When I was planning this tour, I had in mind that I’d ride across the US. Before long, I’d extended my plan to cycle through the Americas as far as Argentina. Eventually I decided that I wanted to continue on to cycle all the way around the world.
I flew into Los Angeles on January 12th 2017. The next day I left the city heading east. I climbed slowly into the mountains of Arizona where the weather began to turn cold. I had to pick up an extra warm sleeping bag to survive the night-time temperature of -20 Celcius on my way to the Grand Canyon.
I continued on across the southern US, warming up as I left the mountains. People would inevitably ask me where I was going. I wasn’t really sure, but I told them I was heading to Mexico next. The general consensus from the people I met was that Mexico was far too dangerous to visit, and that if I did so I would die.
Well, this did spook me a little but reading accounts of other touring cyclists it seemed as though the Americans were overestimating the danger somewhat. I decided I would continue south, and crossed the border at Brownsville, Texas.
At the end of my first day’s cycling in Mexico, I encountered a group of young men drinking at the side of the road. They shouted at me to come over, gave me a drink, and one of them invited me to set up camp in his garden. That helped assuage my concerns, and was the sort of hospitality that continued throughout Mexico and beyond.
I gradually made my way across Central America, my Spanish improving as I went. In Panama, the road ended at the Darien Gap, the narrow stretch of land connecting North and South America. This region is a jungle with no roads, considered to be almost impossible to pass by bicycle. To get past, I took a sailboat which took 5 days to cross to Cartagena, Colombia, via the Carribean. This was a more relaxed form of travel than I was used to, with much time spent relaxing on deserted islands.
In Colombia the cycling got a lot more challenging as I reached the Andes. For the next several months I had an absolutely fantastic time, barely leaving the mountains until Chile. Amongst the never-ending climbs and descents with their associated spectacular views of mountain peaks and canyons, I cycled ‘the Trampoline of Death,’ in Colombia, climbed on a glacier in Ecuador and visited the ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. Perhaps my favourite scenery thus far was the otherworldly terrain of Bolivia, with the highlight being the Salar de Uyuni, an enormous salt flat that stretched as far as the eye could see.
The Salar de Uyuni was followed by a particularly gruelling stretch, about ten days of cycling (and pushing!) through sand. The average of altitude of about 4000m didn’t make that any easier! Descending into Chile, I rode through the Atacama desert, the driest place on Earth. Southern Chile’s “Carretera Austral,” a mostly gravel road connecting the isolated region of Chilean Patagonia, was another highlight, with fantastic glacier scenery all around.
Argentinian Patagonia was another story. After the obligatory visit to Ushuaia, the world’s southernmost city, I rode for over 3000km through the Pampas. This is perhaps the windiest place on earth, with nothing but grassland to see the entire time. Mentally, this was one of the hardest stretches due to the sheer nothingness.
I then rode to Rio de Janeiro, which marked the end of my time in the Americas. From there I flew back to Europe. Riding back home from Lisbon made quite a change as I’d flown in February – going from the middle of South American summer to the middle of European winter.
I rode back home and rested for a couple of months, during which I planned out the next stage of the journey. I decided to explore as much of Europe as possible for the remainder of the year.
I first rode down to the Balkans, an area of Europe I’d never been to before. I enjoyed my time there greatly, enjoying the comparison of so many different cultures in one small area, after the relative cultural homogeneity of Latin America. I then rode north to Scandinavia, all the way up to Norway’s North Cape. With no more north to go, I turned round and travelled south through Eastern Europe. In Poland I made a brief detour to see Auschwitz, which remains one of the most harrowing things I’ve seen.
Winter really struck in October, while I was in Ukraine, as I was briefly stranded in a small village as temperatures dropped to -18 Celcius. With no-one clearing the roads, they became icy death traps that I had little interest in risking. The weather remained cold for the next month or two as I rode south and into Turkey.
The cold temperatures continued but in a way this was a good thing. It meant that there were few other tourists around, and I was able to explore some of Turkey’s incredible ruins and have the place to myself.
From Turkey, I took a ferry to Cyprus. The weather was only going to be getting colder, and I planned to head back up into Turkey’s mountains, where the temperatures would be even worse. There were a number of changes I wanted to make to my bike and my equipment. I’d been reading up on visas for upcoming countries, and China seemed an awkward one – I’d have to apply for that from London. All of this together led me to decide to take a break, and return to the UK for a few months. I flew back in January.
Having sorted everything I want to, I’m ready to return to touring. My plane is booked, and I’ll be arriving back in Cyprus on the 23rd of April.