For nearly half a century, people have been able to board a flight to get from Britain to Australia. But in April this year, teacher Chris Gruar will dispense with decades of innovation in aviation to return to his homeland on two wheels.
He expects this audacious 30,000km ride, undertaken in the name of cancer research, to take the best part of 18 months. It’ll see him pass through more than 30 countries in an adventure he expects to be by far the most challenging of his life. In his own words, he explains how he got sucked into cycle touring, why he isn’t much of an endurance cyclist and why a return journey by plane isn’t a given.
Flying back home is just too easy an option
When I first moved to England from Australia I needed a hobby, and a bike seemed like a great way to keep fit and explore England. I love to travel, and with the bicycle I can challenge myself and experience the world in such a unique and adventurous way. I think once you try cycle touring it doesn’t take long to get hooked. My Cycling 4 Cancer trip is also an exciting way to raise money and awareness for international cancer research.
Making the decision to go was my biggest obstacle
Since then it’s been a busy six months of building my own website, finalising my gear, researching and fundraising. With such a long tour it’s impossible to feel prepared, so at the moment I’m frantically researching every night of the week. Sometimes I even dream that I’m on the road already, only to roll out of bed for another day at work!
I only began cycle touring a couple of years ago
I bought myself one of those mass produced Hero bicycles in Bangladesh and cycled through the country in about five days. By the end of those few days the bike was such a wreck that I sold it for a bundle of five or six bananas. Cycling 2,500km down Western Europe last summer brought the biggest challenges yet, but from the experience I learnt a lot about myself and the pros and cons of travelling on two wheels.
You can’t get enough advice for a ride like this
I‘ve been following numerous online blogs and books by cyclers [sic], and I was lucky enough to tour recently with a girl who’d cycled from Cambridge to Kenya. Every item I plan to pack into my panniers requires a huge amount of decision making, and on many occasions I’ve had the friendly help of the online community of cyclers. The advice from others was particularly useful when setting up my website and planning many of the logistical aspects of the journey.
I’m not trying to break any records so I’m taking the long way round
I studied history at university, so a lot of my route was a matter of joining historical destinations across a map. I also want to take my time through Europe and the extra few thousand kilometres across Scandinavia just about form a full loop of the north of the continent. After Europe I’ll be cycling through Turkey and Central Asia, then across China into Southeast Asia and Australia. Much will depend on advice on the road, as well as the numerous visa applications that’ll have to be made along the way.
I’m hoping my 2011 Dawes Vantage will see me through until Sydney
To keep my budget as low as possible I have a one man tent and all my camping gear. A multi-fuel camping stove and a multi-season sleeping bag are two crucial pieces of equipment I’ve invested in. The air horn on my handlebar was a little less necessary but will be great for laughs.
I’m not much of an endurance cyclist
As long as I stay motivated, I’m confident I’ll reach my goal. I think the toughest aspect of the trip will be to not let my mind get the better of me. I’ll be passing through some of the toughest terrain on earth, with long stretches of complete loneliness. I’ll have plenty of music and books to keep me entertained, and maintaining my website and raising money for cancer should give me the focus to keep pedalling. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan will be difficult if I’m alone, particularly if I travel through in the bitterly cold winter.
I’ve not ruled out a return journey by bike
Though it does seem like a shame to stop in Sydney, I have a suspicion that by that time I’ll have had enough saddle sores, tough terrain, blazing headwinds and irritating punctures to last a lifetime. I’ll clock up my first 12 months on the road before making any drastic decisions.