Lessons of life on the wheels
With zero bike tech knowledge and just a big dream, Henry Brydon set off on an epic cycling adventure, learning a thing or two along the way. In 2010 I quit my job and with zero experience pedalled 38,000km from London to Sydney through 30 countries with my friend Jamie, raising $100,000 for charity (and several demonic arse boils) for my troubles. I went from working in a bank to living like a glorified hobo, or a vagabond at best. I survived on $5 a day and minimised my entire worldly possessions to a few bags that I strapped onto a two wheeled tarmac tank. I slept in a tent or with kind locals that took me in for the night. Every day was a new experience; predictability vanished and an excitement for life consumed me. My bum hurt and my legs ached. I was the happiest dude on earth. Re-adapting to a modern western society was as easy as lighting a fart in an Arctic snowstorm after two years of living the life of an unrefined, nomadic tramp. An experience like this inherently alters perspectives, but I’ll avoid telling you how soul-tinglingly spectacular the world is (getting out there and seeing it during our limited over innings is a no brainer). Instead, here are the lessons I’ve taken from the adventure that will hopefully resonate with you. DON’T LET LACK OF EXPERIENCE DETER YOU When my Dad had to show me how to fix a puncture in the week preceding D-day, I began to question my sanity. I’d never ridden a bike further than the shops, the only time I’d worn Lycra was at a 1980s themed birthday party, and I had absolutely no idea where Turkmenistan was on a world map. Ambition beats experience in most arm wrestles, and being a fairly resilient species, we’re biologically programmed to figure shit out. I went from being completely buggered after a 70km day on the flats of France, to boshing out 3000 plus metre mountain passes on 12 hour days with gas in the tanks for an evening jog. I became a Jedi master in the art of ‘having a go’, focusing more on ‘how can I make this work’ rather than ‘I can’t do that’. To be brutally honest I never became overly adept at fixing my bicycle, but I quickly found that there are incredibly resourceful people out there who will help personified spanners. After an impressive over-the-handlebars Cirque du Soleil style crash outside of Alice Springs, inmates at the local prison came to our rescue after word got out that we needed some help. They’d recently completed a bicycle maintenance course and were keen to put their new found skills to the test, with convicted murderer Bradley Murdoch leading the pack. BE A DREAMER (BUT MAKE IT HAPPEN) If there’s one thing this adventure taught me, it’s that I’m capable of much more than I ever thought. I have a (self-diagnosed) condition called ‘delusional optimism’, which means I feel very comfortable striving for what naysayers deem unattainable goals. I’ve realised that aiming big is a pretty rad way to live life, and by just making those initial baby steps – or baby pedals – towards your dreams, you actually create a vortex of awesomeness that spirals way out of one’s comprehension at the time. It ignites a chain of events that can completely deviate the course of your life. This bike trip sucked me into a tornado and spat me out somewhere I couldn’t have imagined beforehand. Time is precious – just bloody go for it. BE LIKE THE DUDE, TAKE THE ROUGH WITH THE SMOOTH The Gobi Desert is drier than a tongue suffering from a homemade vodka hangover, and 4000m Kyrgyz mountains in winter freeze bicycle brakes in such a fashion that only urine can unfreeze them. We were flooded in Hungary and dry-roasted in Australia’s outback oven. But the extremes of long distance bike travel extend far beyond the weather conditions. Taking the rough with the smooth is par for the course and my journey was far from sunshines and rainbows! Things don’t always go to plan, and that’s a sobering reality of long distance travel. We were in fact robbed on three (quite scary) occasions, survived a biblical sandstorm that flattened our tent, spent time in an Iraqi prison cell and were held up by the Turkish military who mistakenly took us for Syrian border jumpers. Turns out, they actually saved us from pitching our tent upon a live minefield with enough explosives to blast us into orbit. What’s more, our most popular blogs from the road were not of the dreamy landscapes we passed through or the intergalactic displays on show in Iranian deserts, but when things went horrendously wrong. This affirmed my belief that humans are a twisted species who love to read about the suffering (and hard-fought survival) of others, and that misadventure is true adventure. Over-planning is dangerous too. Be flexible on long journeys – keep your