Tired of the monotony of everyday life, 32 year old Irishman Derek Cullen mounted an old bike and began an epic unsupported cycle across Africa. It is a story with the potential to inspire the ordinary person, to break down the very shackles that we confine ourselves to. I, myself really wanted to interview him, as I am well short of a few Irish adventurers to look up to. And he is every bit the stereotype (the good one) : the pale skin, the ginger beard, the easy warm character, the sense of humour and of course he is much more modest than he needs to be. This interview, I hope, will make you smile, as it did to me, and maybe plant a tiny thought into your mind; if he can do it, then why can I not do it too?
1.What is your current location?
Arusha, Tanzania – exactly half way between the start point Cape Town & Cairo.
2.What type of bike are you ridding?
Trek820 – it’s nothing fancy, 13 years old, has 23 gears and god knows how many previous owners.
3.What have you packed in your panniers?
Clothes, cooking gear, sleeping bag, tent, cameras, water – anything you’d need to survive a wilderness area.
4.What books have you brought with you to entertain you in the evenings?
Arabian Sands, Adrift, Into the Wild, Into Thin Air – are you seeing the trend? Mostly adventure stories about ridiculously lonesome journeys!
5.How are you navigating?
Map and compass, to be honest it would be harder to go the wrong way – there’s not many roads down here. I’ve got the distance wrong several times but who cares, I just pitch the tent behind a bush and carry on the next morning.
6.What distance are you covering each day?
Usually between 60 – 100km. The most covered in a day was 160km, the least 20km (exhausted). I travel very slowly even against bicycle standards, I like to spend more time anywhere that’s cool.
7.What does your diet consist of on the road?
On the bike – bananas, chocolate, biscuits, water, water, water. Off the bike – two minute noodles, beans, rice, heaps of local food (god knows what some of the meat really is). You eat like a horse doing this and literally give up being fussy.
8.What was your cycling experience like before you embarked on this massive trip?
Believe it or not – none. I was never a fan of cycling as strange as that may sound – it’s just the mode in which I seek adventure! My brother likes to tell people about how I struggled to cycle to his house last year in Ireland, I barely made it home – it was a 10km ride.
9.Have you discovered anything about your character, about who you are as a person?
Yeah completely, I realised the world didn’t revolve around me for a start – that was disappointing! It has changed me in ways I never thought imaginable, facing fears and taking on such a big challenge has brought huge confidence and a lot of humility. I genuinely feel a much “better person” now than ever before.
10.Does the joy outweigh the suffering on the road?
Every. Single. Time.
There are pretty depressing times, especially the aspect of being alone so long, for so often – but you get over that. Three words – Cycling with Giraffes. I can’t forget that people are living hard lives back home, I’m very lucky to be where I am.
11. As you make progress, has the fear and anxiety you have mentioned before become more manageable or are you still dealing with it on a daily basis?
It may sound too good to be true but the anxiety has all but disappeared. I spent a lot of time worrying at the beginning but the anxieties proved to be “false concerns” every time – I literally stopped bothering to worry about what never seemed to happen anyway! I still feel the fear of course, that’s a healthy concern to have and I don’t think I’ll ever get over the worry of having Hyenas or lions around my tent.
12. How are you finding using social media and a blog to document your trip? Is it a motivator not to quit or does it take away a little from the adventure?
A lot of work goes into it for sure but it’s worth it for the chance of sharing this experience with someone. Also, writing fills a lot of spare time that is usually spent alone.
13. I am allowed stereotype you here because I am also Irish, but how are you not burnt alive with the heat?!
Yeah it’s kinda hot alright, I got heat exhaustion in the lower Namibia Desert which involved not having the energy to roll over and two days of falling asleep. That was enough reason to be careful in the future. I wear a wide brimmed hat (which looks stupid, I know) and keep putting sun cream on the arms – everything else stays covered while cycling. Yes, I have a farmers tan.
Speaking of stereotypes, I’ve had less than 15 bottles of beer in 7 months – beat that Ireland!
14. How do you make yourself get up and ride again the next day after having a shit day (aka how are you keeping your head in the right place)?
That’s been difficult, I doubt anyone could properly understand just how hard this gets when you spend so much time alone. I keep mentioning being alone but it’s the most influential factor of the trip each day and for staying motivated. The answer is, some days I just do and some days I just don’t – I just stay where I am until the mood has passed.
In general, I keep my head together by finding meaning in everything that happens. No matter how bad it gets, there is always a positive way to look at it. Looking down from the top of a mountain with the bicycle is an empowering feeling but it never feels like that at the time of cycling uphill to get there.
