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Around the world by bike

Alastair Humphreys spent more than four years bicycling through Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, North America, and Asia.

By Teresa V. Mitchum / November 6, 2007



Have you ever dreamed of taking a long bike ride, maybe even staying overnight along the way? Alastair Humphreys did – and he actually followed that dream.

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In August 2001, when he was 25, Mr. Humphreys left his family and girlfriend and cycled out of Yorkshire, England, on a bike he named Rita. He didn't return until November 2005.

During those four years and three months, Mr. Humphreys cycled 46,000 miles. He traveled through parts of Europe, the Middle East, Africa, South America, North America, Asia, and back through Europe. He rode through cities and across deserts, mountains, permafrosts, savannahs, and pampas. And he met and stayed with hundreds of people.

Here's how Alastair Humphreys answered some questions about his amazing expedition:

How did you decide to take such an ambitious journey?

When I was a child, I used to read tons. But later, at university, I started reading books about people climbing Mt. Everest and going to the South Pole. And I began to wonder if I could do that. The combination of a full bookshelf and maps of the world can get you in real trouble!

How did you fund your trip?

I worked through uni [college] and saved my student loans. I left home with the worldly wealth of £7000 ($11,000 then), and I had to make that last.

You originally planned to ride through Asia to Australia and not through Africa. How did Sept. 11, 2001, change your initial route?

Once war broke out, I thought it wouldn't be safe to ride through Iran and Afghanistan and perhaps Pakistan. So when I got to Istanbul [Turkey], I decided to turn right and head through Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. From there, I went through Egypt and on towards South Africa. I will never know how things would have gone had I continued [on the original route]. Certainly, everything would have been totally different. But I had a good time the way I went!

Describe a typical day.

In between cities, I loved to begin riding before sunrise. I usually rode about 100 to 150 kilometers [about 62 to 93 miles] a day, stopping to eat, take pictures, and talk to people. At sunset, I looked for a place to camp – usually a place in the quiet countryside where I could hide. I set up my tent, cooked dinner, and read while I ate. By dark, I went to sleep.

In the cities, I stayed with families and had to fit into their lives. I usually did school presentations, interviews, and squeezed in some tourist time and relaxation. I also had to organize my visas for the next stops, mend my bike, and get maps – boring things I put off till the end of my time [in a location].

Describe some of the extremes you experienced.

I met people in mansions and huts. I rode to Peru, 4,900 meters [16,072 feet] above sea level, and Jordan, 250 meters [820 feet] below sea level. The hottest temperature, 45 degrees C [113 degrees F.] was in Sudan and Turkmenistan. The coldest, minus 40 degrees C [same in Fahrenheit], was in Russia. My longest time without a shower was a month. My longest time without a break was also a month: 4,200 kilometers [2,608 miles]. My longest time without a conversation was eight days, except for a truck driver who offered me a ride. I said, "No, thanks." And he drove off.

Best and worst list

On his trip, Alastair Humphreys had many experiences. Here are some of his most and least favorites:

Food

• Best: Iftar, the enormous feast at sunset each day during Ramadan in Lebanon.

• Worst: The cold and chewy squid or jellyfish he ate in salad in Japan.

Experiences

• Most rewarding: Spending time in poor but welcoming and hospitable villages of South America and Africa.

• Most disappointing: "I don't associate disappointment with my trip," he says.

Places to ride

• Most interesting: Africa, in general. Specifically, Ethiopia.

• Most boring: Botswana, where he cycled hundreds of miles across hot scrub into a never-ending head wind.

• Most beautiful: Carretera Austral in the southern part of Chile.

• Least attractive: Old, crumbling towns in Romania and other Eastern European countries.

• Easiest: Highway 1 on US West Coast.

• Hardest: The Andes in Peru where he rode two days to the top, sailed down, and spent two more days going up again.

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