Jonathan is half English, half Danish, 26 years old and was raised in London. He was a total novice when he started his journey around the world and had never even ridden a bike with panniers.
Most cyclists who embark on cycling trips around the world have a wealth of experience under their belt, but Jonathan’s only real experience was recreational, cycling to work as an alternative to battling the underground. In this blog he tells us about how he accidentally cycled around the globe in his quest for adventure:
I left London because I wanted to step outside my comfort zone - I wanted an adventure and travelling by bicycle was the simplest (and cheapest!) way to get it. I don’t think I could have been any less prepared to cycle around the world: the morning I cycled out of London, I had no idea that I would be away from home for three years - I just wanted to see how far east I could ride. But 50,000km and 42 countries later, I’d somehow done a complete lap of the globe.
How does someone accidentally cycle the world?
When I left, the dream was to cycle to Australia. In hindsight, I’m not sure how serious I was about that plan. A large part of the appeal for this trip was about cycling the Silk Road and exploring Central Asia. The only road I really knew I wanted to cycle before leaving was the ‘Pamir Highway’ from Tajikistan to Kyrgyzstan, so much of my initial planning – albeit minimal – revolved around getting there.
I think I probably started thinking about cycling the whole way around the world just after I’d been on the road for a year (when I was in China). It was around that time that I realised I definitely had it in me to reach Australia and so I think I started wondering – ‘what next after that’? I recall Googling what counted as an ‘around the world journey’ but I didn’t commit to the idea until I reached Australia. I decided to visit the USA and from there it just seemed logical to cycle back home…
When it came to planning routes, most of my journey was pretty ‘go with the flow’, but you’d be surprised how much of the route makes itself up for you when you start looking at the map. For example: crossing from Europe to Asia isn’t straight forward for several reasons. Riding through Pakistan/Afghanistan isn’t very safe and you’ll probably be forced to take a police escort which means you can’t ride every metre of road, like I wanted to. Again, if you want to ride across Russia you’ll find getting the visa and freedom pretty tough.
If you take the route ‘through the middle’ and cross the Middle East in Iran you need to get through Turkmenistan to get into Central Asia, but the Turkmen will only give you a five day ‘transit’ visa. As a result, you can only pick one road because you can’t do too much with five days - so your choice from Europe to Asia has been reduced to just one road!
I didn’t really embark on this trip by myself out of choice (I couldn’t find anyone crazy enough to come with me!) but I’m really glad I did. I think lots of the experiences I had presented themselves because I was riding solo. I think strangers are much more likely to approach you and extend a helping hand when you are on your own. I can think of so many occasions when people with so little were extraordinarily generous to me. It was very humbling.
Of course, there were difficult times. There were moments when I felt wildly out of my depth, scared, lost and homesick and these were the times when a friendly face would have been nice. But I knew that the positive times always massively outweighed the negative ones and I just had to keep pedaling on.
Coming back home
It’s strange how quickly I have re-aligned with London life. I still think about my time on the road and spend many hours looking at maps from different countries. My advice to anyone preparing for a big trip like this would be to just go for it. You don’t need to be an expert to start. There is so much information online so you can be very prepared before you even leave home. Still, no matter how much you read, nothing will totally prepare you for the unknown. Learning on the job is certainly a steep learning curve, but absolutely the most beneficial. You will make mistakes at first – but that is all part of the experience.
It’s hard to say how the trip changed me. We are always changing as life goes on – regardless of what we get up to. I like to think that I maybe have a better understanding of my place in the world - but at the very least my geography is definitely a lot better!