Rid­ing out her dream

Barely a month after her re­tire­ment, Christa Baer packed her bags, got on her bi­cy­cle and ped­alled half­way across the world.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Senior - By S. INDRAMALAR star2@thes­tar.com.my

CHRISTA Baer is 65 years old and ex­tremely proud that she had just cy­cled 10,000km from her home in Switzer­land to Malaysia.

Baer’s dream was to see the world on her bi­cy­cle. So, after re­tir­ing last June, Baer de­cided it was time to em­bark on her cy­cling trip.

She told her famiy and friends about her plans to cy­cle from Zurich to Malaysia and they were all for it, en­cour­ag­ing the mother-of-two and grand­mother-of-four to chase her dream. Her part­ner Hans Meier even said he’d join her mid­way through her trip and he did. He flew into Dubai – with his bike – and the cou­ple cy­cled to­gether the rest of the way.

“The funny thing is, I can’t say I am a pas­sion­ate biker. In Switzer­land nearly ev­ery­body has a bike. So, like most others I’d cy­cle reg­u­larly but just short dis­tances. I also used to cy­cle while on hol­i­day in Asia and Africa but that’s about it.

“After I re­tired, I just wanted to cy­cle for an en­tire year. I also wanted to end my trip in Malaysia be­cause I have good friends liv­ing in Ne­gri Sem­bi­lan whom I wanted to see,” she shares.

Baer left her home in Zurich on July 11 last year and has cy­cled through Ger­many, Aus­tria, Slo­vakia, Hun­gary, Croa­tia, Ser­bia, Ro­ma­nia, Bul­garia, Ge­or­gia, Ar­me­nia, Iran, the United Arab Emi­rates, Egypt, Oman, In­dia, Sri Lanka, Thai­land, Laos and Viet­nam be­fore ar­riv­ing in Malaysia on June 28 – al­most a year later.

The dis­tance she cov­ered daily var­ied – she’d stop longer in coun­tries and cities that she found cap­ti­vat­ing and breeze past those that were less in­ter­est­ing or not so hos­pitable.

“Some days, I’d only cy­cle about 35km, and up to 130km on other days. I took breaks at in­ter­est­ing points or if I wanted to get a deeper im­pres­sion about a coun­try and its people. Over­all, I made more than 250 stopovers in the 20 coun­tries I vis­ited. Some places I stayed only one night and in others up to a week. Of­ten, it was be­cause I was wait­ing for a visa. Some stretches, I biked for nine days al­most non-stop with short night breaks,” she re­lates.

Baer is cer­tainly de­bunk­ing com­monly held stereo­types about age­ing. Her age, she says, didn’t im­pede her at all dur­ing the long trip. It did, how­ever, earn her much re­spect from people she met along the way. She also didn’t en­counter any chal­lenges be­ing a lone woman cy­clist.

“My age was not, for one se­cond, a prob­lem on my trip. Ev­ery­one I met, in­clud­ing those much younger than me, was im­pressed by my per­for­mance and they gave me a lot of re­spect. I also didn’t face any prob­lems cy­cling alone as a woman in any of the coun­tries,” she says.

Prior to her re­tire­ment, Baer worked as a per­son­nel man­ager in a land­scap­ing com­pany, man­ag­ing 35 work­ers. For her trip, Baer packed five pieces of lug­gage ... and that was about all her prepa­ra­tion for the ride. She didn’t train at all.

“I was in very good phys­i­cal shape and felt that since I would be cy­cling ev­ery day, I would get fit­ter as the days went by.

“Ac­tu­ally, I didn’t find the trip gru­elling at all. I just planned my daily dis­tances well and lis­tened to my body. Thank­fully, I didn’t en­counter any prob­lems on the trip ... I didn’t fall or in­jure my­self,” she says.

Although she was on her own for the first leg of the trip, Baer never felt afraid for her safety.

“Afraid? Afraid of what?” she asked. “Ev­ery­one in all the coun­tries I vis­ited was very kind and help­ful. Apart from some prob­lems ob­tain­ing visas, the cold in Ge­or­gia and Ar­me­nia and the heat in Oman and South-East Asia, I didn’t en­counter any prob­lems,” she says.

The high­lights of her trip are “too many to fit into a news­pa­per ar­ti­cle” but one of the best things was meet­ing so many dif­fer­ent people from var­i­ous cul­tures. Malaysia, she says, is no ex­cep­tion. “The people of Malaysia are so unique and friendly and re­spect­ful. I was also im­pressed with Iran. In Europe, we only hear hor­ror sto­ries about the coun­try, es­pe­cially of how women are re­pressed there. We even heard that cy­cling is for­bid­den for women there.

“But I faced no prob­lems. In fact, they have a tra­di­tion sim­i­lar to the Malaysian ‘open house’ which was lovely,” says Baer.

While she has no plans to em­bark on such a long trip again, Baer has set her sights on ex­plor­ing Bor­neo and In­done­sia on her bi­cy­cle.

“Cy­cling is the best way to see a place. When you bike, you travel at a leisurely pace and you get to re­ally feel, smell and see the people and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“I also got to meet bik­ers from all over the world and each en­counter (with other cy­clists) was spe­cial.

“I am very de­lighted to end my trip in Malaysia. The friendliness and open­ness of the people here is some­thing I will never for­get,” says Baer.

Ride for Malaysia is a cy­cling event or­gan­ised by Star Me­dia Group and prop­erty de­vel­oper Sun­suria Bhd to pro­mote na­tional unity in con­junc­tion with Na­tional Day. It will flag off at 6.30am on July 30 at Sun­suria City. For more in­for­ma­tion or to reg­is­ter, go to sites.thes­tar.com.my/ride­for­malaysia/

Sri Lanka was one of Baer’s favourite coun­tries be­cause she could avoid big roads and cy­cle on the scenic by-roads. — Pho­tos: CHRISTA BAER

Baer loves rid­ing in Malaysia as she finds people friendly and hos­pitable.

Baer didn’t have a very strict sched­ule for her year-long bik­ing tour.

Meir (left) joins Baer mid­way through her trip ... they are in Oman here.

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