15. Is the journey harder than you thought, or is it living up to your expectations?
Harder yes but not for the reasons I would have thought prior. Physically, it is tough but manageable. Mentally, it can be a right battle. The trip has exceeded anything I could have imagined, it is the single most profound experience in my thirty two years and has definitely changed my outlook on life.
16. Is the stereotypical image of Africa of a poverty stricken and dangerous continent holding true?
Poverty, yes at times but what many people don’t realise is that most Africans are happy with their conditions – they still live traditionally and get by with what they have. It’s wrong of the western world to think of Africans as unprivileged for not having the same standard of living. If you ask me, the simple life being led in these parts has resulted in a community that is much richer and far more content than the complicated world we live in. Mobile phones are everywhere you go now, it disappoints me to see this in Africa too.
Africa is no more dangerous than London, New York, Dublin or Rome. If anything people here are more friendly. The danger associated with Africa is derived from western media and peoples natural feeling to fear the unknown.
17. Why are you doing it, what was the trigger?
My life was crap!!
I was so bored, I wasn’t happy with work, my social life was average, I felt I wasn’t growing or doing what I really wanted to do. Nobody needs to feel this way, it’s a choice really.
I genuinely thought if there was any real meaning to life, it had to be out there to experience but I needed to “go out there” first in order to find out.
18. How are you coping with being alone for so many hours each day?
It can be quite depressing but mostly a great experience. You learn to be your best friend in a situation like this – I really needed that, to gain a better opinion and respect for myself.
19. You are obviously fit by now – 6,000km in. Is the actual physical cycle itself no longer the hard part?
Yes and no. Physically, it gets harder over time with the constant strain on the body but by then you have learnt to just get on with it so it cancels it out somewhat. Being alone and keeping a sane mental state is by far the biggest challenge.
20. What are the descents/downhill’s like?
Elation – to the point of feeling crazy and screaming random words before realising the locals are watching….and continuing on anyway!
Along with “being tied down” and having kids (thinking ahead!) I’ve already no doubt they will be the happiest memories I will ever have – it’s been worth the risk.
I read a blog recently that referred to bikes as “tools and vehicles that make life better.” I think this does a great job explaining why we chose cycling as our mode of travel. Cycling, and cycle touring specifically, has this unbelievable ability to transform an individual. The freedom, the challenge, the adventure, and as the blog mentioned, the ability it has to make you think bigger and get beyond your own community, offers amazing opportunities for people.
As kids we all loved to bike if for nothing else the opportunity it presented for exploration, learning, and escape. As adult we don’t get this opportunity as much in our daily lives, but we believe cycling can still provide that. Through our trips participants not only get to have a wonderful physical travel adventure, but through biking they are given the opportunity for a challenge, an opportunity to explore the world, and an opportunity to learn what they are truly capable of both physically and mentally.
2.Your whole staff seems to consist of young people…..
-What kind of message are you trying to send out to people?
A lot of our staff are starting to get a bit older and it is getting tougher to classify them as youth, but we are still very much a youth driven organization. We believe that the determination, energy, and innovation of today’s youth is and will continue to be instrumental in making the world a better place. We strive to support inspired youth and we want to send the message that our generation is ready to take a stand against poverty, inequality, environmental destruction, etc…
3.How do you think taking part in a tour can change the participants life?
This is a great question and I’ll let one of our alumni answer it:
Michal Tellos (2011 Pacific Coast tour) “Prior to the tour, never had I been so nervous about successfully completing anything, but at its conclusion, I had never been so confident. This confidence doesn’t relate merely to my physical ability to cycle 100 km daily, but to any seemingly insurmountable challenge. During the tour, we had to wake up, and ride our hardest every day to get where we wanted to go. I learned that with a similar approach to any task, I can achieve similar outcomes. The winding hills that never seem to end start off as a physical challenge, and somewhere along the way, morph into empowering psychological metaphors.”
4.What kind of feedback do you get from participants?
Again, I’ll let our participants answer this one:
Kaleigh Heard (2011 Europe tour) “RTBTC Europe 2011 was by far the most daring, impulsive and absolutely wonderful experience I have had in my life! It is truly designed for those who want to make a difference and see the world the way it should be seen”
Elize Morgan (2010 Europe tour) “The Europe tour was one of the best experiences of my life, and it’s an amazingly fantastic experience for everyone involved.”
Sean Peters (2007 Pacific Coast tour) “The Pacific Coast tour is an amazing experience. It’s one of those life-changing experiences where, when you’re 80, you’ll be able to say that you did that; you accomplished something so audacious and rare. There’s nothing in the world that can describe it- the sense of accomplishment is overwhelming”
5. There’s a recurring theme in giving to charity; that the people who the money is intended for, never get it, instead their government or multinationals or someone along the way ends up with it. How do you know this isn’t the case with yours?
