first year I found really quite lonely and quite hard," said Humphreys, who tried to persuade three friends to come. "It was awful. I was in this horrible hotel crying my eyes out for about two days."
The next morning, things didn't look quite so grim: "I tried to think of all the reasons, of all the things I would miss if I went home," he continued, brushing back long blond hair that hasn't seen a pair of scissors since Siberia.
"Three months on the bike felt like a long way, a lot of riding. Then if I looked on a map and saw how far I'd come, how far I'd set myself to go, it just seemed ridiculous. So that was probably the closest I came to giving up."
Humphreys had travel insurance, which he is glad not to have put to the test on any hospital visits, but otherwise little money on the road.
By saving student loans he raised $12,500 US, which lasted through four years on a diet of bread, bananas, pasta and popcorn - along with an emergency supply of cash rolled up inside the bike saddle. Even North America cost only an average of $3 a day.
He almost failed to make it that far, though.
Sudan was expected to be a major obstacle and went surprisingly smoothly, but Ethiopia turned out to be harder.
"It's such an in-your-face country," Humphreys said. "Probably the best individual moment was getting to Cape Town, getting to the end of Africa, because I really - even until Kenya - I didn't think I would get through."
Crewing on a yacht secured passage to South America, where new obstacles presented themselves.
"I was terrified of Colombia," the Englishman said. "If something bad happened there, it would be really, really bad. But nothing bad did happen."
By the time he got through Colombia, he had decided to go home.
"I thought, I'll just go down to the yacht club, to the ocean, and take my end-of-continent photograph and then I'll go to a travel agent and find out about flights," he explained. "I was happy about that."
But two men on a yacht shouted out, offering a ride to Panama - the next step on Humphreys' route. "I couldn't say no to that."
After that, the rest of the trip started to seem easy. 1/4
"After Alaska I only had Asia to go, so there's no point in quitting then," he said.
Humphreys travelled through the western United States, picking up a new, donated bike in Phoenix.
"I really liked America, it was a really good experience," he said, noting that he developed a "healthy respect" for bears after taking his first photo from close up.
That bike from Phoenix is the third that has helped carry him around the globe. He destroyed the other two, and this one - Beryl - is on her last legs. 1/4
But it should get him back to England, he said, where a new life should be waiting. Or is that perhaps an old life starting again?
Humphreys is writing a book about the journey. He hopes to find a part-time job, maybe teaching, to tide things over as he tries to make his way as a travel writer.
Something else is drawing him back, too. Something that caused tears on departure.
"The thing is, there's quite a chance I might get back together with my ex-girlfriend," he said. "We split up completely. I tried my best just to move on. But getting close to home, we both thought we maybe want to get back together."