“Days are long on the road. Pack up and pedal into the dawn. Ride until sunset. It’s easy to kill time but you can kill distance only by riding…Days end. A different sunset, a different resting point, a different perspective. A little less road waits for you tomorrow. A little more road lies behind you. Choose your road. Ride it well.” (Moods of Future Joys)
Alone, relying on the kindness of strangers, Alastair Humphreys left his home in the Yorkshire Dales to cycle round the world, raising funds for Hope and Homes for children. It took him 4 year and during that time he crossed 60 countries, passing through an unbelievable variety of climates from the heat of Sudan to a Siberian winter. His story is split into two books, ‘Moods of Future Joys’ and ‘Thunder and Sunshine’.
“I have no idea which road to take out of my village. So I guess. I guess wrong. And my father shouts, and points me right. Finally, I round the corner, my home is gone and it all hits me. The mounting pressure and months of denial all explode inside me, and I burst into tears. I have just left from my front door to try to cycle around the planet. I have left behind everyone that I love. If I was a brave man I would turn around right now. Go home. Go home, and admit that it was all too frightening. Instead I keep pedalling.” (Moods of Future Joys)
Leaving behind everyone and everything that he loved, Alastair embarked on an adventure of a lifetime. It wasn’t an easy road and there were times when he was close to giving up but he got back onto his bike, and kept pedalling.
Travelling alone for such a long time must be incredibly daunting. What did you learn along the way?
I learned that I am not as tough as I thought I was. I found the trip very hard, very lonely, very daunting. I also learned that I am stubborn, persistent and braver than I thought I was. It taught me so much about communicating with people, about the world and about the good and bad parts of my personality.
As cyclists, there is little we won’t do to avoid the ice. You must have ridden through some pretty treacherous conditions?
Weather-wise, the most difficult part of the journey would be cycling through -40 degrees celsius in Siberia. It was pretty chilly with lots of icy crashes. Camping was also a nightmare, having to melt snow to drink...
How did your bike cope with 46,000 miles?
I used a steel Rockhopper, no suspension or SPDs because it was the bike I already had. Lance got one thing right: it really is not about the bike. What matters is to ride - we cyclists often forget that in our obsession with shiny kit. Rather than buying a lighter bike, surely it's better to eat less cake, ride a few more miles, and lose a bit of weight!
What made you choose cycling, as oppose to other modes of transport?
Cycling is slow but not too slow. It is tough and simple. It is cheap. It opens up the whole world. It is absolutely THE best way to travel. I urge everyone to at least cycle across their country once in their lifetime…
“I’ve never met anybody who regretted taking a long ride. But I’ve met many who regretted not doing one” (Moods of Future Joys)
Travelling 5 continents must have put a huge strain on the body. Has it put you off cycling?
Cycling is very low impact so I didn't really get injured. I was usually too tired to stretch though, so I now have terribly tight hamstrings and shoulders (and therefore a bad back). I didn't ride for a couple of years, but now I love it. I have a road bike, a mountain bike, a Brompton, and a riding-to-the-station bike. I think I need one more bike…!
“Lance got one thing right: it really is not about the bike. What matters is to ride - we cyclists often forget that in our obsession with shiny kit.”
Arriving home in the UK must have been incredibly surreal after being away for such a long time.
My feelings were very mixed. Relief, surprise, excitement, familiarity, happiness, nervousness and sadness. I was thrilled to be home for a couple of months. After that I was pretty melancholy for a couple of years.
Do you have any future projects in mind?
I have many dreams, but for now it is all about the microadventures. I'm trying to persuade people to squeeze more adventure into their normal busy lives. For more information on Alastair's microadventures click here.
For the majority of the 4 years, Alastair cycled alone. However he was joined by 4 others as he cycled south through Ethiopia, seeming somewhat “like a holiday” in comparison, with greater safety and laughter over evening beers. He states that “cycling en masse deprives you of the days of silence, the intensity of experience, the unavoidable interactions with locals and the fears and tears and frustrations of being alone in the heart of Africa”.
Alastair’s story proves that we, as humans, are far more capable than we think. The best way to start an adventure, is to pick up your bike and begin…!
(Photographs by Alastair Humphreys)