First of all, we have a clear distinction between money raised for operating costs and those raised for the projects we support. We want to be clear with donors where their money is going. When it comes to the projects we support we put a lot of measures in place to monitor where our funds go whether it is the months and months we spend vetting the projects, sending staff or volunteers to visit the projects, or receiving frequent updates from them. Above all else though we work very closely with our partners so that we are not providing just finances but expertise as well. That said we are in the business of supporting community driven projects. We don’t pretend to know the solutions to poverty in communities around the world but we know that there are local there that probably do and we strive to support them. We spend a lot of time getting to know the individuals behind the projects and we are confident that our money ends up in the right hands.
6. Has anyone been on every tour?
Nobody has done all of our tours yet. A couple of people have done three and a bunch have done two, but we mostly get new participants each year wanting to take on the challenging adventure!
7.Is the plan to continue opening up new routes across the globe? Where do you have in mind next?
We are definitely interested in opening up new routes. Our plan was always to open a new route every two years and so far we are ahead of that goal. We have a few options in mind that we have started investigating: West Africa, Canada, Australia, and possibly the Silk Road.
8.You guys are all young, which I love and ambitious which is getting rare to find in the youth of today (I am allowed say this because I am also young) How have you managed to step away from this stereotype and strive to live out your dreams?
-Have you confronted any older people yet who automatically judge you as the lazy stereotype associated with a youth? What did you say to them?
I guess we have managed to step away from this stereotype with our actions. We don’t just sit idle, we are always improving, always learning, always engaging with the community, and always seeking to find the best solutions to global poverty. And at the end of the day we are taking on epic and challenging bike tours each year and every year and we are raising significant funds through a lot of hard work and a lot of pounding the pavement.
Fortunately we’ve actually been lucky to have had little to no confrontation from older folks stereotyping us as lazy. If that was to occur I think our actions would speak louder than words.
9. Leading people on tours around the world by bike – Surely that has got to be a sweet job?
I couldn’t imagine a more exciting job! Working for Riding to Break the Cycle combines my love of adventure, cycling, and the outdoors, with my passion for social change. I get to work with an amazing group of inspiring individuals and I get to help young adults have life changing experiences. You couldn’t ask for more really!
10. Working there, what is the best think you get to witness?
I think the best thing I get to witness, besides for the success of the individuals we are helping, is the transformation I see in our participants. They join us as timid, novice cyclists, and they leave confident, mentally tough, aware, educated, and empowered to continue making a positive difference in the world.
1.What expeditions/adventures have you been on to date?
Not a lot really. Well not as much as I would have liked to have done. I have done Kilimanjaro (dressed as a penguin), competed in ultra endurance canoeing marathons and spent a fair bit of time in the Himalayas soaking up the mountains. Adventure is not all about rowing oceans and climbing mountains. Adventure, in its purest form, is simply a way of thinking. I think adventurously.
2.What made you decide and commit to doing this?
I wanted to do some BIG in 2012. Something that I would never be able to do again. My bucket list has always been. Swimming the Channel, Climbing Everest and Cycling the World. Cycling the world is probably the most exhausting so I figured get that one out the way first.
3.What is your day job and how did are you getting time off for this endeavour?
I have been a professional photographer my entire life and as much as I still love photography, I became bored of the type of work I was getting. This was because I said yes to too many jobs 10 years ago that weren’t my passion and before I knew it 98% of my work wasn’t what I set out to do. It was a hard decision to say NO to my clients who, for the most part, are practically my friends now but I don’t regret it. I wish I had had courage enough to do it years ago.
4.What can people do to help?
There are loads of ways you can get involved from helping me with route tips, places to see, places to avoid and choosing songs for my iPod. Most of all I am looking for people to help me Solarise Africa by paying for a school to be solarised which is as little as £1000, or simply providing a family with a Solar Lamp for £6 so that they no longer need to use kerosene. Please help me banish the kerosene lamp.
5. Why did you pick Solar Aid as your charity? I am from Zimbabwe and have seen firsthand what life is like for 98% of rural Africa. Solar is such a simple and effective way to tackle global warming, increase education and save lives.
6. When are you set to embark on this challenge and where is your starting point? I leave Greenwich park, on the meridian, on February the 18th 2012. Please come down and show your support. Bring a banner too.
7.What is the current world record to beat and how many miles a day do you have to cover in order to beat it?
