In early 2010's Siugi and me cycled from Cambrai, France to Cambrai, Australia. Our good friend Akmaral is now going to embark soon in an epic journey of her own. She asked us a few questions. Here are my answers.
Was your trip route planned in details from the very beginning ?
We knew the countries we would go through, but not the exact routes. That was done on a day to day basis, to give us some flexibility. But roughly we knew when we would enter a country and when we would leave it.
Did you have knee trouble when cycling?
None for me. I think Siugi had some, but nothing that prevented us to move further.
Is it safe for woman travelling solo on bike in Pakistan and India ?
Hard to tell. Last time I checked (2010) Pakistan was a rather dangerous country because of pockets of armed tribes. Al Qaeda, all that jazz. But they were mainly in the Southern part of Pakistan, not the Northern mountains. I personally wouldn't go there, and if I did, not further down than Islamabad.
India is another story, as I never been there. I hear everything about this country: it does seem very unsafe for women, but at the same time many girls are going there solo with no issue. What is certain about India is that the road are very dangerous, because of the traffic. But again, will the traffic be that bad in North India, which is rather desert ? We are talking about a country half the size of a continent here, so it is hard to generalize. A friend of us will soon be cycling in India, she'll probably have a better view on that matter.
About the distances, supply points: yes, I think that you'll always find something. If people live around, you'll find water and food. Obviously when you begin a journey through a sparsely populated area, or where climatic conditions could be a problem, you have to plan accordingly: bring more food, make sure you have enough spare parts to fix your bicycle (keep your old inner tube, they are great to attach things to your bike should something break), take more water with you.
Did you carry a warm jacket with you all the time ?
Always. Absolutely always. For two reasons:
- until the end we kept on moving from one climate to the other, so we kept all our clothes with us
- you can always get cold, even in warm climates. Should it rain on you, then the night come, you'll be happy to have warm and dry something to put on your shoulders
What kind of major clothes did you carry with you at all time despite of different climates ? What brands are your favorite ?
Until vietnam (where we had to replace some clothes that were totally worn out) we had:
- 2 merino wool t shirts, one thick, one lighter
- 1 thick synthetic jumper
- 2 pairs of warm socks
- 2 pairs of trunks
- one thick trouser (like a cyclist, but not lycra, trouser)
- one lighter trouser that could be become a short after unzipping the legs
- one thin raincoat
- one super thick, but easily compressible, warm jacket. I use it when I go skiing now !
Use the seamen techniques of layering:
- first layer close to your body should let your perspiration go through, and dry quickly (I can't insist more on this: whatever you bring, bring things that dry quickly)
- a warm layer, like a synthetic jumper
- a waterproof layer that you put on only when required (because it tends to block perspiration, so you get wet from your own sweat anyway)
Merino is the best for t-shirts (it does not smell much even after days without washing, dries reasonably quickly and is pretty warm). They are expensive, but it's a good investment.
About the brands: you don't care. I insist, you don't care. You can't trust a brand globally. My jumper and my raincoat were from the same German brand. The jumper was really good, the raincoat was overpriced and disappointing. What matters is to go on an try the equipment yourself. Trust your common sense, trust the reviews, but don't trust brands just because they are popular.
Is there any border possible to cross by bike between China to Nepal ?
It's going to be complicated, I don't think you'll be able to get the paperwork to cycle in Tibet. As far as I know China virtually refuses all individual travelling in this region.
What kind of food has a good effect on your energy level to cycle ?
Whatever we could find on the way. It could be Nutella (big fan), but after a while we would switch on whatever we could find. We usually had a big stash of dried fruits and nuts that we would mix ourselves in the most accessible bag, because we both liked those, they don't spoil easily and there are available pretty much everywhere.
When going uphill did you still cycle or just walk ?
We would cycle, most the time. Sometime we had to walk, because it was just too difficult, but it has been quite rare. But by all mean, if you feel like walking more than cycling, just get down your bicycle for a bit.
Did you use cyclocross, MTB or hybrid?
We used very simple bikes: no sophisticated mountain bikes, no fancy racers, just plain old, solid bicycles. We had two criteria:
- the price, of course, we didn't want to spend 5000 EUR in a bicycle
- but even most important was the ability to fix the bikes anywhere in the world
Our bikes were very simple: no advanced fork, no complicated breaking system, no unusually sized wheels. We could easily find spare parts anywhere in the world.
We bought two Surly Long Haul Trucker. They were readily available in London, that's one of the reason we went for those, but I'm sure other brands sell good bikes as well.
One of the good thing about the Surly is that they are made of steel and the baggage racks too: in case they break, we could have wielded them back to order pretty much everywhere in the world. If they were aluminium (as most bikes are), it would have been much more complicated.
What was your daily budget per person ?
You can't think in term of daily budgets, because the cost of life varies wildly between regions. You are going to spend in a day in Germany what you'll spend in a week in India. But all inclusive, from the equipment to the vaccinations to the visas to the very expensive flight back home from Australia to several weeks on rather expensive holidays during the trip, I reckon we spent around 15000 EUR each for 18 months. Without the holidays, without the flight back home, I'm sure we could have spend around 12 000 / 13 000 EUR each. And we didn't try to be the cheapest as possible either. I'm sure other cyclists manage to travel for less than that.
Did you have sponsors for bike, equipment, gadgets, etc ?
No, we didn't. We though about it for a while, but we didn't really need the money, and we just didn't invest time in this before leaving. It would have been an extra burden during the trip to work with the sponsors anyway, so we were both happy not to seek sponsorship.
Did you live on donations?
Very little and just because friends explicitly asked how they could give money. We didn't look for donations.
I have two sleeping bags, including a warmer but heavier one. Which one should I bring ?
The warmer the better, no question about it. When you are exhausted after a day of cycling, the simple thought of getting yourself in cosy extra warm sleeping bag will bring you a smile. However you should use compression bags to keep the bulk down.
Anything else shall I consider when passing certain places in terms of safety, cash (only USD/ no ATM), weather conditions, people, etc ?
It's hard to answer this. In general I'd say don't do stupid things and always have a backup. Split your cash in 2 or 3 different locations: some with you at all time (alongside your passport and VISA), some hidden in a bag. Always keep some USD with you, it's the only currency you can reliably exchange. During the night, it's better to keep your tent hidden. Don't get too impressed at checkpoints: most people are cowards and will stop bullshitting you if you show some resistance.
About the weather: dry clothes are more important than clean clothes. Always have dry, warm clothes ready, at all time.
But the most important safety advice is one we received from someone else and it proved valuable: if you enter a place and you feel uneasy, if you get a strange feeling about something, if you feel unsafe for no obvious reason, just leave as soon as possible.
Trust your instinct.