Gearing up: 5 reasons to explore the world by bicycle

Katie Moss

Katie Moss and Joseph Thomas explain why they chose to make a 10,000km journey from Vietnam to Nepal entirely by bicycle

We are so often asked why we chose to undertake this journey by bicycle, to which we say, ‘why wouldn’t we?’

 

1. It’s slow

Waiting in the village to meet the local pastor who gave us a home for the night in the church, Nagaland, north-east India

And it is the perfect pace! Although this might not seem like a particularly persuasive reason, travelling at a pace fast enough to get places, but slow enough to see them, opens doors and worlds that are impossible to otherwise grasp. We do not, and cannot, speed between destinations, but instead see everything in between: every town and village that we pass are destinations in themselves.

This pace allows us to absorb the transitions between different cultures and experience changes in the geography and climate. Such transitions can be subtle: new tastes or spices in food, or can hit us quite drastically as our speed drops to 5km per hour and our legs start to burn as we climb a huge mountain, physically feeling the change in the landscape.

This pace allows us to absorb the transitions between different cultures and experience changes in the geography and climate

A place quite unknown to the rest of the country to which it belongs was in the sixth country on our journey: north-east India. Nagaland, one of the states in the north-east, is composed of 16 tribes; each with its own language, dress and culture. Ninety per cent of the Nagamese are Christians (80 per cent of Indians are Hindu) something that became quickly apparent. In Burma, golden Buddhist stupas dominated the landscape, whereas in Nagaland, churches were the most prominent buildings in every town and village we approached.

 

2. It’s approachable

‘Where are you going?’ we are often asked, Thailand

From inside a car or bus, it is easy to disconnect from the world outside: the scenes flashing past the window could as easily be on a television screen as they are real life. Peoples’ lives are fleeting images, rather than tangible impressions.

On a bicycle we might be vulnerable, but we are approachable. Children can run next to us, they can reach out their hands to give us high fives. In the societies we are travelling through, bicycles are not considered an efficient way to travel and are only used out of sheer necessity by those who cannot afford to travel by any other means. People think we are just bonkers and laugh!

Cars have stopped to give us food and water, or just have a conversation. Teachers have invited us into schools, families have invited us into their homes, restaurant owners have fed us and refused to let us pay. On one occasion, we chanced upon a school’s three-day meditation course. The teacher jumped at the opportunity for us to speak to the students and tell them about our journey and project. We joined them for lunch and watched as the students, after eating, each went and washed up their own plates and cutlery – not a likely sight at a school in the UK.


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3. It’s a challenge

Market delights in Thailand

Travelling this entire distance (aside from the flight we were forced to take due to a border closure), and meeting all the people we have met, on pedal power alone, is satisfying. It turns the journey from a trip into an adventure – and a challenge!

It turns the journey from a trip into an adventure – and a challenge!

Travelling by bicycle means that you are outdoors doing exercise almost all the time; a welcomed contrast to our lives working in London. And, although neither of us have ever been known to hold back on food, cycling 10,000km gives us a pretty good excuse to indulge in the local cuisine. We also lay claim to the (self-professed) title of ‘south-east Asian and north-east Indian bakery connoisseurs’.

 

4. It’s affordable

Solitary beach camping, Ream National Park, Cambodia

A tent and a stove do not only offer flexibility, they also significantly reduce a daily budget. We camped for free in Buddhist temples in Thailand and Cambodia – camp spot highlights (shower included!). Other noteworthy spots include the isolated and pristine beaches of Cambodia and empty schoolhouses in Laos.

This means the daily budget is dominated by food and, depending on tastes – and standards – it is easy to be economical.

 

5. It is low-impact

First day in Myanmar: spot the military checkpoint, acacia trees and golden Buddhist stupas

All of these experiences, and more, are fundamental to our project, Gearing Up. Throughout this journey we have been meeting social enterprises and initiatives working in two fields: climate change and gender equality. The purpose of Gearing Up is to raise awareness of the work of these organisations and to better understand the social initiative ecosystem in these regions.

Bicycles are environmentally friendly, which naturally complements the purpose of our journey, but that is not all. By travelling through some of the most rural regions of these countries, and really being in them, not just whizzing through them, we can better understand the challenges and issues being faced. For example, without having seen the extent to which basic needs are not met, how could we appreciate the fundamental lack of consideration for the environment and the task faced by organisations trying to educate about the importance of waste management and reducing plastic consumption?

 

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