The current record is 153 days which is only 117 miles per day. This is actually quite an easy record to beat and it will probably be beaten before I leave. I hope to bring that record down by a few weeks raising my average mileage to about 130 per day.
8.What are your plans for the nights – hostels/camping/hotels?
I have no plan really. It all depends how well I am feeling. I will be taking a tent, sleeping bag and mattress and will camp whenever I need too. What I won’t do is cut my days short in order to stay in a hotel. Graveyards are a great place to camp as people tend to stay clear of them at night.
9.Who does your support team consist of?
Support???? What support? This is a solo and unsupported attempt. It will just be me, my bike and loads of maps. I can’t wait.
10.Why pick cycling as opposed to hiking, swimming…etc?
I love swimming and hope to swim the channel one day. Cycling is a great way to see the world due to the huge distances you can cover in a short period of time. The feeling of freewheeling down a long road after a long day is second to none. Although I love hiking, it doesn’t challenge me enough. TO do challenging hiking probably means running and that’s one thing I can’t do. I have never done a marathon.
11.Is this going to be your one and only challenge or are there more to come?
Oh, there are LOADS more to come. I have one in the pipeline for when I return. I can’t give it away but it is another cycling world record attempt. . . only this time a lot shorter.
13.What does your training schedule consist of?
I currently spend about 40hours a week on the bike and then another 10 or so in the gym. I am trying to vary my training with some short sprints, hill work and some long rides. Nothing can compare to the race but I can only hope to replicate some of the fatigue I am going to have to endure.
14. Besides raising money for charity, why are you doing this?
The charity side of it is a huge part but also testing myself, testing what’s humanly possible and achieving something that for many many years seemed only a distant dream that you read about in the paper once in a while.
15.How long have you been planning this and also training for this?
I decided quite late and have only been in training for 8 months. It can take years to get the stamina in your tendons. Training is only a small part of the preparation. Route selection, food, sleep, flights, visas, equipment, spares, navigation and loads more take up way more time that cycling.
16.What bike are you using?
I am using a full steel frame bike with 2 small bags on the back. I want to be a lightweight as possible yet not sacrifice comfort too much as being uncomfortable is just as bad, if not worse, than having a heavy bike.
17. My mam wants to know how much sleep you will be getting and how you are going to eat?!
Sleep strategy is the hardest thing to work out. It’s such a fine balance between keeping the miles rolling vs recovery so that you cover more miles the next day. I don’t really know the answer to that and I guess only time will tell. Food is difficult too. Some countries will be easy but other like the Atacama Desert in Chile will be more difficult and I will have to carry what I can. I literally need to eat anything and everything I can find.
18.How can you plan flights and boats ahead of schedule if you don’t know exact arrival times at countries?
I have had to guess arrival times at airports but there may be times when I miss a flight so will just have to beg the airline to help me out. I haven’t booked boats yet as I figured I will just be able to jump on with my bike when I arrive. The plan is to get back to London before the Olympics so I can’t afford any delays.
19.What routes have you cycled in preparation?
I have cycled a bit in Ireland which was great. I am hopefully going to go to Spain to train for a bit too but most I have stayed near London as this is where I need to be for fundraising. I am getting a little bored of cycling London to Cambridge and back but that also part of my mental stamina.
20. Have you met any of the others that will be competing for the title?
I have seen them on Twitter and Facebook. There are a few really hard core guys. It’s great. It really pushes everyone’s game up.
21.How much do you estimate the whole trip costs and how much of your own money goes into that?
This attempt is really expensive with flights, visas, food, equipment, more food, gym etc. I had nothing when I started, not even a bike so have had to fork out quite a bit. I have put about £10,000 of my own money already. The rest has come from my sponsors. uSwitch.com who have been incredibly supportive in my attempt and can’t thank them enough really.
22.What is the toughest part of the preparation?
I would say route selection. It’s so hard to know whether the route you have chosen goes over a huge mountain or not. Everything else is the same for everyone. It’s the route that can make or break a record and that’s the thing keeping me up at night right now.
23.Do you know any of the languages of the countries you will be crossing through?
I can speak 2 other languages (Zulu and Afrikaans) and neither of them are helpful. I hope to learn Spanish along the way via audio books. That should be fun and keep me occupied.
24.Is being beaten an option?
No! It has never even crossed my mind. This race is as much mental as physical and I hopefully have both.
1.What are your emotional motives behind your adventures?
Mostly I go on adventures to satisfy my own curiosity. But what I’m curious about has changed since I started. On my first trip I was naive and idealistic, so everything was interesting and new and it broke my preconceptions. As time went on I became curious variously about my own endurance, my ability to tolerate discomfort, whether places in the world would live up to my fears, how it would be to learn a completely new language, how I might best communicate this whole process to those who stayed at home – so it’s curiosity and satisfaction at the root of it all.
