One year, two wheels
Peter Dudfield (2007) took a year off from his PhD and spent it cycling around the world.
Having recently returned, he discussed his journey at this week’s meeting of the Ivory Tower Society, a ‘society for the discussion of everything’ run by Pembroke’s graduate community. Here is his story:
‘Last year I cycled over 30,000 km, crossing two opposite points on the globe and raising over £17,000 for the British Red Cross. The only things I had with me were my bike, five bags containing clothes, tools and food, three water bottles, a petrol camping stove and my tent. I had no luxuries at all: no pillow, no spoon and the only money I took was in US dollars. All in all, the bike and the luggage weighed about 45 kilos, which isn’t too bad but is enough to make it feel pretty heavy when you’re cycling up hill.
‘I plotted my route by vaguely following others who had done round-the-world trips and also by finding places that I wanted to visit and joining the dots. I did have to take some flights, which meant packing up my bike in a box – a process that takes about two days. I picked up maps for most of the places I visited, but mostly I just followed the road signs. I only ever took one wrong turning, which was in Morocco, but that was really annoying.
‘I wasn’t very fit when I started. Some days I could feel every part of my body that was touching the bike hurting. The worst bit was close to the beginning in Turkey, where there are so many ups and downs. It was a bit embarrassing, but I did get off and walk my bike up a few of the hills. However, I also hit my highest speed going down one of them: 71km per hour.
‘In China I had to stay in hotels, but otherwise I camped. Sometimes people would offer me accommodation. In Thailand I was able to sleep in Buddhist temples. In Azerbaijan a family in a house with no running water gave up their bed for me, which showed me that you don’t need to be rich to be kind. Actually, 99.9% of people want to be friendly and help you. I rarely locked by bike up and I didn’t have anything stolen throughout the entire trip.
‘I experienced a whole range of weather. In Greece it was 40 degrees – hot enough I couldn’t cycle at midday. In China it was cold enough that ice formed on my tent. In Chicago there was a storm so strong that a tree fell onto my tent. I cycled in high winds, through dense smog and in the rain. In Laos my scalp got sunburnt through my helmet. The toughest part was 12 days spent crossing the desert in Australia. I couldn’t carry enough water for the whole trip; in that heat you can easily drink over 10 litres per day. I had to hope that I would see campervans and that they’d give me water. Luckily, they did.
‘I only fell off my bike twice, both times in Turkey, and that was very depressing. However, I actually managed to fall off in Cambridge the other day! My bottom bracket also broke and I cycled for about 1000km with it loose, which was a bit dodgy. My diet was rather limited; I ate a lot of spaghetti. I also experienced a range of Turkish teas, whole honeydew melons fresh from the fields in Morocco and kangaroo tail, which was rather gristly.
‘I had three encounters with the police in various countries, crossed a border where the road changes sides, saw six snakes, spoke 15 different languages and pitched my tent to the sound of wolves howling. A significant moment was crossing the 30,000km mark. It was both a real high and something of anti-climax. I think I ate some chocolate to celebrate and then just carried on cycling.
‘One thing I did learn is that if you smile, you can get away with almost anything. I also learnt to be grateful for small things. After several days of cycling through a desert, you are really amazed by even a tiny flower.
‘The best thing about being back is being around other people. I spend about 90% of my time last year only mind own, so I guess you find some peace with yourself. I didn’t have any music or talk to myself, but I did keep a diary every day. My family were very supportive of the trip. My Dad joined me for parts of the ride and my whole family came out to spend Christmas with me in Vietnam. I’m really grateful to them, and to everyone who supported me and donated money.
‘I would massively recommend cycle touring and if you have any questions please get in contact on firstname.lastname@example.org.’
You can also find more information on Peter’s blog.