Be Seen, Not Hurt – Day 6

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  • 6 - Tom Bruce

‘I would not have gone on my adventure without a helmet’

Round the World Cyclist Tom Bruce shares his experience

A bit about me

I have always liked cycling and I have always wanted to travel. The first time I linked the two passions was when I did a coast-to-coast ride in the UK with my mate Jonny after my GCSEs. I then did a trans-Alp tour from Munich to Lake Garda off-road, which was absolutely amazing. I fell in love with bike touring and decided I needed to do something bigger. I read books by people who’d done adventures in the past and decided to do a long tour. I thought about Europe at first – a tour around Europe sounded good. Then I started thinking what about Asia, was that possible? I decided it was, so I thought, if I could cross Europe and Asia, I might as well try to cycle around the world. I thought I might as well do it properly, so I set myself the challenge of cycling every inch of the distance, no public transport was allowed! I left with no idea whether I would succeed and that was part of the excitement for me.

An overview of my trip – around the world by bike

I left home on 13th March, 2011 and cycled from my front door, across the UK to Dover. I took the ferry to France and cycled along an amazing route through Europe, with a new country every couple of days. Highlights included the Black Forest, the Danube River bike track and finishing Europe in Istanbul.

The Caucuses came next and were absolutely beautiful. Georgia is my favourite country from the trip. Amazing mountains, the friendliest people I’ve met, beautiful Orthodox Christian churches, amazing food and a brilliant capital city. After crossing Azerbaijan, I took the Caspian Sea ferry to the middle of nowhere, the lonely city of Aktau in Western Kazakhstan. I remember sitting on the deck of the ferry across the Caspian Sea, looking at maps and trying to persuade myself that what I was about to do was possible. I arrived in Aktau and set off into the desert. Quickly the temperature shot up to 47 degress and I had to take 23 kg of water to make sure I would have enough between water stops. The road was dreadful, cut up, corrugated, with sand traps and no shelter from the sun. I was constantly getting shaken about and rattled around, as was my bike, which did an amazing job of surviving and carrying my luggage. It was so hot that that the rear wheel rim heated up enough to melt holes in the inner tube. I got ill on two occasions and was sick a couple of times. I had to cycle 100 km per day over about 2,000 km to get through Uzbekistan before my visa ran out. It was a very tough three weeks, but looking back on this, it was probably the most rewarding part of the trip. It was followed by the most amazing cities I’ve ever been to, the ancient Silk Road trading towns of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan.

The part of the trip that I was most looking forward to was the Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. Unfortunately, I got very ill with a tummy bug and was worried that I wouldn’t be fit enough to cycle over the 4,000 metre passes before my visa expired. I took a day off in Khorog because I was feeling too weak to ride, then left the following morning. I managed to ride a morning, and then met a Pamiri doctor, who took me in for the night. He was an amazing person. I just slept all day and drank a local remedy that he concocted from herbs. Whatever it was worked and the next day I was good to go. I cycled the Wakhan valley along the Afghan border then over a series of high mountain passes on the stunning Pamir Highway.

Krygyzstan was fantastic, full of high altitude pastures and nomads who invited me into their yurts. The gone-off mare’s milk was disgusting though!

China was a great experience, but a difficult too. The people in the small towns and villages find it very difficult to communicate with foreigners, which makes travel a challenge. I cycled with my cousin Phil through China though and this helped during the more difficult times. We crossed a large desert before reaching the Tibetan Plateau, and then cycled through the industrial east, to the coast. We made time to visit many tourist attractions, including a large Buddhist Monastery, the Terracotta Army and the Great Wall.

America was another world from what I was used to and I suffered reverse culture shock, looking at the vast amount of wealth in San Francisco when I arrived! My friend Harry joined me for this part of the trip and we got really into the riding though. We cycled through beautiful National Parks, like Yosemite and Death Valley, before crossing the Rockies and finally followed the gulf coast to Florida.

Wearing a helmet

I would not have gone on my adventure without a helmet. To me, it is a necessity. Anyone riding a bike should wear a helmet, whether on-road or off. When I was about 14, I had a nasty fall on my mountain bike. I am a good rider, and can ride technical descents quickly and confidently, but there is nothing I could have done about this fall. My front inner tube got a massive pinch puncture and deflated in about a second. I hit a rock, went flying and landed on my head. The back of my helmet hit another large rock and smashed and cracked. My head was absolutely fine and I walked away with nothing worse than a grazed knee, thanks to the helmet.

Helmets are cheap and comfortable and even look pretty good these days – they’ve come a long way in the last few years. Vents keep your head cool and if you do a lot of night riding (like I do) they’re a great place to mount a light. It makes a big difference to have a light on your head, rather than the handlebars because it is always shining where you are looking.

So in short, get out and ride… but not without a helmet.

For more about my trip, including my blog, photos, route, kit list and much more, visit www.tombrucecycling.com

My book, “Every Inch of the Way; My Bike Ride around the World”, is now available on Amazon and tells the full story of my journey around the world.

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October 26th, 2013|Tags: , |