2.Are you looking or have you found a certain fulfilment in your life of adventure?
It’s true that my post-university options didn’t look particularly exciting and fulfilling, so quitting everything and heading off into the sunset was almost the only choice I had left! As for fulfilment – yes, but it hasn’t come about through a list of achievements, rather through realising that adventure is a way of thinking and therefore can be a lifelong process, rather than something that starts and ends at distinct points. It follows that the only judge of success in that process is me myself. Because of that there’s no risk of disappointment of having ‘failed’ to achieve some abstract mission in the eyes of someone else, and none of the anticlimax that happens when you finish a trip, because ‘home’ and ‘away’ are two parts of the same whole. Living in London is just as much an adventure in one sense as cycling across Lapland last winter. Everything is new and ready to be explored in a multitude of ways.
3.Do you have limits?
Very abstract question! Yes. Who doesn’t? Exactly what limits are I’m not quite sure. There are obvious limits such as physical endurance, but there’s nothing very mysterious about that. My life right now is all uncharted territory I’m about to take my first feature documentary to the international film festival circuit, and I’m in the middle of writing my first book, without a publisher or editor. I have no idea what I’ll be doing in a year’s time. It’s a massive adventure in itself. (I have no idea whether that relates to the idea of limits!)
4.Tell me the story about when and how you decided to become a full time adventurer?
There’s not actually a particular moment in time, I don’t think. If you pressed me, it would probably be the day I set off from home in 2007 on my bike. I jacked it all in and didn’t look back, and I never have, even though I’ve been back to the same physical location since then. I didn’t set off thinking ‘I’m going to be a full-time adventurer’, though. What I’m doing now has pretty much emerged organically from that starting point. That, and my stubborn refusal to get a ‘real job’!
5.What is it about these extreme expeditions that pull you in?
I think the answer to the first question covers most of it. I’ve never thought of myself as an ‘extreme expeditioner’, though. Some of what I do might look extreme to people with different perspectives, that’s all. I think that could relate back to the idea of ‘limits’. Maybe a limit is a point past which your imagination can’t go. When you try something new and a little daunting, though, your imagination gets new material to draw from – even if you screw up. So, little by little, the goalposts start to move. And one day you realise that people are calling you ‘extreme’!
6.You are clearly a bike man, but have you tried all the other sports and settled on cycling or has your focus just always been cycling?
I began travelling by bicycle as a reaction against traditional notions of travel – inevitably motorised or relying on public transport or someone else’s schedule – which had never appealed to me. I wanted the fundamental freedom to go literally wherever I liked, not just where I liked from a list of towns and cities on a timetable. I wanted to be able to travel under my own steam, but at the same time I didn’t fancy the restrictive slowness of walking while travelling was still a new experience. Cycling ticked all of these boxes, and has proved to have an enormously long shelf life. It’s not a sport, though. I’m no athlete. Ask my mates.
7.What is your favourite bike, I am guessing you have a few?
I’m not really attached to any particular bike, but I was a bit gutted when the custom-built frame I’d inherited from my Grandad got stolen from outside the university library when I was a student. That had sentimental value. My expedition bikes are fantastic machines, and I’m hugely grateful to Kona Bikes for supporting my trips with them, but they’re tools to do a job.
8.What age were you when you embarked on Ride Earth?
I was 23 when I left – two years after graduating from university.
9.What did your parents say when you told them about your mission?
They were pretty cool about it. They knew I wasn’t content to mope around at home or apply for jobs I didn’t believe in. I think they were glad when I’d found something to focus on. I really appreciate that they supported me rather than telling me it was a silly thing to do and trying to stop me.
10.What did you study in University? Has it been of use to you in your unconventional career?
I studied Computer Science. It was about as interesting as it sounds! But I did well in it, and it has come in useful, particularly when it comes to web technology. If you’re self-employed in this way and you rely in part on the web in order to build an audience, knowing how to build and run a website from the ground up (and fix it when it breaks) is a really useful area of know-how to have. It’s also allowed me to earn money as a web consultant while I’ve been living in other places, funding subsequent adventures.
11.You have your first book coming out in 2012, are you shitting it?
Not really. I’m enjoying the process of writing it immensely – I don’t think I’d be writing it at all if I wasn’t. There’s no pressure from the publisher, because as yet there is no publisher! I guess if I’m afraid of anything it’s that I’ll never be 100% happy with the finished product. I’m a recovering ex-perfectionist still struggling with minor details that nobody else will notice.
