by Ralf Lopian

“You are crazy!” A very common response I encounter when talking about my plan. Some people wonder if there are compelling and sensible reasons to cycle around the world. In my opinion, yes, there are actually many.

Perhaps some of the most frequently asked questions I must answer is: Why do you want to cycle around the world? Why is an old man like me taking on the strains of cycling thousands and thousands of kilometres through forests, mountain ranges, deserts, swamps and cities? Why do I want to endure extreme heat and cold, snow and rainstorms, and everything else the elements can throw at me? What compels me to live a nomads live, sleeping rough and constantly eating on the go? This is, of course, only the first barrage of questions I must address. Follow-up inquiries about dangers posed by terrorists, wild animals and highwaymen are typically the ensuing expression of doubt about my sanity and the rationality to undertake such a voyage.

Let me assure you, according to my own opinion and expert judgement, I am completely sane and rational. A little eccentric perhaps, but otherwise perfectly fine.

My dream to cycle around the world is not a new one. Indeed, the aspiration to do a world cycle tour had been developed during my time at university. The idea to accomplish something exceptional seemed perfectly normal at an age when we all were convinced about our exceptionality and our belief to be destined for great things. For me the great explorers, such as Columbus, Magellan, Cook and Humboldt were an inspiration and I dreamt sailing around the world or cycling it. Call it a sense for adventure and the desire to achieve something special. Now, almost 45 years later I will realize these dreams.

I will cycle slowly through the continents and the countries and will see my dreams become true: see unbelievably blue mountain lakes in the Pamirs; being dwarfed by the mighty snow-capped peaks in the Himalayas; sleep under star-studded skies in the Gobi Desert; relax on unspoilt beaches of Indonesian islands; experience the unbelievably different ecosystems of Australia and New Zealand. I will face the raw nature of Alaska and cycle against Patagonian headwinds. I will enjoy the magnificent colours of a sunrise in the Namibian desert and a sunset on the Baja California. I will cycle the majestic “Going-to-the-sun” road and ride on the incredibly beautiful Costa Amalfi. And most importantly I will do that all in my own good time. A day at a time, slowly, without haste and pressure. Without hassles of keeping schedules of tour guides and to fit everything into a two-week vacation slot.

And I will meet people. Many people with completely different values and beliefs. People who worship different gods and who live lives unimaginable to me. People who are curious about me and want to get to know me. I will be looking forward to meet and talk to all kind of different people. As I will be different and interesting to them, they will be equally interesting to me.

At 64 years of age, cycling around the world is not necessarily child’s play. Almost all long-distance cyclists navigating around the world are men and women in their prime. They usually take sabbaticals after concluding their education with the argument that this is their only time-window before getting old and settling down. I beg to differ. I believe that almost all age groups can do long-distance cycling journeys with appropriate planning and the appropriate selection of destinations.

In fact, cycling is keeping older people, like me, flexible in body and brain. When cycling long distances our brain is assaulted with new impulses and stimuli daily. No day is like the other. Routine, the death penalty of any brain, is kept to a minimum. There are those who claim that the constant bombardment of our brain with new impulses leads to the perception that time passes slower. Like with children, who are experiencing the slow movement of time because of all the new impressions they have to digest, while seniors pass their years in the blink of an eye, because there is nothing new in their lives. I must admit, a few extra years, although only perceived, are very appreciated at my age. And if these perceived additional years are sweetened with an increased production of endorphins the smile on my lips will never leave.

It has been scientifically proven that cycling has substantial health benefits. Cycling makes your heart healthier. It improves the mobility of the joints, increases muscle strength and flexibility, strengthens bones and most important of all decreases body fat levels. Having been a civil servant for more than thirty years makes the last fact especially appealing to me. Since giving up smoking more than ten years ago I have been flirting with obesity. I reckon that a cycle trip around the world will kick-start my metabolism again and will remake me into the lean and mean machine of my youth. Jokes aside, I anticipate that I will lose a few kilogrammes along the way and that is just fine next to the other health benefits.

Cycling on empty country roads will give me time to think. The mantric act of pedalling for hours on end each day will conceivably trigger my thoughts to flourish. Perhaps that will bring wisdom to a cause long considered lost.

To address the original question if there is a compelling and sensible reason to cycle around the world I must say absolutely. Out there is a beautiful and majestic world, full of splendour and inhabited by (mostly) kind and interesting people. It would be a waste of my sensorium not to see this beauty, smell the exotic fragrances of nature and getting to know the diverse people of this world. What better way to access all these experiences than by riding a moderately paced bicycle?