From wild dogs to wild driv­ers, Tom Davies met them all while cy­cling around the world for char­ity.

Stu­dent Tom Davies wanted a wheely good rea­son to take a gap year – and found it ped­alling through 21 coun­tries in four con­ti­nents, rais­ing funds for three char­i­ties. By Colin Drury

Friday - - Contents -

When Tom Davies is asked why he did it, his re­ply is un­ex­pected, to say the least.

‘I’m not ac­tu­ally sure,’ he shrugs af­ter a pause. ‘I keep get­ting asked this and I don’t re­ally have a sat­is­fac­tory an­swer. I don’t know. It seemed like it might be a chal­lenge.’ Quite. The 19-year-old has just com­pleted a 30,000km bike ride that took him through 21 coun­tries in four con­ti­nents over 174 days. He set off from his home in Lon­don on Jan­uary 17 and – ex­cept for the odd break day – rode roughly 160km a day un­til Au­gust 9.

In do­ing so he be­came what is thought to be the youngest per­son ever to cy­cle around the world.

His mam­moth ride took him from snow-peaked tops in Europe to the sun-kissed coastal roads of Goa, In­dia; from steam­ing forests in South East Asia to the great lakes of North Amer­ica, from bustling cities like Mum­bai and Is­tan­bul to a road that runs about 145km – from Bal­lado­nia to Cai­guna in Aus­tralia – with­out a sin­gle turn, curve or bend. ‘Kind of dull,’ re­flects Tom of the last one.

Along the way he had to face mon­keys and wild dogs chas­ing him (Thai­land and Al­ba­nia), food poi­son­ing (Italy) and – ar­guably most dan­ger­ous of all – the fa­mously, um, cava­lier driv­ers of In­dia (‘some of the worst I’ve ever known’). That’s as well as the usual cy­clist is­sues – chaf­ing, cross­winds, sad­dle sore­ness and tyre trou­bles. ‘I had my first punc­ture in Al­ba­nia af­ter 3,000km, which wasn’t bad go­ing,’ he says. ‘Ex­cept while I was fix­ing it, I drew a small au­di­ence, in­clud­ing a woman who got a plas­tic chair out to sit and watch me.’

And, while he did it all, he raised some Dh350,000, through spon­sor­ship, for a trio of char­i­ties: Prostate Can­cer UK, The So­hana Re­search Fund (which sup­ports stud­ies into skin dis­ease Epi­der­mol­y­sis Bul­losa) and Car­ney’s Com­mu­nity, a Lon­don char­ity for dis­ad­van­taged young peo­ple.

Right now, though, he’s still think­ing about that first ques­tion: why?

‘I’ve spent six hours a day on a bike on my own for seven months,’ he muses. ‘I know I should have a bet­ter an­swer. I just love cy­cling and wanted to see the world.’

It was while he was think­ing about what he’d like to do with a gap year be­fore univer­sity that Tom came up with the idea of bik­ing round the globe.

He’d been a keen cy­clist since his bar­ris­ter dad, Huw, in­tro­duced him to the ped­alling pas­time when he was 14. Fa­ther and son cy­cled from Lon­don to Cha­monix in the French Alps in 2011, in­still­ing in the young­ster the sense of ad­ven­ture that would lead him to cir­cum­nav­i­gate the earth four years later.

‘There are lots of places I fan­cied bik­ing – the Dolomites in north­ern Italy, the Great Lakes in North Amer­ica, the New Zealand coast,’ he says. ‘And I just sort of thought I could com­bine them all in one trip.

‘My mum [Ali­son, a mu­sic in­dus­try pro­fes­sional] asked me one evening what I wanted to do with my gap year

Along the way he faced MON­KEYS and WILD dogs, food POI­SON­ING, and – ar­guably most DAN­GER­OUS of all – CARE­LESS DRIV­ERS

and I said I’d like to bike around the world, and it sort of went from there.’

His first day saw him cy­cle from Lon­don to Portsmouth on the English south coast. From there he pow­ered through (deep breath) France, Italy, Croa­tia, Mon­tene­gro, Al­ba­nia, Greece, Tur­key, In­dia (6,000km down the west coast and up the east), Myan­mar, Thai­land, Cam­bo­dia, Viet­nam, Malaysia, Sin­ga­pore, Aus­tralia, New Zealand, the US, Canada, Por­tu­gal, Spain and fi­nally back into Eng­land.

He took flights across Iran (where he couldn’t get a visa) as well as Pak­istan and Bangladesh (which the Bri­tish For­eign and Com­mon­wealth Of­fice ad­vised him against cy­cling through). Both skip-overs were al­lowed un­der the terms set by Guin­ness World Records for an of­fi­cially ac­cred­ited cy­cle around the globe.

High­lights in­cluded the In­dian land­scape (‘ev­ery time you turn your head in some re­gions you see some­thing stun­ning’), and look­ing up one day in Aus­tralia to find him­self be­ing ac­com­pa­nied by an emu.

‘It ran along­side me for maybe 10 min­utes,’ re­calls Tom. ‘I had no idea they could go so fast and I had no idea why he wanted to come with me. It was quite con­fus­ing but also pretty amaz­ing; like this mo­ment where you feel a bond with this strange an­i­mal. I was sort of sad when he stopped.’

