Last week, 1,606 days and 43,630 miles after he’d set off, Charlie Walker arrived home from his bike trip. The travel writer had initially resolved to cycle from the Dead Sea to Mount Everest, but the more he thought about it, the more the route expanded, eventually becoming four times as long. Walker eventually ended up cycling through 61 countries, covering a distance that is the equivalent of going twice round the planet.
Walker set off from his home village of Bowerchalke in Wiltshire on July 1st 2010, writing of his expedition: “The route will take me to three capes and will be linked with whimsical, wiggly lines through whichever countries most spark my curiosity.”
A map of his eventual route can be seen below and it’s also worth watching this time-lapse video which gives some sense of how much he physically changed during his long time away.
On an extremely limited budget, Walker usually camped and cooked for himself. He rode a second-hand Marin Muirwoods which he calls "Old Geoff" which sustained over 250 punctures. He also made use of a £5 odometer which reset to zero after 10,000 miles. (Understandably, he made a point of stopping to photograph it on 9,999.9.)
Walker told us that the physical side of the challenge was always changing.
“There were times when I was fast and those when I was slow. Weather, length of day, visa expiry dates, mood, interest in region all contributed to how much I cycled each day and how many rest days I took. I had no system in particular.”
He describes the start as being ‘a baptism of fire’ because he didn’t train for his trip. “But in about a month one can be at pretty peak physical fitness.”
As you might imagine, it was an eventful journey and Walker has regularly blogged about his escapades on his website. He cycled in Afghanistan; was questioned at the Iranian border under suspicion of being a spy; and was even charged by an elephant in Botswana. “I pedalled hastily away and didn't look back.”
Walker even resolved to sneak past the police and army to try and cycle 2,000 miles through Tibet – in winter. He got through five checkpoints – sneaking through in the small hours and on occasions cutting through fences – before he was finally stopped at the sixth after somewhat comically treading on his bike’s klaxon, alerting a guard.
While he was in Tibet, Walker braved the cold and went over a number of mountain passes, some of which were over 5,000m above sea level. “My problem wasn’t so much getting enough air but remembering to breathe out. I would suddenly realise I had subconsciously been sucking hard at the thin air and had a painfully packed pair of lungs, fit to burst.”
On the steep uphills, he would crawl at speeds as slow as 2.5mph and on the highest pass of all – higher than Everest base camp – he was forced to get off and trudge through snow drifts.
It was also while in Tibet that he developed a number of saddle sores from riding on poor surfaces. This led him to experiment with riding on a frozen river. “The smooth surface was a delight for a short while until I began slipping over every hundred yards and then got stuck on the wrong side of the unfrozen stream in the middle.”
A dugout canoe journey he did in the Democratic Republic of Congo is another part of his trip that he says stands out.
“My friend and I bought a hollowed out tree trunk, loaded in our bikes and set off on a river with no maps. There were plenty of waterfalls and rapids and then, later, crocs and hippos became a threat. I got severe malaria and Typhoid at the same time at the end of that leg, so that was hard to recover from – especially in the middle of Congo.”
Other countries Walker visited included Sweden, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Rwanda and Mozambique, but last month he finally returned to Britain, celebrating the final leg of his journey in style.
Last meal on the road: bacon and banger bap with Brown sauce. Perfect!
— Charlie Walker (@cwexplore) November 23, 2014
But while the man himself is back home, his blogs have thus far only made it as far as the Republic of Congo. “I am a little behind on blogs but will continue until they are up to date,” he promises. A book is also on the cards.
But cycling? Walker says he is in no rush to hop back on a bike and cross continents. “But I imagine I'll find another way to appease the wanderlust before too long.”