eyes wide and mind open. Embrace the randomness. NO MONEY? NO PROBLEM! A common misconception – by Western standards – is that you need a lot of money for a long distance bike trip. I call bullshit on this. You’ll surprise yourself with how far a meagre daily budget will take you when you inject it with creativity and a sprinkle of resourcefulness. We had a budget of $5 per day each, so we had no choice but to embrace the life of a vagabond. I may have broken an unofficial world record in Europe with a non-showering stint of 25 days, something I’m immensely proud of despite the head-turning disgust from anyone caught downwind of passing pong. You don’t need the latest and greatest gear on the market either – I met people on cross continental trips who’d scored their trusty steeds from a backstreet bike shops in Thailand for less than $50. Figure out what’s an achievable budget to save for, get crafty and just do it. Shrinking my entire worldly possessions down to the vital contents of a few panniers was an immensely pleasurable experience. The happiest I’ve ever been is when I had bugger all cash and this is something I was reminded of throughout the trip. The people I met with the least, had the most. I met a dude called Jimmy in Laos who had a lost both arms when he picked up a landmine as a young boy, but he was a part time break dancer with the most incredibly positive outlook on life. Riding a bicycle for up to 12 hours a day presents a wonderful opportunity to ponder the core philosophical questions around what makes you happy. Having purpose, a goal and excitement coursing through my veins made me the happiest I’ve ever been. However, the arse boils I picked up in South East Asia did their best to dampen these high spirits. I used an entire daily budget on the ointment. ON THE ROAD, CARBS ARE YOUR FRIEND To meet the body’s requirement for fuel, a cheap and cheerful option for a hungry cyclist is bread and pasta. Bread (particularly in Europe and the Middle East) formed such a core part of my diet that I believed I may one day wake up to find that I’d morphed into a walking, talking, cycling loaf; a skin of crust and dough for flesh. The challenge was to find something interesting to spread on top – strawberry jam and honey would fight for top prize. We staggered into a bakery in Sarajevo as it was closing and bought everything in the counters. Literally everything – three bin liners full in fact, all for 15 euros. We toddled off to find somewhere to camp and I still dream of the congealed iced donut/sausage roll combo we had for breaky the following day. Beyond the carbs, hungry cyclists are a rare breed who can’t afford to be picky so you tend to eat what you’re given, and not always for the better. Chowing down on a jungle rat with Laotian policeman was a flavour I’m still trying to wash from my taste buds. The ‘plov’ we ate with Saint Baha was washed down with 1.5L of vodka and ended in a dance-off with an Uzbek bride and the unleashing of a ‘vomcano’ in the cloak room. CHOOSE YOUR COMPANION WISELY First rule of bike club: if you’re going to ride with someone else, pick a good’un (particularly if it’s for two years). I was introduced to Jamie in a Soho pub in London after I heard that a friend of a friend was also toying with the idea of doing a ridiculously long bike ride. It is to this day the best blind date I’ve ever been on. Why did it work so well for us? Being flexible happy-go-luckers definitely helped and we also wanted the same sorts of things from the trip. I do believe there was some degree of divine intervention at play that forced our paths to cross. The fact that we never fell out in two years is testament to that. I did question his sanity three weeks into the trip though, when in the middle of the night I woke to him appearing to demonically cut his own manhood off. Turns out a tick had burrowed into the base of his member, spurning the song Tick on the Dick, which we played to audiences around the world as the travelling duo ‘The Sideways Halos’. Yep, we travelled with a ukulele and a harmonica and were the least successful buskers in history. I got hitched to a girl called Susi in 2014 and Jamie married us in a rock cathedral deep in the bush south of Sydney. He’s also the nutty godfather to my son, who arrived on the planet this year. Fair to say, I got pretty lucky with Jamie. MORE OUTDOOR ADVENTURES - Step up your bike maintenance with these 10 hacks to improve the quality of your next ride - Explore mountain biking in Bhutan - Have you ever tried biking around Norway? Check out this story about mountain bike race in Birkebeinerrittet, Norway Get the latest adventures sent straight to your inbox by signing up below.
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