He also had his fair share of hu­man ac­com­pa­ni­ments. In In­dia es­pe­cially peo­ple would ride along­side in slowed-down ve­hi­cles to ask where he’d come from and where he was go­ing.

‘There was one day when I must have had 30 sep­a­rate con­ver­sa­tions with peo­ple in cars,’ he re­mem­bers. ‘It was lovely – although, when you’re cy­cling 160km hav­ing to talk so much can be kind of en­er­gys­ap­ping. But it re­ally made me re­alise how hos­pitable peo­ple are. I got asked out for drinks, to cricket matches, to peo­ple’s homes for din­ner. I very rarely ac­cepted be­cause I was on such a tight sched­ule, but it was nice nonethe­less.’

And nicer cer­tainly than the rather less civilised wel­com­ing of­fered by wild dogs in Al­ba­nia.

‘I heard them be­fore I saw them,’ he says. ‘Bark­ing and howl­ing. I don’t know how they knew I was com­ing – I’d been on a bike all day so maybe they smelt me – but when I saw them com­ing over the hori­zon run­ning at me… it was pretty ter­ri­fy­ing. There was a pack of them – about five or six – and they were a good size, and fast, and I was go­ing up­hill at the time. They were try­ing to bite at my legs but I just kept ped­alling. It was all I could do. And even­tu­ally, thank­fully, they couldn’t keep up.’

Asim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence oc­curred in re­mote south­ern Thai­land – with a mon­key. ‘I saw a lot of them, but one sat on a fence, let out a scream and started fol­low­ing me,’ he says. ‘Again, all you can do is pedal and pray, and that’s what I did. He soon lost in­ter­est.’

It wasn’t all ad­ven­tures, ac­com­pa­ni­ments and an­i­mal at­tacks, though.

When you cy­cle 30,000km – even through some of the world’s most jaw-drop­ping scenery – the over­whelm­ing feel­ing is of­ten, says Tom, ‘well, kind of bore­dom.’ He ex­plains: ‘I don’t think there’s a bet­ter way to see the world than at 25kph, but it can get lonely. You have a lot of time to think. You go over ev­ery­thing you’ve done in your life, ev­ery­thing you might do. Tri­umphs and mis­takes too.’

It was also phys­i­cally painful. He was shat­tered each day but of­ten strug­gled to sleep. ‘It was only a fear of fail­ing that kept me go­ing some­times,’ he says.

By night, he would sleep in cheap B&Bs and ho­tels or camp in a tent he car­ried with him. Once or twice he stayed with friends of friends, but that was a rare lux­ury.

By day, he would eat what­ever he could get his hands on that was cheap and would keep his energy lev­els up. Crisps and bis­cuits from ser­vice sta­tions, street food in In­dia, in­ex­pen­sive din­ners at road­houses and oc­ca­sional evening meals in town restau­rants. Mak­ing the most of a ho­tel break­fast be­came a big thing. In Alexan­droupoli, in Greece, his pre-ride morn­ing meal in­cluded ‘two bowls of

‘I don’t think there’s a BET­TER way to SEE the world than at 25kph, but it can get LONELY. You have a lot of time to THINK, to go over ev­ery­thing you’ve ever done’

ce­real, 3 mini dough­nuts, one puff pas­try, one Nutella crepe, mini sausages, chips, cooked toma­toes, three pain au choco­lats, three crois­sants, a slice of cake, a slice of straw­berry tart, a fried egg and an omelette.’

On his back and in his bags, he car­ried camp­ing equip­ment, spare clothes, wet wear, wash-bags, a lap­top, charg­ers, spare parts and a lamp. Cy­cling round the world, it seems, doesn’t come light.

The stretch home, he says, felt like it started in Aus­tralia – when he was still 15,000km from the UK.

‘But af­ter that I was trav­el­ling through coun­tries that felt more fa­mil­iar, ei­ther be­cause they spoke English or, on the last leg, be­cause I was back in Europe.’

He knew then that no mat­ter how dif­fi­cult things got, he should be able to com­plete the jour­ney. And that’s what he did.

‘Ar­riv­ing back in Europe af­ter the US and Canada was mas­sive,’ he says. ‘And then the very fi­nal stretch from Poole to Lon­don was in­cred­i­ble. How did it feel to have done it? ‘Tir­ing, but also ex­hil­a­rat­ing and over­whelm­ing.’

Some 100 fam­ily, friends and well-wish­ers had gath­ered in his home neigh­bour­hood to welcome him back. Over­come with emo­tion, he told one re­porter on the scene: ‘I am de­lighted the three char­i­ties will ben­e­fit from my trip, and can­not ex­press how grate­ful I am for all the sup­port from al­most ev­ery­one who has heard about it.’ What has he done since? Taken a cou­ple of days off, of course – then back on the bike.

‘This trip hasn’t di­min­ished my love of cy­cling,’ he en­thuses. ‘If any­thing it’s made me more pas­sion­ate. My next big chal­lenge is univer­sity, but af­ter that I’ll maybe think about do­ing some­thing sim­i­lar again.’

Tom on the home stretch… about a hun­dred fam­ily, friends and well-wish­ers gath­ered to welcome him back

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UAE

© PressReader. All rights reserved.