13. Your expeditions so far include:
Scotland off Road 2006
Europe and near the East 2007
The Caucasus and Iran 2008
The Middle East and Africa 2009
-Why do you do so many of them solo?
Only two of the above were solo trips, actually. One of them was pretty epic, though – the Middle East and Africa – and by far and away had the greatest effect on me. There’s a huge value in having at least one such adventure, in which you’re entirely responsible for everything and you’ve gone to the place about which you have the most doubts – you learn a huge amount that way. Now, whether I do a trip alone or in a pair or group largely depends on my motivations for doing that particular trip in the first place. Next year I’m planning one in a pair and another solo, and it’s for very fundamental reasons that they’ll be done that way.
-How long does it take to plan an expedition?
It has varied. My first big trip was massively over-planned. I spent a year preparing for something I could now easily depart for and do tomorrow. A bike ride is pretty simple once you’ve got a few essential bits of kit and an idea in your head. The Scandinavia trip took a few days of preparation – I decided to do it less than a month before I arrived in Oslo. Mongolia took a bit longer, but that was almost entirely because of the complicated Russian visa application process. I rarely bother planning routes until I’m already on the road and have a better feel for where I am. And even then I change my plans all the time!
-Which was your favourite trip?
The ride through the Middle East and Africa was a definitive journey, in which I lost and found myself and travelled through the most unearthly places (physical and mental) of all. Because of what it taught me, it’s my favourite trip. But it certainly wasn’t the most ‘fun’. Far from it.
-….and your favourite moment of that trip?
I honestly can’t come up with a single moment of any trip which I could describe as my ‘favourite’! I suppose waking up on the banks of Lake Khovsgol in northern Mongolia and looking out of my tent over a few thousand square kilometres of floating ice, before taking a swim in water so pure that I could drink it without any kind of treatment. That’s going to take a bit of beating!
Next spring I’ll head to the West Coast of the States for a couple of months. It’s easy to assume that we know what America is like, because we’re force-fed American culture through our screens. But it’s probably no less of a misconception as we hold for the rest of the world. But I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be mainly about getting the documentary film, Janapar, out to as many audiences as we can find.
-Will you stick with cycling until the very end?
I’ve no particular attachment to cycling. I’ve just found that it gives me access to all the things I value about adventure travel. When something better comes along, I’d like to think you’ll find me giving it a try. Or maybe my priorities will shift of their own accord. Long distance walking and packrafting are two things I’ve definitely got in my sights, because both of them are close the the ground and give you the kind of freedom and unthreatening access to society that cycling does – just from slightly different perspectives.
13.You have an advice page on your website, it is one of the first I have seen, why have you done this? How important is helping others out to you?
I received so much help and advice during the planning of my first trip, and it was all given freely and enthusiastically. Most of the articles in that section are ‘how-to’ style articles or equipment reviews. But the real value of that kind of content is that it reassures people that what they’re planning is possible, and that it’s actually pretty simple. The subtle considerations of wild camping, for example, are something everyone will learn through experience. My article about it is there to defuse people’s fears. They’re unlikely to remember anything I wrote, but it might convince them to give it a shot and find out for themselves, and the same goes for the other topics I’ve covered. In general, I believe that there are countless individual and social benefits to people going on these kinds of personal journeys of discovery, so I’ll do anything I can to encourage it. Putting the new film out there is part of that.
14.Does the rest of the world (non – adventurers) ever frustrate you? Why or why not?
There’s a lot of imperfection in the world. We have all of life’s basic needs here, whether complacency has blinded us to that simple fact or not. So a lot of our so-called problems are now existential ones: What am I doing with my life? Why am I always stressed out? Why am I afraid to leave my comfort zone?
My adventure stories implicitly advocate simplicity, risk-taking, curiosity, spontaneity, non-conformity – these aren’t answers, but ideas that might have value in the context of these problems. So I think I’m doing my bit, and that stops me getting too frustrated!
15.Do you believe in fear?
Is fear an article of faith? It’s real enough, I think. Whether a fear is justified is another question, as is the issue of what you do with it.
16.” Sure. Sell everything. Quit your job. Get a bike. Ride it. The rest of it will work itself out.” – I love this line, but is it really as easy as that? Yes.
17. How did you learn to shoot videos, take decent photos….etc? I learnt by experimentation, imitation, and by making mistakes. I didn’t have any training or education in these things. Living on the road, I could dedicate as much time to these pursuits as I liked, and I ended up spending a lot of time on them. They were rewarding and important creative outlets.
18.Are you happy…..always? Happiness is a fleeting emotion, isn’t it? Contentment, on the other hand, might be something more long-term. I’ve never been more content than now. (Incidentally, it might be worth mentioning that the UK government defines me as living below the poverty line.)
19.When en route in an expedition, do you camp out, couch surf, hostel it? I almost never stay in hostels or hotels, because I don’t go travelling in order to escape from the place I’m in every night. I’m probably a bit of a snob when it comes to this! My first choice is always wild-camping (sometimes this has been in urban areas). Second is asking around for a place to put my tent or sleeping bag – the list of places that’s led me is long and fascinating! I’ll never decline an invitation to stay the night in a local household, which I’ve now done probably hundreds of times. In cities – which comprise a very minor part of my journeys – Couchsurfing is the norm.
20.What are your must pack items on an expedition? Everything you need, and nothing that you don’t. Every non-essential item you leave at home will make your trip a better one!
21.Have you ever went on a normal holiday (aka no bikes included)? Loads of times when I was a child. A small handful since.
22.Is there always another adventure, something better to be chased? I’m not sure how to answer this. I just try to follow my nose and enjoy the ride. But I don’t believe in some far-off, unattainable Holy Grail.
– Does that make it difficult to be content in the moment? I imagine it would, but I’m perfectly content in the moment.
-Is it a race/chase for happiness or for an adrenaline rush? Neither of the above. I lead an adventurous life because it gives me a greal deal of intrinsic satisfaction. There are bursts of happiness and adrenaline in life, as well as their opposites, but my motives are nothing to do with instant gratification.
23.Travelling and expeditions broaden your mind so much, you are a global man now. Is it difficult to return home, come back down to earth and engage in the UK’s everyday banter once more (moaning about the government etc)? There’s a definite sense that a lot of the banter you mention is fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. It depends how far you want to take it, though. For many people, these things are very significant. Being able to see how lucky we all actually are here doesn’t make me ‘better’. Also, being in the UK isn’t a ‘return home’. I would say my home is equally in Yerevan, Armenia where I spent nearly two years. My travels have also given me the ability to feel at home pretty much anywhere – when camping, or in someone’s home – although that’s much more temporary. Am I waffling?
24.So this interview is all about you and this is a totally random question but is your wife much cooler than you? Of course she is. I’m just a grumpy old man!
25.If you weren’t working in this market, what career could you see yourself in? Never thought about that, really. I’m good at web consultancy, but it’s boring and involves too many screens. I’ve occasionally applied my photography and filmmaking skills to other industries, which has been fun. At times I’ve tried to imagine other careers, but I’d want them to involve a lot of exercise and being outdoors. That points to the military, of course, but the idea of it seems to clash on a few levels.
26.Do you ever find that people are jealous of your achievements or are the majority completely supportive? How do you deal with this? I’ve never found anyone who’s jealous. But many people who don’t know me well write me off as an eccentric and don’t enquire far enough to know more. A few clearly believe that I’m simply procrastinating from getting what they think of as a ‘real job’. The fact is that how I spend my time is very difficult to explain in a nutshell, so most people I meet are left with very little meaningful idea of what I do. That’s probably my fault for not being a good enough communicator. I’m still not sure how to deal with it.
27.Who is your hero in the adventure world? Why? I have a huge amount of respect for Bruce Parry – his shows are heartfelt, well-made and unpretentious, and he does them for the right reasons. I don’t know that many names in the adventure world, though – I don’t really read adventure books, and when I began my first trips I didn’t know the industry existed. In the world of cycling, James Bowthorpe did a round-the-world record-breaking attempt. Several others did, too, but it was his motivation and attitude that struck a chord with me. Despite breaking the record, he didn’t bother completing the paperwork for it, because his core reasons for doing the ride lay outside the field of fame and sporting achievement.
28.Any advice for our readers on their own quest?
Follow your heart. Stop making excuses. Take the first step right now. These well-worn mantras are well-worn for a reason!
Follow Tom on Twitter @tomsbiketrip or on his website.
Fearghal is busy man, and not a guy to do things by half. For his university thesis he walked across Rwanda, then circumnavigated the globe by bike. For once, let me be bias, this guy is Irish, therefore he has won me over before I asked him the very first question. Ladies and Gents, I give you the man from Wicklow, Mr. Fearghal O’ Nuallain:
1.In 2008 You were part of the first Irish Circumnavigation of the Globe by Bicycle, whats it like having that tagline to your name?
I’m proud to have started something I wasn’t sure I would finish and then to actually finish it. But to be honest, the tag line was just a hook for sponsors. You need a USP to get sponsorship. It makes things easier if you have an “st” somewhere in the tagline; farthest, longest, hardest, highest etc. Experiences and qualities count for much more in my book.
2.If the two of yous were the first Irish lads, does that mean the position is still open for an Irish women to take on?
Of course! It’d be great to see more girls cycling around the world.
3.You have cycled the globe, but have you cycled the Wicklow Way?
Nope. It’s on my bucket list.
4.So far you can boast:
2003- The Prince’s Highway- Melbourne to Sydney by bicycle-(1,000km)
2004- Irish End to End- Malin Head to Mizen Head by bicycle(700km)
2005- Across Europe- Dublin to St Petersberg by bicycle-(3,500km)
2007- The Dry Run- Aswan to Alexandria by bicycle-1,000km
Pretty impressive CV, how does it feel looking at that and knowing you are one of few to accomplish such feats?
There are loads of people doing really impressive, productive and creative adventures at the moment. People like Tony Mangan, Alastair Humphreys, Mark Pollack, Mark Kalch, Ed Stafford, Dave Cornthwaite, Joseph Murphy, Sarah Outen, Tom Allen, Andy Welch… I could go on. Now they’ve got impressive CVs.
5. Do you find it tough coming back home and settling back into the small town life that Ireland is famous for?
Yes! Its hard to come back and get settled back into urban life in Europe after being out there in the world at large.
6.Do you think you will ever stop, come home and settle down?
I hope so.
7.You don’t just write about your own adventure’s but review other people’s sports, for example, your article on parkour. Are these just a source of income or a way of getting inspiration for your next escapade?
I think adventure’s more than just something crazy that “men that don’t fit in” do for kicks and attention. Parkour is particularly interesting. Its built on the principles of being fit and useful. Adventure changes the way you see the world and I find it really interesting to explore those different perspectives.
8.What have you in store for us next?
In January I’ll walk the Transylvanian Alps. It’s a vast wilderness on our doorstep; complete with bears, wolves, vast virgin forests and maybe vampires!
9.You have competed in The Turf Guy, is that a one off for you, or will you be returning to endure it again?
I’d love too, it was the best dirty weekend I’ve had in a long time.
10.On one of your blog posts, it said “Coming back from such a journey was bitter sweet. It felt like the end of something great. And the start of something not so exciting.I got depressed. I got frustrated.”
I’ll bet this happens a lot to adventurers, any advice, for getting over the fear of that bout of depression and moving onto the next task?
There’s always a risk of getting post adventure blues; the only way to avoid it is to keep active and get planning the next adventure.
11.Did your many degrees set you up for the life you have chosen to lead?
Someone famous said that the “world teaches us much more than books”. An expedition is educational. You learn something new about yourself and the world every time you go.However, I studied Geography at university and that definitely helped with what Im doing now.
12.How did you convince organizations to sponsor you?
By putting myself in their shoes first. You’ve got to remember that you have to give back in return for what you get. You have to show the potential return to get someone to give you something.
13.Have you tried the traditional tourist route before? What have you found lacking in it?
Paying someone else for an experience will never come close to the feeling of coming up with an adventure, planning it, and then living it.
14.I’ve always wanted to know, how people find their way while on route, is it just a pile of paper maps, or have you gone techno and are using sat navs?
Maps and People. There’s no need for Sat Nav, it just makes you lazy and detached.
“I want to die at a hundred years old screaming down an alpine descent on a bicycle at 75mph.”
This is how it begins, with his end. This exhilarating pace doesnt waver an inch throughout this pumping novel. Lance Armstrong’s, “It’s not about the bike” tracks the cyclists life before he finally climaxed winning the Tour the France a total of seven times. It deals predominantly with his battle with testicular cancer and his eventual triumph over it and over the odds.
I was a critic, a doubter, he is a man who has always been shrouded in controversy. However, after reading this autobiography it is not easy to stay mad at him. Armstrong surprisingly has writing abilities that have the power to convert the pessimists. So be warned before reading this you may find yourself warming to him. At the beginning , he comes across as an arrogant stubborn youth, but he redeems himself as the reader sees how cancer transforms his mindset on the world and by the close, he emerges a hero in all sense of the word. Through his delivery of the lines, his passionate speech about the bike, the pain, the hills, the fight for his life, the fight to dominate the road. Its thrilling. Every cycler, every competitor, every person who wants more out of life, should read this book. It is a pusher.
It’s one of those rare finds when you are in a room alone, sitting and reading, just mulling over the words in your mind. Then suddenly, It makes you stop and look up from the book, to take a second and process the idea of what this ordinary man from Texas has accomplished, and the realisation that nothing is stopping the reader from doing the same.